Category Archives: Growth/Pursuit

The Language of Experience

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:16–19 ESV

I recently watched a message by Ligon Duncan on Ephesians 3:14-19 (here) in which he discusses how Paul’s plea for the Christians at Ephesus was that they would “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.”  In his message, he says “Paul just prayed that you would know a love that is beyond knowing – that is clearly the language of experience.”  Something clicked in me as I began to recall how the bible is so full of experiential language.  Most modern evangelicals are uncomfortable with such language and have nowhere to file it.  Perhaps it is because we are so information driven or because we can’t program it or make it happen.  However, the language of experience seems to be the Bible’s native tongue.

How does one know that God is good?  We know that He is good by tasting and seeing that He is good (Psalms 43:8).  There is a difference between knowing that honey is sweet and tasting honey and experiencing its sweetness.  And what about anxiety?  We are told that there is a peace available to us that surpasses all surpasses (Philippians 4:7).  We are to be partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).  Our souls will be satisfied when we hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matthew 5:6).  In John 6, Jesus identifies himself as the Bread of life that satiates our soul’s hunger pangs.  He is the living water that quenches our thirst (Jeremiah 2:13, John 4:10, Revelation 7:17).

One can hardly read a page in the Psalms without being invited to experience God at a level that is beyond mere intellectual understanding.

  • “For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.” (Psalms 107:9 ESV)
  • “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” (Psalms 63:1 ESV)
  • “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.” (Psalms 42:1 ESV)
  • “My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.” (Psalms 84:2 ESV)
  • “If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.”  (Psalms 119:92 ESV)
  • “When I remember God, I moan; when I meditate, my spirit faints. Selah” (Psalms 77:3 ESV)

Let us taste; let us hunger; let us thirst; let us pant; let us long; let us delight; let us be satisfied.  Let us pray with Paul “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” (Ephesians 1:17–23 ESV).  Lord, give us eyes to see, ears to hear and hearts to believe (Mark 8:17-18, 7:31-35, 8:22-26, Isaiah 6:8-10)

 

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Marked by the Almighty

When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses talked with them. Afterward all the people of Israel came near, and he commanded them all that the LORD had spoken with him in Mount Sinai. And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face.
Whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with him, he would remove the veil, until he came out. And when he came out and told the people of Israel what he was commanded, the people of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face was shining. And Moses would put the veil over his face again, until he went in to speak with him. (Exodus 34:29–35 ESV)

God instructs Moses to cut two stone tablets (like the first ones that he broke) and to bring them up the mountain (Exodus 34:1) for their second face to face meeting.  The people feared God and appointed Moses as their mediator (Exodus 20:19).  Once Moses had climbed the mountain, the Lord descended from heaven and passed before him and revealed his majesty and glory to Moses (34:5-7).  The result?  Moses bowed his head and interceded on behalf of himself and the people (v8-9).  Moses worshiped and pled for mercy.  Being in the presence of the Almighty always brings a sense of awe, reverence and personal smallness.

Interestingly, when Moses descended from the mountain with the tablets, he was glowing.  His face literally shone with the glory of God.  It caused the people to be fearful so he wore a veil over his face.  He would remove the veil when he met with God and he would replace it when he met with the people.  The glory of the Lord was too much for them.  Moses had been marked by the Almighty.  His experience with God marked him – spiritually, emotionally & physically.

Being in the presence of the sovereign God of the universe always marks us – it leaves us changed, transformed.  Think about Isaiah’s experience with God in Isaiah 6.  Think about Psalm 73 where the psalmist wrestles with the prosperity & blessing of the wicked.  He wrestled with what he saw, “but when he thought how to understand this, it seemed to him a wearisome task, until he went into the sanctuary of God; then he discerned their end” (Psalms 73:16–17 ESV).  Though the psalmist wrestled with real world questions, he was marked by meeting God in His sanctuary and, as a result, his perspective changed.  David is another example.  In psalm 51:1-12, David is wrestling with his sin and being laid bare before a perfectly holy God.  Something interesting happens in verse 13, though – David is so marked by the forgiveness that he has received that he vows to “teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you” (Psalms 51:13 ESV).  David had been so marked by the forgiveness of God that it changed him to the core.  When Job encountered the Almighty face to face, he proclaimed “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you” Job 42:5.

The same was true of Peter and John when they were gathered before the elders in Jerusalem.  Luke tells us, “now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13 ESV).  They were filled with the Spirit (4:8) and His presence marked them, transformed them and empowered them.

Let us goto out bibles intent on seeing God. Let us not search for trite formulas to make our lives work better in order to cope with living in this fallen world; let us not primarily focus on what we must do until we have spent plenty of time focusing on who He is and what He has done to forgive us, save us and adopt us into His family.  Let us seek to see Him and beg him to show us His glory.  We far too often approach the bible as a way to fix our problems, rather than a story that reveals a powerful, just, merciful God that redeems a rebellious people.  How we read our bibles matters.  Lord, help us to see you and savor you as supreme.  Help us to believe that “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalms 16:11 ESV).

 

Rats in the Cellar

“We begin to notice, besides our particular sinful acts, our sinfulness; begin to be alarmed not only about what we do, but about what we are. This may sound rather difficult, so I will try to make it clear from my own case. When I come to my evening prayers and try to reckon up the sins of the day, nine times out of ten the most obvious one is some sin against charity; I have sulked or snapped or sneered or snubbed or stormed. And the excuse that immediately springs to my mind is that the provocation was so sudden and unexpected: I was caught off my guard, I had not time to collect myself. Now that may be an extenuating circumstance as regards those particular acts: they would obviously be worse if they had been deliberate and premeditated.

On the other hand, surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of a man he is? Surely what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth? If there are rats in a cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats: it only prevents them from hiding. In the same way the suddenness of the provocation does not make me an ill-tempered man: it only shows me what an ill-tempered man I am. The rats are always there in the cellar, but if you go in shouting and noisily they will have taken cover before you switch on the light.

Apparently the rats of resentment and vindictiveness are always there in the cellar of my soul. Now that cellar is out of reach of my conscious will. I can to some extent control my acts: I have no direct control over my temperament. And if (as I said before) what we are matters even more than what we do—if, indeed, what we do matters chiefly as evidence of what we are—then it follows that the change which I most need to undergo is a change that my own direct, voluntary efforts cannot bring about And this applies to my good actions too. 

How many of them were done for the right motive? How many for fear of public opinion, or a desire to show off? How many from a sort of obstinacy or sense of superiority which, in different circumstances, might equally had led to some very bad act? But I cannot, by direct moral effort, give myself new motives. After the first few steps in the Christian life we realise that everything which really needs to be done in our souls can be done only by God. And that brings us to something which has been very misleading in my language up to now.”

CS Lewis, Mere Christianity page 93-93

Truly Transformational Small Groups & Relationships

We’d rather work a formula than submit to a process that will be scary and unknown, even if it will ultimately change our hearts and character. So don’t give in to the temptation to just “do” something else, to come up with a new plan, a retooled strategy, alone—again. There are no shortcuts to believing the difficult but life-giving, heart-changing, and joy-enhancing truths I’ve shared in these chapters.

Hide or Seek: When Men Get Real with God about Sex, Page 122

“Unfortunately, I’m finding more and more accountability groups to be pretty ineffective. If people are not careful, these groups can become nothing more than places where people unload and confess but do not change. In many cases the confidentiality, safety, and security of such groups become the highest goal of the group, inhibiting group effectiveness. Now, of course, you need these elements in a group—that’s a given. But when the dynamics of the group primarily center on the commonality of the struggle itself, then what can happen is that the expectation of change—and more importantly, how it happens—can get lost. Then the group will become ineffective and eventually collapse in a spirit of defeatism and hopelessness. Maybe you’re in a group like this and know what I’m talking about.

Not long ago I was talking with a guy who had been in such a group for several years. He told me, “John, the problem is that no one in the group is experiencing any type of breakthrough or change.” He went on to say that there is something of a “spiritual” basis to the group. A Scripture portion is read each week. Songs are sung. People share challenges, falls, and similar information. There’s lots of camaraderie. But, he added, “The common denominator of why we’re all there seems to be the problems themselves and the difficulty and shame of the struggles we share. This seems a more powerful glue to the group than does the hope and expectation that Christ will show up and actually do something.” The expectancy that God would work in hearts to bring about new steps of faith and repentance had been “dumbed down,” as had been the call to serious holiness. People in the group just weren’t that hopeful that they would ever change.

This can happen so easily in a group. It’s the natural path groups sometimes take if they turn inward and the essence of the group becomes the struggle itself. Ultimately, that’s the wrong “content” to focus on so exclusively. The commonality and the camaraderie are important, but effective change groups must put the application of God’s Word front and center. The Scriptures, carefully applied to real-life situations, must take priority and be highly valued as part of any group meeting. Otherwise, the group will remain comforting and safe but will lose its power to be an agent of change. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a fan of groups. I believe in them. Part of our ministry’s mission is to help churches begin partner ministries, and I’ve seen groups used powerfully in the lives of hundreds of people over the years. I would say that groups can be used of God in ways that individual counseling can’t match. Something happens in groups that can become a very significant part of how Christ meets people in a new way, giving them the hope of the gospel, as well as being a tangible symbol of God’s love and care expressed through the group members.

When the centrality of the gospel is at the heart of a group, then the other elements of the group can be made more effective. There are three life-changing activities that must take place as part of any successful biblical support group. The first crucial element is accountability. Accountability happens when I speak honestly about my temptation, my sin, and the condition of my heart with other Christian brothers. This requires ruthless honesty about the destructive stuff that fills and fuels my heart and speaking of it with other men. Discipleship is the second, central element, which I have already mentioned. As a group member, I am growing in faith and in God’s truth and grasping more and more who I really am as God’s child because of God’s love for me. I can expect to see step-by-step move- ment (even if they are only small steps) and growth as I take hold of the reality of the gospel. Discipleship happens where I am and helps me apply the gospel to all the chaos, conflict, and confusion in my own heart, in order to make me a new and different person. Effective discipleship also enables me to get out of myself; to begin to love and serve others with my time, energy, and resources—because of what God is doing in me and what Christ is coming to mean to me. Third, there’s the important element of transparency. Transparency is when I commit daily—with everyone, and not just with the members of my group—to living openly and without deceit, offering my life and the motives of my heart to the examination of others! Transparency may seem like accountability, but transparency is when I begin ruthlessly speaking the truth about everything I do, on a day-to-day basis. Because my sexual struggles and sin have been hidden for so long, I realize that lying and deceit have become a part of my daily habits. Now, by God’s power, I learn to walk in the light and no longer in the darkness.

Do you see how the ordinary “accountability” group may fall far short of being an effective agent of change? That’s because the element of accountability is only one of several things that are needed, and it’s not even the most important one. But we often mistake it as such, omitting other crucial building blocks to wholeness.

I know that when it comes to that last ingredient, transparency, you may be thinking, John, that seems like death! The accountability part is hard enough, but transparency, with everyone? Believe me, it may seem like death, but it’s the way to real life! It’s the way to a clear conscience and to knowing God’s love and acceptance through others who are on your team, rooting for you! There’s nothing like it. If you’ve not experienced it, you may just have to take my word for it. Small groups and one-on-one-or-two-or-three connections like this are what have helped change my life for over forty years now. Having relationships like this, where I’m reminded of the gospel through others, is what’s often made it possible for me to preach the gospel to myself in challenging situations, when my heart could easily head “south” into dark and destructive places.”

Hide or Seek: When Men Get Real with God about Sex, Page 127-130

Wisdom Worships in Wonder

There is a vanity that takes place on earth, that there are righteous people to whom it happens according to the deeds of the wicked, and there are wicked people to whom it happens according to the deeds of the righteous. I said that this also is vanity. And I commend joy, for man has nothing better under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun.
When I applied my heart to know wisdom, and to see the business that is done on earth, how neither day nor night do one’s eyes see sleep, then I saw all the work of God, that man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun. However much man may toil in seeking, he will not find it out. Even though a wise man claims to know, he cannot find it out.
(Ecclesiastes 8:14–17 ESV)

It is frustrating and meaningless that bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. Let us not attempt to over spiritualize or sugar coat the reality that those who walk in open to rebellion to their Creator often times receive apparent blessings while those who seek to walk uprightly in humble dependence upon their God seem to have profoundly difficult circumstances that they must endure. There is no apparent reward for walking uprightly. Ah, but there lies the rub that reveals our hearts! Should we walk uprightly just to be rewarded or because the Creator calls us to and we long to walk in obedience? One is birthed out of wanting something, the other is out of wanting Someone. Choose the latter.

If God grants satisfaction and joy in the simple pleasures such as good food, drink and a few people to walk through this life with then be grateful. These pleasures, along with a degree of satisfaction in our work are nothing short of simple graces that the Almighty bestows upon His creations due to His goodness.

Solomon concedes that there is so much mystery that we will never find out. This mystery should point us to the Creator, but often times we double down and resolve to figure things out. Should we investigate, think, study, invent, create, etc? Of course, when we do so we reflect God’s glory as His image bearers! But the more that we make advances, the more we should realize the vastness of God’s creation and how little that we know and understand. This is rarely the case for we praise ourselves for new inventions or discoveries – as we should – but the praise terminates upon us. Our worship was designed to point to Someone greater. When we let our worship terminate upon created things instead of flowing through to the Creator of all things, we stunt our worship and become less human than we were designed to be. The more we know, the more we should see how little we really know, which should lead us to worship God more fully and deeply. It does not matter how hard we resolve and try, there are things that are God’s and we will never understand, know or have the capacity to comprehend. True wisdom knows when to worship in wonder; true wisdom knows when to stop and be amazed at God’s vastness and beauty. This should amaze us because this infinite, all powerful Creator determined to limit Himself by clothing Himself in flesh to rescue rebellious people like you and me.

The Futility of Created Things

“What gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.” (Ecclesiastes 3:9–13 ESV)

What true gain does the worker have from his work? Provision? Yes. Accomplishment? Yes. True satisfaction? Not very often. The satisfaction of a job well down and the satiation that we seek escapes us; when we do feel it, it quickly fades. This is what life is like east of Eden. Work is no longer satisfying as it was intended to be; it is now wrought with thorns and thistles. Additionally, the business that God has given man seems meaningless in so many ways (Ecclesiastes 1:4-11). We get up, wipe the sleep out of our eyes, stumble into our days, do our work (which is often frustrating), return home, go to bed and do it all over again – there is a certain futility to it all. Our familial relationships are stunted; they are only whiffs of the glory that they should be. True friends and community are hard to find. This should cause lamenting in us for something that should be, something that once was, something that is now lost. But, it should produce hope as well, as we see God restoring and redeeming those things to their former glory (Romans 8:18-25, Revelation 21:1-5)! It is a grace to be able to stop and assess this and set our hope above the sun!

Despite the futility of this world and the seemingly endless cycle that we are on, there is beauty to be seen and experienced; there still exists a certain order, harmony and beauty in created things. The birth of a child; moments of true connection with a child, spouse or friend; the beauty of a sunset; the satisfying embrace of one’s spouse and lover; the satisfaction of a project completed; the spectacular glory of mountains capped with snow or a beautiful sunset. May this beauty point to Someone above the sun who is far more beautiful. May the glory that we feel in these moments not terminate upon these created things, but roll up to the Creator of these things.

“Humanity still has Eden in its veins. We have ‘eternity in our hearts (Eccl. 3:11). Our souls instinctively yearn for a purposed life without end under this time-chained sun.”1 God has put an ancient, eternal, everlasting sense in our hearts that we cannot figure out or understand. There is a sense in all mankind that there is more than just life under the sun, but no amount of information, studying or learning can satisfy this longing. Facts and information do not resolve this deep whisper in a man’s soul. As wise and noble as Solomon was, he acknowledged that his ability to understand deep, eternal things on his own was limited. We are no different. We can’t figure it out, we can’t find God. Indeed, He is not lost – we need Him to find us – we are lost. We need Him, without Him we will not “figure out” the deep nag in the soul. Indeed, the answer is not under the sun.

Yes, there is frustration to life under the sun; we intuitively know that it is not as it should be, and that there are things that we do not know and cannot understand. Solomon concludes that we should learn to enjoy the good things that God gives us under the sun.  We should be joyful and do good because we know that anything satisfying east of Eden is a gift from the Creator because all things should be utter futility, but they aren’t. When we see clearly that created things can never fully sooth the nag of the soul, then we can learn to enjoy them for what they are – not expecting something from them that they lack the capacity to supply. We should learn to enjoy the good gifts that God has given us – like eating good food, drinking good drink with friends and finding satisfaction on our work. The ability to find satisfaction in these things is a gift from the Creator; joy is found in understanding the “givenness” of all things.  “In other words, the best good in the madness under the sun is found when we recover some small resemblance to what we were made for in Eden.”2

Against the transient backdrop of the vanities of this world, the absolute sovereign power of the Almighty shines all the brighter. This should cause us to see our position before Him as created beings that are finite, tiny and lacking. It should produce reverence and fear, a theme in Ecclesiastes (5:7; 12:13). But, redemption is coming; Eden will be restored. Lord, help us to park our hope on You, not on the things that you have created.

1Recovering Eden by Zack Eswine, Page 126
2Ibid., Page 15

Redemption is Here

The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”

Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” They went out of the town and were coming to him.

Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.”So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together.For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”

(John 4:25–42 ESV)

Verses 25-26.  Jesus reveals to her that He is the messiah.  Stop.  Jesus reveals that He is God who has condescended Himself to redeem His people from their bondage and shame.  He reveals this to an immoral, outcast woman who has no worth in either her eyes or the eyes of the world in which she lived.  Jesus’ good words of forgiveness and redemption are only spoken to those who feel unworthy, alone and dirty because good people see no need for grace.  Until you see yourself as the Samaritan women, until you identify deeply with this woman, the shame destroying message of grace will not resonate deeply in your soul. Unless you see yourself as no different than the Samaritan woman, grace will provide no satiation for your soul; you will continue to dig out cisterns for yourself that can hold no water. The unconditional love, approval and acceptance of God only quenches the thirst of those who see themselves as unloveable, dirty, rejected, unworthy.  Remember your chains.

The disciples were shocked that Jesus was talking to a woman – especially a woman from Samaria.  The woman left and proclaimed Christ to the town.  This was no small feat for an outcast, but she had tasted hope for the first time in a very long time.  She engaged the people in town and invited them to see this man who told her everything that she had ever done – and she had apparently done a lot.  And many believed based upon her testimony alone.  The people were apparently convinced that something significant must have happened to her and they all came to see Jesus.  They asked Him to stay with them, so He stayed two more days.  How interesting is that?  Jesus stays with a group of outcasts two extra days!  Jesus loves those who are unloveable by the world’s standards and yet we often times seek to be loveable – that is to bring something of merit before the Almighty – instead of resting in the love that He has for us.

This unclean, unacceptable group of outcasts profess Jesus as the Savior of the World.  He is not only the Savior of the Jews, but also the Savior of the world!  He saves all people – from every nation, tribe and tongue!  First to the Jews (Nicodemus in John 3:1-15), then to the Samaritans (John 4:1-42) and then to the Gentiles (the official at Capernaum in John 4:46-54).  The disciples  were confused and encouraged Him to eat, but Jesus had a more pressing agenda than to fill His stomach.  Accomplishing the mission of redemption for which He came was of greater importance than satisfying His physical hunger.  We should do the same, but more than that, we should marvel at how the God-man regularly placed His needs as secondary in order to serve His creation.  Think about that, this is no ordinary king.  Kings are served.  This King – the King of the universe – came to serve the created.  The Creator serving the created – that is backwards, but that is what it took to undo the effects of the fall (Mark 10:45, Matthew 20:28).

Often times we read this passage and use it to motivate (or manipulate) ourselves and others into going to share the gospel.  After all, the fields are ripe for the harvest, we conclude.  When Jesus said, “the fields are ripe for the harvest,” He is referring to the crowd of Samaritan’s who were coming toward them which would believe in the gospel.  In God’s kingdom, the unwanted outcasts are welcomed with open arms.  Should we go and share the gospel, of course!  But we should marvel all the more at how the God of the universe made Himself nothing to seek and save outcasts like you and me.  As we marvel at that, we will be transformed and will actually want to share the good news with others.

Shame Interrupted

The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”
Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.”The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’;for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.”” (John 4:15–20 ESV)

The Providence of God had divinely orchestrated this conversation before time began.  Jesus offers her living water BEFORE He discusses her sinful lifestyle.  God always initiates, woos and draws.  This woman was a total outcast, but Jesus saw through her brokenness to her need. She was a:

  • Racial outcast. Samaritans were ½ breeds that were despised by the Jews and Gentiles alike (Luke 10:33; 17:16; John 8:48).
  • Gender outcast. She was a woman. Women were not highly valued in the first century.
  • Moral outcast. She had been married five times and was currently living with a man.  She was trading sex for rent; she was looking to satisfy her thirst in a relationship with a man.
  • Community outcast. Probably due to her decisions in life, she was a societal or relational outcast. She went to draw water in the middle of the day – the rest of the women would draw water in the morning or in the evening. She was alone.  It was hot in the middle of the day, most people would have been resting.

She was an outsider that didn’t feel like she belonged anywhere. She was alone.  She was religious, but her religion lacked the power to deliver her from the darkness in which she lived.  She was looked down upon, a status that she likely all too easily embraced.  She felt useless, meaningless, hopeless and alone.  Why in the world would the Creator come to such a sinful, hopeless and insignificant person?  Because Jesus came to seek and save the lost; Jesus came to find His lost sheep; Jesus came to redeem people just like this woman.  The messiest people become the greatest trophies of His majesty and grace.  We are all messy people, some are just better at hiding it than others.  What a beautiful picture of grace.

It seems apparent that she does not understand what Jesus was talking about, but wants some of the water that He has to offer if it keeps her from having to continuously go to the well to draw water for herself.  Her daily trip to the well must have been a painful reminder of her aloneness – anything that would eliminate that reminder was welcome.  Shame tends to cause us to hide, withdraw and isolate.

Jesus tells her to go and call her husband, and she responds with a technically correct answer, but her answer does not tell the whole story.  Jesus steps into her moral failure and filth.  He reveals her sin and His deity by telling her that He knows that she has had FIVE HUSBANDS and was currently living with a man who was not her husband.  You have to wonder what caused her to be so broken. The Almighty knew all of this about her, and still engaged her and showed grace and mercy to her. She already knew her sin and shame, what she needed was to be freed from it. Her own thirst had driven her to chase destructive things in her life. Jesus came to satisfy her thirst forever, setting her truly free.

She wants to change the subject.  She does not want to discuss her life – its way too close to home. She wants to discuss God, worship and the differences between her (a Samaritan) and Him (a Jew). She wants to talk religion and Jesus graciously obliges her.  She knew that she was unclean, unworthy and dirty (the law reveals our sin) and being reminded of that was more than she could bare.

Jesus makes unclean people clean. More than that, He makes unclean people, holy people. Even the offer of freedom and forgiveness is more than she can imagine.  It had been a long time since she had experienced hope.  Hope that she could be free, different, clean and truly loved. She was beginning to sense that redemption was possible; she was beginning to believe that redemption was here. It was and she was talking to the Redeemer.

The Thirst of the Soul

“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”
“Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again,but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.””
(John 4:10, 13-14 ESV)

The providence of God compelled Jesus to travel through Samaria in order to meet with this woman to offer her Living Water that she could never buy on her own.  Jesus had asked her for a drink from the well (4:7)  and the woman was quite confused as to why a Jew would ask her for a drink.  Jesus came to interrupt the shame in which she was walking.  She walked in racial shame for being a half breed that didn’t fit in anywhere, gender shame for being a woman because women were looked down upon in the ancient world and moral shame for the life that she had led.  Jesus enters into her world by saying, “if you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”  She was speaking to the gift of God and though He didn’t look all that impressive (Isaiah 53:2), He was the gift of God to all peoples.  This shame laden outcast was speaking to the Word who spoke her and all things into existence.  The Word, Creator, Almighty condescends Himself to a defiled, unclean, unholy place and people in order to redeem them – to make them acceptable, clean and holy.

Jesus does not offer this woman some second rate version of redemption because she had lived such a morally corrupt life.  No, Jesus offers her the best – He offers her God!  We know from John 7:38-39 that this living water was the Holy Spirit reigning in the hearts of the redeemed.  He offers her God and nothing less.  Not just eternal life, but the presence of the Almighty reigning in her heart.  A heart that was weary, dirty and wounded was offered restoration, redemption and rest.  The same offer is made to you and me.

Jesus says that she will never thirst again.  Seeking to satisfy your thirst on your own with created things is a fools errand because created things are powerless to quench the thirst of our hearts. You can spend your life arranging chairs on the deck of the Titanic or you can come to Him who will quench your soul’s thirst.  Drinking water from the well (or faucet) will not quench your soul’s thirst for love, approval, affection, belonging, meaning, purpose or power.  However, the soul will be irrigated forevermore by the living water that God provides. We regularly want to turn from this living water to our own cisterns that we have hewn ourselves in order to satiate our thirst.  However, the Living Water that God provides will become a spring that wells up within the heart of the believer providing eternal satisfaction. The human soul is thirsting for something greater than created things can offer it, only God Himself can satisfy the soul’s thirst.

This woman had hewn cisterns herself, but they could not hold water – and if they could it would have been dirty runoff water.  We, like this woman, forsake the Living Water and run to our own hand hewn, leaky cisterns due to our own unbelief.  We must battle unbelief – the source of all sin – and we see from this passage that all we must do is ask. We must plead with the God of the universe to “help us with our unbelief” (Mark 9:24).  Lord, give us ears to hear, eyes to see and hearts to believe.  Lord, satisfy our thirst with You.

Living Water

“for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”  (Jeremiah 2:13 ESV)

We are modern people who just walk up to the faucet, turn it on and a seemingly endless flow of water comes out.  But, in the ancient near east water was not as easy to come by.  It signified life and prosperity – life was not possible without access to it.  Three types of water sources were common in ancient bible times.  The bible regularly uses these sources as images of our relationship with God.  The first source was the best and most desirable, it was called living water.  Living water came from streams or springs that flowed and were teaming with life; they required no effort of your own to get it if you were close to a source.  Close proximity to the source is all that was required.  The second source was a well that was dug.  This water was good also, but was not viewed to be as favorable as living water and it required significant effort to get.  The last was the least desirable; it came from cisterns that were hewn out of stone that was coated with plaster in order to keep them from leaking.  Cisterns collected runoff water as well as silt that washed into them.  They were deep with a small opening at the top and were spread out at the bottom.  Jeremiah (Jeremiah 38:6) was thrown into one as punishment because they were virtually impossible to escape from.  They often had mud in the bottom from the silt that had collected over time and some prisoners that were thrown into them would sink into the mud and die.  You can only imagine the amount of work that was involved in digging cisterns out of hard limestone.

Jeremiah is telling the people of Israel that they had made the most absurd exchange possible.  No one in their right mind would exchange a cool stream or spring for the stagnant, dirty water that a cistern collected.  And yet, that is exactly what they had done.  They exchanged a life giving relationship with God Himself for their own hand hewn cisterns that wouldn’t even hold water.  God offered them living water at no cost to themselves.  This theme of free grace is the centerpiece of the bible’s redemptive story:  ““Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (Isaiah 55:1 ESV).  All you need is need and the ability to accept the free gift of grace that the Creator of the cosmos offers you.  We all are in need, but being willing to accept this and throw oneself entirely on the mercy of God requires a special work of grace.  The natural proclivity of the human heart is to reject free grace and to get to work digging our own cisterns in the hard limestone – cisterns that leak and will not satisfy the thirst of the soul (Ecclesiastes 3:11).  Leaky cisterns are no substitute for living water.

Our hearts, fueled by our unbelief, naturally curve toward our own hand hewn cisterns.  This is true of the non-believer for sure as they seek to establish their identity, value and worth in created things or accomplishments.  But, this is also true for the Christian who forgets who he is and the seemingly impossible (and here) promises God has made to us.  It is real work to identify the cisterns that our hearts naturally gravitate towards.  What substitutes do you run to instead of God?  What cisterns do you frequent to satisfy your soul’s thirst?  Some are easier to identify; things like alcohol, drugs, pornography or excessive overeating.  Others are seemingly benign; these are the silent killers.  Things like achievement, self-improvement, relationships, self righteous judgmentalism, hobbies or religious activities & good works.  Anything that we have parked our ultimate hope upon other than God will wreak havoc on our soul.  These things can never satisfy our thirst, but we still tend to run to them anyway.  What cisterns have you hewn for yourself?  Identify these, repent of these and ask God to enlighten the eyes of your heart to see Him as the refreshing living water that He truly is.  Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us, sinners.