I was introduced to that phrase a couple of days ago by someone at work who was having trouble getting what he wanted from people who were under no real obligation to follow his orders.
I sympathize with the guy, but I can also empathize, because that’s often been my experience as I strive to lead others – at work, at church and especially when it comes to my children.
Some of the leadership tools God gave me are like a staff that a shepherd uses to nudge his sheep in the right direction while standing behind them, or push them out of harm’s way when they get into trouble. But mostly, I find I’m equipped with ropes – which are completely useless for pushing. About the only thing you can do with a rope when you’re standing behind someone is to whip them with it – and that just ain’t my style.
Ropes are terrible for pushing, but they are, of course, great for pulling. Unfortunately, using your rope to pull people where you want them to go, by definition, requires that you get in front of them and lead the way. And leading by example can be hard, gruelling, frustrating – often thankless – work. You can’t go too fast, or your followers will stumble and you’ll end up dragging them.
Or if they’re under no obligation to hold onto the rope, they might simply let go, if they don’t like where you’re leading them – even if you’re right and they’re wrong. So you find yourself trying to talk them into doing what you know is good for them, when life would be better and easier for all concerned if they’d just trust you and follow your example faithfully. (Am I right, parents?)
Is this how Jesus feels about us sometimes? Like he’s pushing on a rope?
Hmm. I like these rope analogies. Let’s try another one.
I’m flawed. I know I am and I want to get better. I want to become the man God made to be, and serve Him in all of the ways I was made to. With Jesus’ help, I want to reach that potential and find my true vocation – mmm – yesterday would be good. But Jesus almost seems more interested in the journey than the destination.
It’s as if I’m in a flimsy, rubber dinghy boat I bought from Walmart. I’m in the middle of a huge, deep lake, without paddles or motor and it’s cold and raining. The only means of locomotion is a thin, nylon rope (also purchased at Walmart, or maybe Dollarworld) – one end of which is attached to my pathetic watercraft, and the other tied to the stern of a sturdy, 900-horsepower jet boat, with Jesus at the helm. Jesus is in complete control of where we go and how fast we get there, and He seems to be in no hurry. We’re leisurely plodding along at a fraction of what His boat is capable of. I want to go faster, but am powerless to effect any change.
There are other boats far away on the lake, but at this distance it seems like they’re zooming past us. These speedboats also, simultaneously, have Jesus at the helm (He is God, after all), and they are also attached by ropes to other people’s dinghies. Like I said, they seem to be zipping off toward the shore markedly faster than we’re going. And I’m jealous.
I want to get where I’m going in my faith journey, and I want to get there now. I know that Temptation X is a plague on the house of my faith, and I want to be free of it. Today. I know I’m made to be more than I am right now, and I’m bloody well sick of the painstakingly slow nature of the journey toward the New Me.
And it’s not all selfish, either. It stands to reason that the New Me will be better for the world than the Now Me is, so isn’t it in God’s interest to accelerate the my journey, so I’m still relatively young when I ‘arrive,’ and can therefore have that many more years to share my Newness with the world?
Get the heck on with it, Lord! I could row faster than this! If only I had a pair of oars, I’d cut the stupid rope and follow Jesus to shore on my own steam! I might even beat him there!
Baldy, baldy, baldy. Be careful what you pray for.
Could it be that the journey is slower for me than for other people because I’m not emotionally and spiritually equipped to grow any faster than this? Getting back to the boat metaphor, is it possible that I’m too far away from the other passengers to notice that their dinghies and ropes are much sturdier than mine (maybe they shop at Bass Pro Shops instead of Walmart)? Or that my perception that they’re going faster than me is actually an illusion? Perspectives on open water are tricky, after all.
Regardless of what’s going on with my fellow dinghy-ites, if Jesus put his boat into second gear, would my journey move from slow and frustrating to scary and dangerous? Is my rope up to that kind of strain, or would it snap and leave me marooned on a cheap, paddle-less dinghy surrounded by frigid, choppy waters?
Even if the rope’s OK, what about the dinghy? Would it hold up under such speeds, or rupture under the strain and sink like a floppy hunk of rubber and plastic with a flabby, 250-pound rock sitting on it?
And if I got my wish, and I suddenly found myself a pair of oars and cut the rope, would I really have the strength to fight the waves and currents to reach the shore? Or would I struggle futilely for a while, realize my mistake and wish my dinghy were tethered to that slow-moving jetboat way off in the distance?
No, I’m pretty sure God knows what He’s doing. That’s why He gives me a rope, not a paddle – and never takes His Boat out of First Gear.
(By the way, do boat motors even have gears?)
Peace be with you.