Tuesday, July 4, 2017

To the thirsty, nothing satisfies like water

I may have invited myself to their group. More than once.

I've been desperate for people to pray with here. Praying and worshiping on my own, while fulfilling in its own way, doesn't satisfy this deep hunger for prayer and worship with other believers. As our weeks in Indiana ticked by, I began to feel an almost desperate thirst for this type of fellowship. The hangup is that God clearly told Andy and I not to go to a church here, so I've felt stuck and this gnawing thirst in me kept growing. I recognized it as craving being a part of the corporate work of the Spirit in the lives of Christians - that unmistakable ministering to one another that can only come from Him.

As the thirst in me grew, I began to research organizations and groups online that did regular prayer. Every time I looked, which was frequently, IHOP (International House of Prayer) would come up.

During my prayer time one afternoon while the kids were sleeping, I asked God if he would provide some other believers to pray with regularly and He spoke pretty clearly and told me to call the guy from IHOP.

Our phone conversation was great. As he talked, we both realized that our hearts were united in a desire to see people live the gospel and not just go through the motions of religion and church. As we were talking, this man mentioned that his family and a handful of other Christians met to pray and talk about Jesus, and that was when the words just tumbled out of my mouth and I invited myself to join them. The question tumbled from me like a dying man's plea for water, "Can I invite myself to join you tomorrow?" He then stumbled over his words, probably as surprised as I that I had so awkwardly thrust myself upon their group, but kindly agreed. I knew I should probably feel uncomfortable, but I was so thirsty that I couldn't bring myself to be embarrassed by my need.

The day they were set to meet, I nearly texted and bailed four times. I just felt so awkward. What had I done? They didn't know me. I didn't know them. What was I thinking? I had a stressful and hard day and meeting new people sounded exhausting, especially when I had awkwardly invited myself in the first place. I felt like walking away and giving up this crazy scheme.

But I've been in ministry long enough to recognize the subtle attacks of the enemy before bible studies, prayer nights, or significant ministry endeavors to recognize this particular strain. Which is probably the only thing that gave me the boldness to keep moving forward.

Andy stayed home with the kids and I blasted the worship music as I drove - singing at the top of my lungs and praying and just choosing Jesus, over my own self-consciouness, over the enemy's lies, over everything. Keeping my eyes fixed on Him.

When I arrived, I was welcomed graciously and lovingly and I felt the instant kinship of being brothers and sisters in Christ. They talked and shared and I felt that thirst in me quench a little.

But then I did it again. This couple had a son and daughter-in-law near our ages who were leading a church-like group in our area. And I awkwardly invited our family to join them. I cannot explain it, but the hunger in me for christian fellowship was so strong that I couldn't seem to restrain myself. Little did I know, their group was in the middle of a transition - determining whether they were just a group of close friends who wanted to stay small, or whether they should branch into becoming a small home church - welcoming new people. I didn't know this when I asked, and truthfully, I'm glad I didn't, or I never would have had the courage to do so. I may have forced the issue upon them in some ways, without ever intending it, but there it was. I had done it again.

Andy met some of the men at a guys' night and loved it. He felt an immediate kinship to them all and was excited about the group and getting to know everyone.

I met the ladies at a morning backyard play-date and I loved them. Their love for Jesus radiated out of each of them so vibrantly that I felt my heart draw near, interested in hearing their stories and getting to know them better.

So, when they invited us to join them on Sunday evening for their gathering, I was excited. In some ways, the Holy Spirit had already authored a love for them in my heart even though I barely knew them. I could feel Him moving so strongly in this, I didn't hesitate in diving all-in.

Our time together was so rich, and people shared their hearts so openly and willingly with one another. We shared. We prayed. We worshiped. After our evening together, I walked away, my thirst satisfied fully for the first time in months. In some ways, our timing in joining them seemed to my human mind to be terrible - they're trying to discover who they are and the methods they should choose to follow God's leading in their lives as a group. I'm afraid I talked too much (as I seem to do too often!), but it had been so long since I've been in a group of believers talking about Jesus and life and following Him, that I'm not sure I could've restrained myself, even if I wanted to.

This blog, in some ways, has been a life-line to me - processing out loud what God is doing in my heart and life and putting words to the struggles, hopes, and desires He is forming in me. For so long, our beautiful Renew Church provided an outlet for all these things, but I feel the words and thoughts bottling up in me until they start overflowing, in letters on a blog or words in a conversation.

"Anyone who believes in Me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, 'Rivers of living water will flow from his heart." John 7:38

It felt like that - as I was drinking from Jesus during my time with Him each day, from His Word and from prayer, a spring was bubbling up in my heart, bursting and needing to escape and flow from my heart out into the world. That Sunday night, it was like someone had unstopped the well and it just tumbled out into the room. I felt half-embarrassed - I didn't know them and they didn't know me. What was I doing talking so boldly about all these things? But in the same way that a river can flow within the defined boundaries of it's borders but it cannot stop itself from flowing, so were the words coming from my mouth. I could provide boundaries for where and how I share what God has been teaching me in my life, but I cannot prevent the water from flowing itself.

As we drink daily from Jesus, He starts bubbling up in us seeking to overflow from our lives like water springing up from the ground and flowing like a river through the earth. Sometimes in word, often in deed, but consistently flowing from our lives. We are too small to contain Jesus - He constantly seeks to burst out of us. His thoughts, given in prayer, shouted from the rooftops. His love, given in our need, poured out to someone else. His kindness, given when we sin, extended to others. His faithfulness, poured out in our lives becoming our faithfulness to others. He cannot be contained, and the fact that He chooses to place His Spirit in us simply means that He is constantly growing in us to pour out of us.

It says in Revelation 22:2, that a river will flow from the throne of God and on the sides of that river will be flourishing trees which grow leaves that are for the healing of the nations. I believe this is a true statement in itself, but is also a beautiful metaphor for what Jesus declares in John 7. As we believe in Jesus and come to Him to drink from the life that only He can give, He produces in us rivers of living water that will flow from our heart and be for the healing of the nations.

As I've pondered our beautiful discussion from Sunday night - what is the church and what is it's purpose - I keep coming back to this imagery. As we believe in Jesus and go to Him, He pours out from us. It isn't something we manufacture. Believe me, I've tried manufacturing fruit on my own, and it doesn't work because dead fruit cannot nourish anyone. Only healthy fruit grown on a healthy tree can offer any nourishment to the hungry.

We cannot manufacture the work of Christ in our life either - we can only go to Him and receive Him in. And its from that place that He overflows in us, for the healing and nourishing of the world.

If, perhaps, we look at our lives, and we find that our river is really a trickle, don't be discouraged! It isn't you who has to create a river of life in yourself! You don't have to be good enough or smart enough or capable enough. That is the exact opposite of what Jesus teaches. You only have to come to Christ and receive from Him. I can assure you, I am not good enough or smart enough or righteous enough to offer anyone anything. I am only one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread. I don't have any greatness in myself to offer or share - I'm just hungry and I know that the Bread of Life is the only thing that satisfies.

Living water flows from the life of anyone who is surrendered to Him. It flows from us, not because we are great, or have anything to offer anyone, but only comes when we are abiding in Him. Letting Him fill us with His fullness and overflow our lives with Himself.

My great thirst was satisfied on Sunday because I was given the privilege to drink from the living water flowing from the lives of the people seated around the room. In each of their words and their love for one another and even for us, I recognized the beautiful rivers of life that can only flow from one source - the throne of God. As the life from God's throne flowed into them and out into the space we occupied together, we each drank deeply of our great need for Jesus and I walked away rejoicing in the privilege we have in satisfying one another's need from the places where God has and is satisfying our need.

They had rivers of life flowing from them that needed overflowing too. And together our streams joined into a beautiful rushing river full of the Spirit of God and the life that can only come from His throne. He alone is the one who satisfies our thirst, but we can receive from one another, the beautiful life giving water that He is overflowing from their lives.

If church is anything, it is this: life flowing from God's throne to people's hearts and overflowing to the need of one another.

Come, all you who are thirsty,
    come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
    and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
    and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
    listen, that you may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
    my faithful love promised to David.
See, I have made him a witness to the peoples,
    a ruler and commander of the peoples.
Surely you will summon nations you know not,
    and nations you do not know will come running to you,
because of the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel,
    for he has endowed you with splendor.”
Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call on him while he is near.

Let the wicked forsake their ways
    and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
    and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.
As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
    without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
    so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
    It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

You will go out in joy
    and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
    will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
    will clap their hands.
Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper,
    and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown,
    for an everlasting sign,
    that will endure forever.”
Isaiah 55

Let us drink from the living waters that are given without cost and let us allow His word to work in us the purposes for which He sent it. Let us seek the Lord while He may be found and praise Him that we can go out in joy and be led forth in peace and that these things are His sign that His promises endure forever.



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