“O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” Psalm 63:1
Have you ever been thirsty? I’m talking really thirsty, the kind of thirst that comes from more than a dry mouth, a thirst you feel throughout your whole body, your whole being?
I have to tell you: I rarely have.
I turn on the tap, and water usually flows free. I have seldom worried whether I’ll have something to drink when I need it.
It’s a blessing I often take for granted.
World Water Day last week reminded me of it. (Yes, if I were a proper blogger, I would have planned this post for Wednesday, April 22 – World Water Day. Obviously, I need to think through my editorial calendar bit more, but I digress…)
When I saw Compassion International’s tweet last week, I was reminded of the many people around the world who struggle to have water each day, and I spent a little time remembering. You see, I used to think the Psalmist was being a bit redundant when he said, “a dry and weary land where there is no water.”
Until I lived in a land like that.
Living through a severe drought in East Africa taught me a lot about thirst and a good bit about water, too.
I was never in danger of dying of thirst, but others were. Others did. Their animals suffered. Electricity became scarce. Every aspect of life was affected by the fact there was no water.
I had never felt so dry. I longed for rain in a way I didn’t know what possible.
Karen Blixen described it beautifully in Out of Africa, when she wrote:
“One year the long rains failed.
That is a terrible, tremendous experience, and the farmer who has lived through it, will never forget it. Years afterwards, away from Africa, in the wet climate of a Northern country, he will start up at night, at the sound of a sudden shower of rain and cry, ‘At last, at last.’
In normal years, the long rains began in the last week of March and went on into the middle of June. Up to the time of the rains, the world grew hotter and drier every day, feverish, as in Europe before a great thunderstorm, only more so….
Gigantic clouds gathered, and dissolved again, over the landscape; a light distant shower of rain painted a blue slanting streak across the horizon. All the world had only one thought….
When the quickly growing rushing sound wandered over your head, it was the wind in the tall forest-trees, – and not the rain. When it ran along the ground it was the wind in the shrubs and the long grass, – and not the rain. When it rustled and rattled just above the ground it was the wind in the maize-fields, – where it sounded so much like rain that you were taken in, time after time, and even got a certain content from it, as if you were at least shown the thing you long for acted on a stage, – and not the rain.
But when the earth answered like a sounding board in a deep fertile roar, and the world sang round you in all dimensions, all above and below, – that was the rain. It was like coming back to the sea, when you have been a long time away from it, like a lover’s embrace.
But one year the long rains failed. It was, then, as if the Universe were turning away from you. It grew cooler, on some days it would be cold, but there was no sign of moisture in the atmosphere. Everything became drier and harder, and it was as if all force and gracefulness had withdrawn from the world. It was not bad weather or good weather, but a negation of all weather…” (Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen, Chapter 2, Pages 42-43)
She goes on to tell how they watched each day for rain as they watched their coffee crop ruin. Without rain, there would be no fruit for all their labor.
Because water gives life.
During the height of the drought, I traveled with a friend from Nairobi, Kenya to Kampala, Uganda. We drove through what was called Kenya’s breadbasket and saw nothing but seared, brown fields. Everything was desolate and dead, but when we arrived in Uganda, everything was green and vibrant and alive.
The abundance of life almost overwhelmed me. Everywhere I looked, something was growing. Even in small patches in the middle of roads, fruit hung heavy on branches. Muddied, red roads were lined with banana trees; healthy animals roamed the roads.
All because Uganda had rain.
In crossing the border, it was as if I had crossed from death to life.
Because water gives life.
The people of Israel knew this. Forty years of wandering in the desert had taught them that at least. Like many people in Kenya today, the Israelites of Jesus’ day relied on wells and the life-giving water they provided. Each day, women walked with empty jars to get water then carried it back home to meet the needs of their families.
We meet one such woman in John 4.
Now, I’ll tell you one thing about getting water from wells: people usually gather it first thing. They set out early for a couple of reasons. First, you need water in the morning. For cooking and cleaning and tending your flocks. Second, afternoon in Africa can be hot. Lugging loaded jars is easier in the cool of the morning or after the sun sinks low.
I’ve never been to Israel, but I imagine the same can be said of the hot sun there.
So, when the woman in John 4 came to the well at noon, she came alone.
I wonder if she’d just been putting it off all morning. Maybe she had hoped the water she’d gathered the day before would be sufficient for the day ahead. But thirst and need got the better of her.
So she set out seeking the only source that could supply her need.
And, boy, did she find it.
She found him, actually. A man sitting at the well and talking to her.
He asked her for help. A man and a Jew. He asked for her help then offered his.
The Supply of Living Water Never Ceases
To the woman who had been drawn out to draw water, he offered a supply that never ceased. He told her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)
Can you imagine how the woman felt when she heard those words? She’d been drawing water daily all her life. The need never ended, and all she could hope was that the well wouldn’t run dry.
Once, during the drought in Kenya, I took water to the home of one of my dear friends. Another friend and I had filled buckets and driven them through traffic, over bumpy roads, while we prayed all the water wouldn’t slosh out.
No matter how careful we’d been the buckets couldn’t contain it all. We lost some water on the way.
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.”
Just like my friend needed water, we all need God. The need is constant and nagging, and like the woman at the well, we are compelled to have it filled.
The problem is, like the Israelites, we often go looking for other sources. We dig wells that don’t provide what we need. We draw it out with jars that have holes then wonder where all the water went.
Jesus’ promise to the woman at the well is the same as his promise to us. We don’t have to keep drawing from dry wells. He wants to pour life into us forever. He said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5:6)
If you bring your emptiness to him, he will fill it.
Living Water Overflows
And then it will overflow.
Last year, I bought a painting in Kenya. It hangs in my kitchen as a reminder of how life with the Living Water should be.
When I saw it, I loved it, but I had no idea why. I asked the young artist what it meant, and she said, “Water is a blessing. When we find it, we share it.”
And, I think that’s what Jesus meant when he said, “Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” (John 7:38)
Before we move on to this week’s Encouraging Word Wednesday linkup, I thought it would be a appropriate to share with you the fact that East Africa has been experiencing its worst drought in more than 60 years. Please join me in praying that the rains will come. If you would like to help, Samaritan’s Purse is an organization working in Kenya and South Sudan to help those affected by the drought.
Now, please link up your latest encouraging, faith-filled posts! I’d love to read them. Since our kids were sick recently, I’ve been behind on commenting and sharing, but I hope to visit each post this week and comment and share! I’m always so encouraged by the writers who link up each week! Thank you!