The River of Life

Patterns in Nature

Almost everything in nature follows a pattern. Most of these patterns are way too complicated for us to understand. However, some of the simpler ones, the ones that we can see for ourselves, can help us learn more about the world around us. God has left us these patterns to reveal to us his creative power and to help us understand more about our relationship with him.

THE RIVER

All rivers, no matter how long they are, or where they are in the world follow the same pattern, a continuum, narrow at the top and wide at the bottom. At the top of the river, the water is clear and fast-flowing, there are trees either side of the stream that shade the waters from the sun. The leaves that fall from the trees provide rich, nourishing food for the insects and in turn, the fish that live in the river. Fallen logs in the river give the fish and the insects places to hide. Large rocks protect the riverbank from erosion so the flow of water can remain strong and steady. Though the changes are not immediately noticeable, as we move down the river, the river gets wider. The rocks, worn down by the constant flow of water, begin to get smaller and the water becomes slow-moving and murky. As the river gets wider and the trees get fewer and fewer, the surface of the water is consumed by the sun. The fish swim deeper into the darkness to avoid the heat. There are more fish, but less food. Small fish, now with nowhere to hide get caught and eaten by birds, bears, humans and other, bigger fish. The river eventually drains out into the sea, an inhospitable place for most of the fish in the river, filled with its own array of dangerous creatures.

Now, if you were a fish in this river, where would you want to be? At the top where the water is clear, and the food and protection is plenty? Or at the bottom where the water is murky, and predators are everywhere?

THE MEANING

In the bible, there are many analogies between eternal life and water. In the book of John, chapter 4, Jesus describes himself as the giver of living water:

…but whoever drinks of the water that I give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

John 4:14 (ESV)

In Revelation, John describes a river flowing out from the throne of God:

The angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as a crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb…

Revelation 22:1 (ESV)

Additionally, Ezekiel, also describes a river which gives life:

And wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will have life.

Ezekiel 47:9 (ESV)

Now, let’s go back to our river analogy. Just like in revelation, imagine God is the source of the river, giving out clear, flowing water. The word of God provides rich, nourishing spiritual food, and God’s mighty hand protects us from any danger. God is our rock, who strengthens us and keeps us from falling. Again, though the changes are not immediately noticeable, as we go down the river, the water begins to get murky, polluted by the evil of the world. What little spiritual food we can find is only small, already broken down and consumed by those closer to the word. There is less protection and support from our God, and we go deeper into the darkness to get away from the heat, from the pressures of this world. There are predators, enemies, who lurk in the darkness, waiting to destroy us. And, at the end of the river, there is an inhospitable place where we won’t survive.

THE MESSAGE

Now, the analogy isn’t perfect but there are a few key points that I want to bring out of it. Matthew and Luke record Jesus saying that broad and wide is the road that leads to destruction, and, narrow and difficult is the road that leads to eternal life. However, I’d like to suggest that they are the same road, just going in different directions, the same as our river.

Everyone in the world is along this road, this river, this continuum. The world is not black and white, though there is a clear good and a clear evil, no one can be perfect and no one, as we are all made in the image of God, can be truly evil. Instead, we are all somewhere in the middle, somewhere along the continuum. There is no line that we can cross, no point that we can reach, after which we can say now I’m a Christian. Anyone, at any point along the river, can choose to follow Jesus, all they have to do is swim upstream, towards God.

Just like in a real river it’s easy to start drifting downstream, it’s very tempting to slip into old, and new, habits, temptations and desires. We must avoid this at all costs. Of course, it’s ok if you do, everyone makes mistakes, however, as soon as you realise you’re drifting downstream, turn around. In in a real river, rocks and logs in the water create eddies, where the water actually moves upstream. God is our rock. When you realise you need to head towards God, pray and take refuge in him and moving upstream will be much easier. 

The most important thing we can do to remain a strong Christian is to keep seeking God. The most common problem in churches today is people get stuck where they are. They fall into a routine, they become ‘happy’ with their current relationship with God, and so, they cease to improve. I encourage you, no matter where you are in your walk with God, no matter where you are in the river, don’t stop trying to be closer to God. Keep swimming upstream.

I’m not sure whether it was intended or not, but the river analogy helps us understand more about our walk with God. It can apply to everyone, in all circumstances, and no matter where you are at, the solution is the same.

So…

Do you feel like you’re too far from God?

Do you feel like you’ve drifted too far away too many times?

It doesn’t matter, BUT…

Don’t stay where you are. God is waiting for you; all you have to do is swim upstream.

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