Rocks In the River

A group of us women gathered for a retreat, and as He is fond of doing, the Lord surrounded us — literally — with the words and images and spiritual realities of what He longed to share with us. In this case, His subject was His living waters. As I prepared to lead the group studies there I knew we would focus on John Chapters 4 and 7, where Jesus speaks of streams of living waters that would flow into and go forth from those who drink of him — but the woman who booked the location for our retreat did not!  We landed in a cabin called Rio Casa — River House, at Tres Rios campground — three rivers — so named because the camp is bordered on three sides by three different rivers. One of those rivers flowed behind our cabin, just below the little hill we were perched on.

We had a glorious time there, in which we studied about the Holy Spirit’s role in our lives, exploring what life is meant to look like when one is a child of God that drinks from His Spirit. In the Lord’s power and faithfulness we all experienced renewal and healing, especially from weariness and wounds of the heart and spirit. We were thoroughly refreshed there, and some would say forever changed.

As we gathered on our final morning to worship the Lord, each of the women were radiant and lovely, full of new hope in the Lord’s love and goodness. As we went around the room and shared our “take-aways,” I rejoice in their new joy, yet knew from many retreat experiences what it would be like to return home and step back into the very things they had needed renewal from. “Lord,” I prayed, “do not let the tiniest part of their time with you be robbed, and please establish them firmly in what you have given them hope in.”

The Holy Spirit then drew us outside for our last half hour together, in view and earshot of the river. The Lord had us close our eyes and just listen. Only one sound broke the peaceful quiet of the morning — the lively waters below us. While the flowing waters were unrippled and silent both upstream and downstream from our cabin, a row of large rocks in the river there forced the water to bubble up and around and over, producing the little rapids and their happy notes. After we listened awhile, soaking up that soothing, playful sound, the Lord said,

“Notice, daughters, that it is the rocks that cause the river to make its music. Without the rocks there would be no sound.”    !!!!!!

We opened our eyes and smiled at each other, thoughts racing and playing across our faces, as what He said sunk in. The bubbly lifesounds we were enjoying were only produced as the water flowed around the rocks, which are OBSTACLES to the flow of the water. We quickly and collectively got the “Aha!” moment of understanding that these rocks represented our troubles, wounds, afflictions, weaknesses or circumstances. The fact that the water only produces its music as it washes over those obstacles, is a metaphor worth pondering. May the smiling Spirit who pointed it out to us at the river reveal its meaning in your life.

As for us, we returned home with fresh streams of living water in us, making our music of joy and thanksgiving to the Lord for the life He brings to flow over and around the rocks in our lives!

The Fountain That Satisfies

Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life. (John 4:13-14 NIV).

More than any other book in the New Testament, the gospel of John drives home the fact that our relationship with God is meant to be a deeply satisfying one. Jesus repeatedly acknowledged man’s hunger and thirst, always promising they would be satisfied. Although Jesus was surely referring God’s promises, I think it even more likely that he was speaking from his experience as a human being on this earth, having to live by faith like the rest of us, knowing hunger of body and soul, and discovering the rewards of offering his hunger to the Father.

When Jesus spoke the above words to the Samaritan woman at her well, he not only promised her a drink of water, he claimed that his water would become in her a spring of water. The original Greek describes a spring-fed well that is not politely bubbling, but gushing up profusely!

Again, Christ later assured his disciples, I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. (John 6:35 NIV).

The word “life” in these and most New Testament verses is the Greek word zoe. Strong’s Greek Dictionary defines zoe as “the absolute fullness of life” which belongs to God. It refers to a vitality that goes well beyond just existing, living and breathing. Zoe life is the life only God can give, and what he longs for us to have.

The promise that we would never remain in our thirst or hunger again is so startling that we dare not believe it, lest we be disappointed in Christ. But the greatest sin we can commit against God is to not believe him. The life we are promised through Christ is intended to satisfy our souls and heal us of all neediness, that we may live contented and at peace, no matter what our circumstances.

God does not want us to dig or construct our own fountains. In fact, he complained through Jeremiah: My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water. (Jeremiah 2:13 NIV).

Jesus echoed this same complaint against the religious leaders of his day: You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. (John 5:39-40 NIV)

Surely it breaks God’s heart to offer every means of satisfying the souls of his children and have them live such mean, lonely, frustrated lives. Many Christians wear themselves out trying to give themselves life, focusing on religious formulas or programs, teachers, or ministries. These can be excellent aids to growth, but will never substitute for going to the fountain of life. Such spiritual pursuits can become the means for building one’s own cistern that will never satisfy.

How do we drink from the fountain of life? Jesus revealed this would come only through the Holy Spirit: Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. (John 7:37-39 NIV).

But for us who believe, the Spirit HAS been given, and Christianity 101 should teach us how to live by that stream of living water. David knew this very well. His life and writings reveal a human soul who knew and understood God through the Holy Spirit’s help. He suffered just about every problem a man could have: danger, betrayal, hatred, rejection, long-suffering (waiting years for God’s promises to be fulfilled). Without benefit of Bible, church programs and podcasts, he experienced such a deeply satisfying relationship with God through the Spirit that he uttered ecstatically:

I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you. (Psalm 63:2-5 NIV).

A hungry soul is a vulnerable soul. The honest man who goes hungry long enough may even become a thief to get a piece of bread. An unsatisfied soul is exposed to myriad dangers as it reaches for something to make it feel okay: wrong relationships, addictions, perverted lifestyles, dead-end careers. Being saved doesn’t automatically keep you from these dangers, but being satisfied by the bread and water of Christ does. Only the person who is free of need is safe from that which would possess and rule his soul. You will find some neediness of soul at the root of all man’s problems. Jesus’ message is simple: Come to me; I can satisfy your soul.

My own understanding of how powerfully God can satisfy came when he helped me overcome a hopeless 18-year addiction to cigarettes in 1986. In the process of laying those down, I learned to turn my longings — of body, soul and spirit — to the Holy Spirit. I learned firsthand that the Lord is delighted to step into any opportunity to give life to his child and set him free from temptation by satisfying him deeply.

We will experience God’s zoe life only when the Spirit lives in us, and as we learn to turn to him for a drink, expecting to have our neediness sated and our souls brought to rest. Spirit life is living with a fountain that really satisfies, and going often for a long drink.

(This is an excerpt from “Meditations on Spirit Life,” a devotional book Tonia plans to publish in 2011).