Recently, I had the fortune to go with a close friend to see U2 perform the Joshua tree in concert, it was an amazing evening on many levels, but profound to here them perform the whole of this album, which they had not done before, but also recognise the prophetic nature of this album for the time we are in now, not just for the time when it was released 30 years ago.
One song that stood out, was In Gods Country, and the opening lines: “desert sky, see beneath the desert sky, rivers run, but soon run dry, we need to dream new dreams tonight.”
Having not just worked with young people, and released leaders, over a number of years, I recognise the prophetic and challenging nature of these words.
As I reflect upon them, i am reminded of where I used to go as a boy on holiday, and one of our first reflections on arriving there, was that the rivers on the strand beach, had changed! often in width, or depth, but more often than not, in direction, but still the river flowed.
In these words from U2 certain things stand out:
1: Desert: for so long now so many have observed the desert nature of where we are currently at in regard to youth discipleship. observing that not only are fewer young people engaging with God, or the christian faith, but fewer are holding on to that as they grow older. the landscape for which youth discipleship currently exists, is very much a desert landscape.
2: the River: the words in this song, are so poignant, as they say, “rivers run, but soon run dry”. There are indeed rivers in the desert landscape of youth discipleship, but these are rivers that are largely formed out of how we have defined the river in the first place. We have decided that the river of youth discipleship has to look and flow in a certain way, if not, then it isn’t discipleship. Similar to the river of my childhood, i wonder whether we have to become more open to the river flowing in different ways, changing courses, and not being defined by how we want or expect it to flow, but defined, by where it naturally flows. Often we have got stuck into a place that says that God only disciples in certain ways in certain places, and placed our human expectation upon how discipleship takes place, without recognising where the spirit is flowing, and where God is at work. Similar to the river of my childhood, which adapted to its surroundings, and habitats, i wonder whether it is time for us to lose our constructed definitions of how the river of discipleship should flow, and be open to where God is moving.
3: dreaming: these words moe than any other have stuck with me since seeing U2 on that night at the beginning of July. “we need to dream new dreams tonight”, and why? well just remember what the previous line said, the “rivers soon run dry”.
Even though there are rivers of discipleship which are there in our desert landscape now, the reality is that more and more of the defined structured rivers are running dry, which is why we need to dream new dreams.
We should give thanks for those rivers that are still flowing, but also recognise that those rivers are getting fewer and fewer, and starting to run dry, and maybe part of this is because the rivers are not adapting to the context that they need to flow in.
For so long we have held on to our constructed definitions of discipleship and not asked the question first, where is God at work? where is his spirit flowing? If we actually asked these questions first, then maybe, just maybe, the rivers would be a greater feature in thelawdscape, and not be running dry so quickly.
So where are the dreamers? are we prepared to release them, support them, encourage them? Are we recognising those who are up for and able to redefine how the river of disciplehsip can look, to enable more rivers to stand out and less of the desert stand out.
Wouldn’t it be great if in 5, 10, years time, we were recognising more rivers and less desert? More young people were encountering God, and not just for a short period of time, but for life?
As I said, referring to the river of my childhood, no-one ever said, that because it changed, or didn’t look like it did the previous year, it is no longer a river! it still held its identity as a river, and maybe this is our challenge, to stop thinking that everything has to look like the way it always has done, and that is the only way it can look!
We need to dream new dreams tonight, if not then the rivers will indeed continue to run dry, and the desert will not only continue to be the dominant feature, but increase in its domination.