cis·tern [sis-tern] noun
1.a reservoir, tank, or container for storing or holding water or other liquid.
I was meeting with a friend in Portland a while back when he quoted Jeremiah on me. Keep in mind, not many people are prone to quote Jeremiah. But this man, my mentor and one of my best friends, has a way of challenging me to my core. He said:
13“My people have done two things wrong.
They have abandoned me,
the fountain of life-giving water.
They have also dug their own cisterns,
broken cisterns that can’t hold water.
In the context of the moment, he was addressing one of my other friends who has been having a hard time connecting with God lately. My buddy, the one being quoted to, opened the conversation by saying that because of the challenges in his life lately, he was having a very hard time remembering that God loves him, and thus, a very hard time remembering that God is real and alive in the world. That’s when my mentor dropped Jeremiah on him, challenging the situation of distance from God with the talk of cisterns.
I’ve reflected a lot over the last month on this notion of “cisterns”, things that collect water. The prophet Jeremiah (above) looks at the situation in Israel when people were far from God and labels “two things wrong” whereas I normally just see one. I look at my own life at times of distance and realize I have had moments where I abandon God, who the prophet calls “the fountain of life-giving water.” I do this. Many other people do this. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to abandon God. I just stop hanging out with Him. I stop searching for Him in the world. And then like a relationship once the dating and romance has ended, all that is left is the formal ties of allegiance. In our daily lives, we can abandon the fountain of real life and then wonder why our life feels devoid of God’s life-giving and life-altering power. We feel as dry as an ancient riverbed and so we stop going to God, the fountain of this life-giving water. Those things we seek define us and ultimately fill us.
The second part of Jeremiah’s lament here struck me as convicting. The Lord says, “They have also dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that can’t hold water.” In a place like ancient Israel, without literal water you will literally die. This isn’t just a metaphor. And because of the arid climate, you either found a way to live near the source of water or you developed containers and reservoirs to contain water for the dryer days and weeks of your life.
Spiritually, how often do we do the same thing? We go out to “build cisterns” to contain God in and do the good things of our Christian faith. We get busy in church or in service or get busy trying to do good things for the Kingdom or get busy in a small group or just plain get busy in life. All the while, if we’re not careful, we’re building cisterns that can’t hold water. Because at the end of the day, it is the substance of our spiritual life that counts, and not the things we do for God. What is our life actually “full of”? What do we actually contain? What are we spilling out in our actions and deeds? If we don’t live near the source, our lives will become arid in no time at all. But if we seek God and fill our life with a fullness of spirit of Jesus, I’m inclined to think it is Him that our lives will speak of.
Paul speaks in Corinthians about our life becoming so full of Christ that like an aroma, we will reek of God to the world around us. Like the sweet perfume of a blooming jasmine or the robust and flavorful whiff of an Italian kitchen, our very lives will start to smell like Jesus when we drink of Him daily. Paul writes, “In the Messiah, in Christ, God leads us from place to place in one perpetual victory parade. Through us, he brings knowledge of Christ. Everywhere we go, people breathe in the exquisite fragrance. Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation—an aroma redolent (or odorous) with life.”
What does your life smell like right now? What is it full of? I am challenged in this season to dwell on the power of Jesus to fill me up, so that I would be full of His spirit, and not rely on my own cisterns. From my Lenten journal this week I have written it over and over, “Come and fill me up Lord. Come and fill me up.”