Rivers of Living Water – huh?

“He who believes in Me, as the Scriptures said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’ But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive” (John 7:38).

Have rivers of living water ever flowed from your innermost being? Jesus says that they will. Would you know it if they did?

I was asking the Lord about this one day as I walked along my favorite stretch of the local bike trail. To my knowledge, I had never experienced rivers of the Holy Spirit flowing out from me and into the lives of others. Sure, I’ve served in my church for many years, taught Sunday school, counseled and prayed with people, but rivers – RIVERS! – of the Holy Spirit flowing out of me? Not that I’m aware of.

I suppose it is possible that this occurs in a more or less silent, invisible fashion, unnoticed either by me or by the person to whom the Spirit flows. Trouble is, that’s not how it was with Jesus or his disciples.

When the Spirit flowed from Jesus via his words or his touch, people knew it. Jesus said His words were “full of the Spirit and life” (John 6:63). When he spoke, people were struck with conviction and wonder. “No one ever spoke the way this man does!” (John 7:46)

At his touch, people were healed. When the woman with an issue of blood touched Jesus, he immediately said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.” (Luke 8:46)

There was nothing silent or unnoticeable about the river flowing from Jesus. The same could be said of Peter on the Day of Pentecost – when 3,000 men responded to his Spirit-powered message; or Stephen, who worked miracles and spoke with unmatched wisdom by the Holy Spirit; or Paul on numerous occasions; or Philip in Samaria. And it isn’t only for them. Jesus said it was for “He who believes in me,” or “Whoever believes in me.” (NIV)

That’s anyone. That’s me.

So I was asking the Lord why no such river of the Spirit ever seemed to flow from my innermost being, and no sooner were the words out of my mouth than I heard a distinct, small voice inside me give this reply: “Every time you walk down this path, you always stop at the same spot and turn around. Why don’t you just keep walking?”

Lest you think that I’m prone to hearing voices, this was an unusual occurrence. Yes, the Lord has spoken to my need or my situation in various ways on other occasions, but such an immediate reply of this sort was unusual.

Nevertheless, I understood. In my Christian walk, especially as it pertains to the working of the Holy Spirit, I have gone a certain distance in my understanding and experience, but no further. Having been raised in a conservative, traditional denomination, I did not grow up with any inkling that the Holy Spirit may still be working in supernaturally amazing ways.

Later in adulthood, I eventually embraced the baptism of the Holy Spirit (as some call it) and have learned to pray both with my mind and in the Spirit, in a language unknown to me. This has led to some of the most intense, passionate intercession of my life, and I thank God for it.

But that is as far as I’ve gone. I have never sought or cried out for any other giftings or workings of the Spirit – no prophecy, healings, miracles, or discerning of spirits; no words of wisdom or knowledge. I have never “eagerly desired the greater gifts.” (1 Corinthians 12:31; 14:1-19)

Instead, I’ve been content with what I know.

Now, for anyone who is convinced that all those “supernatural” gifts no longer exist, I encourage you to keep reading anyway. I have a word for you later on.

So back on the bike trail, I said to the Lord, “OK Lord, today I’ll keep walking.” Now I knew that about thirty feet beyond my normal stopping point there was a crossroad, and then a new section of trail began, a section I had never walked before. So I said to the Lord, “When I get to that new section, I’ll be looking around and noticing things, and if there’s something you’d like to show me or say to me, I’ll be paying attention.”

I walked on, crossed the road, and entered the new section of trail. Although this trail also ran through a wooded area, I quickly noted that the trees were set farther back from the edge of the trail. This allowed more sunlight to illuminate the trail, and it was easier to see farther on ahead.

About twenty feet through the trees to my left, there was a deep gorge running parallel to the trail. Craning my neck, I tried to see if the gorge held any water – it appeared to be dry – and after a moment I reached a low spot where I could see a small trickle of water, hardly enough to call a stream, running along the bottom.

There were also some shallow drainage channels about every thirty feet or so along the trail, running from the left edge of the trail toward the gorge. If these channels had held any water, it would empty into the gorge, but they were all dry and full of twigs.

Even as I noticed each of these features on the new trail, I also perceived their meaning. Don’t ask me how; God just does what He does, and He conveyed to me the reason for my lack of living water, and why so many other Christians share the same experience.

That gorge represents the potential river of God flowing from the Church. If it were full, it would be a sizable and powerful river. But at the moment it holds only a trickle, a small stream generated by those relative few Believers from whom the Spirit is currently out-flowing.

There are millions of Christians – like me – who have learned the things of God only up to a certain point, and that is where they stop. They have never hungered or thirsted for more of what God wants to give. They have never “eagerly desired” the greater spiritual gifts (as we are told to do).

Maybe you’ve been taught that these things aren’t for today, or maybe they just make you uncomfortable or afraid. Up to now you have been satisfied to receive the Holy Spirit only as an indwelling presence, but not as a river.

No matter. If we cried out and sought after those things that lay further along the path, God would generously pour them out, and rivers would flow out from each of us. Our outflow – those little side channels – would then fill the gorge, which would begin to flow as a mighty river, the way as it is supposed to be.

Needless to say, this was the most interesting walk along the bike trail I’ve ever had, and the reason I’m sharing this experience now is because I know that in answering my question concerning the absence of “living water” flowing from me, God also answered it for others who share my experience.

Look, I’ve lived for many years as a “good Christian” who tries to avoid sin and who prays about life’s big decisions. But the followers of Jesus did much more than that. When their lives intersected with unbelievers, people got saved and filled with the Holy Spirit. People prophesied, healings took place, and demons were expelled. The Spirit of God flowed out from them like a healing river of grace.

God has not changed. The Holy Spirit has not changed. Jesus is still the same. Those people who tell you that spiritual gifts died out with the original apostles, or that God doesn’t work that way anymore, aren’t getting their intel from the Bible. They get it from theologians who have never sought – and therefore never received – a baptism of God’s Spirit and the supernatural gifts that come with it. They got their ideas from those who don’t have, don’t ask, and don’t believe.

So if you, like me, are wanting to experience rivers of living water flowing from your innermost being, you must keep reading the Word and  start listening to Believers who do have and who do believe.

That being said, there is an important question that needs addressing: What if I don’t have a desire for more of God? What if I am not hungering and thirsting for righteousness? What if I still feel content with the way my life is going and I’m satisfied in my relationship with God as is?

That is an issue you and I have to deal with individually. If you really want to stay as you are, then that’s what you’ll do. I also struggle with a lack of desire. Just as I had never experienced rivers of Holy Spirit, I had also never experienced any intense desire to know God better; never hungered or thirsted like a deer panting for water. For much of my adult life I have been content with the spiritual status quo.

But the cure for lack of desire is the same as for lack of a river – just start asking. Ask God to give you a desire for him. Ask him to give you a hunger and a thirst for righteousness. And don’t ask just one time, God wants us to keep on asking, persistently and insistently. That is what Jesus meant when he said:

“Ask (and keep on asking) and it will be given to you; seek (and keep on seeking) and you will find; knock (and keep on knocking) and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks (and keeps on asking) receives; the one who seeks (and keeps on seeking) finds; and to the one who knocks (and keeps on knocking), the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8)

The Greek tense here is a continuous action – asking, seeking, and knocking. God doesn’t want us to stop. He wants us to be persistent, to insist that he answer us! This is not offensive to God, it is how he tests us to determine if we really want what we say or are just having a momentary flutter that will shortly pass. Ask for the desire, and while you are at it, ask to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Ask for rivers of living water to flow from inside you.

Jesus finished up by stating that if even we, evil as we are, give good gifts to our children who ask,

“How much more will your Father in Heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13)

You see, there is more to the Holy Spirit than just Him indwelling us when we believe. There is an asking and a giving and a receiving from God. So ask! Then keep asking.

Now you may wonder where I stand today in terms of a river of living water flowing out of me. Or as my coworker just asked me, how many miracles have I performed this week? (He’s so skeptical) 🙂

Well, I’m relatively new to this myself. My bike trail conversation with God took place not long ago, so I have only just begun to persistently ask and seek, both for greater desire and for the Holy Spirit. But I am supremely confident in the outcome, because God doesn’t enter in and show us great and mighty things without intending that they come to pass in our lives, so this little instructive interaction will not be without effect.

My part is to do what I’m doing. God’s part is to respond as He promised. Simple, right? And since you’ve read this far I recommend that you return from time to time for updates on this new adventure and other related happenings as they occur. Until then may our God richly bless your own spiritual hunger by filling you up to overflowing with Himself! Amen? Yes, amen!