On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. (Acts 16:13)
Recently a ministry on which I serve on the board has been faced with a significant decision that will have a long-reaching impact. So we did the standard responses when faced with such a decision: the board met, we discussed, and we met again and discussed again. We wrote position papers, detailing the ministry and our option. And we met again.
The decision, like all hard decision, does not have a clear good side and bad side. There are strengths and weaknesses on both decisions, and there are many options in between both decisions. To say this is a stressful time is an understatement.
During one particularly anxiety-filled board meeting, I felt the weigh of the impasse, the weight of not knowing, the weight of being lost, in a way, in the woods. Much like the men in the video, running from not knowing, running to something we perceive as good and realizing that simply may be our perception and not reality, and standing in the woods arguing.
Suddenly these strange people in dressed in white begin to come forth from the woods, surrounding the argument, the fear, the distress. And they sing.
They sing of going to the river to pray.
They sing of prayer. And the men follow.
I realized in all our discussions, discernment, positions papers, and tasks, we had forgotten to go to the river to pray. We had forgotten to stand on the muddy banks of a swirling water and listen to the presence of God. We had forgotten to follow God wherever we may be led.
Paul and his companions in today’s lesson from Acts go to the river to pray and are (as we all frequently are) surprised by their holy encounter. The meet some women. And they listen to the women and learn of Lydia.
They then meet Lydia, who becomes the first Christian convert on European soil. And Lydia, at the river to pray, meets Paul, who in his is typical unvarnished way, tells her of his past, both tragedy and triumph. Lydia’s home is open to Paul and Silas, and probably becomes one of the first house churches in Europe. Both of them are changed by their encounter at the river, all because they both went to the river to pray.
Life happens at the river when we pray. Faith dances along the muddy waters into unexpected encounters. God’s Holy Spirit descends on us in particular ways at the river when we pray. We may meet someone unexpected whose own experience of God and prayer will expand us. We may hear a song that changes us with its mystery. We may simply feel the mud rise between our toes and the water pull over our legs as we feel confused and unsettled while we remember God is our foundation, ever under our feet as we walk this life.
I marvel that, in my mind, millions of people were changed because of Lydia and Paul. Christianity entered Europe when two people went down to the river to pray. The Way became rooted in the muddy banks of a river in Macedonia and grew from there, because two people went down to the river to pray.
Life changes when we go down to the river to pray.
What weighs on your life on this day? What concerns, heartaches, thanksgivings, or questions might need to be taken down to the river to pray with you today? And when you go, can you simply stand in the mud and water and listen for God?