Summer is prime time to witness the frenzy of a salmon run in Alaska. The salmon begin their lives in a freshwater river and migrate to the ocean to grow. When it is time for them to reproduce, the salmon journey upstream back to where they were born. Swimming against raging currents and waterfalls, they splash and leap out of the water while evading predators, such as bears and eagles. It’s a sight to behold.

If you have ever felt like you were going upstream against the current of the world, be encouraged. You are going the right way!

Back in 605 BC, King Nebuchadnezzar captured Daniel and his companions Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Jerusalem and carried them off to the foreign land of Babylon. The four Israelites resisted following their captors and fellow Israelites in worshipping the Babylonian gods. 

King Nebuchadnezzar provided Daniel and his companions food and wine that had previously been offered to idols, but they refused. Daniel 1:8 says, “But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way” (NIV).

Imagine the pressure that Daniel was under as a captive to the king. It would have been easier to go with the flow, give in, and eat the royal food and wine, but he went upstream instead.

Daniel not only enjoyed a close, intimate relationship with God, but God blessed him with exceptional favor and wisdom that became evident to all those around him.

Set Apart from the World

Like Daniel, we live differently because we are called to be set apart from the world. At work, we resolve not to cheat, steal, or gossip, even when it costs us personally. In our downtime, we choose cleaner entertainment, even when the profane content is a click away. In our finances, we commit to tithing and giving generously, even when it hurts. In our prayer time, we submit to God when He leads us in a particular direction, even when it requires genuine sacrifice.

We battle to control our tongues, discipline our bodies, and take captive our thoughts. We forgive “seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22). We repeatedly put our egos to death to love other people.

Contrast this with what the world offers. A life of convenience, comfort, and self-indulgence.  A life where anything goes. A life of ease, going with the flow. A life with plenty of company.

Choosing the Narrow Path

When you look around yourself, do you blend in and look like everyone else? If we choose the harder way of following Jesus, we can take comfort and encouragement. The Bible says that we will find the true life that we desire by going down the counter-cultural path.

Paradoxically, it is in this less-traveled road that we will find rest and rejuvenation for our weary souls. Matthew 7:13-14 says, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (emphasis mine).

Jesus later says in John 14:27, “The peace I give is a gift the world cannot give” (NLT). If we desire relief from the exhaustion of the daily grind, we need to go to Jesus, rather than depend on the distractions of the world to restore us.    

When Life is Difficult

So, the next time that you mutter under your breath that life is hard, consider it a sign that you are on the right path. Yes, the more different we are, the more external—and internal—resistance we will face.

Fortunately, we have God’s grace to help us. God is on our side. We don’t have to fight the current alone. In fact, it is only in His strength that we can swim against the current.

Upon closer study, it turns out that fish modify their swimming technique when swimming upstream. Instead of fluttering their tails as they usually do, fish relax their fins when swimming against the current, using the turbulence of the water to propel them forward, like a flag flapping in the wind. They let the water do much of the work. 

We, too, can learn to swim upstream and allow the power of the Holy Spirit to carry us. Yes, the journey ahead is still challenging at times, but not as difficult as if we struggled in our own strength. Let us ask God today to help us be like Daniel, actively resisting the pressures and philosophies of the world, rather than being passively influenced by them. 

Let us be encouraged even when we make godly choices that make life more difficult, for it is on the road less traveled that we will find deeper intimacy with Him.

Do you find yourself swimming upstream or downstream in today’s culture? Are you going in the right direction? How are your lifestyle choices affecting the well-being of your soul?

Reflections:

“This is what the Lord says: See, I am setting before you the way of life and the way of death.” Jeremiah 21:8 (NIV)

“He said to them, ‘Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.’” Luke 13:24

Photo by Brandon on Unsplash

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