The River

“You have the Holy Spirit, but does the Holy Spirit have you?” –some preacher at a conference I went to (sorry I don’t remember who you were)

I look out my airplane window as I fly from Minneapolis to Wichita and I see square upon square upon square of farmland, divvied up and claimed by families as their rightful possession. Four quarters in a section, dirt roads forming the border around each section, more dirt roads criss-crossing each other every mile until they form a checkerboard the size of Iowa.


I don’t think I like the checkerboard. I get sad when I look out at that checkerboard and know that 200 years ago it did not exist, that the plains would have been as smooth and whole as the day God created them. Maybe it’s the tiny bit of Cherokee in me, I don’t know.

But there is nothing I can do about it. You and I like to own things. We aren’t comfortable unless what we have is clearly marked as ours, and ours is as big as everyone else’s. David said that the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, but the settlers rewrote that the earth is mine, at least this 160 acres thereof. Then the checkerboard of the quarter was divided further into the checkerboard of the city street and the city block and finally the backyard. The backyard is mine, and the fullness thereof.

People conform to the checkerboard. Roads conform. Houses conform. We shape the land and make it conform. We level hills and raise valleys so our roads can go as straight as possible. It all must conform. But do you know what do not conform? Rivers.

Ever so often out my window the checkerboard is broken by a snake of a river that cannot be divided nicely and evenly among us all. It cannot be owned because it does not sit still. It will not be controlled. Even the square that it flows through cannot be said to own the river, for the river has a life of its own. It flows, it moves interminably to the sea, to the place it belongs. We can dam the river for a time, but its water always will find a way to escape our grasp and continue its march to the sea.


The Holy Spirit is a river.

“On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37-39)”

I’ve come to the conclusion that most of the time I have the Holy Spirit like a piece of land has a river. He flows through me, because I am a child of God. But I don’t always flow with him.

I spend much effort trying to “have” the Holy Spirit, to possess him, to be filled with him. I pray that God would give me more of his Spirit, because that is a good religious sounding prayer that I have heard good religious sounding people pray.

I try to tame the river, and He will not be tamed. I try to dam him up so that he will be mine and make me perfect and make me good because I really want to be good, and yet he continues to run downhill. I remain rooted to the ground, to my possessions, to my square in the checkerboard. I don’t want to move and lose my spot, but God continues to run on by, and I content myself with getting my feet wet in his shallows from time to time when he overflows his banks and comes through my property.

I think the only other option is to jump into the River and flow with him as he returns to whence he originated. To the Sea. To God. I’ll never get to know God like I want when he is the Sea and I am glued to a square of land that I’ve marked out for myself 1,000 miles inland consisting of my likes and dislikes and plans and non-negotiables.

I think the big religious word for what I am talking about is consecration, the giving over of myself completely to his will and his purposes. Yeah, I’ve sang “I Surrender All” just as much as you have. But I don’t think I’ve ever truly surrendered it all. I haven’t because it makes me uncomfortable and scared to have so little control.

I haven’t jumped into the River because I’m a really bad swimmer, and it makes no sense to jump in a river when it might be the last thing I do. Or maybe it makes perfect sense. Maybe there is no quicker way to die to myself than to drown in the River.

PS- I think I just created a slightly heretical Trinitarian analogy with the Spirit as a River and God as the Sea. It’s probably Modalism, but so are many Trinitarian analogies I have heard.  Please don’t read too much into it or base any theology on it, because it’s a spur of the moment metaphor meant for entertainment purposes only.  OK.  Carry on.


3 responses to “The River

  1. This is a very interesting, thought-provoking, and yet insightful look at the Holy Spirit I’ve never considered before. Thanks so much! A verse I read this morning that reminded me of this post is John 3:8, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

    • Thanks! I like the connection you make there between the wind and the river. I had never noticed it before, and I especially like that last phrase: ‘So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.’ It reinforces that we can’t be attached to our place… we have to blow along/float along with the Spirit!

      • Yep, blow along/float along with the Spirit! 🙂 Thanks! That was what I thought really tied that verse to your post was the last part, “So it is with everyone born in the Spirit.” I will admit I am still at times trying to “tame the River “, but your post has definitely put it into an awesome perspective for me and it was wonderful for me to read it. Thanks again so much and never stop writing!!

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