Read Ezekiel 47:1-12
. . . this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live . . . (v. 10)
It wasn’t a good time, a good place or a good outlook.
The children of Israel, God’s chosen people, were in exile in Babylon. They had been there for a while, and there was no end in sight. They weren’t suffering physically as they had in Egypt centuries earlier, but they were heartsick at their separation from their homeland and all it involved. They had no control over their own destiny, no place of their own. They lived in a culture that revered many idols, not least of which were ostentatious wealth and lavish displays. Turning away from God had landed them in exile; Ezekiel was one of the prophets God gave them to warn them not to keep making the same mistake.
Though I have never had to leave the country of my birth, the place I call home, the place I know and love, I find myself feeling more and more like an exile. As a friend expressed it, “I don’t feel like I fit here anymore.” The moral landscape is unstable and keeps shifting. Truth seems to be an individual choice instead of a societal foundation. Enduring standards aren’t; everything is under assault in the name of personal freedom. It’s a challenging environment when there is little or no solid ground. It’s also increasingly difficult not to get swept up in the swirling current of what is seen as the mainstream.
More than ever, I find myself identifying with these exiles in Babylon. I want to go home again — not to the past, but to the truth. More specifically, I long to be where the truth of God and His salvation is not the exception, but the norm. I long to be in a place where the dominion of God takes precedence over the opinion of man. But, like these Israelites, every believer is called to work where we are, not where we wish we were. And I think that has to start with not bemoaning the state of the mainstream, but thanking God for His unending stream and our unchanging access to it.
In this part of Ezekiel’s vision, there is water flowing from under the threshold of the temple. This is a visual of the ever-flowing grace of God to His people. It’s an indication that wherever we are, whatever our circumstances, God is in His holy temple, and His life-giving stream never dries up.
Significantly, the river flows from the presence of God, from the place of worship. It doesn’t matter how far we are from home, how unfamiliar our surroundings; we have continual access to God in worship. I’m not talking here about an impulse, a strategy, or a last-ditch S.O.S. Worship first involves the realization of who God is, and then what God has done for us through Christ. When those things are clear, worship follows. Worship is about God. It’s about gratitude. It’s about awe. It’s about glad submission.
Worship isn’t about me, but it involves me. It involves me believing God as He has revealed Himself, and the assurances He has given me. It means asking to do his will instead of asking Him to do mine. It involves a heart that wants more of Him and less of me. It means stepping into the flow that starts in His presence, and asking Him to take me deeper.
God showed Ezekiel that as we walk out in the flow of life in Christ, the river gradually deepens, as does our spiritual life. Eventually, it’s deep enough to swim in, carrying us along. No one can cross it on their own two feet; we have to let go and let God. This water lifts and buoys us up.
When we reach the dead places — those heart-searing times of seemingly endless tears, where salt has settled and threatens to take over — it is the fresh water of this river that can restore life. If we get sidetracked into swamps of grief or bogged down in self-pity, we’ll need to get back into the river.
This river also gives life to what grows alongside it, producing fruit that feeds us and others, and leaves that heal. When I stay immersed in God’s way and His will, it will have an impact on those around me. I’ll have good things to offer — God things to offer.
Life lived outside the river is a spiritual desert, like the Arabah — dry, often bleak, and more difficult than it needs to be. It’s a desolate landscape that has no room for God — the ultimate exile.
Lord, I want to be in the place You created me to be — in the gentle current of Your love, buoyed by Your Spirit, carried along by Your will, immersed in the fellowship of Your people. Help me today to worship You in Spirit and in truth; to be in the place where I belong. I ask it in the precious and powerful name of Jesus. Amen.