The River of Life
Ezekiel 47:1;3,9 NKJV
Then he brought me back to the door of the temple; and there was water, flowing from under the threshold of the temple…And when the man went out to the east with the line in his hand, he measured one thousand cubits, and he brought me through the waters; the water came up to my ankles. Again he measured one thousand and brought me through the waters; the water came up to my knees.
Again he measured one thousand and brought me through; the water came up to my waist. Again he measured one thousand, and it was a river that I could not cross; for the water was too deep, water in which one must swim, a river that could not be crossed. He said to me, “Son of man, have you seen this?” Then he brought me and returned me to the bank of the river.
There will be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters go there; for they will be healed, and everything will live wherever the river goes.
Revelation 22:1-4 NKJV
And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
The River of Life is a Healing Stream
One of the most vivid images in Scripture of the power of worship is the River of Life, seen in Ezekiel 47 and Revelation 22, two strikingly parallel passages. Other references include the Psalms (1; 36, 46) and the words of Jesus. (John7:38) In Ezekiel’s vision we see four depths to the river:
- ankle deep,
- knee deep,
- waist deep and
- waters over the head.
Ezekiel and his angel guide passed through the first three levels but found the fourth depth to be too large to cross. It was a river in which one must swim. I observe four levels, or depths, in our common worship experience:
- adoration and
These correspond to the four depths of the river in Ezekiel’s vision. Let us follow the analogy:
- We enter the ankle-deep waters of life when we give thanksgiving to the Lord.
- As we praise the Lord it is like wading knee-deep into His presence.
- When we pour our hearts of love out to the Lord, it is like standing waist deep in the waters of life.
- We can be overwhelmed in His presence as if we were over-the-head in the River of Life.
The Ancient Biblical Pattern of Worship
Psalm 100 identifies thanksgiving as the gateway to the presence of the Lord. Like standing ankle deep in a stream, thanksgiving is refreshing to the soul. But this is a level intended as a passage, not for a dwelling place, so we go out deeper.
The Proclamation of Praise
When we are standing knee-deep in a river, we can feel the current. In fact, we have to counter the force of the river with every step. When we go beyond thanksgiving and begin to proclaim the Lord’s excellence, His character, deeds, and love, we also move from refreshing to a state of being impressed with the Lord’s power. Thanksgiving and praise refresh and impress us with God’s power, but these are levels of expression which we must pass through.
The Process of Change
Wading into the ever-deepening River of Life, it is clear that ankle-deep and knee-deep does not bring about lasting change. We can exit the river at the exact spot we entered. But the next passage to waters that are waist deep, begins the process of being altered by the waters. The river carries us downstream with every step. This explains why churches can be active in praise but still not progress toward the holiness the Lord expects from us. Praise is refreshing and impressive but it is not transforming.
When we move from knee-deep to waist deep in the waters of life, to my mind we are going from the proclamation of praise to the expression of adoration. We move from praise to worship, from speaking about God to speaking to Him, from an emphasis on what He has done for us to who He is in us. At this point change begins to happen.
The Transformation by the Spirit
Paul said that to contemplate his glory was to be changed. When we begin to worship the Lord, we begin to be changed. This, of course, takes time; time we are sometimes reluctant to allot to corporate worship. For decades this time was found in those wonderful, long altar services in the American Pentecostal tradition. But, as the altar service has fallen out of vogue, we have put praise and worship on the clock and we have lost the sense of tarrying, of waiting on the Lord. No wonder our strength is not often renewed.
Still, this incredible privilege of standing waist-deep in the waters of life is also a passageway and not a destination. Ezekiel’s angel-guide brought him out another thousand steps. At this point Ezekiel had to swim, to let go of the safety of the riverbed and launch himself onto the presence of the Lord.
The first result was that he got wet all over. Many of us know what it is to be immersed in the presence of the Lord in worship. These experiences change us forever.
- This the place where baptism in the Spirit happens,
- calls to the ministry are heard,
- miracles and healings take place, bondages are broken, and hackles of sin are destroyed.
I am afraid the ranks of our churches are filled with people who have never been wet all over—immersed in the Spirit of God. This level of spirit-deep communion with God is still available to us in the secret place and in the public place. The river still flows in its fullness from the Throne of God and of the Lamb.
In Ezekiel’s vision, the shallow marshes were not healed. His words are stark:
But its swamps and marshes will not be healed; they will be given over to salt.
I fear the shallow, me-centered, time-conscious worship of the contemporary church. Do you hear the Spirit calling us out farther into the waters of life?
Do you hear Him calling us deeper? That’s where the healing is.
© 2012 CREATOR Magazine 2016 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved