When I was a child of about seven years old, my family drove from our home in Delaware to Dallas, Texas for a conference my father was involved in.
It was the first time in my life I’d seen the Mississippi. My dad woke me, my brother and sister up — we were all asleep, late at night, in the backseat of our Datsun station wagon — as we approached the Mississippi.
I’d been around water since I was born. I took my first steps on a sailboat off the Atlantic coast. I’d been canoeing with my parents on a number of rivers and streams. And I spend many days fishing and getting into filthy boyish mayhem on the banks of a tributary near my boyhood home. But, I’d never seen a river like the Mississippi.
The sheer breadth and scope of it was breathtaking. The force of the thing, the lights, the life and the movement I could see, even in just that brief time crossing the bridge, left me awestruck. And, it still does today. But, even the Mississippi, even when it is swollen past its banks, is nothing compared to the river we look at in today’s reading from the Gospel.
On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” John 7:37-38 NRSV
This passage speaks to the power we unlock when we come to Christ in prayer, and really surrender ourselves to His power.
When we go to God in prayer it’s appropriate we ask for the tools we need to live in and for Christ. We talk about being fed, about being filled with the Spirit, to give us what we need to get through the day, or whatever we’re facing in our lives.
Jesus tells us in this passage that our spiritual thirst will be quenched when we come to him. The Holy Spirit, which resides in us, wells up when we surrender our worries and abide in Christ. That’s great news! But, it’s only half – and I’d argue the lesser half – of the great news.
There’s a second part to this verse, and a second part to our relationship in Christ. When we drink of the living waters, when we unlock the Spirit, yes, we are filled. But that fulfillment isn’t the end of the line.
From the heart of the believer – from the one who abides in Christ through the Spirit – flows rivers of living water. Rivers. When we drink of the Spirit, that small act of surrender opens us up like a riverbed, allowing a torrent of the Spirit to flow from God, through us, to a world in need.
God wants us to open our hearts to the Spirit – to drink of the living waters, and to be filled. But, far greater than that gift is the immeasurably more powerful way God desires to work through us, to build His Kingdom. When we drink we are filled.
But, we only unlock the full potential of that fulfillment when we fully surrender to its power. As a mere man, I cannot change the course, or even swim against the current for long, of a mighty river. But, if I let myself surrender to its waters, I join a flow that is far more powerful than myself. Likewise, God calls us to not only be filled by the Holy Spirit, but to fully surrender to it — to open the gates of our soul and let forth the rivers of the Holy Spirit.
When we drink, and surrender to the flow of the Spirit, and let it take us where it will – then we become a river no earthly obstacle can withstand. We become a flowing river of God’s love, flowing into the dry riverbeds of humanity’s cruelty and indifference, to transform this world through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Lord, help us to break down any dam of pride, fear, or greed that is blocking the flow of your Spirit in and through us. Allow us to become an open channel, in which we will not only be filled, but become an unceasing flow of your love into this world. Amen.