“Jesus stood up and cried out, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:37-38 ESV).
“Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8 NIV).
“Flow is… being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost” (Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Professor of Psychology at the University of Chicago, Finding Flow).
Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced chick-sent-me-high-ee), is one of the world’s leading researchers in the field of positive psychology. “Positive psychology” focuses on improving human strengths in contrast to more traditional psychology which tends to focus on human psychosis. Dr. Csikszentmihalyi says that he has devoted his life to the study of what makes people truly happy, satisfied and fulfilled. His research led him to a metaphor to describe what several of his respondents described as being “carried away by a current, everything moving smoothly without effort.” He called this level of living “flow.”
Perhaps it is similar to what athletes sometimes call being “in the zone.” Or what students of peak performance refer to it as working out of your “sweet spot.” Csikszentmihalyi may have been the first to describe this concept in Western psychology, but as he himself readily acknowledges he was not the first to discover the concept.
This psychological theory of flow reminds me of another kind of “flow” that Jesus spoke of over 2,000 years ago. He said that those who believed in Him would have “rivers of living water” that would “flow” out from within them to others.
As a Christ-follower, I believe in a Creator who made each of us with a unique purpose and destiny in mind. I believe that our deepest satisfaction and fulfillment is discovered when we live according to that calling, that design.
Csikszentmihalyi describes flow as an “optimal experience,” wherein one’s skill level at a task and its challenges are at their peak alignment. I think his observations are brilliant. Yet, they don’t come close to describing the joyous ecstasy of “freely receiving” and “freely giving.” that Jesus offers.
Perhaps Olympic runner Eric Liddell comes closer to describing this kind of spiritual state of flow in the movie Chariots of Fire when he said, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”
The pleasure of flow that Jesus offers is a shared pleasure— Ours and God’s. For Liddell it was running, for me it happens sometimes when I’m preaching, sometimes when I’m playing the guitar, sometimes when I’m in an engaging spiritual conversation with a friend or a seeker. This feeling of transcendence comes over me as I seem to become one with the task and with the One who made me for it. It’s better than sleep or food or play. It comes from being fully engaged in doing the very thing for which I was created.
Jesus often described His own state of flow, saying things like “My Father never stops working, so why should I? … I assure you, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does.” (John 5:17, 19 NLT).
When his parents couldn’t find the twelve year old Jesus, he said, “Why did you search for me? Didn’t you know I would be about my father’s business?” (Luke 2:49)
Jesus was the picture of flow. Always connected to the Father. Always working out His calling. Always flowing.
But Jesus didn’t just live in a constant state of flow. He brought flow. He is its source.
He told the Samaritan woman at the well, “You don’t know what God wants to give you, and you don’t know who is asking you for a drink. If you did, you would ask me for the water that gives life… The water I give is like a flowing fountain that gives eternal life.” (John 4:10-14 CEV).
The Dead Sea (Golan Heights in background)
As a student of the Bible I’ve been learning and speaking about this idea of “flow” for several years now. It seems to me that it happens as long as we let it, as long as we don’t dam it up. We can build dams in our life in two places that can prevent flow. The first is between us and God. If we aren’t open to God, His life can’t flow to us. The second place we can stop it is when we don’t open our lives to others. We become like the Dead Sea— all inlets with no outlets. The picture that I have in my mind is of one hand open to God and one hand open to others. As long as I keep both open, I experience the state of flow.
I feel God’s pleasure when I let Christ’s life flow to and through me to others in joyous generosity!