There is a spiritual river that cannot be seen by the physical eye, but it is just as real as “The Mighty Mississippi” or “The Blue Danube.” There is a river that powerfully flows in the spiritual dimension, and I first saw it in a vision while I was preaching on a Sunday morning many years ago. It was flowing toward me underneath the floor boards and down the center aisle of the church sanctuary. I felt the wind in my hair and the spray on my face. As if the vision was not enough, it had to be a wind-blown and a faced-sprayed vision too.
For months every time I preached, I was carried away in that river vision. It happened over and over and over again. It was all so surreal, and yet as real as paddling a canoe down the Delaware. I didn’t know it, but I was “Getting Wind” of something incredible and powerful that would happen in the days ahead. Though at the time I was dumb as a rock on the banks of the river, and didn’t have a clue that we were about to begin a life-long river swim in the river current of the Holy Spirit.
It was all very disconcerting at first to say the least, for I knew nothing about visions, let alone river visions happening while the preacher is preaching. And more than that, in college I had majored in philosophy and logic, and in seminary I majored in Greek and Hebrew. This vision thing was not in keeping with my education or experience at all. It simply was illogical and all Greek to me. In short, I thought that perhaps I had become lost in hallucinations and perhaps needed to see a shrink. Or perhaps, being a young, married pastor at the time, it could have been raging testosterone. In any event, kids today would call it FREAKING OUT. And to be honest, that is maybe what you are thinking right now like most people on the outside looking in. Nevertheless, I was on the inside looking on a flowing river down the center aisle on the sanctuary ever time I began to preach.
I know that already I might have awakened a spirit of suspicion and resistance within you. But before you call 911, or write me off as just another sensationalist who is trying to get attention, listen to the Word of God in Psalm 46:4 and allow God to have the final word,
“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the
holy dwelling places of the Most High.”
Or again Revelation 22:1,
“And he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal,
coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb.”
And Ezekiel 47:9,
“…so everything will live where the river goes.”
THE RIVER’S ORIGIN
I came to realize over time that whatever I was seeing, it did not originate in me or from me. It was coming at me, but not out of me. As a matter of fact, it was humbling to sense that I was not the source of the river, but merely a recipient of the river from a totally other source. It could have been flowing from the pulpit down the center aisle to the back of church, but it never did. Each time the river-vision reoccurred, it never varied, as it always came from the back toward the front. I recall being struck by that fact, though I still didn’t have the slightest idea what I was looking at.
I later came to understand the direction of the river in a most profound way. For you see, at the very time I saw the river vision, things began to happen in this traditional church that I could never have imagined happening. I had never seen such things in my life either before or after becoming a pastor. The sick were being miraculously healed, too-short legs were being lengthened, the demon-possessed were being delivered, gifts of the Spirit were being manifested, and above all the lost were being found by Jesus as the church literally began to burst at the seams. WHEREVER THE RIVER FLOWS, EVERYTHING COMES TO LIFE!
If “River Rushmore” would have been flowing from me toward the congregation, I soon would have gotten the big head and felt like “Mt. Rushmore” with my head carved on top. I would have been totally absorbed in myself rather than in the Lord. You know, even as bodybuilders like to show off their physiques, so preachers too often like to pomp and circumstance their pastoral prowess.
Where then did the river come from? We read in Revelation 22:1,
“…coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb.”
That pretty well eliminates all puffy preachers parading themselves on pulpits everywhere. The truth be known, nothing comes from us, even though God mercifully uses us as channels of His sovereign grace and power. We come into the world weak, and we leave the world weak. We are designed by God to be dependent on Him from the first day, and to be dependent on Him to the last day – never independent which is a dirty word in the Kingdom of God. In between, it is not by our might, nor by our power, but by the Holy Spirit alone. Let’s once and for all get that through our heads.
Understand that the mouth, the source of the River, is God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ seated on the Throne of God and the Lamb. It is the blood of the Lamb that makes all the blessings of God possible in the Christian’s Life. If there were no Lamb blood, there would be no river. I was as a Lamb-saved, blood-bought Christian being graciously swept irresistibly and uncontrollably in the Holy Spirit current of Heaven’s River. I had nothing to do with it, and could do nothing to stop it. I was simply a baby being pushed along in a stroller by Abba Father. It was a sovereign visitation of Almighty God. It always is!!!
Of course, that is what the Bible has been trying to tell us all along. We read in James 1:17,
“Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above,
coming down from the Father of lights, with Whom there is
no variation , or shifting shadow.”
Everything good and perfect comes from God to us and not from us to men or to God. I recall preaching one morning when several precious souls were saved. In typical adolescent fashion, one of my dear sons said to me afterward, “Boy Dad, you sure had the hot hand today.” Clever indeed but also totally mistaken!
Or again, the young pastor I heard preach one morning suddenly began to march back and forth across his stage with hands lifted over the congregation and declaring, “I bless your homes, I bless your marriages, I bless your finances, I bless your children etc.” On and on he went! He went on for several minutes blessing everything from soup to nuts. How in the world did he ever get to the place where he saw himself as both the source and dispenser of Divine blessings? This is what happens when men blasphemously equate themselves with God both in station and power. It is rampant today in many ecclesiastical circles. We have forgotten this huge fact:
“WE ARE CALLED TO BE IMITATORS OF CHRIST AND
NOT IMITATION CHRISTS.”
No, no, no! The human blesser was taking God’s exclusive place as our only Divine Blesser, and in so doing with his hands lifted in pretentious benediction he was damaging the minds of the people with false impressions and convictions. His hands were in fact the hands of a Marine throwing a grenade overhand into a foxhole. We read in Isaiah 42:8,
“I am the Lord, that is My name, I will not give My
glory to another.”
Praise God from Whom the river and all blessings flow, praise Him all creatures here below, praise Him above ye heavenly hosts, praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. We do not originate the river of God, we do not control the river of God, we do not direct the river of God, and therefore we take no credit for the river of God. Nor may we give impressionable sheep the slightest idea that we originate, control, direct, or claim God’s river of blessing as our own creation. The river of God and of the Lamb is not some Army Corp of Ecclesiastical Engineers’ project. GOD BLESS YOU OUT OF ZION!
THE LIFE-FLOW OF GOD
What then is this river that I was seeing Sunday morning after Sunday morning? It was relentless as rivers are, as well as powerful and beautiful. It was not a meandering, placid stream, but rather a strong river with breaking, wind-blown whitecaps and mighty current. It seemed as if the more I preached my sermons, the more the river distracted me and carried me away. I could feel myself being swept into what I did not understand. It was a fantastically wonderful and frightening experience all at the same time.
Even as the majestic rivers of the earth are the earth’s life-flow, so this SUPERNATURAL SPIRIT RIVER of GOD’S LIFE-FLOW gushing from the throne of God and of the Lamb, is God’s life-flow to believers through His Son Jesus Christ – the Lamb. This River of God’s life-flow is constantly being freshened by the STREAMS OF GOD’S ATTRIBUTES – God’s righteousness, purity, holiness, truthfulness, forgiveness, power, peace, compassion and love. They make glad the City of God, for they make that River a foretaste of Heaven flowing through the City of God.
If the River of God and of the Lamb ever ceased to flow, we would die spiritually and eternally. We, simply put, would instantly be dead men walking. We would no longer seek God, pray to God, or lift up praise to God. We would put forward nothing by way of spiritual endeavor. We would be spiritually and morally dead as door nails, or as the Apostle Paul, when reminding the Ephesian Christians about what they had once been apart from Christ, says in Ephesians 2:1,
“And you were DEAD in your trespasses and sins.”
Listen now, if we are not flowing in Jesus’ River of Life, we with our children would be mucking it out through the slop and slime of sin and death with the rest of the world. Not too many years ago, the meaning of a “Student Getting Out Of Line” was tardiness, throwing paper on the floor, and chewing gum in class – all things today that leave you smiling. Today it is vileness, alcohol, drugs, sex, and even murder. You see:
“WHERE THERE IS VILENESS, VIOLENCE IS BOUND TO BREAK FORTH,
FOR VIOLENCE ALWAYS COMES FROM THE VILE.”
And in all honesty, it is about time that evangelical Christians faced the flat-out warnings and promises of Jesus Christ that things are going to get worse and worse? A lot worse! We read in Matthew 24:12,
“And because lawlessness is increased, most people’s
love will grow cold.”
God tells us that in these end times, it will be just like the days of Noah. They were having parties, just like today – let’s party! Eating and drinking, doing whatever they pleased. No sense of right or wrong. No belief in what Noah preached – righteousness.
We then shouldn’t be surprised that when it comes to the discipline of the modern home and school, there is no discipline. Have you ever noticed that our modern society insists on rules more in sports than we do in daily life or in home life or in business or even in the “Christian Church?” The emphasis in much of the modern church is no longer on morals but on mammon, and no longer on the deep river of God’s righteousness but rather on deep pockets – all about money. I can also remember when the schoolteacher was always right. Today he or she is fearful of being right, because there may be bodily harm or a lawsuit or both.
Frankly, it is sick! In a class action suit today you get two or three infidel clients with the same complaint, let us say against a Christian teacher in a public school for espousing Biblical morality in the classroom. The powers of darkness and the anti-God forces are vicious crusaders today! All of a sudden a law firm will declare it a class action suit. And if it is acceptable as a class action by the court, the lawyers end up making big bucks off from their clients, and the teacher is severely censured if not fined and jailed. The devil and his representatives will pay lawyers large green these days to defeat the cause of Christ.
In summary, unless our children are flowing with Christ in His River of Righteousness, they will be sucked down into that vortex of Hell that pulls at them day after day. It is not uncommon even for our grandchildren who have been brought up in the fear and knowledge of God to still be lured into godless behavior by peer pressure. This must be our daily prayer:
“FLOW RIVER FLOW, FLOOD THE NATIONS WITH GRACE AND MERCY,
SEND FOR YOUR WORD LORD, AND LET THERE BE LIGHT.”
Why? Because freedom from sin is not in a theory. It is not in a philosophy! It is not in a church! It is not in a body politic! It is in a person Jesus Christ Who alone by His righteous and pure life-flow can sweep us past the seduction of the sirens of sin all along the river banks of this world.
MOVING WITH GOD ON THE RIVER
Then again, “God’s River of Life-Flow” means much more for us. We read about ourselves in Acts17:28 KJV,
“For in Him (God) we live, move, and have our being….”
It does not say,
“FOR IN HIM WE SIT, RELAX, AND HAVE OUR SLEEP.”
No, no, no! To paraphrase Acts 17:28,
“FOR IN HIM WE ARE FULLY ALIVE, FULLY ACTIVE,
AND FULLY DYNAMIC BEINGS.”
If you and I are truly “In Christ,” we are going to be like busy little beavers and worker ants.
If you will:
“JESUS DID NOT SAY, ‘SIT WITH ME,’ OR, ‘KICK BACK WITH
ME,’ OR, ‘HANG LOOSE WITH ME.’ WHAT HE DID SAY
WAS, ‘FOLLOW ME.”
God in Palm 46:4 and Revelation 22:1 is not likened to a creek, or a pond, or a lake, or even an ocean, but rather to a river. As a river, there is no stagnation or dormancy in God. One theologian defines God, as if the finite can define the infinite, in this way:
“GOD IS PURE, ETERNAL, INCESSANT ACTION
Our God is, as the teens of today would say, a MOVER AND A GROOVER. There is no stopping God. He is always on the go, and to follow Him, we also will have to be on the go. Go, Go, Go! So it was that Jesus said to us in Matthew 28:19,
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations….”
Get going! Did you now that Jesus has each of us on an all-day, every-day discipleship-making schedule? So it was again Jesus Who said to us in John 9:4,
“We must work the works of Him who sent Me, as long as it is day;
night is coming, when no man can work.”
Flow! Flow! Flow! Always flowing! And you see, God’s life as a river is always flowing forward, never backwards, never sideways, and certainly not in circles which would suck us down like a whirlpool into drowning futility. Too many religious types are like children riding their bikes in slow, looping circles. No progress, just repetitiousness! Pete and Repeat were in the boat – Pete fell out and who was left – Repeat. We have always done it this way. It isn’t accomplishing much, but it is familiar and therefore comfortable.
Generally those who criticize pastors and churches who are moving forward and always building to accommodate growth are those whose names are Repeat. However, as with a River, the River Master is not known for redundancy. He will not be part of our endless rounds to simply match our simulated progress. Not ever! Because if we are not moving forward, we are moving backward, and if we are not progressing, we are regressing. God is not a back-peddler or a regresser.
Then in addition to all of that, we have the unmitigated gall to tell God that we are waiting for Him to move in our midst. I am sure you have heard someone cry out, “God, move in our church.” The fact is, God is always moving, always flowing as the River of Heaven. He is not our problem as to move Him to get moving. The real problem is for God to get us to move with Him. Listen:
“GOD NEVER GETS STUCK IN THE MUCK, WE DO.”
THROUGH THE CITY OF GOD
Of course, the reference here is to Jerusalem, the city of God. We read in Psalm 46:4,
“There is a river, whose streams make glad the city of God.”
When we think of God and the City of God, it most traditionally conjures up in our minds God living with and dwelling amongst His people. That is true as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough. For you see, as much as we may want it to be, we are not dealing here with a God who just sits among His people in “Comfy City” snacking on coffee and cake, but rather the God who flows through “River City” accomplishing His goals and perfecting His purposes in us and through us.
The City of God therefore, or if you will, the “Church City of God” is not a sedentary place, but a bustling place of action all the time. I realize that this blows a lot of people’s images of Churchianity to smithereens. Churchy folks resist this concept of the church being “Action City” always going forward, reaching out, on the move. When the leadership is pro-active and going forward, there are those who don’t want that which of course has given rise to another phrase:
“TROUBLE IN RIVER CITY.”
God flows through “River City,” that is, the church is the place of “Divine Dynamism.” Places to go, people to see, things to do for the Kingdom of God! That is the whole point of God’s River of life flowing through the City of God. The emphasis is on hustling URBAN LIFE, and not on a slow, quiet farm creek trickling through a cow pasture. God knows that I am not taking shots at farmers, or at green pastures, or at quiet waters, for I have the highest respect and appreciation for them, and God knows we all need them. (Psalm 23)
I first learned what a church should and could be – River City – while on staff for 12 years under my father in Pentecost M. Wayne Benson. Before being baptized with the Holy Spirit and joining Wayne at First Assembly of God in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I found that the concept of church and preachers by most parishioners was one of preparing and preaching two sermons on Sunday, teaching catechism classes on Monday after school, calling on the sick, marrying the lovers, and burying the dead. Yes, that was the church as “Traditional City,” and it all went quite well as long as you did your job and preached what the people wanted to hear. In between was some golf, fishing, and generally keeping everyone happy in “Church City.”
Then under Brother Benson, I quickly went from “Church Maintenance” to “Church Building.” Shazaam! All the pastors on staff found that they were not “Maintainers” but instead were “Co-Laborers” and “Builders.” If the diverse ministries of the dozen or so pastors were not saving sinners and making disciples, the ministry was scrutinized and if not revitalized it was scrapped. 70-80 hour weeks were common, as we dived into the River of God, and were swept away into strong swimming and hard laboring. We all found the true meaning of the word in I Corinthians 3:9 KJV,
“For we are laborers together with God….”
And II Corinthians 6:1 KJV,
“We then, as workers together with Him….”
Objectives, goals, and vision were never ending, as the River was constantly going forward and opening up new vistas before us. Oh the thrill of seeing River City grow from 200 souls to 4000 souls. I never for a second was ever close to being bored to death, though at times it felt like I was being worked to death. What a sweet way to go! I would rather be worked to death by the Holy Spirit, than be bored to death by a religious spirit any day! Flow River Flow!
You see, when the church is River City, there is a special, dynamic presence of God that you can find nowhere else, and I mean, nowhere else. His presence as the Living God is then palpable, for He flows where Christians want to flow with Him and not stagnate in religious quagmires or build dams. I know that Christ lives in us, and the Holy Spirit flows through us. Glory to God! But you and I haven’t discovered the “Living God” fully until you have gone to and flowed with Jesus Christ in “River City.”
It can all be very upsetting! People by nature do not like change, but the River of God and of the Lamb is always bringing us to new places in Christ. That is the very real challenge for many! There are those folks who are forever swimming back up stream against the current, trying to hang on to the past for all their worth. They worship history and tradition, and when they do that, they cannot flow with God. Others are grabbing for dear life onto branches that are hanging over the river. Because of their resistance, they always look so glum, stressed, beleaguered and warn out, and they do their worst to wear out the pastor as well with their complaints, i.e. we’ve never done it that way – and after all we are longstanding pillars of the church – we’ve invested our life in this church and now our wishes are being ignored etc.
Not all voices on the river or in River City are always positive. Eventually, the “River Resisters” simply become more and more grumbling critics, and eventually drag their weary carcasses out of the river and head for other churches. There are always going to be those who don’t like “River City” and they leave for landlocked ponds with the green scum of inertia and stagnation on the surface. God’s call is for daring and adventuresome swimmers, not for back-paddling retreaters or branch-hangers. God’s call is for river channels in the church, and not dead-end streets or landlocked swamps. Hear me:
“PEOPLE WHO DO NOT WANT TO BE CHANNELS OF GOD’S RIVER,
BUT INSTEAD ONLY WANT TO BE CONTAINERS,
WILL BECOME COFFINS.”
If you will:
“THE RIVER OF GOD AND OF THE LAMB IS ALWAYS MOVING
FORWARD, AND THEREFORE WE CAN NEVER EXPERIENCE
TRUE FREEDOM IN CHRIST WHEN WE ARE FEARFUL OF
THE FUTURE AND ALWAYS CLINGING TO THE PAST.”
“RIVER RESISTERS ARE ALWAYS TALKING ABOUT THE GOOD
OLD DAYS, BUT RIVER FLOWERS ARE ALWAYS LOOKING
FORWARD TO THE BEST DAYS YET TO COME.”
“THOSE WHO SWIM BACK UPSTREAM OR CLING TO BRANCHES ARE
GENERALLY THE REACTIVE ONES IN THE CHURCH, BUT THOSE
WHO FLOW FORWARD WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT CURRENT
ARE ALWAYS THE PROACTIVE ONES IN THE CHURCH.”
THE POWER AT THE ALTAR
The river vision that I had received on many Sunday mornings and evenings during my preaching was all-absorbing to say the least. Like the Apostle John, I was being carried away in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day. Most religionists would say that I simply got carried away with over-zealousness and perhaps from being over-worked. Revelation records John saying,
“I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day….”
At the time, I did not know what I was in, but now I realize that then the Holy Spirit was about to sweep me into Spirit River which was flowing through River City. It was the beginning or a miracle journey that continues to this very day.
Climactically the power of this Spirit River in my ongoing river vision crashed all across and against the steps leading to the elevated pulpit. That was where the greater share of the spray that was hitting me in the face was coming from. Kind of like getting too near the base of Niagara Falls! Was it that dramatic? Yes, it was that dramatic! It was really something else. Those were vision days unlike any other I have ever lived or seen again.
I would not fully understand the river-crashing site against the pulpit steps until some years later. I didn’t then even know what the “ALTAR” was in the church at that time. I had never heard of it. For that matter, I did not know what an “Altar Call” was until I went to the island of Jamaica and ministered the Gospel of Salvation in the elevated jungle interior where the hosting Jamaican pastor taught me what it was and how to do it. It was there in my first altar call that I saw many, many, beautiful Jamaican people come forward to accept Jesus Christ and yield their lives on their knees to Him at the “Altar.”
The crashing-river-on-the-altar vision first began to be fulfilled in Jamaica, and then fully erupted some years later in awesome fulfillment at the altars of First Assembly of God in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I had never witnessed or been a part of anything so glorious. No matter what Pastor Benson preached on, whether it was about tithing or temperance, Sunday after Sunday the altars would have repenting sinners weeping their way into the arms of Jesus. It continues to be the ecstatic joy of our lives, as we can say with even more conviction and rejoicing today:
“THERE IS A RIVER.”