I have long been fascinated by the River of Life in the Bible. I love how it meanders through the text, first in the creation story, followed by shadows and hints of it in the earthly rivers, appearing in glorious beauty in the Psalms, Ezekiel and Isaiah, before becoming the centrepiece of the new heavens and new earth in Revelation. I love the life in it, the healing in the trees planted beside it, the stillness and the wildness.
The other day I went for a run. I had my usual snippet of an annoying song in my head (this time ‘Party Train’ by Thomas and Friends – I was subjected to this over breakfast), but instead of letting that dictate the rhythm of my thoughts, I tried to be more intentional about inviting Jesus to run with me and speak to me in all I saw around me. My concentration and focus isn’t always the best, so he was very patient and kind, and spoke to me in something that was with me for much of my run – the canal. The conversation Jesus and I had went as follows:
My church is not built beside my river, but instead has dug its own canal, attempting to siphon off the water of life in the direction of its own choosing. The pure, clear water has become murky and filled with debris and silt.
But I love the canal. It is beautiful and peaceful in a place that is otherwise full of concrete and noise.
I am creative, I am good, I am kind. I bring my beauty to adorn the banks of the canal, and my wild birds to remind you of the wildness of my river. But the water is slow and sluggish. It is restricted by walls and locks. It cannot break free. And it is silent. My river is not silent but full of babbling, trickling, splashing, rushing and roaring. The canal is beautiful, but my river is so much more.
I am part of the church. Where have I settled for just the canal when I could have the river?
You have chosen safety over wildness. You have allowed your worship to become defined by straight walls and your heart to become murky rather than transparent and pure. You have been fearful of the terrain changes demanded by my Spirit, worrying that there might be a waterfall when I longed to bring you to a quiet lake. So you stuck with your canal, knowing that it is always the same – always slow, always quiet, never demanding. You have become stagnant in the times you set aside for me, following the same processes and never asking me where I would like to take you each day.
But I am fearful of the river. I am afraid of the transformation it constantly demands. I am worried it will go in the wrong direction, or leave me high and dry in the desert. I am fearful of saying the wrong things, not having the right answer to a question, being made to look a fool. I know that the river can flood and overwhelm – it is dangerous.
The source is always quiet and calm. In times of difficulty come upstream and find the clearest, gentlest place. At other times allow my brook to wash your feet, refreshing you as your journey on. Sometimes you will find yourself stuck to one side in an eddy, but know that here you can regroup, and seek my path for the white water ahead. And on many days you will need to surrender to the current, allowing my Spirit to carry you along.
And the floods?
Floods change the landscape. They wash away obstacles and flatten strongholds. They are often dangerous and painful times of change. But they also deposit new, fertile soil, where the seeds I have placed in your heart can grow and flourish.
God Almighty, Father, Son and Spirit, I submit to you. I am sorry for choosing the artificially tame over the wild and free. I break partnership with fear. Wash over me, cleanse me, renew me – I surrender to the current of your river.
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