In a Dry and Thirsty Land
It’s a fact that most Californians are accustomed with: we live, for the most part, in a “dry and thirsty land.” Actually, that phrase didn’t originate with our state’s Department of Water Resources; it comes from the Bible. And if you’re anything like this California native, it’s natural at this time of year to long for that first significant rainfall of the season.
“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 (Psalm 63:1).”
This desert experience is a metaphor for spiritual thirst. Our souls are parched. Nothing the world offers seems to satisfy. We enjoy an enviable standard of living- nice homes, nice cars and good food. Within range of us are amenities to suit any form of consumption we wish to indulge. And yet, for all the world’s allure, can we admit that this can be as sand and grit in our mouths? These worldly, “fleshly” things, most of which are not bad in themselves, not only fail to slake our thirst; they add to it. “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing (John 6:63.)”
Unfortunately, “church” is not always the answer. In fact, church can be part of the problem, offering “sand” for living water. On one hand, we can be formulaic and simplistic about how we present the faith. For example, to teach that “Jesus is the only Way” is essential, yet it tells you little about how traveling the Way might actually remedy your intense thirst.
Our worship, too, can be simplistic, truncated from our deep thirst. It can either be all “bright notes” and no complexity or, it can be ponderously formal, reinforcing the idea that ritual observance is sufficient.
Faith as mere intellectual edification is not the answer, either. A good grasp of the Bible and theology is a wonderful thing. But cerebral comprehension of water is not the same thing as a drink.
Church activity and involvement is also a good thing. We learn faith partly by doing– by being “involved.” Would that we had more “priests” in this priesthood of all believers! But mere involvement does not solve the problem of spiritual thirst.
Simplistic formulas, truncated worship, cerebral religion, and mere activities- are these poor excuses for True Water what “church” sometimes offers as the Christian life? No wonder some people forsake church altogether, in the hope that there could be another source for the Water of Life. Lord, have mercy on me (and all pastors), if we have unintentionally fostered this impression!
Thanks be to God, the Bible is clear about where we can wash the sand from our mouths and take a real drink! Jesus says “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water (John 7:37-38).’”
To put it simply, what we all need is a living, abiding relationship with Jesus. Luther’s colleague Melanchthon said “Christ is properly known, if it is true that to know Christ is to know his benefits...”1 True enough- but in addition to knowing His benefits, Christ intends to know us, His church, as a bridegroom knows his bride- in loving and intimate relationship. (Ephesians 5:25-32).
Psalm 63 tells us David was touched by an experience of great power: “…I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory… (v. 2) Even more importantly, David is touched by God’s love: “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you (v. 3).” Such a relationship brings deep satisfaction and inner joy to the believer: “My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed (vss. 5-6). ”
Do these Biblical statements of one beloved of God resonate with you? Fortunately, Jesus’ promise of “living water” is not limited to the spiritually advanced, or intellectually talented, but to “whoever is thirsty!” It is our Lord’s desire that all His people can satisfy their thirst with true, living water, which springs from an interior life of daily relationship with Christ. The “Living Water” of Christ’s presence is there for all to drink. The Psalms furnish the language with which we give expression to this deeply satisfying experience.
Two more things are needed if we are to be truly satisfied: First, we need to know that in Christ alone are the springs that give us life (Psalm 87:7). This means we break the habit of trying to slake our thirst with things that are not water, or as the prophet Jeremiah describes it, “broken cisterns” (Jer. 2:13).”
Secondly, we need Time: daily time to drink- time for our souls to hydrate- time to enjoy the intimacy of a relationship with Christ. Any good relationship takes time. Our relationship with Christ is no different.
Brothers and sisters, as a Pastor of our church, my fervent desire is that each of you experience deep satisfaction and blessing in your relationship with Jesus Christ. We cannot thrive as a church when many of us are dying of thirst! In future articles, I will write in more detail on How to Break the Habit of Broken Cisterns, and How to Spend Time Alone with Jesus. Until then, see you all at church!
Blessings and love in Jesus Christ, Pastor Eric Ishimaru
1Melanchthon, Loci 24. 1521 (2014), pp. 24-25