READ : John 7:37-39
One of the wonderful invitations in the Bible is, “Whoever is thirsty, come to the living water.” Let’s think today about that deeper thirst we all feel, how it can be quenched and what that can mean for those around us.
This is a word for any of you who feel that something is missing in your life, who search for something more, who long for a fulfillment you haven’t yet found. Listen:
“If any one thirsts, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.’”
According to Jesus, there’s a great thirst in every human heart which he promises to satisfy. And the satisfaction he offers is not an end in itself – it always overflows.
Thirst, as we all know, is a powerful drive, a life-and-death yearning, the call of the body for what we must have to survive. We can go without food for days, even weeks, but we may die in a matter of hours for lack of water.
A DEEPER THIRST
For Jesus, this bodily thirst is a kind of parable. Our craving for H2O is the sign of a deeper need, an inward thirst. He was saying that human hearts crave some inner refreshment as eagerly as parched throats and cracking lips cry out for water. That strikes a responsive chord in all of us, doesn’t it? For what are we but quivering bundles of need? And what is our life – the struggle for fulfillment, the quest for happiness – but one long burning thirst?
But here’s the sad thing. We often misread this thirst of the heart. We try to satisfy it in the wrong way. That came home to me with special power and vividness some years ago in the city of New Orleans. It was Mardi Gras time and a number of us were sharing in a Christian outreach ministry. We were trying to communicate the message of Christ to the many visitors, especially to those thousands of young people who had flocked to the city for the festival.
Mardi Gras offers much that is festive and colorful but much also that is hollow and sad. To walk down Bourbon Street at the height of the celebration is an experience not easily forgotten. Amid the surging crowds, you see face after face that seems mindless and bleak. Thousands of empty wine bottles in the gutters speak a somber message. Here are crowds of people trying to satisfy something deep inside them with cheap wine, drugs and bawdy entertainment. Someone has told them that New Orleans is “the city that care forgot” and that at the Mardi Gras you can be “king for a day.” Here’s where anyone is supposed to find real living, great joy. But how many seem to go away empty!
A thousand voices from the mass media besiege us with the same kind of message each day, trying to make us believe that fulfillment and satisfaction can be had in what they’re selling. The promises are grandiose. But “what you can depend on” turns out to be a detergent, “the real thing” a soft drink and “something to believe in” a new car.
And so the inner thirst, unsatisfied, keeps driving us on. Maybe we think that a new home, a better job, or a different lover will quench it. For others, the answer may be plunging headlong into work or into a busy round of parties and socials, bridge and golf. Maybe that can make us forget the ache of longing deep inside us.
If anything pains the heart of God, it’s that mistaken searching of ours. Hear him speak through his ancient prophet:
“Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?”
Yes, why turn away from the fountain of living water to search in desert sands and barren gullies? Why push away the cup of life and try to store up refreshment in containers that leak? What could be more sad than that?
This thirst of the heart, whether we realize it or not, is a yearning for God. The psalmist knew that,
As a deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. Where can I go and meet with God?
Psalm 42:1-2, niv
Augustine, that libertine turned saint, had made the same discovery. “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they rest in you.” Nothing else in the wide world can really answer the cry of the human spirit. There’s a vast space within all of us that only God can fill.
But imagine this: Jesus Christ says that he can satisfy that heart-need. It was the crowning day of the feast in Jerusalem and the colorful procession had already begun. Ranks of white-robed priests were winding their way down from the temple courts to Siloam’s pool. As they marched, they were chanting Isaiah’s ancient word, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation!” (Isa. 12:3). Once the priests had filled their pitchers at the pool, they returned, panting and perspiring, up the steep ascent to the temple area. At the height of the celebration, each would pour out his vessel of water before the Lord. It was Israel’s way of recalling and celebrating how God had been with them in the wilderness, how he had fed them with manna from heaven and refreshed them with water from the rock. Suddenly in a hushed moment, Jesus stood forth from the crowd and called for everyone’s attention, “If anyone thirst,” he cried, “let him come to me and drink” (John 7:37).
What an astonishing invitation! There at the high feast, where God’s provision for his people was being remembered, Jesus claimed to be the living Provider. All that they had remembered, hoped for and needed, he was. It was as though he was saying, “I’ll do for you what only God can do.”
When anyone really meets God, truly finds him in a personal way, he or she is deeply satisfied, even though their immediate needs may not be met. Remember Job’s experience? In a whirlwind of tragedy, he lost family, possessions and health. He cried out to God with anguished questions. He found no answers from his friends or would-be comforters but was finally encountered by God himself. Job said, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore, I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5,6). His questions weren’t answered, his problems weren’t solved, but his heart was strangely at rest. He had met his Lord.
What the God of Israel had done for Job, Paul found that the living Christ did for him. The apostle had a thorn in the flesh – that’s what he called it – something embarrassing, painful, humiliating. Three times he prayed that it might be taken away, but the only answer he received from the risen Lord was this: “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Cor. 12:9, niv). And it was. That was enough for Paul. He could say then, “I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Cor. 12:9).
You know too of people hurled about and hurt by life, sufferers who battle against crushing odds, who yet find Jesus Christ enough for their need. I have friends like that who are struggling now with terrible illness yet finding in the Lord sufficient grace. Some of us have known the heartbreak of children with affliction. Others live with the never-ending ache of bereavement. Yet we find in the midst of our pain that Christ sustains us.
Jesus satisfies, in a way that no one can fully describe, the deepest longings of our heart. He gives a sense of forgiveness, of acceptance and belonging to the restless. He gives security and hope to those who are anxious. His “fear not” comforts us with the knowledge that our lives are in his hands. All our searching for purpose in life finds fulfillment in him. And with it all he gives a vital companionship, a transforming friendship, a love that can warm and heal.
Oh, friends, it is good to know this living Lord Jesus! I rejoice to speak about him, not only as a Redeemer, a Savior from death, but also as the Satisfier, as the one who is himself enough for us. A familiar hymn celebrates that.
I heard the voice of Jesus say, “Behold I freely give
the living water, thirsty one, stoop down and drink and live.”
I came to Jesus and I drank of that life-giving stream.
My thirst was quenched, my soul revived, and now I live in Him.
Many of us have found it so. If you call upon him, trust in him, come to him, he will fill your cup. He will refresh you with the living water of his Spirit.
SATISFIED AND OVERFLOWING
But the quenching of our thirst is not the end of it, either. Listen to his further word:
He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, “Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.”
When you come to Jesus Christ with your thirst, surrendering to his lordship, something more will happen. Rivers of living water will begin to pour forth from your life.
What can that mean? Jesus cites this word as a promise of Scripture. Biblical scholars are not completely clear as to which Old Testament text Jesus had in mind. But there is one remarkable passage from the visions of Ezekiel which is surely involved. Ezekiel sees waters issuing forth from the renewed temple, getting deeper and deeper as they flow, bringing life and refreshment to a desert wasteland as the waters go down toward the Dead Sea. God’s temple has become a source of life-giving streams (Ezek. 47:1-12).
Now think of the remarkable thing that Jesus once said about the temple. He spoke, John tells us, about “the temple of his body” (John 2:21), the body which was to be pierced on a cross. It is from Jesus Christ, in whom God personally dwells with us, that the living water flows. Now this crucified Lord is risen, has ascended, and has sent forth his Spirit to his people. Now it can be said that the church of Jesus Christ – even the body of each believer -is a temple of the Holy Spirit. As the Spirit fills our lives, Christ’s own life pours forth from within our inmost selves. Here is the secret of joyful witness, and of fruitful service. We go to Christ in our thirst, with commitment and prayer. He fills us. Then, sometimes without our being aware of it, his life is poured out through us to others.
I remember visiting a Reformed church in Michigan once where a friend of mine was serving as pastor. The congregation there was having great difficulty in growing trees and shrubbery on the church property. Everything planted, however well watered, however richly fertilized, seemed to wither and die. It was discouraging. If only some life-giving power could have gone forth from that church building to make the land around it blossom and produce! That didn’t seem to happen.
But something more remarkable was happening. Christians were finding their hearts satisfied in Christ and were experiencing the fullness of his Spirit in their lives. From them, a far more wonderful life-giving power was streaming forth. Weary, care-worn people were being refreshed. Barren homes and hearts around them were beginning to blossom; the spiritually dead were coming alive.
Is it that way with your life? Are there rivers of refreshing going forth from you? Or perhaps barely a trickle? The deeper question is: “Has your inner thirst been really satisfied?” Let me urge you to come with it all to Jesus Christ. Open your life today, completely and gladly to the fullness of his Spirit. Then see what a difference the overflow can make!