I was in a regular staff meeting when suddenly out of nowhere I saw a prophetic picture whiz by my mind. It was of a reservoir, a large concrete reservoir. Within seconds, a huge fist came down from the sky towards the reservoirs walls and smashed it. I heard the Lord say;
“I am coming to break down the reservoir mentality within the church and instead My church will be a river.”
Since then I have been doing a bit of research about reservoirs and rivers. I feel that these strong analogies have much to say about our life as the body of Christ, especially the life of the Spirit within the church today.There are many biblical analogies that describe the life of the Spirit and the one I like the best is ‘rivers of living water’.
‘He that believeth on me, as the scriptures hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.’ John 7:38
The big question for us as Church and as individual Christians is;
Is our life with the Spirit like a river or is it like a reservoir?
Before you answer that question here are some key differences between the reservoir and the river that might give you a bit of food for thought.
1. Reservoirs and rivers are different in their nature
- The first thing to say about reservoirs is that they are man-made.
A Wikipedia definition
“A reservoir (etymology from french réservoir a “storehouse) or an artificial lake is used to store water.”
- Rivers on the other hand are natural – part of Gods original creation.
- The type of life (fish/plant) that can exist in both environments have also some subtle differences.
International Rivers is an organization that promotes the protection of rivers. They did a study on the environmental effects of reservoirs. Here’s just a sample of what they found;
‘Some of the environmental effects of dams can benefit some species. For example, impounding a reservoir will create habitat for lake fish and warm water released from a reservoir can increase the abundance of species of fish which failed to thrive in the cool river. But because dams alter the conditions to which local ecosystems have adapted, the overall impact of a dam will almost without exception be to reduce species diversity.’
What this report seems to be saying is that the overall impact of reservoirs on its water life is to reduce species diversity. The effect of a man-made water container ultimately, it seems, reduces the diversity of life!
Think about this in the context of the church and life with the Spirit.
God’s created us an individuals with different gifts, callings and ideas. Church is meant to be a place where we life out our individuality and celebrate our diversity within the context of family. If we have churches that resemble reservoirs rather than rivers, man-made structures rather than the organic powerful flow of God’s Spirit, are we actually reducing the diversity of Christian life? Making one type of Christian thrive while others perish?
2. Reservoirs and rivers are different in their experience.
Not only are reservoirs and rivers different in their nature but they are also very different in experience. Here’s another Wiki quote for you describing the use of reservoirs;
‘The water bodies provided by many reservoirs often allow some recreational uses, such as fishing, boating and other activities. Special rules may apply for the safety of the public. Many reservoirs now support and encourage less informal recreation.’
I know its fairly obvious description but remember we are using this analogy for church and the individual Christian experience of life with the Spirit. A reservoir experience is that of one type of water – still and safe. There is a certain degree of pleasure – boating, fishing etc but its controlled and contained.
Compare that to the experience that one can have on a river. A river has lots of different expressions of water – waterfalls, rapids, still pools, fast flowing.
I firmly believe that our corporate and individual life with the Spirit is meant to be an adventure. It’s meant to have many expressions – times of risk and times of rest. When we build man-made structures that try to contain the Spirit of God, we can have a certain amount of pleasure – maybe a worship service that makes us feel all gooey but essentially we will miss out -we will end up creating one or two types of experience and never experience the thrill of the river.
3. Reservoirs and Rivers have different impact
When you talk to people who love going to reservoirs for a day out it’s evident that reservoirs do have an impact. Often reservoirs are set in beautiful environments, they have an awe about them. Many reservoirs are places where families go to have fun or escape to have some clear thinking. However, to be impacted by a reservoir you have to go to it. I’m not going to get impacted by the beauty and tranquility of a reservoir by sitting in my home in Bristol.
In this way, the reservoir picture epitomizes the “come and see” model that many churches have adopted. Bring your friends to “come and see” the wonder of church, has become the dominant pursuit of many churches today. It’s not that its wrong necessarily but it has limited impact.
The river on the other hand is a picture of an alive water source that reaches and impacts many places. It is not stagnant – it flows and moves and is the source of life for many villages and communities.
I believe God wants His church to have an impact on all of society. I believe God’s church is meant to be a moving alive powerful body that becomes the source of life for business, education, the arts, community and family life – out there, where the normal people live. It’s ok to have hubs, places where people come but the main thrust should be the river that goes out into every aspect of society.
A great picture of this is the river Ezekiel describes in Ezekiel 47. A water source that flows from the temple (church) out into all society.
So why do we choose the Reservoir?
Reading this, I think most of us would say that we want to be a river. We want to be people that follow God’s design not man-made structures. We want to be people that experience the Holy Spirit in the journey of adventure not just some controlled pleasurable monitored experience. We want to be people who impact the whole of society, not just the people who we manage to invite to church. But if we are all really honest with ourselves often we choose the reservoir mentality over the river.
Man-made, safe, limited
This got me digging deep. Why is this? Why would we choose the reservoir when our Spirit is yearning for the river?
The key is found in the actual meaning of the word reservoir. Translated from french it means ‘Storehouse’. Our need of storing, is the very thing that keeps the reservoir mentality alive in the church today.
Think about it.
In our society, there is a culture of hoarding or storing up. Whether its money, food, experience – we like having savings in the bank, food in the cupboard plus an extra load in the freezer for ‘just in case’. The root of this is control. When we have things stored we can be in control to use what we want use, when we want to use it.
But is this Gods way?
In comparison think of Jesus teaching in Luke 12:24
Think of the lesson God was teaching the Israelites in the dessert with His provision of manna Exodus 16:15
In both cases God was communicating that His way was a daily reliance on Him. Reliance without a plan B. God was saying “I have enough for every day”.
Do we try and store up our experiences with the Holy Spirit so we can be in control? Do we take His fresh daily bread and put it in our spiritual freezer so we can have it later? Have we created a man-made store house for the Spirit of God? As Churches? As Individuals?
I came across this verse that seemed to sum up what God was saying for us, the church today.
‘My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.’ Jeremiah 2:13
I’m praying that God deals with me. Deals with me need for control. Deals with my need to store up. And finally breaks me free to be like a river where His Spirit can flow.
Making me a powerful, beautiful, adventurous, free, Christian.