Guest Post by Edy Sutherland

[My Shepherd] leads me beside quiet waters, He restores my soul (Psalm 23:2b-3).

One sound softens my heart and soothes my soul more than any other: the trickle of a brook, the gurgle of a tributary, the gush of a stream, the rush of a waterfall, the roar of a river, and the hush of a waterway. Each sound summons a deep restful peace.

My relationship with water started early. Long before I came to a saving faith in Christ, the river has always been a place to find relief. The restful calm of a gurgling brook somehow helps me rest and lay down my burdens before God. Our family had a small cabin along the South Toe River in the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina. The headwaters flowed from tributaries off Mt. Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi River. Many a summer day was spent wading through, floating down, walking along or sitting by the river. God used the sounds of the river to sooth my loneliness and comfort my childhood awkwardness. The river often gave me occasion to dream.


The passion for adventure I live out just recently reminded me of those tributaries of the South Toe River, and somehow it awakened something within my soul. As I reflected on this sense of renewal I felt by the river, it occurred to me that often, in the Bible, the river symbolizes new beginnings. It’s a place we cross through to enter a life of abundance in communion with a holy God.

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland. – Isaiah 43:19

The river quenches our parched thirst (Isaiah 44:3). The river ushers in repentance for sin, the baptism of repentance that John the Baptist provided for those hungry for cleansing. And the Jordan was used by God as a place of preparation for Jesus to be baptized with the Spirit of God (Matthew 3:11).

Peace is restored in my heart and soul at the river:

  • I go to the river to cultivate peace between me and God through Jesus.
  • As I lay down my sin, a state of tranquility free from war between my flesh and Spirit takes place. I’m in harmony with the will of God.
  • In Hebrew the adjective for peace is to mean whole, secure, tranquil, a healthy friendship.
  • In my refreshed state, I’m able to go out to the world peaceable bringing love.


Today my family has a cabin on a dry creek bed in northern Arizona. One glorious afternoon during monsoon season all of the variables came together to create a flash food. A large cumulus cloud deluged enough rain over the river basin to start a surge of water. And, within a few hours the water was gone.

RELATED POST: Outdoor Illustrations for “Death to Self”: Dry Streams + Dead Branches

Sometimes our experience with repentance comes like a flash flood. God offers us peace through the conviction of the Spirit but only on His terms. He is holy. Peace does not come at the expense of righteousness or truth. We are to make peace with God through His son Jesus (Romans 5:1, 1 John 1:9).

One spring I rafted the Arkansas River outside Buena Vista, Colorado. By the end of the trip I had become unable to speak and labored to move my arms or legs. An emergency medical team arrived to administer medical care for hypothermia. I developed a healthy fear of the river that day.

RELATED POST: A Spiritual Leadership Lesson from Wilderness First Responder Training

Sometimes our experience with the river offers a paralyzing effect. To ignore the Spirit of God and live with guilt and shame is to convert our peace in to despair and a hardness of heart. At first glance many would consider peace and fear to be in tension with each other. But a healthy fear of a holy and righteous God reminds me to look on His love and goodness. He sent His son Jesus to be the reconciliation for our sin (Ephesians 2). But the forgiveness of sin comes after we are baptized with water down by the river in repentance.


  • Consider how you might use this metaphor to go off to a quiet river to pray. Do you have any sin to repent of? Use your time at the river to lay it down.


  • Consider how you might incorporate a planned river crossing to teach the lesson of repentance or preparation for ministry on your next backpacking trip.



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