"A river touches places of which its source knows nothing, and Jesus says if we have received of His fulness, however small the visible measure of our lives, out of us will flow the rivers that will bless to the uttermost parts of the earth."
(Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, September 6th)
On the north side of metropolitan Tucson, Arizona, just at the edge of the foothills that now take the city up to the edge of the Catalina Mountains, runs the Rillito River. If you live or stay in the foothills, Oro Valley, Oracle or beyond, and work in Tucson proper, you cross the river each workday at one of a limited number of crossings, bridges that span its length. As we are never there during Summer monsoon season, the Rillito is mostly a joke to my family, as the "roaring" Rillito seldom has more than a trickle of water in it, and that rarely. For most of the year it is a dry riverbed, like many in the desert southwest, merely a depression in the desert to be spanned.
Of course, there is more to the Rillito than meets the eye. There is a coursing river that flows under the stream bed at all times, sometimes high and sometimes low, a latent, writhing watercourse that lives and moves and has its being quite out of seeing. In fact, it becomes a small tributary of a great aquifer (or underground lake) that supplies a significant percentage of Tucson's water supply, that is, enough for the needs of over one million people. Much like an iceberg, what lies under is much more significant than what lies over; what we don't see dwarfs what we do see.
Chambers' devotion for September 6th, one that I recall reading each year over the many years I have read My Utmost for the Highest, is one that has always resonated with me. Prone as I am to live by sight and not by faith, I forget that what God is doing is like some great underground river, touching people I do not even know or ones I know in ways I do not suspect. As Chambers says, "God rarely allows a soul to see how great a blessing he is," just as by sight alone we have no idea of the powerful effect the Rillito has beneath the desert floor.
Indeed the whole river analogy is memorable because it so well pictures God's working in our lives and in life as a whole. First, we can know with assurance that our small, faithful acts of obedience have fruit beyond what we can see. This is encouraging. To see more would in fact tempt us to be prideful. The very hiddeness of the fruit keeps our focus off our self and on the Source of the flow. As Chambers says, "Never let anything come between yourself and Jesus Christ, no emotion, or experience; nothing must keep you from the one great sovereign Source."
Second, it is of great comfort to know that underneath the tapestry of the life we see, a powerful self-sustaining source of all that is true, good, and beautiful is constantly flowing. A providential power moves in the deep recesses of aquifers and underground caverns, sustaining all life above ground and working out all things to His own ends. What we don't see is far greater than what we do see, a humbling and sobering acknowledgment that regularly need be made.
Finally, when we appreciate the power of the Source, we are helped to view obstacles as temporary --- no, as really nothing compared to the power of the river. Chambers notes that, confronted by an obstacle, a river will "soon make a pathway around the obstacle," or "drop out of sight for miles, and presently emerge again broader and grander than ever." God in us is unstoppable if sometimes hidden.
So, take heart from all this. I am. I look at my life and the world around me and see only brief glimmers of how God may have used me, certainly not enough to live on, not enough to sustain me and give me hope. That drives me back to the Source, to remembering Who is really working out his salvation in and through me and the mystery of results, of our long obedience in the same direction.
And another thing: I'm not going to demean the Rillito any longer. When I bike alongside it or drive over it every year, I'll just nod in recognition of the great work it's doing. Unseen. It's been there all along. You just have to have faith.