The Rivers of His Presence
Ezekiel 47:9 (ESV) - And wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish. For this water goes there, that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes.
The prophet, Ezekiel, is describing a very special river. It originates from the temple of God and flows through the dry Judean wilderness into the Dead Sea. It is a river of life. Wherever it flows, it brings life and flourishing. It changes the geographical landscape of the entire region. The barren lands along the river banks become covered with vegetation and fruit-bearing trees. The Dead Sea, which was once dead as its name suggests, is now teeming with fishes and marine life. Ecologists will tell you that the all these changes will have a profound effect on the climate and ecology of the entire area. The resultant transformation is nothing short of stunning. Read this exciting transformation in Ezekiel 47.
Ezekiel is clearly not describing a physical transformation in the natural realm. Without tributaries, rivers do not increase in its size and volume, from a mere trickle to a deep river, as it flows along. There is more to it. The prophetic vision is clearly an allusion to something of a spiritual nature. The Old Testament prophets frequently used the imageries of water, river and stream to describe God’s blessings of His Presence and the consequent spiritual revitalisation.
God, through Isaiah, offers water to those who are spiritually dry and thirsty (Isaiah 44:3, 55;1). Jesus used the same metaphor. He offered living water to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well and claimed that whoever drank this water would not be thirsty again (John 4:10-14). During a Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus invited everyone who was thirsty to ‘come to me and drink,’ and He went on to said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:37-38).
The next verse (John 7:39) gives us a clearer picture. This living water is the Spirit of God who is given to all who believe in Jesus (John 7:39). The metaphor of the rivers of living water gives us an idea of the divine life and power that are operating in us. You might not feel the tangible presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, He is at work in us.
In his vision, Ezekiel was led along the whole length of the river. Initially, the water was only ankle-deep. After a distance, it was knee-deep, then waist-deep. Soon, he could no longer walk in it because it was too deep. When the prophet emerged from the water, it was no longer barren stretches of land that he saw and to which he was accustomed, but luxuriant greenery and fruit trees all around. The Dead Sea was no longer dead, but it had been resurrected to life with sea creatures.
Ezekiel’s prophetic vision is an invitation to those who are spiritually dry and thirsty not just to drink but to plunge deep into the Presence of God. You can engage the Spirit of God in different ways. You can go ankle-deep, knee-deep, waist-deep with Him or you can choose to immerse yourself completely in Him. At the deep end, which Ezekiel describes as ‘a river that could not be passed through,’ you are no longer in control of your own life. It is a picture of complete surrender to God and the control of His Holy Spirit.
To cede complete control to God is a frightening prospect for many Christians. You just have no idea what God may be up to. He may lead you to a place and get you to do something that you do not like. Most Christians prefer to be in control of their own lives, yielding to God to the extent that they are comfortable. For some, it is ankle-deep. You are in Christ, but you retain absolute control of your life. You can easily get in and out of the river as and when you choose. For others, it is knee-deep or waist-deep. A little deeper. Nevertheless, you still retain a level of control. You can still say no to God and walk out of the river.
But not when you are at the deep end. Here, you give up control and abandon yourself in the hands of God. The current and tide of the Holy Spirit take you wherever and whenever He desires. It is uncomfortable, potentially dangerous and mostly inconvenient. Nevertheless, it is the place where you will experience the richest blessings. A life under the total control of God yields incredible returns of abundance in this life and the next one.
How deep do you want to wade into the river of God’s Presence? The decision is yours. God is sovereign, but He is also a gentleman. He will not barge in and interfere in those areas of your life that you have designated off-limits to Him.
How will you choose? Choose to flourish. Choose wisely.
Pastors Les & Adeline Chua