Interwoven

Many years ago Richard Foster dropped by my tiny office at Hodder & Stoughton in the UK where I was a young and inexperienced book editor. The memory is vivid. 

Richard’s hands were held wide apart in front of him as he spoke. “As a teenager I was taught that ‘spiritual’ people keep their inner life with God as far away as possible from ‘worldly’ matters such as contemporary social issues and culture.”

He continued, “Now I realize 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.” 

He brought his hands together and interwove his fingers tightly 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 something 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.

Later I would publish Richard’s book Streams of Living Water in the UK. I believe it is one of the most subversive books written in the last fifty years.

Streams

Dallas Willard, a mentor to me and close friend to Richard Foster, believed that Streams of Living Water was probably Richard’s most significant contribution to the church, even though his earlier Celebration of Discipline sold many more copies. 

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 finish reading it, you will have seen this jewel from several new aspects and 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 are 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 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.

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.