A good friend said to me the other day, “I need God to show up. He’s the only one who can actually help me. But you can't just bring God down. I don’t know what to do.”
The wisdom in this nearly blew me down. There are so many things right about this.
Yes, God is the Help who alone can fix our hearts. Self-help isn’t good enough, because how can the one in need provide what is needed?
Yes, he has to show up in his own initiative and timing. If God shows up like a genie on demand, then he is not God, he’s merely another self-help technique. He's merely another iteration of my own weak self.
Yes, we cannot bring God down. Just the way my friend said this blew me away. We need God to come down. But we need him not to be brought down as if our force to pull things down were stronger than his power to raise things up.
The fact that God does not allow himself to be brought down is the very foundation of our hope that things can change, because it means he is actually God. Bigger. Stronger. Wiser. In control. And outside of the mess we're in.
And we need him for these very reasons. But we need him NOW.
What are we to do? How can we wait on his timing and trust his sovereign right to be God - and our need for him to be - in the way he heals and loves and shows up for us? How can we wait for what we need without dying for lack of it? What will sustain us until he comes in power?
One of the pictures the Bible gives of "God coming down" is that of a river. A river is a strong current of water that moves in a direction, not like a lake you have to go to, but a "living" water that comes to you, fresh in every single moment of the day.
God is not a lake. He's a river. He is moving, flowing, coming, and living. The very reason you cannot force him to come down is the same reason he is the only thing that will help you.
When we think of God as a lake, we see him as a stoic, stagnant source of life that we must journey to. Each day we trudge to the lake, tired, hot, and thirsry, carrying our buckets, knowing they'll be even heavier when we left than when we came, and knowing that by the end of the day we will be dry again. The next day, again we trudge to God, barely having enough strength to get there.
When God is a lake, we often just don't go. It's too hard. We can't provide for ourselves the very thing we need in order to get to the one who can provide it for us. We're thirsty precisely because we're far from God, and getting to God some days is just impossible...because we're too thirsty and too far away to get to him.
So we conserve our resources and hope that he'll find a way to come to us. The problem is, there's only so much time before those resources are gone. The world is hot and dry and it's sucking the life out of us. We can't last forever with no water to drink.
There was a man who was in this predicament. He couldn't walk for 38 years. Lucky for him, there was a pool of water that occasionally if you got into it would provide healing. But he couldn't get to the water, of course, because - der! - HE COULDN'T WALK!! (Do you see our problem?) So there he lay, day after day, for 38 years, crippled next to the healing water. Here's what happened:
When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. (John 5:6-9)
This guy must have been told a hundred times, "Get in the water! Where's your motivation?" He'd sat there for so long that people who recognized him must have started thinking of him as the Guy Who Likes To Sit By The Pool. He had become one of the decorative fixtures around the healing water, maybe a comforting reminder to others that they were in a place where sick people go. The sight of him there offered good reason to get into the pool.
This man's situation is very similar to our spiritual incapacity and situation. On one hand, we're motivated to receive healing from God. We've begged him. We've managed to get close to him, to become associated with him. We've gotten ourselves motivated and mustered up the will to scoot another few inches towards him. But on the other hand, we're still crippled, and we're still looking at ourselves as if we were meant to remain crippled by the pool. This is just who I am, we tell ourselves. We start believing that God's grace and power is for everyone except ourselves, and we even comfort ourselves knowing that our incapacity to change is at least proof of why we never do. When we're asked, "Do you want to be healed?" we answer with logic: of course. But that will never happen.
The fact is, proximity to God doesn't heal. We need to be plunged into him, flooded, overwhelmed. And since no one can do this for us, if God is a lake or a pool, we're out of luck. The distance between a crippled heart and God may as well be a million miles if it's up to us to bring him near, to bring him, as my friend said, down. To perpetually be the Person Who Sits By God is not enough. We need to be inside him, and we need him inside of us.
But God is not a pool. He is not stagnant. He is not stoic. He is living, moving, and coming towards us all the time. God is a river - and not a river that you have to take your bucket to, but a river that comes to you, in fact, a river that springs up inside you.
“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 (John 7:37-39)
I know, I know, Jesus says, "if you're thirsty, come to me." I think that language is immediately interpreted by our already-thirsty ears as something like this: "Do it. It's up to you. Grab your bucket and trudge on over to get another few ounces. God helps those who help themselves!"
But what Jesus is saying here is not a coachy pep talk. We are so thirsty, so accustomed to being weary that we read it this way. But Jesus is talking about faith, which is merely the act of receiving from God what he is offering to you, opening up your mouth and chewing, swallowing, digesting. Yes, there is participation in this. But even as we participate we are already being nourished by the thing we couldn't get or do for ourselves.
Coming to him is merely the act of setting down your own bucket, your own means of getting water for your soul, and saying, "Jesus, provide." When you do that, when you believe, you are coming to him, and when you do, you will find drink, as his water bubbles up out of the desert of your heart. Sometimes it happens all at once. Other times, it takes some waiting, like you might expect when the ground is dry and you're expecting water to spring up out of it. But God always comes. And not because you called him down. He bubbles up inside you because that is where he delights to live. That is where you have to watch for him to show up, in the deepest, driest places of your parched soul.
Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild beasts will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches, for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise. (Isaiah 43:19-21)
Much of the work of the Christian life is about maintaining alignment with the river of God inside you. It's there, but you're not going to get the blessing of it unless you're in the flow, mouth open, ready to receive. There are ways of maintaining this alignment, and that maintenance is vital to your spiritual health and growth, to your resistance against sin, and to your fruitfulness. Life has a way of shifting our hearts to the left or right and off-centering us with the flow of the life and energy God freely provides. How do you maintain alignment with God's river so that your thirst can always be quenched?