“I do hope my Father will let the river of my life go flowing fully till the finish. I don’t want it to end up in a swamp.”
The British preacher and writer F. F. Meyer spoke those words, and I have often pondered the two images he used: the river and the swamp. The flowing river pictures power, depth, life and fullness, while the swamp makes us think of stagnant shallowness. No wonder Jesus used the sparkling flowing river as a picture of the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives: “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:37, NASB). In the next verse, John tells us that Jesus was speaking about the Holy Spirit and His ministry to and through His church after Jesus was glorified.
Unless our Lord returns during our lifetime—and we hope He will—our ministries and our lives will come to an end. Will they end flowing like a river or decaying like a swamp?
Overflow or undertow?
Too much ministry comes from the undertow and not from the overflow, from the swamp of the flesh and not the river of the Spirit, and it has little eternal value for “the flesh counts for nothing” (John 6:36). Whether we are in the study or behind the pulpit, too often we depend on our own ability and experience and not on the dynamic flowing stream of the Spirit. Jesus is the Giver of that stream and we are the chosen channels the Spirit uses to take the Word of life to others. When David wrote, “My cup overflows” (Ps. 23:5), he was picturing the Spirit-controlled life, the blessings of the fullness and the overflow that only the Spirit can give us. Again, our ministries are either from the undertow of the flesh or the overflow of the Spirit.
“I feel drained,” a pastor said to me at a conference, and I knew what he meant. The faithful minister puts in long hours, studies hard, visits in homes and hospitals, prays earnestly, encourages his people (who don’t always encourage him), in addition to striving to be a good husband and father. We may not experience all that Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 10:21-33, but we have our share of battles and burdens. Let’s remember that the Christian ministry is impossible apart from the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The Spirit can say to us what Jesus said to His disciples: “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
We can counterfeit the Spirit-filled life only so long—stealing other preachers’ sermons, ignoring the daily quite time, keeping up our platform praise—and then the crisis comes and the truth comes out. We can blame it on overwork when the real cause was lack of overflow. We had been grieving and quenching the Spirit.
Jesus emptied Himself of His own independent use of His attributes, but when He came to earth, He was “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). He did it for us, for “of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace” (John 1:16). The phrase “grace upon grace” pictures the ocean waves rolling into shore day after day, one after another, with power and fullness. God wants His servants to live in the fullness of the Spirit’s blessing, and this is as possible today as it was in the apostolic era. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses…” (Acts 1:8). It wasn’t only the apostles who received this blessing, for on the Day of Pentecost, all of the believers in the upper room were filled with the spirit (Acts 1:12-14; 2:1-4). Even the men chosen to give the widows daily food had to be filled with the Spirit (Acts 6:1-7).
God’s people are vessels that He wants to fill so that they may “spill over” and share the blessing with others. Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian believers was “that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:20-21). God still answers that prayer today. The life of overflow is the life of the Spirit taking charge of us and enabling us to be a blessing to others.
Let’s consider some of the blessings of the overflowing life.
“May my lips overflow with praise, for you teach me your decrees” (Ps. 119:171). We must never separate the Spirit of God from the Word of God, for He teaches us from the Word, transforms us and uses us to point people to Jesus. What is in our hearts eventually comes out of our lips, for it is “out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34). If we are depending on the grace of God as we serve, then it will result in many people overflowing in their expressions of thanks to God (2 Cor. 9:12), and this will overflow in glory to God (2 Cor. 4:15). “Overflowing with thankfulness” is one mark of the Spirit-controlled believer who has yielded to the Lordship of Jesus Christ (Col. 2:6-7).
No person or congregation is perfect, and the Spirit wants to give us insight and discernment so we can improve the ministry, but we must use what we learn as tools to build with and not weapons to fight with. Saints who criticize and complain may be speaking the truth, but they are not “speaking the truth in live” (Eph. 4:15). The Christian whose heart is accustomed to praising the Lord is the ideal person to help set things right. When we experience the overflow of praise, we get the victory over our negative feelings and our painful circumstances. Paul and Silas in the Philippian prison, praising God at midnight, put us to shame every time we complain about a delay or a few days in the hospital.
(copyright 2008 by Warren W. Wiersbe. All rights reserved. Not to be reprinted without permission.)
Dr. Warren Wiersbe (1929-2019) was an internationally known Bible teacher, author, and conference speaker. He graduated in 1953 from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. While attending seminary, he was ordained as pastor of Central Baptist Church in 1951 and served until 1957. From September 1957 to 1961, Wiersbe served as Director of The Literature Division for Youth for Christ International. From 1961 to 1971 he pastored Calvary Baptist Church of Covington, Kentucky south of Cincinnati, Ohio. His sermons were broadcast as the “Calvary Hour” on a local Cincinnati radio station. From 1971 to 1978, He served as the pastor of Moody Church in Chicago 1971 to 1978. While at Moody Church he continued in radio ministry. Between August 1979 and March 1982, he wrote bi-weekly for Christianity Today as “Eutychus X”, taught practical theology classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and wrote the course material and taught a Doctor of Ministry course at Trinity and Dallas Seminary. In 1980 he transitioned to Back to the Bible radio broadcasting network where he worked until 1990. Dr. Wiersbe became Writer in Residence at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids and Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. In his lifetime, Dr. Wiersbe wrote over 170 books—including the popular Be series, which has sold over four million copies. Dr. Wiersbe was awarded the Gold Medallion Lifetime Achievement by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA).