A friend of mine in missions recently shared this extended illustration. I share it here with his permission. I found it helpful in situating our individual lives in view of the broader promises and purposes of God for the world. I share it using largely the concept and picture my friend shared, but much of the actual phrasing and application here is my own.
Imagine your life in terms of traveling on a huge river, a river as far as the eye can see. And there in the river you find yourself riding on a boat. This boat is a place of security, stability, provision.
The boat represents God’s personal promises for your life, the promises we know and love as Christians. In the boat, you hear God’s promises of comfort in suffering (2 Cor. 12:7-10), blessing or power in witness (Luke 12:8-12), or care over your work or your studies (see Psalm 90:21-17).
We love these individual promises. Often, our Christian experience focuses on this private blessed “boat experience”, in which we know God’s individual comfort on the waters of life.
But as Christians, we must see the boat – and the river. In other words, we must constantly see the broader movement of God’s world and its story.
For the sake of illustration, everyone else in the world is in this huge river. Some, fellow believers experiencing God's personal promises, are in boats as well.
But so many people in the river are drowning. They either don’t know the promises of God or they reject the promises of God. These are those who don’t have a boat. They are just swimming on their own, struggling to survive in the current surrounding them.
But this river is guided, not by the boat-riders or the swimmers, but by it's current, the movement of the river. The current represents God’s global promises. The current pictures God’s purposes for history, the direction in which the whole world is moving.
You see, despite many people’s attempts to go their own way and do their own thing, God in His global purposes has a current moving at His determined strength moving to the very destination that he has determined.
God is Lord over history. And he is at work in world history getting us to a particular and inevitable direction and destination.
If we know the destination, if we understand the current, our life in the boat will be strengthened with purpose and power.
Now that destination includes so much more than fulfillment of God’s personal promises. More is in view than my personal boat of life making it the end of the river and surviving.
The destination of the river is anticipated in all of Scripture. In Genesis 1, the whole world is Adam’s territory to cultivate and subdue for the glory of God (Gen. 1:28).
In Genesis 12, it is Abraham, whose individual boat would move forward to the blessing of all the nations.
In Genesis 50(v20), it is Joseph, whose individual boat of suffering is discovered to be blessing to the salvation of nations.
In the Psalms, it is the boat of the life of King David that we discover blessing the nations and fulfilling that Abrahamic promise (see Psalm 72:12-19).
In the boat of the life of Christ, we find Jew and Gentile alike coming to Him longing for His glory (see John 12:20-26 as one example).
In the boat of the life of the disciples, they discover it is not only their salvation in view, but also the rivers of the nations that they will reach (see Matt. 28:18-20 and Acts 1:8).
Ultimately, our journey on the waters will lead to the discovery of His “dominion from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth!” (Ps. 72:8). This is where the river heads!
And there in eternity, there will before the throne:
"A great multitude that no one could number from all tribes and peoples and languages. standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice: "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb" (Rev. 7:9-10).
So today, if in Christ, you move along in your individual boat. Life's challenges set your eyes on God's individual promises and your hope for survival. God is faithful – He will carry you.
But take a moment and look around yourself at the river. Look at the breadth of the river. See the vast wonder of God’s purposes and the flow of history. What you experience today is part of a grander purpose, a grander movement of history. The Lord of your individual experience is the Lord of all the flow of history.
See those languishing without a boat of God’s promises to rest in. Pray and consider how you might reach to them before they find themselves in the current As Paul was a voice of life for those facing the storm at the sea (Acts 27), so you may be a voice that seeks to rescue those drowning in the waters of life.
In this we find the Great Commission, the call of the church, the movement of purpose we have to reach the nations for Jesus Christ.
And finally, look. Look by faith to what you cannot see: the end of the river. Look and see where the waters head. Just as the future holds that multitude that no one can number, so it holds the “river of the water of life, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life” (Rev. 22:1-2).
Your individual boat, carried by God’s personal promises, will flow into the water of life for all eternity along with all saved by God’s global promises. And, we of the personal promises, must now live for and in view of the global purpose of God.