We have all heard the phrase, “Garbage in, garbage out”, most of the time referring to what we either put into our mind or put into our body. It was a phrase repeated to me numerous times as a kid to get me to think about what I was listening to and what I was watching. It has to do with flow, the progression of how thoughts, faith, ideas, emotions, and wisdom move through us.
I recently experienced an interesting, but expensive, illustration of this truth. We were having some plumbing problems in our house, popping in the lines, sudden dripping in some faucets, so we called our local, friendly, and did I mention expensive, plumber. He walked in the house and took a quick listen to what our aliments were and immediately said, “I know what your problem is…”.
“It’s your PRV valve, where is your main water cut off in the house?’
“Wait, a what valve?”
“You got me, what is PRV?… and is it expensive?”
“It is your pressure reducing valve”
“You got me again, what is a pressure reducing valve?… and is it expensive?”
“The PRV regulates the water pressure coming in from the street, it really shouldn’t be higher than 70-75psi. Yours is probably too high, it is why you are having these sudden leaks, there is too much pressure pushing against the faucets and hoses.”
“Oh, Ok… and is it expensive?”
The problem I was having with the “outflow” in my faucets was that my “inflow” was too strong… and after the repair, I needed more “inflow” into my bank account because my “outflow” was more than I expected!
The spiritual flow in a church is similar. As church leaders, as shepherds and servants in our congregations, we need to be aware of the “flows”. In the beginning the Bible says that the Spirit was “hovering over the face of the deep”. That imagery is powerful, the awesome Spirit of God not sitting or relaxing, but hovering, waiting to move in power at the Word of the Father. The flow begins as the Father says, “let there be light”, now there is movement, an outflow of power and might and wisdom as the universe comes into being. Flow can be a powerful thing, sometimes it is gentle like a creek, sometimes it is powerful like the images we have seen from the Japanese tsunami. We can feel flow, we can hear flow, we can see flow, because we as people can sense movements, even slight ones. You could call spiritual flow the feel of a church- energized, tired, worn out, a servant’s heart, stagnated, lethargic… all describe an issue with spiritual flow.
Spiritual flow however has more to do with the idea of discipleship than anything else. It is opening ourselves up to allow God to pour into our spirit and our mind and then allowing that flow to go through us to others. In a church setting sometimes we can get really tangled up with how to understand if God is working in our midst, are we making an impact?, are we making progress?… lots of questions that can be hard to discern. Grabbing a hold of the idea of flow can help us understand the nature of what is happening spiritually.
Here are several truths about spiritual flow that we need to get:
1) Flow is movement- there is no more simple truth than that, you cannot have flow without movement (verb- to move along in a stream, to circulate, to proceed continuously and smoothly)
2) Flow has to have a force- there is no movement, no spiritual flow without a force acting upon our Spirit. Newton’s first law of motion tells us a body at rest tends to stay at rest unless it is acted upon by an outside force. To create flow, we need a flow creator, a force to put our Spirit in motion. God is the flow creator!
3) Flow has to be nurtured- flow cannot remain constant without action to keep it going. Spiritual flow runs into all kinds of obstacles that seek to block it and slow it down. Sin, circumstances, the world, pain, suffering, disappointments, conflict, and many other things seek to block spiritual flow. You have probably encountered many of these kinds of things. Sometimes we call them joy killers, faith stealers, but the idea is that they are obstacles to God having full access to work through us. Because we inevitably run into these things, the spiritual flow in our lives and in the life of our church needs to be nurtured. Hebrews 11 tells us that faith has to be nurtured,
1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen…. 6 But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
Despite all circumstances we must believe that God is, He still exists, is there even when we don’t necessarily see Him and that He is still in the blessing and working business by rewarding those who diligently seek Him. In Transformational Church, the writers share about our bent toward allowing life or circumstances to make us think otherwise:
“But sometimes the tendency is to focus so much on the negative that we essentially act as if God no longer exists” (Transformational Church, p. 21)
4) Flow is fluid- spiritual life is not mapped out in blocks, it cannot be programmed or timed nor is it stiff and rigid. Like a river, spiritual flow has to rise, fall, turn, move, go over and around things. Spiritual flow changes and moves to fit the place it is given. Like liquid takes the shape of the vessel it is put in, so we to have to make a proper place for spiritual flow in our life. Romans 12 tells us that if we are not to be like the world, but to allow ourselves to be open to God changing us into the image of Christ, the flow of the Spirit changing us as it moves through us.
2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
5) Flow can be stopped- God intends for the flow to continue, our lives are to be more like rivers of spiritual life, yet often they more imitate reservoirs. A reservoir is a place where flow stops, is backed up and is not allowed to move at its’ own pace. Reservoirs are tightly controlled places and flow can’t happen in tightly controlled places. Flow can be stopped by unbelief, rebellion, a lack of following, a hard heart, a stubborn selfishness, or too tight a control on our spiritual life, an unwillingness to allow God to change us, a fear of growth into the unknown….any way in which we purposefully resist God’s work in us.
6) Flow is meant to be a blessing- Early civilizations understood that the flow of water was a life-giving place. Early societies and towns often popped up next to rivers, canals, coastlines. These were places that allowed them fresh drinking water, a way of movement, abundant sources of food. Spiritual flow is like that- it is meant to be life-giving as God works through us.
Let’s take a look at inflow in our spiritual lives and the life of the church. We could haggle about the order of which is most important, but the important part of inflow is that these things are moving into our lives.
1) Worship- Some would say that worship is outflow, something that pours out of us toward God, and I would absolutely agree. In fact there are several things that work in cycle. But in the life of the church, the community of believers, there is not much else that pumps Spiritual life and excitement into the body like worship. Think about the meaning of corporate worship versus private worship. In corporate worship there is a joining of voices, hearts, focus and intent. What flows in as people encounter the pleasure of God at His people worshiping Him is affirmation, joy, encouragement and hope. The connection to God in worship give us a reminder that God is real, alive and well, worthy of our worship. Our private worship, those times of loving God that come in our private times are more intensely personal, but the result is the same- we are open to God, with our hearts focused on God allowing Him to shine brightly into our hearts. But corporate worship adds one key element, the secure feeling of being among those who are like-minded, believing and verbally and visibly showing their faith through worship. There is that extra bit of encouragement that comes by being together with others who are loving God as well. It is the “cord of three strands” concept from Ecclesiastes. Look at passage below and think about how it applies to corporate worship…
9 Two are better than one, Because they have a good reward for their labor. 10 For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, For he has no one to help him up. 11 Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; But how can one be warm alone? 12 Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
The spiritual inflow of worship stops when we believe that corporate worship is meant for our pleasure or entertainment rather than connection with God. It is hard for the Spirit of God to flow when our heart is focused on self rather than on the object of worship which is God. He alone is worthy of worship and when we give Him the honor that is due His name, we bless Him.
2 Sing out the honor of His name; Make His praise glorious. 3 Say to God, “How awesome are Your works! Through the greatness of Your power Your enemies shall submit themselves to You. 4 All the earth shall worship You And sing praises to You; They shall sing praises to Your name.” … 8 Oh, bless our God, you peoples! And make the voice of His praise to be heard Psalm 66
God flows through that kind of praise. If your corporate or private worship is anything other than an offering to God, then it can be seen as nothing more than a self-help exercise to make yourself happy. Those may seem like harsh words, but God will not share His honor, or His worship, with anyone else. As church leaders, how are we presenting the discipline of worship to people… as a meeting, as entertainment, or as a sacrifice, an offering that is given to the Lord? How are we helping people to get outside of themselves to focus on God rather than on self? How are we challenging people to slow down and take the time to, in a heart-felt way, truly honor and bless the Lord?
2) Prayer- again to some this may seem like something that we dish out, but prayer in its’ most basic form is connection with God. Jesus Christ gives us bold and confident access to the Father, He intercedes for us and that connection brings life into us… at least it should. Prayer is the place that we can bear our souls, not to complain or gripe about our life, but so that we can truly encounter God, be honest with God and allow Him to bring us help, healing, guidance and hope. That kind of inflow energizes a believer, it fills them with the good things of God, no matter what their circumstances are on the outside.
Prayer becomes ineffective when it is dialog, us talking to God, but not listening for Him to speak to us. Really, you can no longer classify it as prayer, since the essence of prayer of the desire to connect with God through the sacrifice of Christ. If we don’t allow God to talk we cut ourselves off from everything that is good in prayer. Yes we may be able to get things off our chest for a moment, but nothing ever departs because we don’t allow God to replace it with any of His love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, healing…. And unfortunately this is the case all too often. Lots of talking, but no inflow in prayer. Make sure that prayer, whether personal or corporate takes time for inflow, intentionally taking time to listen and hear God. That is healthy spiritual inflow.
3) Bible study-There are times I believe that we have so overemphasized Bible study that we have made it the “first and greatest commandment”. Bible study is both driven by and has the goal of loving God. We love God and want to discover more about who He is, how He works and how we are to live through His Spirit. It also has the goal of making us more like Christ, and more pleasing to Him, and as we learn more, falling deeper in love with God. That is the flow of Bible study, more than just learning facts, words and concepts. When we open our Bible we open ourselves to experience an inflow of truth, of righteousness, of conviction, of challenge, of hope and promise.
What inhibits spiritual inflow in Bible study is what I call dry knowledge. I have met many people over the years that are full of Bible knowledge, but very little of Jesus. They have a knowledge of Bible words, can tell you the order of the kings of the Southern Kingdom, but display no fruit of the Spirit. As leaders if we encourage people to study the Bible, we also have to share with them the goal of Bible study. As people we will naturally default to the easiest way to satisfy a standard or goal, left to our own devices, we believe the goal of Bible study is knowledge rather than life change. For many that is what we have set as the bar, “know your Bible”. But knowing our Bible does us little good unless we see and take the next step of allowing truth to flow into our lives and shape our heart into the image of Christ.
4) Fellowship- Spiritual inflow occurs as we live our Christianity out in community. Many people see their Christianity as private, but it is meant to be anything but private, personal yes, but private no. The Bible is full of references to the corporate nature of our faith. Acts tells us that the church worshiped together, shared together, ate together, and generally supported one another, prayed for one another and ministered to one another. Inflow comes as we allow others to be an important part of our spiritual lives. God has equipped the body with a “diversity of gifts, but the same Spirit” (I Cor 12:4). These differing gifts are meant to be a blessing to all, a way for each of us to minister to others, and when we allow others to use their gifts to bless us and help us, there is an inflow of the Spirit.
There are no self-sufficient Christians, and the belief that we don’t need others is a sign of pride. The Scriptures tell us that “God resists the proud” (James 4:6), that is another way of saying that there is no spiritual inflow for the proud! As leaders are we encouraging the practice of fellowship, the use of spiritual gifts or are we promoting only an individualistic form of Christianity where everything is about being blessed, being fulfilled and going to heaven? Here is another thought that constantly challenges me, as leaders are we modeling the need for others or are we trying to be completely self-sufficient? Do you ever confess your need for others in the body of Christ? Do you ever learn from other people in the church? Do you acknowledge the gifts of others?
If we desire our churches to have a great outflow in ministry and outreach, we have to monitor and promote the inflow into the life of the body. I love Jesus’ words in John 7 that speak to flow…
37 On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. 38 He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” 39 But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
There is an expectation that believers will have a great outflow, a river of living water pouring out of each believer. The Spirit overflowing and not just spilling out of our life, but flowing, moving like a river. What a beautiful picture of the life-giving Spirit flowing out of us and into others, blessing them with all the awesome things that God can accomplish in their lives. But we have to nurture the inflow, the filling of the Spirit into our lives. I pray for Jesus’ words to be fulfilled in every believer, every person with the Spirit flowing out of their heart, blessing this world with the presence and power of Jesus Christ.