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The River of Life - Shepherd of Hope

“And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb.” – Revelation 22:1

 

“No one drinks water like Stephen does.” When my kids and their friends were younger and would come in from playing on a hot summer day, they’d converge on the refrigerator for some cold thirst-quenching fluids. Some would go for the juice. Some would go for the iced tea. But not my son Stephen. He’d go straight for the ice-cold water, pour a glass, and then gulp it down with loud long gulps that exuded satisfaction. For him, that water was like a river of life. My wife and I would watch in wonder and say, “No one drinks water like Stephen does.” Watching him drink water, made us want some too.

Have you ever been really thirsty? It’s believed the average person can survive between two days and a week without water. But because of factors like perspiration and activity its hard to predict just how long a person could survive without water. For the elderly, children, or people with an illness or injury, survival without water could be only a matter of hours. Dehydration to the point of death can occur in hours for athletes or say, a child left in a hot car.[1] Water is important to life.

Louis Zamperini was stranded at sea for 47 days in the Pacific during World War II. He survived by catching sea gulls and fish with his bare hands and consuming them raw to get the food and fluids necessary for his survival. His is a truly incredible biography. His survival at sea was a providential intervention by God; proof that God provides the water of life needed for our survival. [2] God is the One who provides us with the river of life which sustains our eternal life.

One of the most prominent things we will see when we get to heaven will be the river of life. After the Rapture, the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, the Tribulation, the Second Coming, after the Millennial reign of Christ in His earthly Kingdom, and after the Great White Throne Judgment, when the old earth and old heaven have been put away and a new earth and new heaven are set in place by God, as we are escorted into heaven’s capital city of the New Jerusalem, right there in the middle of that great city will be, the river of life.

The Apostle John’s testimony of our heavenly abode is described in the last chapter of the Bible:

Revelation 22:1 – “And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb.”

That we are entering the New Jerusalem here is implied by the reference to “its street” (22:2). The first thing we will see as we enter the New Jerusalem will be God’s “river of the water of life.” God’s life-giving source is central to His heavenly abode. God is all about giving life. God in Christ conquered the death caused by sin. Heaven will be all about life; wonderful eternal crystal-clear life.

When we get there, we’ll know we are in heaven in part because there will be no pollution! “A pure river of water of life” flows from the throne of God. Water was and still is a precious commodity to those who live in an arid place. A desert is a desert because of the lack of water. An oasis is a place in the desert which has a water source and because of it there is vegetation. People pass through deserts by way of oasis. You may feel like you’re going through a desert time in your life right now. God is putting a water source for refreshing before you now. Right here, right now, God is providing an oasis to get you through.

Water is so important. About 71% of the earth is water.[3] Our bodies are made up of about 50-75% water. An average adult is between 50-65% water. An infant can be 75-78% water. Women are less watery than men by about 5%. This is because women naturally have more fatty tissue than men.[4] Our skin is made up of about 64% water. Our brain and heart are about 73% water. Our lungs are 83% water.[5] Sometimes when I work out, I don’t properly hydrate myself. The consequence is severe cramping in my legs and calves. Such cramping causes me to jump up to put pressure on my leg in an effort to straighten and stretch out my calf. It takes a few excruciating seconds to get the muscle relaxed and back in shape. The remedy is to drink lots of water until I’m properly rehydrated and the cramping stops. When you don’t hydrate yourself, you cramp up, and you can’t move forward. There’s a deeper message in that. If we don’t hydrate ourselves with the water God provides, we will cramp up spiritually and not be able to move forward.

We need God’s water. We need the waters of His river of life to survive. You may not have given this much thought before, but the Bible speaks quite a bit about water and God’s river of life.

The river waters of God. The psalmist uses the image of a river to convey the abundance of the pleasures of God:

  • Psalm 36:5-9 – “Your mercy, O LORD, is in the heavens; Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds. Your righteousness is like the great mountains; Your judgments are a great deep; O LORD, You preserve man and beast. How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Your wings. They are abundantly satisfied with the fullness of Your house, and You give them drink from the river of Your pleasures. For with You is the fountain of life; in Your light we see light.”
  • Psalm 46:4 – “There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High.”

Here it speaks of the “river of Your pleasures, . . . the fountain of life.” And it speaks of “a river which makes glad the city of God.” God uses the imagery of river water to convey the thought of His provision of pleasures and gladness. A city in Biblical times needed to have a water source. King Hezekiah had a tunnel dug within the walls of Jerusalem that led to the waters of the Gihon Spring (2 Chronicles 32). You can visit it and walk that tunnel today. It’s an incredible work measuring 583 years long. [6] Men began digging the tunnel at both ends and then met in the middle. How they were able to meet in the middle is an engineering feat that still stumps archeologists and engineers to this day. We might say again, that God is the one who leads us to and provides our water source.

The river water of Jesus. Jesus spoke of the concept of this life-giving water when He spoke to the woman at the well:

  • John 4:13-15 – “Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again,14 “but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”15 The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.”

Here Jesus used the imagery of water to communicate to this woman that there is a water that sustains more than physical life. His water leads to eternal life. Have you tasted the water Jesus is speaking about?

The rivers of living waters of the Spirit. Jesus spoke of “rivers of living water.” The Apostle John directly linked this imagery to the Holy Spirit:

  • John 7:37-39 – “On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.38 “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”39 But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”

“Living water” is water that is flowing as opposed to being stagnant. Stagnant water can become polluted and impure. Stagnant water can be unsafe to drink. Living water is water that is purified and fresh by its constant flow in a river. The Greek term for “rivers” (Greek potamos) used by Jesus here literally means a moving stream, a torrent, a flood. Jesus is speaking of a tsunami of this living water that would gush forth from out heart. Water can be an extremely powerful force. It can refresh, but it can also be a powerful force to move things out of the way. Waters can turn turbines that generate electrical power. The tsunami waters of the Spirit Jesus was speaking about, are a powerful Niagara Falls of the Spirit that empower us to light up the world with His light.

We can experience our first taste of this river of living water in this life. We do that when we accept Jesus as Savior by faith; when we are born again of the Holy Spirit. That’s our first drink from the life-giving waters of the Lord. But as we progress and grow in our faith, we drink more and more from the waters of God.

Very practically, the Bible speaks of the “water of the word” of God (Ephesians 5:26). It speaks of us being “washed in the water of the word.” We need to drink in and hydrate ourselves spiritually with the water of the word. But we also have to wash in the water of God’s word.

Ezekiel pictured this river in a vision. He saw a river flowing out of the Temple. This vision instructs us on how to receive fully from its flow.

GOING DEEP

There is an Old Testament passage found in the Book of Ezekiel that is helpful and instructive here. It speaks to us about our response to God’s river of living water. God will never circumvent or bypass a person’s will. God calls us to drink His water. “Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters” (Isaiah 55:1a). God is a Gentleman in that He presents us with choices. Not even will He bless us without our consent. This passage in Ezekiel provides us with instruction about God’s calling and His provisions for us here and now. Let’s look at the passage.

  • Ezekiel 47:1-12 – “Then he brought me back to the door of the temple; and there was water, flowing from under the threshold of the temple toward the east, for the front of the temple faced east; the water was flowing from under the right side of the temple, south of the altar.2 He brought me out by way of the north gate, and led me around on the outside to the outer gateway that faces east; and there was water, running out on the right side. 3 And when the man went out to the east with the line in his hand, he measured one thousand cubits, and he brought me through the waters; the water came up to my ankles.4 Again he measured one thousand and brought me through the waters; the water came up to my knees. Again he measured one thousand and brought me through; the water came up to my waist.5 Again he measured one thousand, and it was a river that I could not cross; for the water was too deep, water in which one must swim, a river that could not be crossed. 6 He said to me, “Son of man, have you seen this?” Then he brought me and returned me to the bank of the river.7 When I returned, there, along the bank of the river, were very many trees on one side and the other.8 Then he said to me: “This water flows toward the eastern region, goes down into the valley, and enters the sea. When it reaches the sea, its waters are healed.9 “And it shall be that every living thing that moves, wherever the rivers go, will live. There will be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters go there; for they will be healed, and everything will live wherever the river goes.10 “It shall be that fishermen will stand by it from En Gedi to En Eglaim; they will be places for spreading their nets. Their fish will be of the same kinds as the fish of the Great Sea, exceedingly many.11 “But its swamps and marshes will not be healed; they will be given over to salt.12 “Along the bank of the river, on this side and that, will grow all kinds of trees used for food; their leaves will not wither, and their fruit will not fail. They will bear fruit every month, because their water flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for medicine.”

When I was a young boy, I loved to play football. I’d rise early Saturday mornings and go from house to house assembling enough of my friends to get a game together. We’d play all day and never get tired. After we chose up sides we’d kick off and play. We didn’t have many set plays. Instead we’d kneel down and write a play in the dirt. “Jimbo, you run down five steps, cut to the right. Mikey, you run five steps and cut to the left and cross behind Jimbo. Dave, YOU GO DEEP!” On every play there was always someone told to go deep. If a play broke down everyone knew instinctively, “Go deep!” Deep, deep, deep! Boys love to go deep. There was always someone who ran deep for the “bomb.” That was the way we played. Sometimes I ran deep and sometimes I was the one who threw deep. But there was always a “deep” threat. The deep pass was risky. The deep pass was the hardest to complete. But the deep pass was the play that made the game the most fun because if you completed it, it proved you beat the odds on that play. It’s fun to run as hard as you can, throw as hard as you can throw and then see it all come together, “Touchdown!” It took the most skill, the most effort to complete the deep pass, so when you completed it, it gave you the most satisfaction. God wants us to “go deep.” He wants us to score. He wants us to go all out and experience success spiritually. He wants us to trust in Him. He wants us to “go deep!”

Going deep on dry land is almost always fun, at least when you’re playing ball. But when water is involved, it can be frightening. I can remember my mom trying to teach me to swim when I was small. As she took me out into the water deeper and deeper, a held on to her tighter and tighter. I was scared. I didn’t like not having my feet on solid ground. I didn’t like being buoyant. And when my mom tried to help me float and then only hold me by my hands, and then tried to let me go, just for an instant, well, that didn’t sit well with me. Water and me have never much agreed. But that was my introduction to getting my feet wet.

Later when I was in seventh grade, our school had a pool and if you didn’t know how to swim, they would teach you. There weren’t too many kids that didn’t know how to swim. Those of us who didn’t have that skill were relegated to the shallow end. You had to know how to swim, and swim well, to go in the deep end. It looked like fun to swim in that deep end. There were games like tag and water polo played over there. But I never learned to swim well enough to go in that deep end. I never really wanted to go in that deep end. There was nothing there to coax me into leaving my fears and discomfort behind. I didn’t trust my instructors. I didn’t trust myself to go deeper in the water. I guess, looking back on it, what I lacked was faith.

The prophet Ezekiel receives a vision from the LORD via “a man” (40:3). This vision is of a river proceeding from beneath the temple. In this vision Ezekiel is gradually brought into the river. First, in up to his ankles (47:3), then up to his knees (47:4a), up to his waist (47:4b), and finally Ezekiel is brought in over his head (47:5). The river flowing from the temple is described as having healing or medicinal power (47:6-12). What’s going on here?

I believe the message we can take from this vision communicates to us our relationship to God’s river of life. I believe that this picture conveys the stages of experience that believers have with regard to the flow of God’s life-giving water. At each stage, as we go deeper and deeper, our faith is tested and entrusted by God. At each stage we learn to trust the Lord a little more. At each stage we hold on to the Lord by faith as He leads us deeper.

Ankle deep – tasting and seeing that the LORD is good. When we accept the Lord as Savior by faith, we step into this river of life and stand ankle deep on its shores. This is the point that we test the waters. And the waters test us. The waters test our faith. This is the genesis of our saving faith in God. We’re still acclimating ourselves and getting our bearings. By faith we dip our toe into God’s waters. When we do, we feel the welcoming and soothing water. But its still just a little bit. We’re still in control. We are still determining whether or not we will go further. This is the point of conversion for us. It’s deciding, “Yes, I’m going into God’s waters.” This is the point at which we taste and see that the Lord is good and drink from the living water offered by Jesus:

  • Psalm 34:8 – “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!”
  • John 4:13-14 – “Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again,14 “but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”

When your ankle deep in water, you can still pretty much slosh around at will. When your ankle deep, you still have a lot of control over your movements. But God calls us deeper.

Knee deep – growing in the LORD. Its fun getting our feet wet. But we sense there’s something more. The Lord is beckoning us to come out deeper. As we grow in the Lord, as we trust Him more, we begin to venture a bit deeper, we go in up to our knees. This is the stage of being strengthened in the Lord. Our weak knees that were made so feeble by the world and sin are being strengthened and we are moving on in spiritual maturity and holiness. In Hebrews it states:

  • Hebrews 12:12-15 – “Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees,13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed.14 Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord:15 looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled;”

Here we still can move around at will, but it is becoming harder to do so in our own strength. We begin to realize that the water is rising higher and is making our movement more difficult. We will begin to understand that movement with the Lord can be taxing and hard at times. When the water is up to our knees, it wears on us, we become fatigued. The higher the water gets, the more we realize we need God’s help to move us around. The deeper we go, the less control we have, the more control we realize God has.

Waist deep – becoming a reproducing disciple. As we move in up to our waist, we look down and it becomes harder to see ahead in the water. We have to trust the Lord that much more as we move out deeper. Now, not only is it harder to move, it is harder to see ahead. But now our growing faith to go deeper actually brings a certain comfort in the water. We’ve gone from ankle deep, to knee deep and now to waist deep. We are becoming more confident in the waters of the Lord. This confidence in Him leads us to want others to join us in the waters up to our waist. We encourage others to come deeper too. “Come join me and splash around in these refreshing waters! The Lord is faithful, He’s in control! Don’t worry, come deeper. Join me. Join Him.”

As we continue to grow in our faith we are equipped for ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12), we learn to trust God that much more. And as we grow in our faith, we move into the life of a reproducing disciple. The waist is the place where our reproductive organs are located. Our heart is burdened for lost souls as we move into the river of life up to our waist. WE invite them to come join us in the Lord. Here we take seriously the call to share our faith and lead others into a saving relationship with Jesus.

The Great Commission and the life of discipleship is the natural stage of development for those entering this river of life.

  • Matthew 28:18-20 – “And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,20 “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.”

Now, up to our waist in water, our movement is really restricted. We begin to really need help. We begin to look to the Lord more. We move around, but the water is really a factor in where and how fast we move. In physical therapy water is often used to gently strengthen muscles as a patient moves against water. The same is happening here, God is building spiritual muscles as we move deeper in His water of life.

Going deep – in over our heads – total surrender. In life we can sometimes feel as though we’re in over our head. But that is in the chaos and sinfulness of the world. In our passage, these waters or pure and holy, they are waters that build us up spiritually. The Lord wants us to go in all the way, to go deep into His river of life. The Lord is calling us into His deep end.

It’s in the deep end that we have to trust the Lord totally. When He calls us into the deep end, He assumes full responsibility for us. In the deep end God watches us. He knows our survival depends on Him entirely. He watches to see we don’t get ourselves in trouble. He watches to see we don’t overextend ourselves. He watches to see we don’t drown. He is there to reach down and pull us up if we get in trouble. When we go in all the way, God becomes our Life Guard. And did you know, our Life Guard walks on water? He is able to reach us in time no matter where we swim or drift in the deep waters of life.

If Jesus is our Life Guard, His word is our life jacket. The water of the word of God keep sour head above water. His word steers us in the right direction. His word leads us to land. His word keeps us at the right depth. His word keeps us afloat. His word is not only our life jacket, its our life raft.

As we answer the call to discipleship, as we move deeper in the Lord’s waters, we begin to become more and more aware of the flesh or sinful self that dwells within us. Our flesh promotes fear of God’s deep waters. Our flesh struggles to stay afloat. Our flesh constantly whispers, it’s too deep, your now strong enough, there’s sharks in the waters, God won’t rescue you, where’s Jesus your Life Guard; He’s nowhere to be found. Our flesh causes us to swim contrary to the currents of God. Our flesh tries to sink us like a rock. Our flesh tempts us to look into the deep waters rather than keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our swim.

The waters of God are designed to tire out our flesh. It’s in Gods deep waters that we begin to see the limits of our own strength. Yet God calls us deeper still. He knows that its in His deep that we will leave our flesh behind and learn to live in Him. It’s in the scary deep waters that we learn the reliability of the Lord to provide for our every need. There are sharks in the waters. They are perpetually circling us. But God is able to get us through. That’s a lesson that can only be learned in deep waters.

It’s in deep waters that we realize with Paul just how much faith we don’t’ have. It’s in deep waters that we realize are still withholding the reigns to our lives. It’s in deep waters we realize we are not enough. It’s in the deep waters we realize we have not given Jesus total control. Did you know that a life guard is taught that sometimes they will literally have to knock the person out who they are trying to rescue? A floundering swimmer can sometimes be in such a state of terror that when the life guard reaches them they grab hold of the rescuer in a panicked death grip that both are put in peril of drowning. If a drowning person is unable or unwilling to relax and let the life guard do their rescue work, they just very well may have to be knocked out.

Sometimes, Jesus, in order to save us, has to knock us out. It’s in deep waters we learn we aren’t strong enough. Its in the deep waters we learn that, if we are to swim further than our meagre muscles can propel us, we are going to have to relax in our Life Guard’s grip and let Him carry us to safety. Jesus will allow us to encounter situations that are beyond us, in order to show us, nothing is beyond Him. Corrie Ten Boom, a concentration camp survivor of World War Two once said, “There is no pit so deep, that God’s love is not deeper still.” We might say, “There is no depth of the seas of life that are too deep for Jesus to reach us and teach us through.

It’s in deep waters, over our head, that we learn the necessary lesson to let go and let God. It’s in deep waters we learn the key to survival, the key to reaching our destination, the key to be used by God along the seas of life, is to rest in Him.

One of the hardest things I had to learn when I was being taught to swim was to relax. I can remember my gym instructor grabbing both my hands and telling me, “Now just relax and float.” I thought, relax and float? Are you kidding? I’ll sink like a rock! But you know what, when I trusted him, I learned that He was right. When I relaxed, I was able to float and floating was the first second step to learning how to swim. (The first step was actually stepping out into the water.) In the deep waters, over our head, Jesus teaches us to totally trust Him. And when we get to that place of total trust in Jesus, we can really begin to swim with Him.

When we refuse to relax or trust in Jesus, we struggle like a duck out of water. We want to move around in our own strength, in our own ways, according to our desires. We want to swim, but in our own strength all we can do is flop around. In our own strength, we are a flop. It’s when we learn to relax and trust our Swim Instructor that we can glide on the surface of the waters and then swimming becomes the logical next step.

Have you ever watched a college swim meet or swimmers readying themselves in the Olympics for a race? They step to the starting podium and then they shake their arms and legs to loosen them up. They look like wet noodles. They’re so loose that they don’t seem to have any bones in them. But when the gun fires to start the race, off they plunge into the pool to sleekly swim like the fastest dolphin. A smooth swimmer, a graceful swimmer, is a relaxed swimmer. They aren’t afraid of the water anymore. The water, the deep, becomes their source of joy and accomplishment. They master the deep.

But even an Olympic swimmer has limits to how far they can swim. Some of swam the English Channel. The longest distance someone has ever swam is 139.8 miles.[7] But there comes a point where even the best swimmers have to stop or they will drown. The deep waters of the Lord teach us our limitations. The deep waters of the Lord teach us that no matter what, eventually, we will have to depend on Him to go on.

The lesson we learn in the deep is the limits of our flesh. The Lord calls The Lord is speaking to us, by way of His waters, of our sinful nature, our flesh. “Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls; all Your waves and billows have gone over me” (Psalm 42:7). There’s a reason for this. Paul put it this way:

  • Romans 7:15-20 – “For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do.16 If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good.17 But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find.19 For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.20 Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.”

The waters of God are directing us one way, but our sinful nature is directing us another way, a contrary way to that of the Lord’s directions. We want to try and swim on our own. We claw and uncomfortably struggle in the waters like a cat thrown in. We think we can swim, but all we do is sink on our own. We flap and flop and splish and splash and get nowhere. All we can do is expend our energy and exhaust ourselves. In our own strength we get nowhere but down.

The closer we draw to God the more we become aware that there are areas in our life that have yet to be surrendered to Him. He teaches us in the deep that we have to lay aside the weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us” (Hebrews 12:1). There is stuff in our life that if we don’t let it go, can sink us. God uses deep waters to teach us that. In deep waters, we realize that we remain proudly entrenched and firmly planted on the throne in certain areas of our life. When we realize this, we cry out with Paul, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24).

We cry out to God that in our own strength we are wretched. In our own strength we can’t move around in God’s living waters. In our own strength we will come up short, we will drown in ourselves. That’s okay. The Lord has designed this to happen. He wants us to “Go deep!” in His waters; He wants us to go all the way into the waters, over our head, so that we give Him full control of our movement. If we want to be fully used by the Lord, we need to fully surrender to Him. We need to go all the way, to go deep, to go all the way in His living waters. Totally submerged in His living waters, God is then totally in control of us.

The issue here is one of sanctification, or being wholly cleansed from sin and set apart to God. God’s living waters, as we move into them deeper and deeper, have a cleansing effect on us. The deeper we move into God’s waters, the less our strength can move us, the less our flesh is in control. God is maneuvering us to focus on and trust in Him alone. He teaches us abandonment to Him in the deep. And in those deep waters, when we reach the end of ourselves, when we can’t swim another inch, when we can’t make another stroke, the Lord reaches down with His life preserver, and puts a beacon in our heart that cries, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:25). Then and only then, when we come to that cry of helplessness, are we ready to really take some swimming lessons.

Romans 8 provides us with the climactic solution to our problem of struggling with our flesh and sin. Sin here is self-will, selfishness, self-reliance. These waters are not sin; they only expose the presence of sin. The solution is the Spirit filled life described in Romans 8. “The Spirit helps our weakness” (Romans 8:26a). To go deeper into God’s water is to really go deeper into our trust and reliance on the Holy Spirit.

Jesus is at the heart of the answer to our heart cry to be sanctified. Sanctification is like swimming out into the deep. The Bible says, “Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). Jesus saves us “to the uttermost.” Jesus takes our hand and walks us into the deep waters. He takes us by the hand and leads us out at first to ankle depth, then knee depth, up to our waist and then eventually, in over our heads. He brings us to a depth where we have to depend on Him to swim on. He holds us and roots us on. Jesus lifts us up. He keeps us afloat. Jesus prays us through to sanctification. Jesus is praying us through the depths of troubled waters in this life.

We can be victorious over temptations to sin because of Jesus redemptive and sanctifying cross work. “By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. . .. For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:10 and 14). Jesus has swum our course before us. He has in effect completed our race for us. We don’t swim to win the race. We swim as those who have already won. Jesus has swum the race, won all the medals, and gives each of us one of them. We win by diving into God’s waters by faith in Him. The outcome is secure.

So, you see, God calls us to the deep for good reason. He knows there’s a victory for us to experience. He has a plan for us. He has a plan that will bring us great joy. All we have to do is take the plunge. All we have to do is trust Him and dive in. God tells us, “Go deep! Go deep! Submerge yourself in My river of life! Trust Me and I’ll lead you to victory.”

We must let the pure waters of the river of life have their purifying effects on us. We must allow the water of the word of God to wash sinful self-reliance out of us. Going deep means totally trusting the Lord; it means turning away from self and fully surrendering to the Savior, to Jesus as Lord. It’s at this point where we must plunge in, give our all, take the risk of entrusting God with everything we are and are connected to.

This is a critically important lesson to learn. It’s the difference between flopping around just barely keeping our head above water or being a skilled swimmer who learns to joyfully maneuver in the waters of life. We can fight against God and flounder or we can take His hand and swim freely (Romans 8:5-13). We can swish on our own, or swim in the Spirit (Romans 6:3-7). We can go deep with God, or limit our experience to the shallow waters of the shores of life (Romans 6:11-14). We can swim and sink in our self-reliance, or we can swim in Him and cross the seas (Galatians 2:20).

When we go deep with God, we swim when and where God directs us to swim. We move with His current, His flow. There are words in the book of Romans which convey the importance of fully surrendering to the Lord. The Apostle Paul exhorts God’s people:

  • Romans 12:1–2 – I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

In other words, Paul is inspired to exhort his readers to “Go deep!” These verses are pivotal in the book of Romans. Paul is moving from doctrinal orthodoxy in the first eleven chapters to practical orthopraxy in the final five chapters. He is moving from doctrinal to practical application of what has been learned. He’s showing how to answer the questions, “What now? What do I do when the Spirit is in me? How do I follow the Lord?”

Living a life of total surrender to the Lord is how we discern His will for our lives as well as a prerequisite for us to be fully used by the Lord and experience His fullness. Living in the deep, over-our-head waters of the Lord means we give up “control” to the Lord. He is in control of our lives. He calls the shots. We look to Him for swimming instructions. We look to Him to learn where and when He wants us to swim. We accept and trust Him for whatever He allows in our life or directs us to do.

When I was a boy, (a typical boy for those days), I used to play outside all day and get plenty dirty. We played in dirt. Dirt was a part of us. When I came home, washing up wasn’t a priority. My mother used to yell at me to “Clean up!” I’d go through the motions, but at the dinner table, within sight of my Mom, she’d see the truth. She’d see my dirt. She’d comment, “Look at you! You’re filthy!” I was exposed and it didn’t feel too good. It was no big deal to me to be stained with a bit of dirt. It wasn’t important to me. Dirt was my friend. But my mom being the mom that she was, insisted I clean up. So, I’d oblige her. I’d wash. I had to wash. I had to put down my knife and fork, get up from the table, and go wash. Now!

If you’re a mom or know a mom, you know that moms are smart. They don’t just trust their little boys to clean themselves. They run an inspection afterwards. Same was true with my mom. My mom would inspect me to see if I had cleaned up like she asked me to. She was pretty thorough too! But I soon learned the areas she’d inspect and would clean those areas, e.g. face, behind my ears, finger nails, and neck creases. She’d inspect me and I’d get by sometimes. I could cover up the dirt pretty good. But my mom got wise to me. (Yes, moms are pretty smart you know.) My mom, she’d schedule a bath for me as soon as I came inside from play and when I took the plunge, the dirt rings left around the sides of the tub exposed my dirtiness. Bingo! Snagged. Caught. Guilty.

We’re the same in our walk with the Lord. We know a few areas He’s likely to inspect so we clean them up. We watch our words. We watch some of our actions. But we tend to rationalize and excuse ourselves from cleaning our thoughts and some of our actions that we prefer to remain dirty. When we take the plunge and “Go deep” in the river of God’s water, our dirtiness is exposed. God’s word is a strong cleanser. It exposes the rings of sin in us.

God wants to do a full, thorough, deep cleaning. He wants us to go in all the way in the water of His word, in the river of life. He wants to do a deep cleaning in us. He aims for a cleaning-deep-down-dirt-identifying and sudsy-and-into-our-heart cleaning. He wants to clean us up and bring us up out of the water shiny and clean. That’s what’s going on in this river of the Lord. That’s what happens when we go deep in over our head.

Plant yourself by the living waters of God. The first psalm depicts the life of those who go deep when it states:

  • Psalm 1:1-6 – “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; 2 But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. 3 He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper. 4 The ungodly are not so, but are like the chaff which the wind drives away.5 Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.6 For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, But the way of the ungodly shall perish.”

If we plant ourselves by God’s river, we will be fruitful both individually in our personal spiritual growth, and outwardly in what God does through us. Plant yourself close to the living waters of the Lord so that when you need to take the plunge, to go deep, the river is right there for you to do so. When we’re hydrated with God’s watery word, we will be fruitful. If we aren’t hydrated with His word, we will dry like chaff and be easily blown away.

When you go deep with the Lord you want to be used in His redemptive plans. We want to actively bring glory to Him. We ask, “Lord, what is Your will for my life?” This involves walking in the Spirit and following in the steps of Jesus (e.g. Romans 8:29; Galatians 5; 1 Peter 2:21; 1 John 2:6). The Spirit can flow like a torrent in our lives, if we just go deep. Remember, that’s what Jesus said, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.38 “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” Is that what you want? That’s what the Lord wants for you!

The Lord will fill us as much as we desire to be filled. What we open to Him, will be filled. If we close some doors, or block some places, or shut the tap, if we resist going deep in some area of our life, the Spirit won’t flow there. We need to trust the Lord. We need to open up to Him. It’s a question of faith.

Going deep by faith. Jesus told His Apostles to cross the Galilee in their boat while He took a different route. As night fell a fearsome storm cropped up. They were all alone, on the storm-tossed sea, without Jesus! These hardened fishermen who no doubt had seen many a storm, we terrified. But low and behold, as they strained and rowed, who did they see but Jesus, and He was walking on the waters! Jesus immediately told them not to be afraid. Then, no one knows why, (other than it was the nature of Peter to insert foot in mouth whenever the opportunity presented itself) Peter said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” Peter must have regretted those words as soon as they exited his mouth. And his eyes must have got really big when Jesus said, “Come.”

What’s interesting is that PETER ACTUALLY “WALKED ON WATER TO GO TO JESUS” (my emphasis). Peter walked on water! He was doing great, until he looked at the storm and became fearful, then he sunk like a rock. You have to give him credit though. At least when he began to sink, he knew enough to cry out to the Lord, “Lord, same me!” Jesus then helped Peter and commented, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Then Jesus got into the boat and the storm stopped (cf. Matthew 14:22-33).

The point for us here is that we may initially welcome the idea of going deep with God. But as we go into His deep waters, and we feel less and less comfortable, less and less in control, more and more out of our control, when we become fearful, then we simply have to trust Jesus. When the waters get deep and even stormy, it’s a matter of faith. The Lord actually allows such situations to come into our life to build our faith. He wants us to trust Him. He calls us to go deep with Him to learn to trust Him entirely.

You can trust the Lord when He calls you into the deep. “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). Open up fully and completely to the Lord. Take the plunge. Go deep! Then watch what God will do in and through you. Go deep with Jesus. It’s the way to spiritual life.

[1] https://www.livescience.com/32320-how-long-can-a-person-survive-without-water.html

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O5UkPM0mTh8 ; https://billygraham.org/story/zamperinis-unbroken-testimony-appeals-to-fans-of-all-ages/ ; https://www.christianbook.com/devil-at-my-heels/louis-zamperini/9780062118851/pd/2118851?kw=21440761692&mt=b&dv=c&event=PPCSRC&p=1186432&gclid=Cj0KCQjwzunmBRDsARIsAGrt4mujur-DK6bHIDF2dAYb-xbMgoOQoNEtCP1Z1aX-CBcf-KZxf0dQIoAaAmnDEALw_wcB ; https://reasonabletheology.org/the-rest-of-the-story-louis-zamperini-after-unbroken/

[3] https://www.usgs.gov/special-topic/water-science-school/science/how-much-water-there-earth?qt-science_center_objects=0#qt-science_center_objects

[4] https://www.thoughtco.com/how-much-of-your-body-is-water-609406

[5] https://www.usgs.gov/special-topic/water-science-school/science/water-you-water-and-human-body?qt-science_center_objects=0#qt-science_center_objects

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siloam_tunnel

[7] http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/longest-ocean-swim

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