by Pastor Joshua Pfeiffer
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There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High (Psalm 46:4).
Most major cities lie on a river of one sort or another. Easy access to fresh water has always been essential for human survival. Interestingly, Jerusalem does not. Its only access to fresh water traditionally has been from springs, which are then channelled in various ways. The Old Testament credits King Hezekiah with playing a special role here (2 Kings 20:20), including when the Assyrians laid siege to Jerusalem and access to water became crucial (2 Chronicles 32:30). So why exactly does Psalm 46 speak so confidently of this river whose streams make the city of God glad?
In the Bible, water is spoken of symbolically and literally in terms of its destructive and life-giving power. It is indeed a rather strange thing that something we require every single day for life can also be such a force for death in our world – think tsunamis and floods. In fact, in this very psalm, the water is first described in its destructive capacity, where some sort of de-creation is depicted with the mountains falling into the sea and its waters roaring and foaming (verse three). Then no sooner have we heard this aspect of water than we hear of the life-giving river whose streams make glad the city of God.
There is a long tradition in the church of taking this river to be symbolic of the Holy Spirit or the grace of God. Think of how Jesus speaks of ‘rivers of living water flowing’, which St John links to the Holy Spirit (John 7:39). The picture is that in our lives – and the Christian church as a whole – no matter what chaos goes on around us, the Spirit of God is an invisible life source, which flows secretly in and through us. This Spirit not only gives and sustains life but indeed ‘makes glad’ as the psalm says. The fruit of the Spirit is, among other things, joy.
In the church and in our own lives, we do not rely on our own strength for our ultimate protection and peace, or for that matter, to cultivate our own joy. The Spirit of God works these things in us like a secret, invisible, underground river. Come, Holy Spirit, come!
Come, Holy Spirit, Lord and giver of life! Create and sustain the life of your church and give us joy even amid the trials of this life. Amen.
Joshua is married to Kimberley. Together they have four children. He is a pastor of the Lutheran Church of Australia and previously served at St Paul’s, Nundah, in Queensland, and Bethlehem, Adelaide, in South Australia. Currently, he is pursuing doctoral studies at Concordia Seminary St Louis, USA, and enjoying the adventure. He posts videos on a YouTube channel called Kairos (www.youtube.com/JoshuaPfeiffer).