My wife and I recently stopped by “Cedar Bog,“ a nature preserve outside of Urbana, Ohio. The welcome center host there will quickly inform all visitors that Cedar Bog is incorrectly named—it is actually a “fen.” The oft-repeated clarifying statement there is “bogs clog, but fens flush!” Bogs collect incoming rainwater until it eventually evaporates, while fens filter flowing water from springs or a stream through their acres of marshy wetlands. Though they might look similar at first glance, fens have far more available nutrients, clearer water, and more diversity of plant and animal life than bogs.
The Bible presents a similar contrast when it comes to water sources. While cisterns and wells were a necessity, “living water,” a phrase used to describe naturally flowing water, was preferred, because cool, fresh flowing water was a greater blessing than stored or standing water. Consider how God contrasts the two in Jeremiah 2:13— “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”
Given that God associates Himself with “living water,” I expect He would prefer that His people be fens rather than bogs when it comes to His blessings, life giving provision, truth, and power. Notice Jesus’ statement in John 7:38— “Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” The implication is that God intends His love, grace and blessing to flow through us, not just “to us.” As the old children’s song says, the river of life flows out of us, not into us. As that song further declares, this flowing water impacts all those around us.
Bog-like churches that focus on gathering and holding people rather than sending them out to multiply ministry and disciples, or bog-like Christians who only “take in” worship and teaching experiences without engaging in relational service to others, may suffer a bog-like fate. In a bog, stagnancy and slow evaporation often leads to discolored brown water, higher acidity, and lack of available oxygen that gradually results in the bog drying up over time.
Fens, on the other hand, can support amazing life multiplication. For example, poorly named Cedar Bog is a fen of only 450 acres, but that location is home to the greatest diversity of plant life in all Ohio. The “flow through” blesses that small area far beyond what simply “holding the water there” could ever accomplish. Similarly, fen-like churches and fen-like Christians can expect God to bless them richly even as they release resources, time, and service beyond themselves.
May God bless all of us with a heart to allow His living water to flow through us as we open ourselves to His Kingdom purposes!