Wednesday, January 21, 2015

God on the inside

Hundreds of years before Jesus, the prophet Ezekiel saw a vision. He saw God's temple, which at the time was destroyed, rebuilt. Water flowed through it, from underneath the altar where sacrifices were made, out the door and into the world. At first it was a small stream flowing forth, only up to the prophet's ankles. Soon it was at his knees. Then his waist. Then he was swimming to keep his head above water.

And this river erupting forth from the place of God's presence was no ordinary river! It was a river of transformation and life. It literally began reshaping the geography of the region around it. The Dead Sea suddenly teemed with fish. Trees began to spring forth on the river's banks- trees whose leaves could heal and whose fruit could nurture.

It was a stirring, inspiring vision, but like most visions it was unclear what it meant. Was it literal? Would God birth a new physical river that would reshape the Middle East? Perhaps, but if we know the Lord of parables and mysteries, we should expect something else is happening here.

Fast forward half a millenium. Jesus, the Messianic figure who somehow fulfilled and hinted to so many of these ancient prophetic signposts, is at a festival. He stands up on a table and shouts to the crowd: "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink! He who believes in me, as the scriptures have promised, will have a river of living water flowing from his inner-most being!"

Ah ha. Now the picture gets clearer.

The passage goes on to tell us that this river is, as we most likely assumed, not literal. It is the Holy Spirit- the companion and advocate Jesus promises to give his disciples later in John. In Luke it is the "promised gift of the Father" that serves to "clothe with power from on high." In Acts it is the miracle of Pentecost, when a wind and fire descend on the praying disciples, when deep boldness is stirred within their hearts, when they began speaking in languages they do not know, and the church is strangley thrust into existence.

And in John 7, the Spirit is Ezekiel's river. It is a fountain that has the power to change our environment. The power to bring healing and nurturing in places of barreness. The power to create life where only death reigned. And the place these miraculous waters spring forth from is within us- within the inner-most part of our very beings.

I want you to imagine for a moment the magnitude of this proposition. The clear message of scripture (whose groundwork was clearly laid in the Old Testament but that comes into striking clarity in the new) is that human beings are capable of two types of living: we can live with God's river inside of us, or we can live without it.

We are then like appliances who are fully capable of existing with or without the animating force of electricity. Like cars that may contain fuel (better yet, an engine) or not. And like the appliance and automobile, though we might exist without the river of life within us, we will exist on a plane far below our purpose. Like an unplugged blow-dryer whose buttons do nothing but click meaninglessly, we will alway wonder if there weren't something more to this whole mystery called existence.

And it is in that place, that place of dissatisfaction with ordinary life that Jesus might call 'thirst', that John 7, Ezekiel 47, and the Day of Pentecost all cry out to us with a resounding "Yes! There is more! There is joy and power and hope to be had on the inside! There is a filling of God's Spirit that brings to life every gift you possess, every wholesome desire that beckons you, every sincere love that defines you!" It whispers to us like Gandalf whispered to the reluctant Mr. Baggins: "There is more to you than you think." 

This Spirit is more than positive self-talk. It is more than good energies and vibes. This is a person- he is the Spirit of God himself. We cannot will him into us, or create him on our own terms. We must come to him, surrender, and allow him to consume us. We must drink, and be filled. And Christ has made it clear where this Spirit can be found.

And so I leave you with this final astounding proclamation from the Book of John.

"For [Christ] utters the words of God, and he gives the Holy Spirit without limit." (‭John‬ ‭3‬:‭34‬)


Post a Comment

<< Home