Apr 16 2002

In the writer’s group that I attend we were assigned to write on the subject of “waterfalls.” I felt pretty good about it so decided to share it with you.


What I know about waterfalls doesn’t exceed what anyone else might know. I know that they are usually beautiful, and the “white noise” sound that is made can be very relaxing. I know that the tallest one is somewhere in South America, but that for sheer volume of water you can’t beat Niagara Falls, on the border between upstate New York and Canada. I have been there twice, and you have to see it and hear it and smell it to believe it! If you are within ten miles of the place you can find it just because of the noise of the nine million gallons of water per minute crashing onto the shoals and rocks beneath. A mist rises up beyond the tops of the falls, and tourists in yellow raincoats gather to ride “The Maid of the Mist,” an open-deck boat that regularly braves the swift current below , going as close as safety allows heading toward the place where the waters hit.

When I was a little boy in church I heard an evangelist tell a story, which at the time I thought was true. I have heard it again several times since, and now I doubt its veracity, but as a little boy hearing it from a preacher in a church, my faith in preachers was stronger than it is now. (There are many good ones, but it is wise to watch out for all of us, myself included.) Incidentally, the story itself was meant to be an illustration about having faith.

The story went something like this: There was a famous acrobat who rigged a tightrope across the falls from the U.S. to Canada. A great crowd assembled and cheered loudly as this amazing performer walked across, carefully balancing himself on the wire. Then he pushed a wheelbarrow across. In the wheelbarrow were two one-hundred pound bags of sand. As he made it across with the wheelbarrow, the crowd cheered even more loudly. At the time I first heard it I had never been to Niagara or I would have known that the rumble of the waters are such that nobody could have been heard cheering. Even more so, nobody could have heard the man as he spoke, unless he had also rigged up a very loud P.A. system on the tightrope. But, to continue with the story as I approach the punch-line, this wonderful world-famous daring celebrity acrobat then asked the question: “How many of you believe that I can take a man across the falls in this wheelbarrow?” The crowd erupted with excitement, affirming their belief that he could indeed accomplish this awesome feat! Then, he asked, “Who will be my first volunteer?” The end of the story was that nobody would get in the wheelbarrow. The preacher’s point was that a lot of people might say that they believe, but they really don’t.

Today I ask myself, “Is that really a good story to illustrate faith?” I am not sure that it is. There is a lot of teaching from Jesus that says that having faith “as a grain of mustard seed” is acceptable. This is not my first trip around the block as a “believer,” but I still know that I wouldn’t want to get in that wheelbarrow unless I absolutely had to, even if the Lord Himself were pushing it.
Perhaps you could venture into Appalachia and find, among those who handle serpents in their churches, one who would take Him up on it… but it wouldn’t be me.

I have come to believe that there is a huge difference between having faith in God and foolishly putting God to the test. Satan tried to get Jesus to jump off of the temple to show to everybody who he was, and Jesus answered with a Scripture from Deuteronomy that said we should not tempt God.

I also don’t think that we should (as the preacher did) make it sound hard to really be a believer. I think that He has many very normal ways of saving us and reaching us and teaching us as He brings us to Himself. Some of them don’t to us seem to be mysterious or supernatural at all. What if God is so powerful and so loving and gracious that the means of grace are given to us without our having to work anything up? What if He loves and desires us so much that, instead of it being a huge spiritual challenge or an impossible obstacle course, He has done everything He can to make it so easy that a wayfaring man, though he be a fool, can find it…or can be found?

The fact is that pure grace destroys our pride of accomplishment, our noble righteousness, and even our need for religious performance. Watch out for radical grace. It can mess up your life and your ministry. But that’s not really a bad thing at all.

Revelation says that when He spoke after His resurrection it was “as the sound of many waters.” If you’ve been to Niagara, perhaps you can imagine with me what it might be like…that the voice of the Lord will overwhelm all of our absurd boasting and our silly wheelbarrow efforts.

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