We are all thirsty

Just before Easter I received an email from a busy minister saying that my reflections on Maundy Thursday had been a lifeline for him. He had to prepare a sermon for Maundy Thursday, but he was so tired he could not get his mind around what to say. Then came my blog – and all of a sudden he gained inspiration to write his sermon. Maybe the following outline of a sermon on John 7.37 may be of help to some of my readers this week.

Thirsty for God

We are all thirsty for God. Many of those pilgrims who had made the long journey to Jerusalem were looking for spiritual reality. The same is true of many of our contemporaries too. We may not actually say:  “I am thirsty for God”, but we do say, “Life does not satisfy”.

The German tennis star, Boris Becker, for instance, at one stage  came close to taking his own life because he was so overwhelmed by a sense of hopelessness and emptiness:

I had won Wimbledon twice before, once as the youngest player. I was rich.  I had all the material possessions I needed:  money, cars, women, everything… I know this is a cliché. It’s the old song of the movie and pop stars who commit suicide.  They have everything, and yet they are so unhappy… I had no inner peace. I was a puppet on a string.

However, it might be expressed, there is an inner hunger within us all for meaning, for satisfaction, for God. The Psalmist expresses the inner longing of many when he wrote: “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirst for God, for the loving God” (Ps 42.1,2a); “O God you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirst for you;  my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Ps 42.1-2). Or as the early church father Augustine of Hippo (350-430) so exquisitely expressed it  “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you”. Jean Paul Sartre, the French novelist and atheist once wrote of this human dilemma with painful honesty: “That God does not exist I cannot deny, but that my whole being cries out for God I cannot forget”. The cry of the human spirit for something eternal around which to integrate itself is universal. We all feel it.  There is a God-shaped blank in our lives, for all of us have been made “in the image of God” (Gen 1.26), and therefore made to relate to God. In the words of an Old Testament preacher, God has “put eternity into our hearts” (Eccl 3.11 NIV)

Jesus can quench our thirst: “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me; and let the one who believes in me drink” (John 7.37). This was no one off statement – it was no sudden act of exuberance on the part of Jesus. His words on this public occasion recall words he had spoken privately to the Samaritan woman at the well: “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty” (John 4.13,14a). This is a statement with permanent relevance.  Jesus still quenches our thirst for spiritual reality – for he is the way to God. As he came toward the end of his life, the former journalist Malcolm Muggeridge, who for many years had been an unbeliever, discovered Jesus:

“I may, I suppose, regard myself, or pass for being, a relatively successful man.  People occasionally stare at me in the streets – that’s fame. I can fairly easily earn enough to qualify for admission to the higher slopes of the Inland Revenue – that’s success.  Furnished with money and a little fame even the elderly, if they care to, may partake of trendy diversions – that’s pleasure. It might happen once in a while that something I said or wrote was sufficiently heeded for me to persuade myself that it represented a serious impact on our time – that’s fulfilment. Yet I say to you, and I beg you to believe me, multiply these tiny triumphs by a million, add them all together, and they are nothing – less than nothing, a positive impediment – measured against one draught of that living water Christ offers to the spiritually thirsty, irrespective of who or what they are. What, I ask myself, does life hold, what is there in the works of time, in the past, now and to come, which could possibly be put in balance against the refreshment of drinking that water?” (Jesus Rediscovered, p100)

Our thirst is quenched when we believe. “Let the one who believes in me drink” (John 7.38).  We are clearly dealing with a metaphor here. To experience God, to enter into the new spiritual dimension called eternal life, to know the work of the Spirit in our hearts, we must first “believe”. What does it mean to believe?  In terms of the metaphor it means not just coming to Jesus, but actually ‘drinking’ from the water of life he offers.  Imagine yourself lost in the desert.  You’ve run out of water, and- there you are feebly stumbling along, desperate for water, with only a matter of hours before you’ll die of thirst, and then all of a sudden you come across an oasis with a well. What are your options? You may just accept that this well exists – not a mirage – it is for real. Or you may go further and may believe that this well is capable of slaking your thirst and allowing you to live.  Or you may go further still, and actually act upon that belief by drinking some water from the well. In other words, it is not enough to believe that Jesus offers the water of life; nor is it enough to believe that he can actually quench our thirst for God; it involves coming to Jesus, believing in him, personalising our faith. It involves believing that Jesus died for you to open up a way back to God for you; that Jesus rose for you so that you might share in his life; and that Jesus wishes here and now to give his Spirit to you, so that you might have new power to face all the challenges that life may throw at you.

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