November 1, 2016

River People

Gary Thomas — 

This blog is not written for women in abusive marriages. The advice offered in these posts will challenge both husbands and wives, but the advice could be counter-productive if it is applied in an abusive relationship.

River People

You can divide the world into two different kinds of people: “river people” and “lake people.” You will be most fulfilled, and your marriage will be happiest, when you learn to become one of the river people.

One of the things I love about marriage is that it helps us become the very kind of people God created us to be: “river people” rather than “lake people.”

Becoming a “river” person (we’ll define this in just a moment) is a theme that runs through all of Scripture, but let’s begin by setting it within a huge announcement Jesus made early in his ministry:

“On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’ By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.” John 7:37-39

The words of Jesus about streams of living water refer to a prophecy in Ezekiel chapter 47. It’s a stunning picture:

47 The man brought me back to the entrance to the temple, and I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple toward the east… The water was coming down from under the south side of the temple, south of the altar …It was deep enough to swim in, a river that could no one could cross… When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river. He said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down to the Arabah, where it enters the Dead Sea. When it empties into the sea, the salty water there becomes fresh. Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the saltwater fresh; so where the river flows, everything will live… (12) Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear fruit, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Then their fruit will serve for food, and their leaves for healing.”

The new temple that God promises to rebuild will have a river of living water flowing out of it. It will produce food and even be a source of healing. It won’t be a stagnant body of water—a lake that simply serves those right around the temple. On the contrary, streams of living water—a river—will flow out of Jerusalem into the surrounding desert.

We sometimes forget that the Bible was written in a land surrounded by the desert. Rivers and water are symbols of God’s grace that brings life and refreshment. You could have a barren wasteland that, once it is irrigated, springs forth in glorious vegetation. Many of you have played on some amazing golf courses in California and Nevada that, absent water, would soon resemble the barren landscape that surrounds them.

Jesus is proclaiming what his church, his people will be like: river people. With God’s Spirit flowing out of us, into the desert of unbelief, God irrigates the world. Christianity isn’t about God making our life a little easier or slightly more comfortable—saving us so that we can enjoy an ideal little lake house safely sheltered from the rest of the world while we wait to go to heaven. It’s about us being committed to consistently turn away from ourselves and make sacrifices on behalf of God’s Kingdom:

We are called to become channels of God’s living water flowing freely through us to refresh others.

We weren’t created to be stinking, mosquito-infested lakes. We’re called to be rivers of life. And learning to cherish our spouse turns us into the kind of people who learn to submit and surrender to God so that his Spirit flows through us without limit. With God as our source, we don’t expect the desert to irrigate the river. The river never says to the desert, “Hey, when are you going to start doing something for me?” The river spills into the desert and brings life wherever it goes.

What if the challenge of learning to cherish our spouse, even an imperfect spouse, is one of God’s ways of shaping us into river people who give, instead of lake people who simply demand and take it all in?

If we truly want to be like Jesus, like so many of us say we do, we can’t forget that he said “It is better to give than to receive.” Jesus also said the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve. In Genesis 12, Abraham was told he was being blessed so that he could be a blessing. And Israel’s call as a nation was to receive God’s favor so that his favor could one day spill out as a light to the Gentiles.

You can’t find a “lake” mentality in the Bible—taking all the water in, letting nothing out. It just doesn’t exist.

It’s all about being a river.

When the river stops flowing, the city dies.

At its height of power and influence, Rome boasted one million citizens. By the 12th century, it was down to 20,000.roman-aquaduct

From one million to 20,000. That’s an astonishing fall.

Volumes have been written about what happened, but the reality is rather simple: the barbarians destroyed Rome by destroying the aqueducts. Most cities in the centuries prior to and after the first century were decimated by the plague, but Rome escaped the worst of this disease because it had plentiful water running through the aqueducts. By taking out the aqueducts, the barbarians effectively made Rome a miserable place to live.

When you don’t have fresh water running through your heart and marriage out into the desert; when your life isn’t “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19) but is rather, “When are you going to irrigate my desert?” then you’ll live with contempt. Your marriage, like Rome with its stopped-up aqueducts, will become a miserable place to live. You were created to be a river, letting God’s Spirit flow through you into the desert, not a lake.

Learning to cherish your spouse is learning to be a flowing river. A river is active, constantly moving, receiving from God and letting out to others. So the call to cherish our spouse is a call to become what God created us to be: it trains us to view ourselves as river people, not as lake people.

Receive from God—every day, multiple times a day. Be blessed by Him so that you can be a blessing to others, beginning with your spouse. Then, together with your spouse, be a river of blessing to your community.

Don’t curse a desert for being a desert. What else could it be? Instead, be a channel for the river of life to make that desert (a spouse, a friend, a community) come alive.

When you subscribe to Gary’s blog, you will receive blog posts directly to your e-mail inbox. You will be one of the first to learn about the latest in Gary’s writing.

14 responses to River People

  1. Darlene Underwood November 7, 2016 at 1:33 pm

    Thank you, again, once for Sacred Marriage blog, reminding me that my husband is (also) a sinner; and now again, that my unquenchable thirst for more of God is to be poured out and not to be stored up in a vault section of my brain. My prayer lately has been “God, teach me to speak what I am learning”. I truely am a child that grew up with a young mother that believed, and preached that children are to be seen and not heard. I have been trying to break this bondage for most of my adult life. I am being blessed with just what I need to hear and when I need to hear it! God is blessing you, to bless us, to bless others, right? RIGHT! TY

  2. When the human heart physically is pooled in its blood instead of moving the waste into the lungs and the fresh oxygen rich blood out to the extremities, the diagnosis is death.
    Only the Spirit of the Living God can revive the plan of God in us.
    Admit to the Father we are in the state of Lazarus and we need His fresh visit of grace to even exist again. Jesus is Eternal Life here and now.

  3. Clayton Lindgren November 1, 2016 at 4:06 pm

    Thanks for pointing out this flow pattern which I have been exploring for years but to which I have seen very few references. I see it in “For from him and through him and through him are all things. To him be the glory for ever! Amen. Romans 11:36 Also in “Freely you have received, freely give.”Matthew 10:7-10. The vine and branch..John 15. What peace, joy, to stand in the flow! Receive well, give well!

  4. Once, when I was a new Christian, a Christian friend came to visit me, saying she is frightened to communicate her faith (we lived in a Arab country where she was from, a country where native people were constantly spied on), that she feels suffocating. I then realized what Gary speaks about, that faith certainly is like a river, coming from God and flowing through us to the others. What an impossible situation to live your faith without a possibility to freely and joyfully share it! This friend’s need to share her faith was so imperative that she left the country. Thank you, Gary for the important point!

  5. Amen! He wants to smooth out the edges in our life so we can be used to His fullest potential. Great word, Gary!

  6. The promise of rivers in the desert is something I pay attention to, I feel it is a special promise to me with reference to my husband’s heart toward God and a promise for spiritual fullness and partnership in our marriage. We have been married 33 years and am hoping we will not have another 7years in the desert. I’d love to hear some testimonies from people about how this promise has been fulfilled in their marriage.

  7. I live in Arizona now, after living 59 years in verdant, lake and river-filled SE Minnesota. This really is a beautiful picture of how our lives can be, in either camp. Thank you for this challenge

  8. Beautiful

  9. I think Jeremiah 2:13 fits here:

    “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.”