I have been thinking about a song my father sang in church, when I was a child: “Like the woman at the well I was seeking / For things that could not satisfy. . .Fill my cup, Lord, I lift it up, Lord / Come and quench this thirsting of my soul.” When I was young, I didn’t understand what it meant. Decades later, I was listening to a sermon about Jesus’ interaction with the woman at the well in Samaria, and I realized the reason for so many of my mis-steps. I didn’t have as much baggage as the Samaritan woman, but just like her, I was looking for a man to quench the thirst in my soul. I thought I needed a husband to be happy. I wish I had met the woman at the well earlier in life. Perhaps this passage should be a compulsory study for young women.
The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and livestock.” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”
That song from childhood came back to mind, recently, as I was reading John Piper’s The Pleasures of God. Piper instructs that we need to see God as a well that will meet all of our needs. Piper’s theology on this point is summarized by his famous statement, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” How can we ever be satisfied if we don’t go to Him to drink? We know in our heads that only God can truly satisfy, but it doesn’t permeate our hearts. We understand God’s limitless supply, yet we often let ourselves feel helpless to have our needs met. Worse than that, we get carried away by desires that have nothing to do with actual needs. If only we recognized Him there beside us, waiting for us to ask! As Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water. . .a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:10, 14)
There is another problem: we are not convinced that His living water is really something we want or need. By the end of her conversation with Jesus, the Samaritan woman knew that she wanted it. But we are so rich and comfortable that it makes us wishy-washy. We know that God is good, we love Jesus, and we don’t want to go to hell. So, we sign up for living water as it pertains to eternal life, but while we’re here on earth, we are convinced there are better things. We don’t want cups overflowing with living water, we want an overflow of material blessing. Somehow we miss the connection between the well of living water and finding true happiness and contentment. What is it to be blessed? We’re convinced it is more about having material things than it is about finding happiness from God.
Be appalled, O heavens, at this;
be shocked, be utterly desolate,
declares the LORD,
for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,
the fountain of living waters,
and hewed out cisterns for themselves,
broken cisterns that can hold no water.
In the old testament, the prophet Jeremiah wrote of the “broken cisterns” that the people had “hewed out for themselves.” It was a description of the people of Israel turning their backs on God’s living water and seeking to be satisfied by the world. We don’t use words like ‘hew’ or ‘cistern’ very much in our modern speech. To ‘hew’ is to shape something, and a ‘cistern’ is simply a reservoir for holding water. Jeremiah tells us that the ones we create don’t even hold water! Yet we choose these man-made reservoirs of stored water over the fountain which continually provides fresh, living water.
I have come a long way in my pilgrimage for contentment. But still the loneliness of life and the desires of the flesh nag at me. I catch myself thinking and acting as if God is not enough. I want to do better and glorify God with my life. I want to put my earthly desires to rest, and only desire Him. But my eyes see so many things, like couples walking hand-in-hand. Before I can even lift up my cup and ask God to fill me, I need to ask Him to help me recognize my thirst as being for Him. I need to pray that He will grow my desire for His company, His living water, and His bread of life. I don’t actually need all of the other things that feel so necessary.
Cultivating a more trusting and dependent relationship with Jesus requires discipline and work. This striving has a place, but I cannot let it deceive me into thinking that I can do anything for God or that He needs anything from me. I strive because I know my humanity, and without discipline in seeking Him and His righteousness, I would quickly fall away. I strive because I know there is worth in drawing nearer to God. Still, it is for me and not for Him. If I learn to hold my cup to Him to be filled, if I rely on Him to quench my thirst and nothing less, then He will be glorified not by anything I do, but by all that He does for me.