As I think about my life with Jesus, I really long for a satisfying, vital, genuine relationship. I do not want a theoretical relationship; I don’t want an ethical system based on the teachings of Jesus. I want life with him. I want genuine intimacy with someone.
But at times I just don’t feel it. I don’t taste the richness of life with him. It doesn’t “seem real.” I wonder if I am merely deluding myself. I think about whether masses of Christians are just telling themselves this “happy tale” and trying to embrace something that is not real.
But I do catch glimpses. Like the aroma of sweet rolls or the smell of bacon that wafts through the house as breakfast is being prepared. Although you might not be enjoying the meal yet, those whiffs tantalize and arouse hunger. The smells are connected to something real, yet to be fully enjoyed.
Thinking about living in this having-tasted-but-not-fully-enjoying place, I’ve been wondering about how to press on. What will help me get out of the spiritual doldrums and continue on the journey of living for and loving the great treasure that Jesus is?
Jesus helps me think through this. I recall his words.
Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7:37-38)
During one of the feasts of Israel, when Jesus was in the temple in Jerusalem, he called out to the people who were there. They must have been there because they had some longing after God. They were, after all, in the temple for the feast. But they all needed more. As do I.
What I long for is that flow of “rivers of living water.” I want a well-irrigated soul. I long for the flood of rich spiritual reality to carry me along. I do not want to merely plod through my days. I want to know the refreshing presence of the Spirit and the dynamic reality of God’s manifest life pressing through my own life.
Jesus’ words point me to a way forward. I don’t want to reduce it to a formula, but there does seem to be a progression in what he says.
If anyone is thirsty . . .
Let him come to me . . .
Let him . . . drink . . .
And out of his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.
For me to experience this rich life of flowing rivers of life-giving water, I will have to drink. How do I drink of someone? The metaphor seems to be that of embracing, welcoming, enjoying, taking in. Like taking long draws from a cold glass of clear water on a hot day, I drink of Jesus by settling in for long, intentional, focused attention on him.
For me to drink of Jesus, I will have to come to him. How do I come to him? He is not physically present in the same way he was when he spoke these words in the temple. But the truth is still true. I come to him by turning to him, by giving attention to his words, by lifting my voice to him in prayer and praise, by looking to him with the eyes of my soul.
For me to come to Jesus, all I need is the desperation of thirst. How do I cultivate such thirst? It seems to me that one of the obstacles to this life of flowing rivers of living water is that when I first begin to feel soul thirst I quickly try to stifle or quench the thirst with weak substitutes for living water. I distract myself from the thirst. I self-medicate with superficial pleasures that dull the sense of my soul to the reality of my ever-increasing thirstiness.
The television. The internet. Getting lost in work. Getting consumed by busy-ness. A fleeting flirt. A protracted affair. Certain foods. A vacation . . . or two or three. Shopping. Pornography. A drink . . . or two . . . or more.
I do all kinds of things to mask the disquiet in my soul. I distract myself from the thirst.
Not feeling the thirst, I do not draw near to Jesus. Not drawing near to Jesus, I do not drink deeply. Not drinking deeply of Jesus, I do not experience rivers of living water.
Today I am feeling a little thirsty. And that is good. I want to give into that thirst. I want it to grow. I want to become desperate to have my thirst quenched. And then I will go–I will go to Jesus and not substitutes. I’m starting to sip; I intend to drink deeply.
In the distance I can hear the roar of the rapids. There are rivers. Living water. The floods are coming. I’m feeling a little thirsty . . . and that is good.