This morning we sang “I’ve Got Peace Like a River” at church. That got me to thinking of other hymns that combine peace and rivers. One of my favorite hymns, “It Is Well with My Soul,” begins, “When peace like a river attendeth my way.” Another popular hymn begins “Like a river glorious is God’s perfect peace.” I’m not aware of any direct link in the Scriptures to peace and rivers. At times rivers do serve as a symbol of God’s presence and this may be a link. In the Bible rivers are also viewed as a source of life. This, too, may be a link. Throughout the Scriptures rivers are associated with cleansing—physical and spiritual. This could be a link as well.
In the end I’m not sure the linking of rivers and peace by various hymnists has anything to do with the Scriptures at all. It may instead simply represent an experience common to many. There is just something peaceful about rivers. People have enjoyed sitting by rivers for ages. There is something incredibly relaxing about watching a river flow by.
On Thursday I went over to Breaks Interstate Park and took some pictures of the Russell Fork River. It had been a stressful week and I really wasn’t in the mood to photograph but setting up my tripod next to the river I felt a sense of peace flow over me. The sight and sound of that river calmed my nerves and brought a sense of tranquility I had not felt for several days.
I realize that when God created rivers He had lots of other purposes in mind than just providing us a place to experience peace, but I’m not so sure that this wasn’t also one of His reasons for making rivers and streams. I think God knew that we would need places we could go to in order to have our spirits renewed, places where we could feel serenity. It really is no wonder that there are so many songs that combine peace and rivers. They go together quite naturally.
(The images above were taken Thursday at Breaks Interstate Park in Pike County, Kentucky.)
This past Wednesday I led a Bible study on Acts 16. In the story of Paul’s second missionary journey he and his partners pay a visit to Philippi. When Paul entered a new city he would typically begin his work by speaking at the local synagogue. Philippi did not have one so we read, “On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer.” What Paul found was a group of women praying. From this group would emerge the church of Philippi—the recipients of the Book of Philippians.
I find it interesting that Paul and his companions “expected” to find a place of prayer down by the riverside. Why? What was it that led him to believe this? Apparently it was not uncommon in that day for people to gather by a river to worship. In the case at Philippi it may have been that the river “outside the city gate” provided some protection from local authorities who might not understand this group’s beliefs. Still, we know that others in different locations also gathered by rivers to worship. Why?
Rivers play a prominent role in the Scriptures. In numerous instances it is by a river that God makes Himself known to someone. People such as Jacob, Joshua, Ezekiel, and Daniel could testify to this, as could Jesus. It was by the River Jordan that Jesus heard God say, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
In that time, rivers came to represent the source of life for many. This makes sense considering most of the biblical narrative unfolds in an arid region. Rivers have also long been associated with cleansing. Most of the world’s religions have rituals involving water and usually they imply cleansing. Christianity is no different. Later some came to see rivers as symbolic of God’s ever-flowing love and mercy. For others, a place to lay down their burdens as suggested by the song, Down By the Riverside.
Perhaps people have gathered near rivers to worship simply for the beauty and peace they find there. For the way that God seems nearby in His Creation. I’m certainly glad we have beautiful sanctuaries to worship in today, but like those in the Scriptures, I often find myself drawn to a riverside, a forest or a mountain to worship my God and Savior. I cannot help but believe that there is good reason to do so.
(The picture above is of the Cumberland River at Cumberland Falls State Park, Kentucky.)
George Washington Carver once said, “Nature is an unlimited broadcasting station through which God speaks to us every hour—if we will only tune in.” By now you know that I agree with Carver. If we will slow down and listen carefully, God has much to say to us in His creation. Many of the things we hear will be comforting or encouraging words, but at times the message may be challenging.
A few weeks ago I made a day trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with my friend Bill Fortney. Bill wanted to go to the Tremont area so we could photograph the beautiful Middle Prong cascades. As you can see from the picture, this is a lovely and inspiring location.
When I am in places like this there is a passage from the prophet Amos that invariably comes to my mind. Amos says, “let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.” Roaring rivers and streams cause me to remember that there is much injustice in the world today. There is racial injustice, economic injustice, environmental injustice, social injustice and a host of other injustices. Countless people suffer today because justice and righteousness are all too often lacking.
A few verses after Amos made his familiar admonition he declared, “Woe to you who are complacent…” Although these words were spoken over twenty-five hundred years ago I believe that it is, in fact, complacency that remains a major contributor to the many injustices in the world. I know I am guilty of being complacent far more often than I should be. For this reason I remain thankful for God’s “unlimited broadcasting station” of nature and how it reminds me time and time again of His desire to see “justice roll on like a river” and “righteousness like a never-failing stream.” Now it’s up to folks like you and me to see that it happens!