I was recently asked what makes River so special and it’s clear to me that it is not one attribute that makes it so. Rather it is the combination of many attributes that makes River such a wonderful community to be a part of.
We glimpse something of it when meals are provided for a new-born’s family to help them through the early weeks; when a festival is run for the community at the cost of the church; in the readiness with which many speak prophetic words to comfort, exhort and strengthen the heart of the hearer; and in the ease with which the sick are prayed for in faith to make them well. You can see the heart of it in the deeply committed relationships that have bound friends together through thick and thin for decades.
Yes, I thank God our Father for River, but how did we get here? A few thoughts will help us live in the good of where we find ourselves and help propel us into the next season He has for us.
Firstly, the church was begun by an experience of the presence of God through His Holy Spirit. A group of youngsters were boating on the Thames and were overwhelmed by God and started speaking in tongues and prophesying. Over the years, adventuring in the gifts of the Spirit has been a hallmark of our community, sometimes dynamic and ecstatic, at other times gentle but just as powerful.
Secondly, we have come to know God as our loving Father. His heart is to bless us and through us to bless the world. He is for us, He is always working for good in all things, He is patient and willing to walk at our speed, He’s not controlling but allows our choices to influence His plans, He asks us to partner with Him in ways we could never have dreamed, knowing we will mess up some times but will grow through the work. In short, we know we are the apple of His eye (Zech 8:2), and that fills us with joy!
Thirdly, we have found that Jesus always treats us better than we deserve! We can all think of a hundred reasons why God shouldn’t accept us, why we’re not worthy to be used by Him to bless others, and why we deserve to be punished or to have misfortune, but when we come to Jesus we receive grace. We find He is gentle and humble and accepts us just as we are, whilst promising to transform us. He speaks words over us that lift us from the hum-drum to the highest places, things like, “You are the light of the world”, “I chose you to bear much fruit and glorify your Father” and “You will do the works I do and even greater works than these.”
Yes, this community is underpinned and watered by its theology, its understanding of who God is, which in turn shapes our thinking around life’s biggest questions: why the world is like it is, who are we and why are we here? That’s effectively what Psalm 1:1-3 says, “Blessed is the one who… delights in the law of the LORD, and in His law they meditate day and night. They shall be like a tree planted by rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever they do shall prosper.”
So whatever other resolution we may have made for 2017, let’s add a determination to make reading the Bible a delight and to ponder on what we’ve read. The Bible is the Word of God to us, it is given to lead us to Jesus and is the best way of learning who God is and what He wants of us. Don’t be put off by feelings of inadequacy or by thinking you’ll never understand it all… the truth is none of us understands it all and we are all inadequate, but God has promised to teach us by His Holy Spirit, to lead us in paths that are good for our souls, producing fruit in our lives that brings glory to Him!
“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen” 2 Corinthians 13:14