One of the most subversive books written in the last fifty years is Streams of Living Water by Richard Foster. I originally published the book in the UK, and would like to share with you today why it is so significant and the impact it has had in my life.
Dallas Willard was a mentor to me and close friend to Richard Foster. Dallas believed that Streams of Living Water was probably Richard’s most significant contribution to the church, even though his earlier Celebration of Discipline has sold many more copies.
As a young and inexperienced book editor at Hodder & Stoughton in the UK, I vividly remember Richard dropping into my tiny office (I was a very junior editor) on one of his occasional visits. He told me that he had been taught as a teenager that truly ‘spiritual’ people kept their inner life with God as far away as possible from ‘worldly’ matters such as contemporary social issues and culture.
Holding his hands apart in front of him, he explained how he now realized that the truly spiritual person, if they are to do what Jesus did, would see how closely they could overlay these two apparently distinct worlds. Bringing his hands together he tightly interwove his fingers as a simple but powerful image of ‘the Word becoming flesh and living amongst us’.
Little did he know at the time, but in that moment Richard put before me a vision that would consume the rest of my life. Suddenly, as a young man, I had an ambition to pursue that was big enough to increasingly capture my whole heart. This was in stark contrast to the shallow Christianity that, at the time, was threatening to drown me in the pools of its mediocrity.
Streams of Living Water, along with the parallel Spiritual Formation Workbook (called Life Streams in the UK), became a foundational resource for me as I began to plumb the depth of a deeper life with God. How very different my own journey, and that of so many others, would have been without it.
What’s so subversive about Streams of Living Water is the way it identifies six shining aspects of the character of Christ. By the time you have finished reading it you will have seen this jewel from several new aspects and, most likely, you will also have fallen in love with Jesus all over again.
Equally subversive, Streams of Living Water explains why, if we want to be more like Jesus, then we will want to pursue and reflect all six aspects rather than just one or two of them. Richard explains the significance of this, while also giving us vivid examples of people who show how to live and practice a balanced vision of a deeper life with God.
Subversive once more, Richard draws a circle around Jesus and extends it to embrace Christian traditions that collectively demonstrate the very same Jesus we have met in the six streams. This work is masterful, and hugely significant for the ecumenical project that is beginning to take root across the people of God – often in ways that were far less obvious when Richard first wrote Streams of Living Water in 1997.
As you read it, don’t miss the way that Richard steps into the six streams in a very deliberate sequence. Without a contemplative life, he argues, it will be impossible to live a truly virtuous life. Once this life starts to take hold, God will trust us with a more power-filled life, and from here we will be better equipped to practice a compassionate life without being burnt out, as so many are today.
In turn the evangelical tradition has so much greater credibility in the world when supported by our practical deeds of justice and mercy. Lastly, when we are flowing with the previous five streams, then it’s likely that we will turn around and discover that we are also swimming in the sixth stream, the sacramental life. This is where we take our faith to work, live out an authentic life in front of our family and friends and tackle the wider issues of our world.
So you can see how subversive this all is.
Finally, don’t miss the climax of the book: the evocative vision of the purpose of God in history to form an all-inclusive community of loving persons with God himself at its center, as its prime sustainer and most glorious inhabitant. That’s a life captivating ambition!
Perhaps you can now see why the vision of Streams of Living Water could so easily consume the rest of our lives? After reading it, I’m convinced you will.
Chair of Renovaré Britain and Ireland
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