There are two rivers in North America which are as different, you might say, as night and day. If you happen to be in northern Arizona you can be traveling through the Rockies foothills and not see one of America’s most famous rivers though you be nearly fallen into it. The second can be seen for miles, and its presence, more than any other feature, defines American geography.
Estimates suggest that it has taken the Colorado river thousands of years to dig the Grand Canyon to its present depth. As her cold waters rush down from the mountains she continually digs her narrow course between steep rock walls, down through the rock on her frantic stampede toward her goal. Any discussion about the Colorado’s depth is generally focused on how far down she has dug herself.
The Mississippi, on the other hand, spreads herself out as far as several miles between banks as she makes her way from northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. While she may be every day as old as the Colorado, her waters are so close to ground level that there are levees along her banks to keep her water from overflowing farm lands and cities. A traveler sees the Big Muddy from a good distance away.
Christianity in the West has tended to be like the Colorado. With a focus on “personal salvation” the individual Christian has learned to rush ahead with a personal focus on a personal reward, and those who do take the care to evangelise tend to have a mind to enhancing their own personal reward, and their converts just join in the rush. Any discussion of a deeper life tends to translate into a more hurried rush, and an even deeper canyon. Just as animals have to travel down the steep canyon walls to find water, so non- Christians find their approach to “Church” rather daunting.
What if the Church were more like the Big Muddy? What if she spread herself across the landscape, glad to be here, in no hurry to leave, available to all who are thirsty, and shining in the sun to remind folks how thirsty they are? If there were a comparison between the two rivers on this, we would think the Miss would be the one most comfortable and open about being a river. The only walls would be the weak barriers people on the outside put up to try and control her, and they tend only to stay there until the water gets just a little bit deeper.
What does all this have to do with anything? At different places the Bible talks about God’s Word, His Spirit, His healing, and his restoration all as water. The purpose of the Church is to bring water to a thirsty world, so let’s be thinking about how we go about delivering water, and the way God does it. If a farmer wants to get water to a field, he will carve out a system of ditches. If a city wants a water supply, it raises a holding tank. The Church has gotten pretty good at raising tanks to hold the water, and at installing taps to control the flow, but what about digging some ditches? What about finding ways to increase the flow of that Living Water to all who are thirsty?
The world today does not need to wait in its many deserts for an aqueduct project. People in its cities cannot afford to continue to die of thirst staring at our wonderful stone towers. God’s goal is for His water to reach every thirsty throat in this world, so that “the desert will blossom as a rose.” So as we think of the life-giving potential of knowing God, what should our participation with Him in His plan should really look like? The particulars are sure to vary, but one prophecy does stand out:
“The Earth shall be covered with the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” Lord, make us a flood!