NYC23 Student / Parent Devotional Week 1


This is the detailed story of the Eternal God’s singular work in creating all that exists. On the day the heavens and earth were created, there were no plants or vegetation to cover the earth. The fields were barren and empty, because the Eternal God had not sent the rains to nourish the soil or anyone to tend it. In those days, a mist rose up from the ground to blanket the earth, and its vapors irrigated the land. One day the Eternal God scooped dirt out of the ground, sculpted it into the shape we call human, breathed the breath that gives life into the nostrils of the human, and the human became a living soul.
The Eternal God planted a garden in the east in Eden—a place of utter delight—and placed the man whom He had sculpted there. In this garden, He made the ground pregnant with life—bursting forth with nourishing food and luxuriant beauty. He created trees, and in the center of this garden of delights stood the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
A river flowed from Eden to irrigate the garden, and from there it separated into four smaller rivers. — Genesis 2:4–10, VOICE
The Great Plains of Kansas, Oklahoma, eastern Colorado, and Nebraska were known for years as the Great American Desert because, although they had plenty of prairie grass, they were dry, arid places that didn’t get much rain. They had few trees, so by the definition of the time, they were considered “desert.” But then rain began to fall. People started moving in. Large farms removed much of the native grasses. Crops grew. Life was good.
Then, in 1930, the rains stopped. It turned out that the rain was just considered a “climate fluctu- ation,” and the area returned to its normal weather pattern—a dry desert.
A place with no water is a place with no life. Plus, the farming methods of the early settlers had left the soil unprotected. The conditions for chaos were in place. For almost ten years, there was a drought in this land, and in the middle of the drought, huge storms lifted the dirt high into the air as huge mountains of soil blew over the Midwest, resulting in the “Dust Bowl.” It was part of a nationwide depression. Dust and dirt were everywhere! It was the worst ecological disaster the United States had ever faced.
Have you ever just felt dry inside? Have you ever felt like some kind of drought in your soul has left you questioning whether God actually matters? Have you ever been surrounded by a storm of circumstances that just makes life messy?

WEEK 1: Ride the River 1
In the opening scenes of Scripture, we are presented with a dry and arid desert. No native veg- etation to keep the soil in place. No rain to nourish the soil. It was a drought. The conditions for chaos were in place. There was no water. There was no life.
We learn something powerful at the very beginning of God’s story: where there is dry desola- tion, God provides a river of hope. Where conditions for chaos exist, God springs forth waters of life.
In this desert, God created waters to nourish and irrigate. As the waters flowed, God brought man and woman together, created a garden of delight (did you know Eden means “delight” in Hebrew?), and gave them a purpose. The people God put in the garden were to care for it, to make sure the rivers kept flowing and the trees kept growing. The river was massive enough to bless all people, and it was all a gift from God.
Something about a river is powerfully alive. If you’ve ever ridden the river on a raft or kayak, you know this. Your job is to just keep the boat afloat and let the water push you along. The water seems alive with purpose. Likewise, God has this incredible purpose for each of us. This purpose is not a struggle to find if we can just keep riding the river.
The problems come when water surrounds us, but we choose the desert instead. We know the woman and man in the scriptures chose their own wisdom over God. Despite being surrounded by the gift of water, their souls seemed to be dying of thirst. Tragically, this story tells us that though it seems simple enough to stay nurtured in the waters God provides, we often choose the desert of our own desires over the river of God’s purpose.
In 1939, the rain began to fall again in the middle of America. The dust lingered, but new life began to grow. And a movement began that would bring abundance to this once empty and dry land.
NYC is a movement. It could be just the kind of rain you’ve been praying for. Though you feel dry inside, though your church seems stagnant, and though it seems our world is in a major drought, we know the story of God always includes a downpour and overflow. As we prepare for NYC 2023, may we start patching the boats and repairing the paddles as we anticipate the overflow of God’s living water into our lives. May we each find our purpose as we ride the river together!
WEEK 1: Ride the River 2
Main Point: God brings rivers of life and purpose in the midst of the deserts we all face.
A lot of people struggle with feeling like they have a purpose in life. Dr. Kenda Creasy Dean said in The Godbearing Life, “Believing in God is not the issue for teenagers today; believing God matters is the issue.”
This belief beckons students to embrace God’s purpose. God matters. Even when our circum- stances are almost intolerable, God’s purpose continues in our lives, and his hope flows from us into the world.
• Have you ever felt spiritually dry or empty? Reflect about this place in your life.
• What practices can you add to your life that will help you through the “desert” places you experience? Why are practices like this important during these times?
The Bible is filled with descriptions of rivers of waters that flow through and out of dry and des- ert-like places. Genesis 2 describes a dry place. God created the world, but it was without water. It was dry and desolate until God acted. He gave the world a gift: water that nourishes; water that brings life. Man and woman were not created until springs or mists of water were given because without water, life is not sustainable. Into the desert flow rivers of life-bringing waters. This is not just how God’s story begins. It is repeated time and time again.
Something about water just satisfies us. It fills a physical longing. Many of you know you can live without food for a few weeks, but you can only live without water for a few days. We need water. It is fitting that Scripture uses this metaphor all through its pages. The inspired writers believed that our need for God is much the same as our need for water. If we are to truly live a life of abundance, if we are to really find our God-given purpose in life, we need to ride the river God provides.
But why do we like the desert so much? We people have a way of breaking things. I remember standing on a glass-bottom floor in the CN Tower, 150 stories in the Toronto skyline. It was an unsettling experience to look down past my feet and be so high in the air. Just then, my youth pastor friend said, “You know, everything man has made eventually breaks.” I scurried off the floor and down the elevator. He was right. Even when God gives us a free gift of purpose, abun- dance, and meaning, we sometimes just mess things up.
Why do you think some people continually choose the desert (dry and lonely places) in- stead of the river (growing and living places) in their Christian lives?
It is true that people often choose the desert. But sometimes, by no fault of our own, we experi- ence desert places or wilderness places. Maybe we were doing great, and then something really big happened that shook our faith. These difficult times can be really hard on us, but they can also be good for us. The biblical story begins in a river-fed garden, but quickly people found themselves in the desert. We know the desert was significant because God’s people were in it
. . . a lot.
We know the desert is important, even if it is difficult. The desert for a Christian student rep- resents this place where we don’t feel God’s presence—that place in Genesis 2:5 where “there were no plants or vegetation to cover the earth. The fields were barren and empty, because the
WEEK 1: Ride the River 4
Eternal God had not sent the rains to nourish the soil or anyone to tend it” (VOICE). But in these places, God builds our faith and reveals our God-given purposes. We know that if we read the story to the end, we see the desert doesn’t go on forever; God sends a mist, and God brings a river. We just need to ride it, and as we do, we begin to live into that purpose that God reveals in the wilderness.
“As you prepare for NYC, what kind of ‘desert places’ do you find yourselves in? [Identify some of these.] Do you think a movement like NYC could be a catalyst for God to bring new life into this generation? How could something like this happen?
We believe God has big things in store for us. We believe God longs to reveal purpose to stu- dents today, even to those who are in the desert places.
“This might be a good time to think about your own circumstances and really start thinking about other students who are planning to come to NYC and their desert places. So many students today are struggling and need a downpour of God’s grace, hope, and purpose in their lives that will overflow to the world.”
WEEK 1: Ride the River 5
Monday: Read Genesis 2:4–24 and spend three minutes in silent prayer. What does this story teach us about the purpose of people?
Tuesday: Read Deuteronomy 8 and spend three minutes in silent prayer. What does this chapter say about the desert and God’s faithfulness in these moments?
Wednesday: Read Luke 13:1–13 and spend three minutes in silent prayer. What does this episode of Jesus in the desert teach us about temptation and faith?
Thursday: Read the “At the Well” Weekly Summary and spend four minutes in silent prayer.
Friday: Read John 4 and spend four minutes in silent prayer.
Saturday: Review the “At the Well” Weekly Summary and spend five minutes in silent


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