Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Where the River Flows, Day 2

Leslie Basham: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth says God can makes things grow, even if it seems impossible.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: The Spirit can produce life and growth in places that would otherwise be barren—where nothing could live apart from the presence of God.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Brokenness, for March 21, 2019.

Today Nancy's going to tell us where we can turn in those barren seasons of our lives. She's in day two of a series called "Where the River Flows."

Nancy: We're looking over these few days at one of the most difficult passages in God's Word, but also one of the most rewarding. Sometimes we tend to skip over these passages because they can be so hard to grasp.

But I've had the joy, over a period of time, of digging into this passage over and over and over again—handling it, looking at it, meditating on it, coming back to it years later. The Word of God is so rich, and the Spirit of God lives in us to help us get God's truth.

So I have not plumbed the depths of this passage at all—I feel like I'm still really on the surface—but I want you to enjoy with me what God has been saying to my own heart as I've been studying here in Ezekiel chapter 47, the first twelve verses.

And we've said in the last session that this is a prophetic parable (or picture) of the progress, the advance, the spread of the gospel into the world . . . a picture of the presence or the work of God's Spirit moving throughout the world.

And it's not just in the world, but also in our own hearts and in our churches. It's a picture of this river that starts as a trickle, but it brings much life and growth and fruitfulness and healing. So we saw yesterday that the starting place, or the source, for this river is the temple—the altar of God, the place where God is present with His people.

(I know some weren't here with us yesterday for the program. If you missed yesterday's program, you can go to ReviveOurHearts.com; you can listen to the audio, you can read the transcript.)

Let me read these verses, Ezekiel 47:1–2:

Then he brought me back to the door of the temple; and there was water, flowing from under the threshold of the temple toward the east, for the front of the temple faced east; the water was flowing from under the right side of the temple, south of the altar. He brought me out by way of the north gate, and led me around on the outside to the outer gateway that faces east [this is going to be important!]; and there was water, running out on the right side.

And so the water flows from underneath the threshold of the temple—the place where heaven meets earth, where God and sinners are reconciled, where the altar of sacrifice is. And it all points us to Christ, who is the New Testament temple. He is the door of the temple; He is the altar; He is the source. His sacrifice for sin is the reason we don't have to offer sacrifices for sin anymore. It's the reason we don't have to kill lambs and sheep and goats and bulls—because the sacrifice has been made, the price has been paid.

As Christ went to heaven and poured out the Spirit of God on the day of Pentecost, what began as a trickle (we'll see) now rises and progresses. This angelic messenger takes Ezekiel about a half-mile out, and the water is a few inches deep—up to the ankles.

And then he goes out another distance and the water is now knee-deep. And then, yet a bit further, and the water is up to his waist. And then they finally come, within a couple of miles, to 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" (v. 5).

So the trickle begins; it increases in volume and depth to a brook, a stream, and finally, a raging river.

Then we see in verses 7–12 that this river becomes the source—the supply—for life, for growth . . . and not just for a little bit of life and growth, but a lot of life and growth. This passage speaks of abundance; it speaks of fullness; it speaks of prosperity, blessings that occur as the curse is being removed and God's Spirit is taking over.

We see these blessings—this life, this growth—on the land and also in the waters. Ezekiel 34:7 (Ezekiel is taken along the bank of the river): "[And there were] very many trees on one side and the other." These trees are growing because there is the sustenance of the river there, to feed their roots, to allow them to grow. Continue with verse 8:

Then he said to me: "This water flows toward the eastern region, goes down into the valley [we'll talk about this in a moment], and enters the sea [the Dead Sea, which is twenty-some miles east of Jerusalem]. When it reaches the sea, [the sea's] waters are healed.

And it shall be that every living thing that moves, wherever the rivers go [this is now a mighty torrent of a river], will live. 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.

It shall be that fishermen will stand by it from En Gedi to En Eglaim [two towns that are on the shore of the Dead Sea]; they will be places for spreading their nets. Their fish will be of the same kinds as the fish of the Great Sea [that's the Mediterranean Sea, to the west of Jerusalem], exceedingly many [fish . . . in what was once the Dead Sea].

Along the bank of the river, on this side and that, will grow all kinds of trees used for food; their leaves will not wither, and their fruit will not fail. They will bear fruit every month, because their water flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for medicine" (vv. 8–12).

Now, let's just make some more observations about this river, its characteristics and its effects.

First of all, this river flows in places where you would never expect to find water or life or growth. It flows in unexpected places. Look at verse 8: "He said to me: 'This water flows toward the eastern region, [it] goes down into the valley . . .'" Now, do some of your translations say, "It goes down into the Arabah?"

You just read over that and think, What in the world is that? I don't know. I guess I'll just move on. Stop and look it up. It's fascinating. "It goes down into the valley [or the Arabah] and enters the [Dead] Sea."

The valley, the Arabah, is the desert region of the Jordan Valley that is to the east of the temple. This river runs through that desert region, which goes south from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea. Arabah could be translated "plain" or "desert" or "wilderness." The valley—the Arabah—it's a dry place. The average annual rainfall here is only two inches.

This river flows in this dry place. The root of this word "valley" or "Arabah" is actually "dry" or "burnt up" or "wasteland." You don't expect to see this mighty, magnificent river bringing life and flourishing and fruitfulness in the middle of a dry wasteland.

That's what God does, that's what His Spirit does, that's what His Word does, when it's allowed to flow freely—it comes into dry places and brings them to life.

It's not only a dry place, it's a place of death! This river flows from the temple, it flows through the Arabah—through this dry wasteland, this Jordan valley—and it goes toward the Dead Sea. It enters into the Dead Sea, also known as the Salt Sea.

This sea is twenty-five percent mineral salt; it has a six times higher percentage in its salt content than seawater. It's so much salt and so many minerals that nothing (no macro-organisms) can live there. It has no outlet; it's stagnant, and nothing living can exist in it.

So fish that are carried down from the Sea of Galilee, down the Jordan River into the Dead Sea, die. Fish don't live there. Fishermen don't fish there because there are no fish that can live there. The city of Sodom, by the way, in the book of Genesis, was originally (scholars think) along the bank of the Jordan River.

At one time that was a fertile area. That's why Lot chose to go there when he was given the choice. It was a prosperous place, but sin entered this place, and men became exceedingly wicked. And God didn't intend for this earth to thrive with sinful human beings inhabiting it. Sin is bad for the environment.

The environment shows the consequences of man's sin, and ultimately, you know that God destroyed the city of Sodom. It's been a wasteland ever since. It's still an arid, dry, barren area. So the story we're seeing here—the parable, the picture—is something that, physically, is yet to happen.

It will happen when Christ comes back to earth, removes the curse, and the earth is made fruitful once again. But spiritually, it is something that is in the process of happening in our day. You see, the Spirit can produce life and growth in places that would otherwise be barren—where nothing could live apart from the presence of God.

I think sometimes we think we need an ideal setting that's conducive to spiritual life and growth. "I could be a more fruitful, vibrant, alive Christian if I just had a more spiritual husband." (I'm not saying that; some people say that.)

"If I just had parents who were more godly, if I'd had a better upbringing, if we had a better church, if our pastor were a better preacher, if the old folks in our church weren't so dry and barren and dead, or if the youth in our church weren't so worldly," we say, "I could do better if I had a better environment."

Your desert may be a dry or difficult home or church life or marriage or the culture . . . a place that seems hopeless. There's no possibility of life in that workplace, in that home, in that place where you live. But I want to tell you that, even in that place, God can cause you to be fruitful and fertile and flourishing if the river of His life, His Spirit, His grace is flowing through you.

You see, this river comes and flows through places you'd least expect to find it. Thank God for that dry place, that wasteland, that barren place, that wilderness where you live. Say, "Lord, this takes faith. I've got to believe You to do what I can't do here."

"I can't make streams of living water flow here, but You can, and You can do it in me, and You can do it through me in this dry place."

And the effects of this river of life are transformational! It changes everything. It causes dead things to live. Ezekiel 47:9 says everything will live wherever the river goes. On the land, the trees and the vegetation flourish; they're fruitful.

Fish in the sea, where there was deadness, where there was mineral content that killed fish . . . now the fish thrive, and they live. It causes dead things to live. Where there is water, there will be life. Expect that.

You think about the major cities in the world, they usually grew up around water, around rivers. Where there is no water, physically, growth is difficult or non-existent—or you have to use artificial means of bringing in water: aqueducts or whatever.

But where there is water, there will be life, there will be thriving, there will be community, there will be transformation. And the gospel, as it flows as a river of life into us and through us and into the world, it makes dead people live. That's what the gospel does!

Ephesians 2:1–2 tells us, "You were once dead in your trespasses and sins . . . in which you once walked" (ESV). Dead people can't be spiritual; dead people can't love God; dead people can't produce the fruit of the Spirit; dead people can't bring themselves to life; dead people can't bring their mates to life or their children to life. They're dead!

But God's Spirit makes dead things live. "You were dead in trespasses and sins, but God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ" (v. 4 ESV). That's the river of life.

It's the gospel; it's the Spirit of God; it's the Word of God; it's the power of God; it's the grace of God being sent by God into our hearts, coursing through our spiritual veins, producing life out of death. It's resurrection life. It's the resurrection life of Christ flowing through those barren, dry, wasted places of our lives—making us alive, bringing us to life. It causes dead things to live. And that river of life causes things that are alive to flourish, to grow, to be fruitful, to thrive.

I have some shrubs—trees—on my little property that sometimes you're not sure if they're dead or alive. They look like they have some life, but they're not thriving.

Sometimes you wonder, Should I just cut it down? Should I prune it? Should I get rid of it? Well, it takes somebody who knows more than I do, to know the answer to that question sometimes. But God's Spirit, the grace of God, the river of life, that causes things that are alive to thrive, to be fruitful, to flourish.

Look at Ezekiel 47:12: "Along the bank of the river, on this side and that, will grow all kinds of trees . . . they will bear fruit every month." They're not just alive, they're fruitful. They're thriving. And so we see the transforming power of the gospel. It brings life where there was not life.

Some of you are burdened for a husband who doesn't know Jesus. A woman came to me on Tuesday, here in Atlanta, and she said, "Please pray for my fifteen-year-old son." She told me what the issue is, what the concern is.

She can't bring life to his soul; she can't bring transformation to his ways of thinking that are twisted and not in accord with God's Word. But she can get hold of the throne of God, from whence flows the river of life.

She can pray. She can ask God to do the impossible, to bring that river of life flowing through her, flowing through others, flowing into that young man's heart and bringing life into that dry and wilderness place.

You can't make your marriage thrive, but the Holy Spirit of God can, with His river of life flowing through you.

We ask ourselves questions as we read a passage like this, and I want to ask you: Are you spiritually alive? Do you have spiritual life? You say, "Well, of course I am. I'm a member of this church." Well, you can be a member of this church or any other church and not be spiritually alive.

In fact, that's one thing that makes it really hard on pastors—when they're trying to preach to a congregation of dead people, because dead people don't have a receiver. They can't hear. They can hear physically. But the pastor can preach on the grace and the love and the tenderness and the mercy of God, and pour his heart out . . .

Or he can pour his heart out about the judgment and the wrath and the terror of the Lord—and everything in-between—and they just sit there. There's no transformation taking place, no life, no joy, no fullness, no fruit.

One of the reasons—a very good chance—is that they're just dead. They need the river of life to flow through them, to cause that which is dead to live.

You say you're spiritually alive. What are the signs? Where's the evidence? Is there any evidence of the life of Christ flowing in and through you? If you're not sure, ask your children. Ask your husband, ask that lost person who sits next to you in the cubicle at work.

Is there evidence that I'm a Christian, or do people just think, Well, yes, she's religious—she goes to church. Listen, if there's no evidence, if there's no fruit, if there's no life, maybe God brought you here today to get life, to have the river of life flowing to you and to bring resurrection life to make you a child of God.

I don't just want to know, "Are you spiritually alive?" I want to know, "Are you growing spiritually? Are you flourishing?" Where there is spiritual life, there will be growth. Where there is no growth, there's reason to question whether there's life.

We have so many people filling our churches today who are going through the motions of doing stuff, being religious, serving, volunteering, giving in the offering . . . but there's no real evidence of love for Jesus and love for others.

They're angry, bitter; they're unrepentant; they're addicted to various sins. Now, I'm not saying that if you have the river of life flowing through you that you'll never sin. That would not be true according to Scripture. But where the river flows, there is life—there is flourishing, there is growth, there is a desire, there is an appetite, there is something that wants to be who God wants you to be.

And not only will you be alive and growing spiritually, but you will become a source of bringing life to others. The river of life will flow through you, and wherever the river flows, there will be new life, there will be new growth.

So I would ask, "Are you spiritually fruitful?" Not just are you spiritually alive and are you spiritually growing, but are you bearing fruit? Is your life an inspiration—a source of life and growth for others?

Where the river of life is, everything changes. Dead things come to life; things that are alive begin to flourish.

Now this river, this water of life, as you look at it throughout the Scripture you see that it is closely related to the Spirit of Jesus and to the Word of God. This is the water—this is the living water—this is what indwells us, to bring life, the Spirit of God.

In Ezekiel 36:25 and 27, an earlier passage than the one we're looking at today, God says, "I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean . . . [and] I will put my Spirit within you" (ESV). This is the water; it's the Spirit of God, the Spirit that Jesus sent to this earth when He went back to heaven.

How do we know that? In the New Testament, John 7:38–39 tells us: "'Whoever believes in me [Jesus says], 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" (ESV).

So this river of living water is the Holy Spirit living in you, living in me, living in us—flowing through us and bringing transformation and grace and change and life and blessing, wherever we go. Because wherever the river goes, wherever the river flows, there is life. So, the Spirit indwells us.

And God's Word indwells us. You see this picture in Psalm 1, beginning in verse 2: "His delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night." He's internalizing the Scripture, memorizing it, studying it, meditating on it day and night. Look at verse 3.

He is like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers (vv. 3-4).

Do you see the parallel there, to Ezekiel chapter 47?

There's life; there's growth; there's fruitfulness, because the Spirit of God and the Word of God indwell us, and they are at work. They are moving; they are not stagnant. They are alive in us. That's what makes us alive and helps us to become a life-giving flow of water to others.

You'll never experience spiritual life and growth—or be a source of life and growth for others—apart from the Spirit of God and the Word of God flowing in and through you. And when you are, everything will change, for wherever the river goes, there is life.

Leslie: If you’re in a dry, barren season, I hope this teaching from Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has encouraged you to connect with the Lord and His living water.

That’s what a Revive Our Hearts listener named Jane did. Now, women interact with Nancy’s teaching a lot of ways. But here’s what Jane did during a busy season.

Jane: What I used to do especially when my kids were young, is print out the transcript.

Leslie: That’s the daily transcript at ReviveOurHearts.com.

Jane: And then I’d go do my workout with my highlighter in hand.

Leslie: Jane spent years collecting these transcripts from Revive Our Hearts. And because she gained so much biblical insight, she doesn’t want to throw those highlighted transcripts away.

Jane: I don’t care if they’re ten or fifteen years old.

Leslie: The reason Revive Our Hearts was able to provide those transcripts of the program each day was thanks to listeners who gave to make the ministry possible.

Jane: That’s pretty huge. It is a real gift.

Leslie: So Jane decided to help make it possible for us to reach even more women. She became a Monthly Partner, commiting to pray, share, and give each month. And Jane gets a lot back from the ministry.

Jane: I’ve loved being a Monthly Partner over the years. I love the Daily Reflections and receiving that in the mail every month.

Leslie: Daily Reflections is a monthly devotional our partners receive each month. Partners like Jane also can attend one Revive Our Hearts conference each year at no charge.

Jane: When we’ve been to events, I love having the ministry partner suite available as well as the briefing. I really look forward hearing new ways we can pray for Nancy and for the ministry and for new resources and for the expanding scope of Revive Our Hearts.

Leslie: Jane told us these days she mostly listens to the Revive Our Hearts podcast. But she still sometimes prints the transcripts, adding to the collection of biblical truth she’s studied for herself.

Jane: There’s just such a timeless, biblically sound depth and richness that I think is rare in most ministries.

Nancy: The story Jane has been sharing illustrates something profound. When God pours out gifts to you, you’re then inspired to share those gifts with others. That’s why she joined the Monthly Partner team at Revive Our Hearts

If God has poured out gifts in your life through Revive Our Hearts, would you consider joining Jane on the Monthly Partner team? Your welcome gift includes two of my most recent books and many more resources. I hope you’ll check out what it means to be a Monthly Partner. You can get all the details by visiting ReviveOurHearts.com. You can also call us 1–800–569–5959. Thanks for considering joining the Revive Our Hearts Monthly Partner team as together we help women around the world experience freedom, fullness, and fruitfulness in Christ!

Leslie: Imagine you're in the desert but find a green, fruitful plant. How could a plant thrive with no visible source of water? You could be just like that plant, allowing the Holy Spirit to nourish you even in outwardly challenging times. Nancy will talk it about it tomorrow, here on Revive Our Hearts. Now she's back to pray.

Nancy: I was reading, just in the last twenty-four hours, from my "friend," Charles Spurgeon, whose book The Checkbook of Faith is one I love. One of his readings in it talks about this river of life. I'd like to read it to you, because it includes a prayer which I found becoming my prayer as I read it, thinking about this passage. He says,

The living waters, in the prophet's vision, flowed into the Dead Sea and carried life with them, even into that stagnant lake. Where grace goes, spiritual life is the immediate and the everlasting consequence.

Grace proceeds sovereignly, according to the will of God, even as a river in all its windings follows its own sweet will. And wherever it comes, it does not wait for life to come to it, but it creates life by its own quickening flow.

Oh, that this river of life would pour along our streets and flood our slums! Oh that it would now come into my house, and rise 'til every chamber was made to swim with it! Lord, let the living water flow to my family and my friends, and let it not pass me by. I hope I have drunk of it already, but I desire to bathe in it—yes, to swim in it!

Oh, my Savior, I need life more abundantly! Come to me, I pray, 'til every part of my nature is vividly energetic and intensely active. Living God, I pray, fill me with Your own life. I am a poor, dry stick. Come and make me so to live that, like Aaron's rod, I may bud and blossom and bring forth fruit unto Your glory.

Quicken me, for the sake of my Lord Jesus. Amen!

And, Lord, we say let that river of life come and flow in us, to us, and through us, that Your life, Your Spirit, Your grace, Your power may flow wherever our lives go. We pray it in Jesus' name, amen.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is helping you thrive in Christ. It's an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the NKJV unless otherwise noted.

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