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… 7 When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river. 8 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. 9 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.
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.