Friday, September 12, 2008

Living Water

Today's poem is another lengthy allegory (check last week's "Crossroads" for an earlier example), this time on the topic of spiritual refreshment and rejuvenation, what Jesus called "living water" (see John 4:1-41).

The phrase "living water" appears seven times in the NIV, always in reference to God's blessings and power pouring out on His people. But the first two occurrences, in the book of Jeremiah, are used in a negative sense: "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.... O Lord, the hope of Israel, all who forsake you will be put to shame. Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the Lord, the spring of living water" (2:13; 17:13).

Jeremiah 2:13 is fairly frequently quoted, perhaps because most of us need to hear it so often. Like the child who wails for root beer when offered a glass of fresh water, we prefer immediate pleasure to maximum benefit. Every time we say, "If God won't heal my asthma/find me a marriage partner/get me a better job, I'll have to do something about it myself," we are digging our own cisterns. Then we're surprised when they leak: the "miracle asthma cure" turns out to be so much snake oil; the impulse marriage goes sour; the better-paying job extracts a high price in long hours and cutthroat office politics.

Impatience is usually a key factor. We not only want things to turn out the way we prefer, we want them to do so right away. The second our throats feel dry, we convince ourselves that we must have immediate liquid--and that only the showiest bottle holds real liquid. The truth is that we're rarely so desperately thirsty as we think. A person literally dying of physical thirst will hardly care if the water offered is lukewarm and flat and served in an ugly glass. It's those who are still reasonably well hydrated who grumble about petty details.

Ironically, God's living water--so cool and luscious and beautiful when fully experienced--often comes in what we see as ugly containers, the exact opposite of what we think we want in circumstances. That's why He often fills in our broken cisterns--so we can get thirsty enough to gladly take His best.

(Incidentally, there's another irony in a Houstonian's writing about the blessings of "water" today, with half the city tensed for what may be imminent hurricane-induced flooding. But what better circumstances under which to remember that God's water is better than the world's any day?)

A traveler lost in the desert,
Struggling on over rock and sand,
Had long since drained his water supply,
And his eyes the horizon scanned
In a desperate search for an oasis,
As the pain in his throat burned dry--
Till at long last, on the stretch ahead,
A blue gleam caught his weary eye.

He struggled along toward the shimmer,
His heart growing light as a boy;
He could almost taste that liquid drink,
And the thought filled his soul with joy.
But as he drew near that blue water,
His heart sank with a bleak despair,
For the vision vanished before his eyes,
A mere trick of the desert air.

He made his way on through that wasteland,
His hope sinking with every pace,
Till he crossed the top of a rocky hill
And a smile lit his sweat-streaked face,
For he saw at the ridge's bottom,
Trickling onto the desert floor,
A stream of water and a tiny pool,
And down the steep hillside he tore.

But the water was salty bitter,
And it burned his throat at each sip,
So he turned away with an aching heart,
And continued his painful trip
Over sand and rock and sharp gravel;
His thirst now consumed his all,
And his eyes were dim, and his skin now dry,
And his legs were about to fall.

Then suddenly he heard a trickling
That soon grew to a deafening roar;
And he came to the edge of a clump of green
And he saw, spreading out before,
An oasis of blue refreshment,
A grand waterfall spilling down,
Down into a pool of pure, fresh, cool drink,
Like a glimmering silver crown.

No juice ever tasted sweeter
Than the water he then drank there,
No Olympic-size pool ever cooler felt
Than the spray from those falls so fair;
And he would not have traded one moment
Of his joy in that desert place
For a year as the richest of men on earth,
Or the warmest sensual embrace.

We are all like that desert traveler,
Seeking water to quench our thirst,
And we chase mirages to horizon's end,
All the things that seem bright at first;
Or we settle for salty water,
While within us burns to the core
Deep conviction this never can be enough,
That we somehow were meant for more.

Then the One Who walked upon water
Calls to us, "Come, and drink of Me:
I offer the water that satisfies,
The flood that flows pure and free."
And once we taste His refreshment--
The one drink that can satisfy--
We will not trade a lifetime of fleshly joy
For the fountain that flows from high.

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