Spring of Living Water

JEREMIAH 2:13

“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.

Occasionally we come across a portion of scripture that really captivates us. The last few years I have been trying to redress the imbalance between my Old and New Testament literacy, and whilst doing so some of the imagery I have come across in the poetic and prophetic books of the O.T. completely astound me. This is one such example.

This passage in Jeremiah involves water, and in the ancient middle-east water is an immensely evocative symbol. Water meant opportunity, growth, fruitfulness and above all life itself. It was and is in any parched land a precious commodity. There is no obvious parallel symbol for the western world because for them water represented so much good. Having a reliable constant source of water is so fundamental that life can barely get going without one.

God calls himself a spring of living water, and in fact, he unapologetically tells Israel that he is the only spring of living water. A spring for the people that is fresh, available and unending. The implications are massive. He is saying that all good endeavours, growth, opportunity and even life itself rely on him in the same way a community relies on a water spring. He himself stands at the centre of the world sustaining life. He’s responsible for the food, plants, gardens, fruit, grass, animals. Without him everything becomes parched and quickly dies. You can take the image a step further and suggest that the farther away from the spring of water something lives the less healthy it is. We should all live our lives as close to the water source as possible (Psalm 1).

The terrible thing is that despite Gods’s centrality to all of life itself humanity chooses not to rely on God but instead on other things. These other things are often good things that were given to us by him and more often than not it was something he made for our pleasure. But instead of loving him, we have what Tim Keller calls an “over-love” for the things he gives. He says that these idols are at the very epicentre of our desire.

The prophet Hosea also spoke of this tragedy, having experienced it first hand when Gomer left him: “She shall pursue her lovers, but not overtake them, and she shall seek them but shall not find them. Then she shall say, ‘I will go and return to my first husband, for it was better for me then than now.’ And she did not know that it was I who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, and who lavished on her silver and gold, which they used for Baal.” (Hosea 2:7-8)

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This brings us to the next image represented. The image of the broken cistern. Cisterns were dug into the ground to store water. The image above is a surviving cistern in the Middle East. A broken cistern is one that obviously leaks, and cannot hold water, and this evocative image of a leaking well of water speaks volumes about the outcome of choosing anything else over God. Every other well runs dry, the water disappears. It isn’t even used up fruitfully. It disappears into the ground. It’s wasted, and must be replaced by more and more water. The well can never be filled, though we will constantly attempt to fill it, even pouring our very selves into it if necessary.

Doesn’t that proclaim a stark truth that we often miss? Isn’t it the perfect diagnosis of addiction? The drug user must fill his body with more and increasingly heavy drugs to keep a sense of being filled. The more a person craves and accumulates money, the less one is satisfied with each coin. The alcoholic’s thirst can only be quenched by more and more booze. The lonely people who crave nothing more than attention and human interaction, tragically, become pushier and pushier until they push potential friends away. The casual use of pornography becomes an addiction that requires increasingly hardcore material.

An over-love for anything but God, is idolatry, and idolatry always looks like addiction. Like every addiction idolatry grows and grows until it destroys us. Each step in the process requires a little more sacrifice than before. Eventually, what we treasure will require us to die for it. We’ll have nothing but ourselves to throw into the well. When everything about a persons life becomes fixated on the attainment of a single thing, the process is complete and very difficult to redress. They have ceased to fully live, and are simply existing. In a non-literal, but very real sense, they are dying.

Jesus Christ is the only God who says instead “I died for you”. He threw himself into the well, so we don’t have to. He poured himself out, figuratively and literally in greater and greater ways until the cost demanded was his very life. And as we saw earlier, he doesn’t just save us from bondage to idols, he promises us himself, the spring of living water. I’m reminded on the story in the Narnia tale “The Silver Chair”. Jill, a nervous young girl meets Aslan for the first time by a stream, and is terrified of being eaten by the lion. Desperate for a drink, but too scared to approach the lion’s stream she says “Oh dear, I shall have to find another stream”.

“There is no other stream” The lion says.

Let us not try to fill up our cisterns any more. Let’s trust in God for the water that brings life. Let us drink from Gods spring, after all, it’s the only one.

Why My Wife Does Not Complete Me

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During a profound conversation with my wife, April, I looked at her over the rim of my tea-cup (most of our profound conversations occur over tea) and said:

“You don’t complete me”.

I’m clearly not a romantic… fortunately April is used to me and didn’t take my words at face value, so I was not forced to wear her cup of tea on my face. Nevertheless, I felt I ought to explain myself.

To give you some context, we were talking about how our marriage is going pretty well. We’re nearing the end of our first year and there have been next to no issues, (or at least none I’m telling you!). After being warned by several couples that the first year is the hardest, (one even told me not to panic if April were to “leave me” several times only to return by dinner time), we feel that this is an achievement. However, despite this roaring success I am not “satisfied with life”, (is it egoistic of me to assume life should satisfy me?).

I have known for a long time that marriage does not “complete” a person, for I have read, and mostly forgotten, the usual array of marriage books doled out upon young couples (or often bought in excitement mere hours after the engagement). It wasn’t until this moment, with a cup of tea on the couch, that the truth hit home. My relationships with other people might be perfect, my marriage might be swimming, but they alone cannot make me happy.

If I relied on others to make me happy I would be making them the object of my happiness, and they shouldn’t have to reshape themselves to fit my ideals. It’s also unfair on myself because no person is perfect, and if I stake my happiness on something imperfect I will be devastated when they “fail”, which of course they will do from time to time.

We see this occur every day. For instance, teenagers often elevate their boyfriend/girlfriends to such a high place of importance so high that the romance actually becomes more defined by reliance than by love. Ever said to somebody “I don’t know what I would do without you…”? It’s a beautiful sentiment, but if I said this to my wife, I would be lying. I know I would hurt for a long time if I lost her, but I’d endure. I would survive because my life does not revolve around her, nor should it.

Am I making a mountain out of a molehill? I don’t think so. This is more than a minor qualm, it’s a dangerous mindset when we stake our happiness on other people. Tim Keller summed up the issue bluntly when he said that he and his wife will not stake their happiness on each other because “one day, one of us will have to see the other in a casket”. Is your happiness tied to something that will fail and one day perish? Beware. You might have a wonderful relationship with somebody now, which feels so perfect, but don’t let it consume you. Everyday people die a living death because they put all their hope on a ship that sinks, and was always destined one day to sink. Our obsessions have the power to kill us.

Instead, let your obsession be for the one person who cannot die and who is by His very nature the perfect friend. The one who will “always let you in, and never let you down” (as Keller puts it). He is the one who promises to satisfy you, regardless of your circumstances, be they good or bad.

One of my favourite qualities in April, is that she already does this. She doesn’t require me to complete her, because she recognises that that’s Jesus’ job, not mine. This gives me the freedom to be who I am with her, not the person she always wants me to be. Our relationship is made healthy, because she depends on Him, not on me. Every day I have to remind myself to tie all of my hopes, happiness and satisfaction to Jesus, the ship that cannot sink.

A Scary Prayer:

Lord, let me never ever feel satisfied with anything that will perish. That way, I will recognise my need for you, the only one who can satisfy me, the one who will not perish.