Jesus used a variety of metaphors to describe himself, but one of the most common themes was that of life.
John 10.10 is one of the most famous passages where Jesus talks about life. Here he draws a straight line between himself and the fullness of life that we have each been created for, as well as warning us that the life we have been designed for is under assault.
But that is far from the only time that Jesus made this connection. He not only made the repetitive claim that he was life – he actually created a whole subcategory of metaphors to help us understand what it means for us to enter into that experience of life.
In the last post I explored the metaphor of Jesus as the bread of life… a mysterious and fascinating way to reflect on the nature of Jesus.
That was John chapter 6. In the very next chapter he comes back to the theme of life again, but now switches metaphors. Instead of describing himself as the bread of life, he now uses a new picture – streams of living water:
“On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.” (John 7.37-39)
This declaration came during one of the annual Jewish festivals, and when Jesus connected spiritual transformation to spiritual thirst, he was appealing to a thread that had already been pulled throughout the Bible:
King David was called a man after God’s own heart. In Psalm 42 David cried out, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul longs after you, o God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.”
The prophet Isaiah declared, “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” (Isaiah 55.1)
In his sermon on the Beatitudes, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5.6) and followed that by saying, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all else will be added to you.” (Matthew 6.33)
And finally, in the last book of the Bible, we hear this: “Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst… For the Lamb at the center before the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water…” (Revelation 7.16-17)
Now Jesus says that if we want to experience the life found only in him – streams of living water – we must first come thirsty. What does that mean?
I can’t exhaustively answer that question, but I have thought a lot about this idea of being “thirsty.” Here’s two realities that have become apparent in my own life about the correlation between being thirsty for God and experiencing spiritual transformation:
First, I am convinced the question is never if I am thirsty. The more important question is whether I am in touch with that thirst.
When Adam and Eve communed with God in the Garden of Eden they felt healthy, whole, and spiritually satisfied. That changed with their rebellion. For the first time they now felt naked, lost, and spiritually disoriented. From that point forward they would have a tremendous desire that burned with them to recapture that communion – a desire that lives within each one of us as well.
I try to remember that, because sometimes my mind can play tricks on me. Thirst is not something I really have to go pursue, or pretend to have. Thirst is my native condition. The only time I feel whole, healthy, and spiritually satisfied is when I am connected deeply to God, and that is true of you too. Therefore we can trust the thirst is already inside of us. We just need to get in touch with it.
So rather than go searching for a feeling of hunger/thirst, I instead try to figure out where it went. If I don’t feel hungry/thirst for God, I just go through a quick checklist. One of these usually gets to it:
> If I don’t feel thirsty, maybe it is because I am afraid that if I allow myself to be in touch with the thirst, I will not ever be able to truly satisfy it.
> If I don’t feel thirsty, maybe I am afraid that if I allow myself to be in touch with that thirst, it will bring all of my doubts and insecurities about God to the surface.
> If I don’t feel thirsty, maybe its even simpler than that – maybe I am not in touch with my thirst because I am drinking from other ‘cisterns.’ Jeremiah 2.13 says, “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.”
Cisterns were plaster holding tanks for rain water, but they cracked easy and the water it held was dirty and tainted. When Jeremiah warned against drinking from broken cisterns, he was reminding us of the temptation to forsake the real in pursuit of the fake. This is core to the human condition – we go searching for meaning and fulfillment everywhere but the one place that we can get it.
Second, I am convinced that there is a divinely created cycle of thirst. It is a repetitive process – thirst connects us to Jesus, which in turn connects us to an even greater thirst, which then connects us to Jesus…
One of my favorite parables in the whole Bible is that of the search for the pearl of great price. This is actually the second of two parables, and in it we see a merchant who is already wealthy from his collection of pearls, and yet is still on a manic search for the pearl of great price.
The word used for the “seeking” that the merchant does is zēteō, and while that can be translated as seek, it is just often translated as crave, require, or even demand. In other words, the beauty of the pearls that he already possessed ignited an even greater hunger within him. If necessary, he was willing to turn over heaven and earth to find more of the beauty that he has already experienced.
I love that parable, mostly because of the way it shows me the primal nature of thirst. God has created thirst not for a one time experience, but as a means to everyday fulfillment. In this parable beauty provokes a hunger for more beauty. Abundance stirs a longing for more abundance. The experience the merchant has with those pearls convinces him that even more is possible, and he won’t rest until he finds it.
That’s why I think its so important when Jesus says, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” The progression of this is fascinating to me. Jesus says that anyone who is thirsty should come to him an drink. Faith then connects us to the source of life itself (Jesus), and then from there an experience occurs where “rivers of living water flow from within them.”
That’s an awesome picture, isn’t it? I love even the idea of being a person who has living waters flowing from within me. But here’s the thing – is that intended to be just a one time thing? No – this is a continual process of transformation. Thirst connects us to Jesus, which connects us to living waters, which connects us to thirst, which connects us to Jesus, which connects us to living waters, etc etc.
In the material world thirst is not a one time thing – it is a daily occurrence followed by refreshment and satisfaction. And then the process starts over again.
I feel certain that this is similar to the spiritual realm. The worst thing we could ever do to our spiritual being is to disconnect it from its hunger and thirst.
Hunger and thirst should be embraced and nurtured. More than that, they should be seen as signs of life. The more we allow ourselves to thirst, the stronger our drive will be to encounter God. And the more we encounter God, the stronger our thirst will become. It is the best kind of repeating cycle!
God has placed an unquenchable thirst inside of us designed to propel us on a search for the pearl of great price. The more of God we experience the more we should want. The more we are aware of the pain associated with something’s missing, the stronger the desire becomes to find the answer. The stronger the desire becomes, the more intensely we pursue God. The more intensely we pursue God, the more of God’s fullness we end up discovering and experiencing. The more of God’s fullness that we discover and experience, the more transformed we become.
Until then, may this be our prayer:
“O God, I have tasted thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need of further grace. I am ashamed of my lack of desire. O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still.” (A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God)