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A River Runs Through . . . Me?

July 30th, 2008

Focus Text: Psalm 46: 4 (NLT)

 4 A river brings joy to the city of our God,
      the sacred home of the Most High.


Stop Here and Reflect Before Reading Ahead

The mountain was high.  The temperature was hot, but made bearable by an incredibly strong wind that gusted upon our little camp for six days straight.  We were sleeping under the stars on a little peak in Panama in a village called Boca de Soloy.  Soloy was eight hours from the airport– four by bus on somewhat paved roads, and four holding on for dear life in the back of a truck as we off-roaded on windy, unpaved mountain trails.  It was an experience that would have satiated the appetite of any adventure-seeker.

We slept in tents in the middle of an Indian village.  The people were extremely friendly and beautiful to behold, especially the little children.  They ran barefoot throughout the sticks and stones of the village (a “feat” I could never accomplish because my feet are so girly (  We were there to build a school for these precious children.  For almost six days, we labored on the school house and dug huge holes at the back of the village to install outhouses for the local residents– the closest thing they had ever had to indoor plumbing.

Some of us dug.  Some of us welded.  Some of us screwed together beams.  Some of us wheelbarrowed dirt into the building to level out the floors.  And some of us were subjected to the most grueling task of all: water hauling.

At the base of the mountain was a majestic, rushing river.  To get to that river, one had to traverse a long trail (through beautiful scenery, mind you) for about a mile.  Snakes and iguanas sometimes welcomed you as you walked this scenic path.  At our campsite, we didn’t have running water; therefore, certain team members were assigned the task of lugging huge plastic bags down to the river to fill them up.

Going down the mountain was easy, but the climb back up with about a hundred pounds of river water draped awkwardly over your shoulder was utterly exhausting.  Fortunately for me, I only made the H2O pilgrimage a few times (my skills at digging holes were in high demand.)  Some of the guys, however, spent almost their entire work week climbing up and down that mountain to bring water to the rest of the team.  Once the water was successfully carried uphill, it was purified for drinking and cooking.  The water was literally liquid life to our team all because someone was willing to go to the river on our behalf.

Rivers may not be that big of a deal to you and me; just narrow bodies of water.  They run.  They curve. They twist about the landscape with little rhyme or reason.  But in the grand scope of history and sociology, rivers are extremely important to survival.  The vast majority of major cities are all built near rivers.  New York has the Hudson.  St. Louis has the mighty Mississippi, as do many other cities.  Paris has the Seine and Egyptian cities have the Nile.  

Rivers are necessary for the perpetuation of life.  Water to drink.  Fishing grounds.  Shipping capabilities. Travel.  Wildlife in and around the water.  Rivers are little lifeline threads that weave their way throughout otherwise stranded landlocked terrain.  They are God’s irrigation to the interior land.

The river in Soloy brought us joy.  We swam in it.  We drank from it (after purifying it, of course).  Some of fished in it and one of us was baptized for the first time in it.  We loved that river (well, that is until a faulty purification process made a few of us vomit up our insides for two days, but that’s another story for another blog.)  All in all, the river was essential to our survival and the survival of the entire village.

So when this Psalm speaks of a river bringing joy to the City of God, one has to wonder what kind of water is flowing in between those riverbanks.  What is the “City of God” anyway?  Well, I think we can take two different viewpoints on that question.  One take is the literal one– there is an actual city that God will live in for eternity.  The Bible calls this place the New Jerusalem.  Furthermore, in ancient times, God set the original Jerusalem apart as a special city.  For the Israelites, the Jordan River was the river that brought joy into their lives.  It symbolized crossing from slavery into ownership of the Promised Land. Even to this day, “crossing the Jordan” is a common expression for entering a new and better season.

The second take is a more abstract one: that certain things flow into the place where God lives.  The river, in this sense, may symbolize all the miraculous aspects of a God-filled life– love, joy, peace, etc– that flow in and around those who live in God’s city . . . or those who call God’s home their home.

Just like our days on the mountain top in Soloy, if we aim to survive our existence on this earth with our faith intact, we better know where the river is and be willing to jump in.  When we stay where God lives– by living in the light of accountability– by living a life of humility– by doing the things that God does–by seeking a higher existence– we let the Holy Spirit’s hydrating energy overflow the banks of our being and thus, we feel the joy of His river.

Now, a place has been set apart for our residence and right smack dab in the middle of that place is the very water of life that has quenched the thirst of our souls.  That river can run straight into your livingroom . . . straight into your recliner . . . straight into you!  And you don’t even have to climb the mountain to bring back this water, because Someone was willing to go to the river on your behalf. 

Yeah, that’s some river.



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