More than a decade ago, I was one of several thousand travelers who were stranded for much of a whole day in Houston’s largest airport.
A tropical depression had dumped five inches of rain on the city, and flights were being rerouted, delayed, and canceled every few minutes.
By early evening I found myself longing to get a seat on one of the last flights to Indianapolis. Twenty-seven of us were on stand-by hoping to squeeze into nine available spots. I was the sixth person called.
I took my seat on the plane, which turned out to be next to an older lady in Row 14. She glanced over at the book I was reading. It was called Real Life Evangelism. I smiled at her and said, “I am your worst nightmare for the next two and a half hours.”
She laughed. It turned out she was a lay leader at a Methodist church. About the time our jet took off and started bouncing violently through the remnants of the storm, I told her I was a pastor. “You know,” she said, “that is such a reassuring thing for me to hear right now.” For a second I considered telling her that I had been embezzling from my church for the past ten years, and that I suspected God was about to punish me at any moment.
But I decided it was best not to test her sense of humor in a tropical depression.
It seemed better just to listen. I learned some things about her church and about her family. Shortly before we landed I asked, “Is there anything I can be praying for you?” With that she told me that her son’s marriage was breaking up, and that soon she would be caring for a grandchild who would be moving in with her. She asked for strength and wisdom for the days ahead.
On the surface it may not have seemed as if anything of great importance had happened there on Row 14. But by a divine appointment that was effected by a storm, two people who a few hours earlier had been strangers to each other sought God’s help concerning a storm of a more personal nature.
The Holy Spirit is a master arranger of such appointments.
Here we begin to grasp that the reason God has gifted us with the indwelling presence of the Spirit is not for our sakes alone. We are not to be “end users” of the grace of God. We have been blessed with the Spirit so that we can be a blessing to others.
That truth becomes apparent in John chapter seven, where Jesus addresses a crowd of worshipers at a Jewish festival called the Feast.
What the Bible here calls “the Feast” was the actually the happiest of all the annual Jewish holidays – the Feast of Tabernacles, which came early in the fall as harvest season was wrapping up. Its closest American equivalent would be Thanksgiving Day.
The Feast, however, lasted seven full days. Imagine turkey sandwiches and turkey soup for a week. Every Jewish male who lived within 15 miles of Jerusalem was required to journey to the city and spend seven days thanking and praising God at the temple.
Every day of the Feast, the high priest did something symbolic. He walked down the hill to the lowest point in Jerusalem, which was the pool of Siloam, and filled a golden pitcher with water. Then he walked back up to the temple area and poured the water into a special container by the altar.
What was he doing? He was helping the people remember a prophecy from the Old Testament: “On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem” (Zechariah 14:8). The people knew that “that day” meant the day the Messiah had finally come to rule in Jerusalem. On that day the Messiah would set the whole world right.
Therefore what Jesus does is stunning. On the seventh and final day of the Feast, when the high priest is once again calling the people’s attention to God’s future gift of living water, Jesus declares that “that day” has finally come. Check out John 7:37-38:
“On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.’ By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.”
Jesus is claiming that he is the source of God’s living water. And people can have it right now if they trust in him.
The biggest surprise is that the water won’t flow just in the vicinity of Jerusalem. It will flow out from all of his followers. In the King James translation Jesus says, “out of his belly will flow rivers of living water.” The Greek word for belly is koilia. It refers to the gut – to that deep and impossible-to-describe place in me where I hunger and thirst for peace and love and security and purpose and ultimately for the One who alone can provide such gifts.
Jesus is saying that his gift of real life, which is granted to us through the Holy Spirit, doesn’t just pour into us. It must also flow out of us.
We are not to become reservoirs or holding tanks of God’s life and God’s love. The Spirit is better described as a spring or a river that is always flowing out of our hearts for the sake of others.
Rivers are mentioned 150 times in the Bible. In the arid Middle East, a river was a place where things could grow and thrive. Jesus is reminding us that our task is stay in the flow of God’s river of living water every day – by relying on the indwelling presence of his Spirit.
How do we do that?
We begin by trusting that with God, we go no place by accident.
Delays and inconveniences may seem to be messing up our plans. But the Spirit apparently has other plans – divine appointments – if only we have eyes to see.
It’s a wonderful thing that God’s gifts and God’s grace have come to us. But they have come to us because they are on their way to someone else.
So, rejoice that you are a temple of God’s Holy Spirit.
Then let the Spirit flow.