There is a river


What a difference water makes. Every time I travel I realize this. There are these strange objects protruding out of the ground everywhere: tall, green . . . And then I remember, Oh, yes, that is a tree. Here in New Mexico we have to explain to our children what rain is every year because they do not see enough of it to remember.

Ask not what you can do for God, rather what He can do for you.

Jerusalem is a lot like New Mexico. That is the background behind Psalms 46:4 “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.” Lots of cities had rivers. Damascus had a river. Nineva had a river, and Babylon had a river. But Jerusalem did not have a river. And it got them in trouble at times when the city was under siege and their water supplies were cut off. They felt it every day in the lack of a convenient fresh water supply. These are the days before Price Pfister.

As two-thirds of the world’s population does today, Jerusalem struggled to have enough water. Cities had to make a choice. They could locate themselves on the top of a mountain, where it was easy to defend but there was little water, or they could occupy the valleys where there was ample water but they would be vulnerable. Jerusalem sits perched atop a hill. During Hezekiah’s reign a 1,750 foot tunnel was carved under the city to a spring outside. Large cisterns had to be constructed to store water. One such cistern was forty-three feet deep and held two million gallons. At one time several of David’s men risked their lives to go behind enemy lines to get him a cup of good water. In the time between the testaments an expansive aqueduct system brought water from the south. Water was scarce in Jerusalem.3

But the Psalmist saw more than the literal plain. He saw that in a way Jerusalem did have a river. All that a river meant to the world God meant to them. Its streams make glad the city of God.

Delighting in God is a river. Isaiah 12:3 “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” What all the pleasures of this world are to worldly people, delighting in God can be to Christians. That is why Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” ( John 7:38) The final invitation of our lord was to come and drink, (Revelation 22:17 ) “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.”

The irony of the gospel message is that this thirst is satisfied in cultivating a thirst for God, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” ( Psalms 42:1, 2).

To paraphrase Kennedy’s inaugural challenge to the American people, this book is a challenge to “ask not what you can do for God, rather ask what He can do for you.” Marty Miera, one of the friends who read an early manuscript of this work wrote in the margin at this point, “This is reversed.” It is not. This is exactly what I meant to say. As Piper says, “He is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”4 We kid ourselves when we think we can do something for God before we have enjoyed Him. “If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it.” (Psalms 50:12) He is not looking for activity. The Pharisees had that. He does not need a thing. But He delights to have his children enjoy his company. (Proverbs 15:8 ) “The Lord detests the sacrifice of the wicked, but the prayer of the upright pleases him.”

Of course, there is more to the Christian life than joy. There is obedience. There is faith. There is enduring to the end. That is why Jesus warns us about not being like the seed that fell on the rocks, “The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away.” (Matthew 13:20-21)

There is more than joy to living the Christian life. But Christianity with no joy is no Christianity at all. Enjoying God is a central model of what it means to live the Christian life. Not the only way to look at the Christian life, there is faith and love and obedience, but an important and often neglected model. Tony Compolo is right, the kingdom of God is a party. The prodigal’s father, as a type of the Heavenly Father, threw a party when his son came home. On another occasion, Jesus taught that the Kingdom of God is like a man who threw a great banquet ( Luke 14:15ff). He compared it to a man who found a treasure in a field, a woman who found a lost coin, and a man who found a lost sheep. All of these were word pictures of joy. The man who found the field was so happy he sold everything to get the field. The man with the lost sheep “joyfully puts it on his shoulders” ( Luke 15:4). The woman “calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’” (Luke 15:9 ). All of these are pictures of parties going on in heaven. The kingdom of God is like that. May we never be guilty of the older brother’s syndrome and complain of the party. Rather, let us joyfully enter the party atmosphere of enjoying our happy God. Let us drink deeply from the well of salvation.

The greatest unmet need on planet earth is the need for joy.

The greatest unmet need on planet earth is the need for joy. Some might argue it is for love, but I say we need love because love makes us happy. What we hunger for is joy. Most social problems would evaporate overnight if we could teach people this preeminent skill: to be happy. People murder and rape and steal because they are not happy. Of course we should do what we can to prevent them from preventing crimes. But we should also address the real problem. We should also teach them to be happy. We must invite them to drink deeply at the fountain of enjoying God. This is what Jesus meant when he called us to be salt and light. Jesus put it to the Samaritan woman this way, (John 4:13 , 14) “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, But whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

We must be about the business of following the example of our Lord, drinking deeply from the well of enjoying God, and leading others to do the same.


3J.A. Thompson, Handbook from Life in Bible Times, pgs 120-121. Intervarsity press.

4John Piper, The Pleasures of God, p. 216.

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