It’s very rare that I hear a Christian song from the last 10 years that I LIKE. It’s even more rare for me to hear one from the last year that I really like. To me, Contemporary Christian music was at it’s best in the late 80s-90s with groups like Petra.
The 90s started to see more of what you might call “praise and worship” tunes, which helped ignite the so-called worship wars as churches struggled with how to include both traditional music and these new modern songs, which were often simple choruses with repetitive refrains. In the interest of full disclosure, that kind of Christian music generally drives me nuts. I’m not saying that it’s bad or that it doesn’t have it’s place in worship, but standing around singing the same thing over and over for ten minutes doesn’t do anything for me as a musician, former worship leader, former Catholic Church cantor, and everyday Christian.
To me a lot of the Christian music that’s out there these days sounds a lot like these praise and worship tunes, so with a few notable exceptions like Hillsong United’s “Oceans,” I don’t get into much of it. The other day I was listening to Apple Radio’s Christian Station when I heard something I liked very much. It had an actual beat. The singer didn’t sound like he was constantly singing through his nose. It had a very distinct style and the lyrics were…meaningful. It wasn’t just “God is Awesome” over and over again!
I was stoked. I looked it up on Youtube, played it on repeat on Spotify, and fell in love with it. The song is “The River” by Jordan Feliz, and it recently hit #1 on the Billboard AC/Christian chart. Give it a listen, and then I’ll talk about why I find it so meaningful:
Rivers are powerful things for me, powerful images and powerful symbols. I grew up fishing the rivers in the Uinta Mountains and the back country around Morgan and Weber Counties in Utah with my dad. There was something about going to the river. It was an escape, and as I got older I found that my times at the river were not only quality moments with my dad, but quality moments with God. I’ve prayed “down by the river” more than a few times in my life.
Rivers often mean life. A lost person who stumbles across a river can often find salvation by following it. It’s moving waters can provide a refreshing drink or a chance to wash ourselves clean of dust and dirt.
Thus why rivers are such an important part of Christianity. Some of the earliest images in the New Testament are of John the Baptist calling people to repent and baptizing them in the Jordan River. Eventually Jesus himself was baptized (Matthew 3:13-17). Can you imagine being there when that happened? John is already rattled by having to baptize Jesus, but then after he does the Spirit visibly descends from heaven like a dove and we hear the voice of God saying “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” That would have been a shocker.
For nearly two thousand years now Christians have come to the waters of rivers all over the world to be baptized and renew their baptismal covenants. The river pulls us to it, beckons us. “Come sit beside my waters. Be refreshed, be at peace.” “Come, immerse yourself and be cleansed by water and spirit.”
So this is isn’t just a pretty rockin’ tune, it also touches on the deep symbolism of rivers and cleansing. Even in the end, when God has finally reconciled all things to himself, there will be a river, and what a glorious river it will be:
Then the angel showed me a river with the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. It flowed down the center of the main street. On each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month. The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations.
No longer will there be a curse upon anything. For the throne of God and of the Lamb will be there, and his servants will worship him. And they will see his face, and his name will be written on their foreheads. And there will be no night there—no need for lamps or sun—for the Lord God will shine on them. And they will reign forever and ever. (Revelation 22: 1-5 NLT)
I know that it’s not the exact thing pictured in Revelation, but I’ve always thought the River of Life looked something like this stream in the Uinta Mountains that I’ve fished, and prayed next to, many times. Won’t you come to the River?
Photo: Cody Hatch