Posted by: everynation | November 26, 2007

Living in a Van Down by the River

paul-barker-en-plog.jpgby Paul Barker

The late Chris Farley created a character for Saturday Night Live called Matt Foley. Matt was a Motivational Speaker – but not a very good one. He lived in a van down by the river.

“My name is Matt Foley, and I am a Motivational Speaker! I am 35 years old. I am divorced. And I live in a van down by the river! I’m here to tell you that you’re gonna find out, as you go out in the world, that you’re not gonna amount to Jack Squat! You’re gonna end up eating a steady diet of government cheese and living in a van down by the river!” (Saturday Night Live, May 8, 1993)

Eating government cheese in a van down by the river is the perfect metaphor for a life of wasted potential. Matt Foley is a sad picture of what happens when a person fails to find their destiny.

Destiny is the special thing that you were born to do that no one else but you can do. The theme of destiny is everywhere in the Bible.

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)

The life of Jeremiah exemplifies the power of destiny. During his first encounter with the Lord, God said to him,

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5)

Jeremiah must have been encouraged to know that God had destined him to do something significant. He certainly needed that knowledge on many occasions. He lived through the darkest time in Israel’s history, and he prophesied to a people who did not want to hear a word he said.

I wonder if Jeremiah had days when he questioned if it was all worth it. He certainly let the Lord know how he felt about his situation. That is why he is known as the “Complaining Prophet.”

“O Lord, You deceived me, and I was deceived; You overpowered me and prevailed. I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me. So the word of the Lord has brought me insult and reproach all day long.” (Jeremiah 20:7, 8)

However, destiny has a great power to keep people on track.

“But if I say, ‘I will not mention Him or speak any more in His name,’ His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.” (Jeremiah 20:9)

Apparently, Jeremiah did not want to end up living in a van down by the river.

So, how can we be sure we do not end up living in a van down by the river?

Do not take the path of least resistance.

Destiny requires difficulties. If you want to achieve anything in God’s Kingdom, it is going to come at a price. There is always a shortcut, but it never leads to the prize. God instructed Ananias to make sure Paul understood that when He called him. He said,

“This man is My chosen instrument to carry My name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for My name.” (Acts 9:15, 16)

Paul learned that lesson well. Over thirty years later, he passed the message on to Timothy in his final letter.

“Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (II Timothy 3:12)

Do not neglect daily disciplines.

Destiny emerges out of faithfulness to daily disciplines. It is not the solitary, spectacular event that produces a destiny, but the thousand daily choices to do the things that others do not want to do.

An old Nike TV ad showed a number of children all saying the same thing: “I am Tiger Woods.” But of course, they were not Tiger Woods. They were not Tiger Woods because they would not do the millions of little things that he did to become who he is. You do not simply show up at Augusta National one day and leave with a green jacket. It takes years of daily discipline. David said it this way,

“Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness.” (Psalm 37:3)

Do not settle for second best.

The disciples had countless opportunities to settle for second best. There were many times when Jesus challenged them to the core of their being. Sometimes His statements were so puzzling and controversial it must have seemed easier to go back to fishing.

For example, during a preaching tour in Capernaum, Jesus said, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.” The crowd said, “This is a hard saying, who can accept it?” And many of His disciples turned back and followed him no longer.

They chose second best.

When Jesus saw this, He asked the twelve, “Do you want to leave Me too?” Simon Peter answered for the group, “Where would we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

The disciples who left ended up eating government cheese in a van down by the river (or the first-century equivalent). But the disciples who stayed eventually found their destiny.

The same choice is set before us every day.

Paul Barker is the Director of the Every Nation Leadership Institute-North America and the author of



  1. O.K., that really hit home. I am working at a job that I am slowly being squeezed out of, dispite exemplary performance. God is the one who opens & shuts doors. Thank you for the encouragement that I am in the right place at the right time.

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