On the Sabbath we [Paul and Silas] went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer.
Philippi was a Roman colony and apparently had no synagogue. So, knowing this, Paul and Silas headed outside the city to seek out another possible prayer place where people would gather … by the river Gangitis.
Ezekiel writes [47:1-12] that a river symbolizes life. And certainly in any region (particularly a dry one) water is most precious and life giving. Rivers are flowing water and also represent cleansing, washing away dirt (and sin). Other religions also treat rivers as sacred (e.g., the Ganges or Kaveri in India, the Nile in Egypt, the Euphrates and Tigris rivers in former Mesopotamia, now Iraq & Syria).
And so the river outside Philippi was a natural place to go for a number of life-important activities and prayer was one of them. But this place was not just for individual prayer but for corporate prayer. It was a place of safety where people could meet without fear of reprisal (from the local authorities).
The Children of Zion Village near Katima Mulilu, Namibia in Africa is a children’s home that our church created and has supported since 2003. The property is on the beautiful Zambezi River. When the team [including my husband Mike] went to Namibia back in 2002 and walked the property for the first time, they also sat on the upper banks of the river to pray… a moment none of them will ever forget as they experienced a powerful presence of God.
Our small town is blessed to be at the mouth of the Susquehanna, an old lazy river that empties into the Chesapeake Bay. The town fathers were smart enough to build a beautiful promenade that hugs the water for about a 1/2 mile. It has become a place for prayer, for meditation, for contemplation as well as walking and fellowship. The water draws the people.
Until I read this scripture, I had forgotten how many significant experiences I have had at the water’s edge. It’s time to return.
So what is my point in all this? Nothing much, just a simple call for prayer: go to the river. Pray. If you have a river or creek nearby, go there… or a lake or an ocean or a fountain. Go to the water. Go with friends. Meet new friends. Plant your tree of prayer near the water and watch it flourish. I’m going right now.