“The river is rising
The river is rising, oh…
I feel it, I feel it, I feel it in my bones
I just don’t think I can hold it anymore…”
–Michael W. Smith, The River Is Rising
I relished the vantage point I had this morning—a fine, hot, deep south summer morning—on the lower platform of New River as I looked out on a congregation of people I mostly did not recognize. It was Sunday, and we were, as many people erroneously like to say, “at church.” Stretched from front row to back and side to side, quite nearly every seat in the house was filled with strangers. On this day, technically, they were visitors. Most fellowships might have a handful of visitors on a given week, but we had hundreds. A pastor’s dream.
Was I dreaming?
If I was, it gets even stranger.
The people who filled New River on this day had completely taken over the worship service and were conducting it in their own way. And I, as pastor, let them.
It was all so very surreal. People I did not know. Their presence prevented our regular congregants from attending. They let me share, but only briefly, and when I did, a young man stood beside me to make sure I got it right. When their leaders stepped up, the few of us that braved being there could only hear them speak in some sort of strange code. But the code was beautiful and rich, ancient and, well, heroic.
From my perspective, I wouldn’t have wanted to miss a Sunday morning like this for all the tea in China.
Indeed, I and many others had prayed for such a thing.
There was prophecy behind it.
So, as I sat for those few seconds waiting for microphone issues to be hurriedly resolved, I merely looked out on the scene with awe and a welling tide gathering in my chest. These…these…beautiful intruders had captivated my heart with their smiles and humble visages and the only way I can describe what I was feeling in that heaven-soaked moment is the sense of a river rising and gushing in my spirit.
The mystery is solved when you realize our fellowship gladly gave up its own worship time so that a Ukrainian congregation might experience the space and comfort of our facilities. The young man who stood by me wasn’t actually censoring my words but interpreting them for the audience. Our leaders and their leaders had been in prayer and dialogue about this very possibility for weeks. They’ve been crammed onto less than an acre of property which included parking, a worship center and classrooms for one hundred and fifty children plus men and women. We got “wind” of it at a time when the Lord had been revealing to the eldership how we New Riverites might be a “people outside the camp” (Hebrews 13:13):
- out of the norm
- laying down our lives for the BODY of Christ in our area
- posturing ourselves to serve and not look to be served
- giving preference
- relinquishing our rights
- living out this “other life” as put forth in the Sermon of sermons (Matthew 5-7)
When the plight of our Ukrainian brethren was brought to our attention, God began downloading revelation to our spirits in a hurry. He reminded us that the twenty-plus acres we sat on had been deeded to us, free and clear, paid in full, buildings and all. He further reminded us that it was not ours, but we’ve been asked to steward it for Him.
And when God asks, “What’s in your hand?” you just know He means to use it. Whatever “it” is.
And we don’t get a vote.
Way back in the late 1990’s, two fellowships merged into one. A Baptist church and a non-denominational church met at the altar one November evening and said, “I do” to one another and it was done. Through the earlier decades, several “church splits” had given Christ a black eye on that property, but for once there would not be a split but something new.
Words of a marvelous prophetic nature were spoken into this fledgling congregation back then and one of the most enigmatic yet intriguing was directly from the Hebrew scriptures:
19 “For your waste and desolate places and your destroyed land–
Surely now you will be too cramped for the inhabitants,
And those who swallowed you will be far away.
20″The children of whom you were bereaved will yet say in your ears,
‘The place is too cramped for me;
Make room for me that I may live here.’
21″Then you will say in your heart,
‘Who has begotten these for me,
Since I have been bereaved of my children
And am barren, an exile and a wanderer?
And who has reared these?
Behold, I was left alone;
From where did these come?'”
I wish you could have seen what I was seeing this morning.
Have you ever been in a place and suddenly realize, “this looks familiar…I seem to remember and yet it is new…”?
It hit me as I surveyed the many chairs and mother’s arms filled with children, babies playing in the aisles and a great many strollers parked alongside rows. I was seeing prophecy fulfilled.
Where did all these come from?
It doesn’t matter.
God brought them. And I have every confidence there’s more where these came from!
The message of the hour was clear: the River is rising. It’s rising. It’s rising. Can you feel it in your bones?
And then there was this great Truth:
WHAT I SAY I WILL DO, I WILL DO. COUNT ON IT.
Even if you have to wait twenty-five years, Abraham. Or four hundred and thirty years, Israel.
Take it from me, beloved. Whatever “it” is that you’ve been waiting for in Christ, is on its way. If you’ve heard, God will bring it to pass. Mind you, you might be standing right smack dab in the middle of its unfolding when it dawns on you, but just be aware. One day, perhaps when you least expect it, you’ll whip your head around to the out-of-the-clear-blue sounds of coos, cries and giggles. Then you’ll know…
It won’t be annoying or bothersome, either. It will be the new thing He has birthed and you’ll give your life for it because He placed it in your lap. One look into it’s face and your hooked. Ah, yes, it was painful getting there and still there are some long, sleepless nights ahead, fevers to attend to along with scraped knees and bad nightmares, but you won’t care.
Get the nursery ready. Oh, and you may need a bigger house, too.