We’re thankful to live near water. We lived by the English Channel on the south coast of the UK, here we live by the Saint John River. Right now many people in Fredericton are clearing up after some record-breaking spring floods. The river breaks its banks to some extent every year when temperatures rise and the snow and ice melts causing the river levels to rise. In my limited understanding of these things, this year it all happened quickly and as a consequence flood levels reached the highest levels in ten years. The water stayed well above flood stage for a couple of weeks, closing roads, forcing some people to have to canoe to their houses and some to evacuate.
Our house is out of the flood zone, but many homes and businesses suffered costly damages, ruining everything inside. Further down river, cottages were even washed away when high winds whipped up the flood and debris in the water. Now the waters have subsided the damage gets assessed, clean up continues, piles of sodden belongings are piled at the sides of roads. It’s a heartbreaking sight.
Thankfully, the floods here don’t claim lives. We have the resources and help to restore and rebuild, though for some the great loss experienced will affect them for years to come. Some have said they won’t rebuild, they’re done. The clean up for many will take time and thousands of dollars.
When things like this happen we’re reminded how powerless we are against the forces of nature. When the flood waters rise all we can do is get to higher ground; watch and wait until it is over.
Over the last few weeks I’ve resisted writing a post about rivers, but I’m breaking the resolve. The other morning I read these words,
‘…the river of God is full of water…’ Psalm 65:9 ESV
I read the whole Psalm (you should read the whole thing too) yet, as often happens, I came back to this little part of one verse.
What struck me is the river of God is full, but it is not an out-of-control flood. At another time I may have read over it and thought, ‘Isn’t it stating the obvious? Of course the river is full of water.’ Now I think of what it’s not filled with, it’s not filled with muck and debris. It’s pure and uncontaminated. It’s enriching the land, irrigating it, drenching it, not destroying it. It brings life. It cleanses. It is fresh, safe and clean. It’s not dwindling either. It’s full.
Compare that to our flood. The Saint John river has enriched the land it flooded in some ways. The grass is greener than ever where the flood waters used to be, but it also brought contamination where the water mixed with sewage, destruction where the logs bashed against houses. It caused electrics to fail and weakened walls. People were warned not to kayak on the flooding river (it’s hard for Canadians to resist) because there was a dangerous current and the debris could cause a capsize. ‘Keep away’ was the message.
When I read a few online commentaries they seemed to suggest Psalm 65:9 is mainly referring to rain which God sends to water the crops – his streams from heaven. When I read that little phrase though it prompted me to look again in other places where the symbol of a river comes up through Scripture. At the very beginning there is a river in Eden, ‘A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden,’ (Gen. 2:10); ‘there is a river whose streams make glad the city of God’ (Psalm 46:4); Ezekiel’s vision, ‘I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple…I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river…where the river flows everything will live…Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on the banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing ‘ Ezekiel 47:1,7,9,12; ‘Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38); Finally, Revelation echoes Ezekiel’s vision, ‘The angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations’ Rev. 22:1,2
The river speaks of God’s presence going out from his throne – outwards, getting deeper as it goes. In Psalm 65, King David starts his prayer, praising God for salvation, declaring his satisfaction with ‘the goodness of your house, the holiness of your temple.’ (Psalm 65:4). The rest of the Psalm tells of God’s goodness and hope for the earth going outwards from there. What flows from God’s throne is always for the good of the peoples of the earth. Plants and living things flourish along the banks of the river of God and in its water. We can draw near to this goodness because God Himself has provided salvation for us by sending Jesus to die in our place. When we believe in Jesus and are filled with His Spirit the river flows out of our hearts. His endless resources are available to us.
When I looked up ‘river of God’, the search engine came up with this definition from Easton’s Bible dictionary, ‘(Ps. 65:9), as opposed to earthly streams, denoting that the divine resources are inexhaustible, or the sum of all fertilizing streams that water the earth (Gen. 2:10).’
Inexhaustible divine resources. Let that soak in.
It’s a picture I need when I pray. A river full of water. A river that won’t run dry. A river that is flowing purposefully not in a random flood. A river we’re invited to draw near to, even to wade in. God, the source of all those resources, causing this river to flow from His throne, from the temple. His presence flowing with abundant grace to cleanse and to heal, to bring hope and nourishment, to bring flourishing in our lives, in the church, in our communities, in the nations.
We won’t see the fullness of the river until Jesus returns, but I believe there is more of God’s refreshing river available to us if we only choose to dwell by its banks.