What are you thirsting for?
We’re walking through this theme of sustaining this journey of faith. It’s not to assume everybody is on a journey of faith. We’re certainly all on a journey. If we’re going to walk into this journey and combine it with something of faith in God, it’s going to be something that we’re hoping and desiring that will sustain us; that it would last beyond a period of time or a phase of life, but it would be something that becomes a part of our life. One of the things we have to understand in order to sustain our faith is that God has water to quench the thirst of our soul. He is the one who is able to rehydrate us. The reality is that we live in a world, in a city, in a society, that has so many different options to refresh ourselves. I’m just going to put this up there on the front end. It means the source of our “refreshing.” It determines the sustainability of our faith.
I used to say, “Where we go to draw water for the more spiritual aspects of who we determine our ability to sustain.” I was reminded of this when I had a perplexing time in my life. My wife and I have been married for nine years; we’ve been together for 13. In the 13 years, the four years are important because our story was that she decided to go to San Diego for undergraduate work. I stayed up here in San Francisco. We started getting to know each other, and after some time, realized we wanted to date each other. I remember when we started doing this long-distance, I remember thinking to myself, “All right, six months, and she’s back. Six months of this, and then she’ll move back to San Francisco. She’ll understand how special this relationship is, and we’ll be good.”
In my head, I put this in my mind; and I quickly realized no, my wife is far stronger. I didn’t have such persuasive skills with her that I wanted. She was committed to the four years. I realized, if we’re going to do this, we’re going to do this for four years, long distance. I remember having to become creative. I realized quickly into our relationship that this was one that I was going to try to make a forever one. We started coming up with different strategies for dating. We had movie nights. This was before FaceTime, so what we would do is get on the phone at the same time. We would go to Safeway and get one of those Redbox DVDs. We’d pull up our laptop, put the DVD in, and then we’d try to synchronize when we’d press play. It was always, “Is it on three? Or is it after three?” We’d do the countdown; sometimes I would go first, she would hear it in advance, and so that would kind of upset her. We’d have to restart the process. Other times, she would do it first. I wouldn’t mind, because then somehow I amazingly was able to predict where this movie was going. I had such insight into the future. We would do this together.
We would do walks together around our neighborhoods. She lived in beautiful San Diego, and I lived in San Francisco. I think it’s more beautiful. But I remember, we would take walks, and we would describe it to each other, “Oh, there’s this.” And, “Oh, it seems like this tree, this season, this house, this…” We would do this together; take walks and describe our walks. That was kind of like our ritual.
I remember we would have times in the airport. The airport became a place of extreme joy and deep sadness. Those two would happen in the span of three days. I remember we would go on a date somewhere in the city. Or I made my way down there; Southwest was golden back then. It’s still all right, but I remember back then it was affordable for me, as a student. I remember we’d go on a date down there or date up here. Whenever we were apart from each other, we’d go back to that place, get on the phone, and say, “It’s just like when we were together.”
I describe this because I thought that when I would experience this, this relationship of deep love, the awareness that this would be the woman that I would marry, and I knew she felt the same. I thought that that would satisfy me in such a deep way. I would not experience what I actually ended up experiencing. Because we wanted it to be together, no doubt about it. But the distance between us exposed stuff within us. The physical distance, and the physical inability to interact together through those four years, revealed something of deep loneliness that was present. If you understand what I’m trying to say, it was a paradox to me, because she was and is an amazing woman. I was, and still am, very in love with her. But somehow, in the midst of this relationship, I still had something I thought this relationship would remove. It didn’t. It seemed as if it did something of the opposite. It seemed the relationship, rather than fulfilling a need to the deepest core of me, awakened how deep my need truly was.
I say that because I’ve had so many conversations with people who experience the perplexity of thirst; it’s perplexing. We all have a thirst. Some of us thirst for intimacy, to be known, and to know. Others of us thirst for camaraderie, friendship, mutual trust, and the ability to be safe with each other. Others of us desire and thirst for a connection. For some of us, it’s not actually more relational, it’s actually a sense of achievement that we thirst for. A sense of being affirmed, and in many ways, shown for the quality of who we are.
I’ve had conversations where it seems that confidence is elusive, no matter how much is achieved, attained, or gained. What truly, the thirst is, “How do I find, not the fake kind I pretend to be, but the real kind that arises within me? Why do I get that?” This is so important because many times, our thirsts that are real and legitimate, that require legitimate ways to meet them, they’re actually pointing us to something far deeper than any relationship, friendship, hobby, passion, dream, or experience could ever satisfy. In those places of thirst, how we respond matters.
It’s not just in other aspects of life. It’s not too popular to say it, but some of us may be on a journey of faith with God. We may still actually experience the same pain we had before we had faith in God. It’s perplexing. “Why? Why is it? This was supposed to satisfy my thirst, but I’m still in that place.” We could still sense. We could have an understanding of who God is, and know what He is like in our lives. Yet at the same time experience the real coldness of hopelessness, discouragement, fatigue, and melancholy.
In that place where we recognize, when we’ve tasted what God has for us in our lives, it may not fully satisfy, as much as it may awaken us, to how truly thirsty we are. How we respond in the moments of drought and thirst. For some of us, it’s so easy to become resentful, and bitter. It’s so easy to go towards other areas, sources, and satisfaction. If we’re in that place, we have far more in common with the people of the scriptures than we may realize, because it is part of the human experience. How do we find water for the true thirst of our soul?
There’s this man, Elijah. He was a prophet of the older Testament. He was a man who was sent by God to speak to a nation, a people of God, who were founded and meant to be sustained by Him. They dealt with the same perplexities of life. The same realization that even though God was in their midst, they still had desires and thirsts. They would turn away from Him. Elijah was sent to the king of Israel to deliver a message. In this episode that we’re going to look at, it gives us texture to what it might look like for us in the droughts of our lives, or in the thirst of our lives, to find real, sustaining water.
The prophet Elijah is introduced to us out of nowhere. We’re not really given much on his background. All we’re told in verse one is that “Now Elijah, the Tishbite, of Tishbi in Gilead, which is in the Northern part of Israel, said to Ahab, who is the king of Israel, who has chosen to look elsewhere for their thirsts. Elijah comes to the king and says, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, for whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.”
In other words, Elijah was making a statement. It was a statement, declaring something. God is instituting a physical drought. In many ways, what we have to understand is, it was not necessarily as much punishment as it was an act of love. Because they were sustaining themselves on other sources of water, and they had forgotten the ultimate source. This drought, this inability for the land and the environment to satisfy them, was meant to show them there is one who can. There is one who can.
In the midst of this, Elijah uses this statement, that if you read it, it says right there in verse one, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand.” It’s quite a statement. In so many ways, he was a contrast to King Ahab. Elijah was saying, “Listen. I live my life in such a way, where no matter where I am, I am aware God is there. I am aware He’s there in the secret place where I think nobody else sees. I know He’s there. I’m aware He’s there in the public place, where I’m aware everybody sees God is there. That’s how I live my life. I conduct my business and my affairs, with that in mind.”
I wonder, what adjustments would we make to our lives if we were to step into those footprints, and we were to live in such a way where we are aware God is there in our midst; wherever “there” might be? It would elevate certain things. It would call certain things out of us. It would pressure us into certain things. It would motivate us.
There is a commentary on this passage. It is this section I’d love to read to you because it highlights and I think elevates to the surface what Eliza was saying. This is what the author was saying. “Every man stands before something that is his judge, or every woman before her judge. The child stands before the father, not in the single act, making a report of what he has been doing on a special day, but in the whole posture of his life, almost as if the father were a mirror in whom he saw himself reflected, and from whose reflection of himself, he got at once a judgment of who he was and suggestions of who he ought to be. The poet stands before nature. She is his judge, a certain felt harmony or discord between his nature and her ideal is the test, and directing power of his life and poetry.”
What he was saying was, we all stand before something as our source; all of us do. We don’t actually have to have religion to recognize all of us stand before something that we hold ourselves before. In it, we see a reflection of who we are, and who we ought to be. Whoever that is, whatever that is, it has the power to direct us. To either disappoint us or sustain us.
Eliza says, “I stand before Him. He is the one who is saying, ‘There shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.'” In verse two, we’re told, “The word of the Lord came to him.” God told him, “Depart from here, and turn eastward, and hide by the brook of Kerith, which is east of the Jordan. I want you to go from Samaria, and I want you to go over to the brook. In the Northern section of Israel, you see Galilee and the Dead Sea in the south. In the middle of Samaria is where he would go to speak to King Ahab. After pronouncing this drought which had severe implications for the land. A drought meant no crop. A drought meant no ability to sustain livestock. A drought meant desperation as the drought intensified. It would inevitably mean anger by the people, and anger from the people in power. What would happen was, the person who would be seen as responsible for this drought, for the drying up of all water, would be Elijah.
God tells Elijah, “You need to hide. You need to go to a secluded place off of the river of the Jordan, into the brook.” In the middle of dry land and drought, I want you to go to a small modest brook. I want you to hide there. I want you to go where you think perhaps it’s not sustainable. It’s not going to last. It’s not going to provide for your needs, but that is where you will go. I want you to leave the public stage, and I want you to go into privacy, seclusion, and solitude. I want you to dwell there. In fact, He says, “I want you to not just go there. I want you to drink from the brook. That will be your source of water. I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.” I have special messengers to deliver “to go” food, or deliveries, but you don’t get to order it. It’s a surprise every time. Whatever they find, you will get. This is the idea.
Elijah went and did according to the word of the Lord. He lived by the brook. He inhabited that place. He settled there, on the brook of Kerith, that is east of the Jordan. Here is where Elijah goes far beyond what any of us, I think, are naturally capable of. Elijah listens. Do you know what he doesn’t do? He doesn’t second guess. He doesn’t try to figure out his own way. He doesn’t seek out a different way. He goes to the brook.
If you could imagine a man of a passion like him, which is what he was; a man used to a certain place of prominence and access to power. He had to go to a place where hopefully he would be forgotten and no one would find him. Hopefully, he would be hidden. He would go to this brook, knowing what he had just said; there is a drought in the land. It’s an hourglass. It’s only a matter of time before it drives up. Every morning he would wake, and wonder, “Are the ravens coming?” The ravens in his culture and in his frame of mind were unclean birds. That is, he wasn’t supposed to connect with them.
He’s sitting by the brook, seeing it dry up, and drinking it. It’s modest. You could sense it, the lowering of the water. “But this is what God told me to do. Every morning and every evening, I wonder, ‘Will the raven come? Will it come?” Do you know what you see there? A picture of utter dependency; stripped, stripped of the ability to go fend for himself. He was asked to utterly depend on forces outside of his control for his sustenance. He doesn’t get desperate. He doesn’t panic. He doesn’t move in haste. He doesn’t get mad. He waits.
It’s quite a picture. In seclusion, alone, waiting. As he does this, we’re told in verse six, “The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening. He drank from the brook. After a while, the brook dried up, because there was no rain in the land.” The drought of the land was in full force, and there Eliza experienced what seemed like an inhabitable place. Yet, in that inhabitable place, God seemed to provide. This brook and the ravens were his utter dependability on God’s provision. You know what? It never removed from the equation his need to trust that he would be provided for. He didn’t get a rushing river. He didn’t get a feast and a full refrigerator. He got portions, rations.
As he’s doing this, you get the sense that even though there was a drought, maybe it was a month later, that the brook dried up, some suggest it may have even been longer, up to six months. But it seems that Elijah discovered some keys to sustaining his faith. It seems that he got in touch with something. He discovered that though the resource of water ran dry, the one who created it was still present. Even though he was staring at limited resources, he never lost sight of the one with an unlimited supply. That is who he stood before.
Do you know who he did not stand before? The river, the brook. He was not in desperate dependence on the brook. He was in desperate dependence on the one who sent him there. That seems to have made all the difference. Because what I want to suggest to you, is that in this picture, in this episode, Elijah was living, it actually highlights something that in his day was more like an analogy, metaphorical. But in our day, it could be taken quite literally, in the sense that it pointed to a very real resource, water, pointing to a very real thirst of one soul.
God seems to be the one who provided for that thirst. Today in our day, hundreds of years after Elijah had that expense, a man named Jesus stepped onto the scene. He stepped into a conversation with a woman; “the woman at the well.” Actually, in Samaria, the very region Elijah was in. Jesus goes to this woman at the well, who went there at high noon because she was thirsty. But her thirst led her into the arms of other men. Her thirst led her into relationships that compromised her reputation and caused her to be an outcast. Jesus steps into this conversation at the well, at high noon, when no one else was there, in this secluded, forgotten place.
Do you know what He doesn’t do? He doesn’t condemn her for her thirst. He doesn’t shame her for her thirst. He doesn’t in any way ridicule her for her need. No. He steps into the conversation. In one of the greatest analogies ever created, He looks at the well, He looks at her, and He says, “You can drink from this well, but you will be thirsty again. But I want to give you something.” You can see it in John 4:14, “That whoever drinks of the water that I will give him, will never be thirsty again. In fact, the water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water, welling up to eternal life.”
If you could see it; “See this well? See how it provides water? You have to come back to it every day, every day, every day. What I want to do to you. What I want to give you, is I want to produce within you a fountain. It will quench your thirst. When you’re thirsty again, it will bubble from the inside out. It will go with you wherever you go.” You have to understand this eternal source of life, what is it? What is it? In the same way that Elijah received substance through unclean messengers, Jesus stepped into a very unclean place when He put himself on the cross and died for all things that are unclean in a very brutal and sacrificial way. That becomes the means by which new life is given.
All of a sudden, because he stepped into the place of the forgotten, the secluded, the marginalized, the thirsty and hungry, the punished and condemned. When He put himself in that place, He made himself accessible to quench the thirst of the human soul. The woman says, “If that’s what you have, I want that water.” Jesus gives us water for the thirst of our soul. The reason we struggle sometimes is that we think we can take the water, and not have to reconnect with Jesus. Jesus is the water. The relationship we have with Him is what satisfies us. His love, His grace, and His ability to give us acceptance. Perhaps we’ll note His abilities; this is so important for us to understand. Our relationships, activities, achievements, means, successes, and everything that we might be chasing after, have the ability to satisfy this, but the need is far deeper.
When we welcome Jesus into our lives, we cultivate a way of life with Him. He is able to help us drink deeply from Him so that our needs are met. What little we might have relationally, in terms of our success, or what we are striving after, no longer looks like a little. It now looks like a beautiful gift. It reorients everything. When we invite Jesus; and you know, all we have to do is say, “Jesus, I want that water. I thirst for you. I thirst for you.” That phrase changes everything.
If that’s the case, what we have to understand is that Elijah not just represents the reality that God alone can meet the thirst of our soul. God’s water, you know what it does? It has a cleansing effect on us. It has the ability to wash away motives that hinder our journey. Because seclusion, you know what it does? You know what seclusion, being forgotten, being left alone, or being somehow obscure, in an obscure place, reveals us. That’s what it does. It reveals what’s going on inside.
A lot of times, if we don’t slow down enough, it’s the motives that we are walking with, that are far too big and heavy for us to be able to move forward in the journey we’re supposed to go after. In this place of seclusion, of being forgotten, of sitting there alone, you know what it was? It was being stripped of Elijah; you know what you don’t need? You don’t need prominence, Elijah. You need me. Do you know what you don’t need? Your life. Your soul is able to survive here. Let me strip you of all the things that you think you need. Because where Elijah was going, he needed to be able to run faster, longer, and lighter. There was something of his eternal work, in my opinion, that needed to be happening within him. Many times in our lives, drought is not punishment. It’s refinement. The gap and the need are not because somehow the forces are against us. As much as it is, somehow something is working. This is the reality. This is the reality. God uses all things, all things, for the betterment, for those He loves and who love Him.
Which means that there is something of a cleansing effect. Motives and desires that may be more myopic, more self-centered, start to get stripped away. What starts to be put in its place are motives that start to understand. The world is much larger than this one life. Perhaps my life is not supposed to be about attaining everything that I desire and want. Maybe it’s not supposed to be about me, but about what I’m supposed to strive for. Maybe it’s not supposed to be about my personal greatness, as much as it is being about what God says is greatest. Maybe it’s not supposed to be about what I desire, as much as what only I can accomplish because of the way I was designed. Maybe with Him in the center of this, in a secluded place, recognizing, “I’m utterly dependent on you.” Maybe there is actually the best place to be, for where we need to go.
We strip things off. My life will no longer be about the brook or the food the raven brings. My life will be about the one who created both. My world will expand. All of a sudden, we start to live for something larger than us. something that requires more than us, something that will call the best out of us, and refine the things we’d rather no one else see. Do you know what His water doesn’t do? It doesn’t shame us. It doesn’t condemn us. Do you know what it does? It washes us and cleanses us. Wash us of bitterness. Wash us of unforgiveness. Wash away the shame. Wash away the rejection. Wash away the sense of insecurity. Satisfy; that’s what He does. That’s what He did to the woman at the well. It’s what He did with Elijah. It’s what He longs to do for us. Because at the end of the day, what we have to understand is His water can sustain us. In the drought, and in the deluge, He can sustain us. In a place where there is not much, He can sustain us. Jesus can sustain us.
The beautiful thing about that, is in the drought if we can sustain our faith, our journey, and our life with Him, where there is not much, you know what doesn’t happen? T Paul said, “I have learned, and learned to mean over time. I have learned the gift of contentment, that because Jesus is with me, He is my ultimate source of sustainability, that I can experience periods of my life, where I don’t have much, but I’m okay. I could experience periods of abundance, and it won’t sweep me away. He keeps me. He keeps me centered. He keeps me content.” He discovered, “I am dependent on the one who provides. I am not dependent on the provision. I’m dependent on the one who has given to me, not the gift. That’s who I’m depending on.” When we discover how to be sustained by His living water, His river for our lives, you know what happens? In the drought, we get to be able to be satisfied. In the periods of abundance, distractions, experiences, hobbies, and affluence, you know what doesn’t happen? We don’t get swept away. We don’t get hasty in the period of desperation and drought. We don’t get swept away into harm and injury in the period of abundance. He keeps us. He sustains us, as we drink water for our soul. We get to experience the beauty of the environment, because a soul that is dependent on Him for water, can inhabit any environment it’s exposed to.
I definitely don’t get it perfect or right. But I’ll tell you, appreciating the woman in my life; it is so much easier when I understand her role in my life. The role that Jesus has in my life. If we don’t depend on them to satisfy the deepest longings of our soul, to somehow fulfill us; you know what happens when we get disappointed? We’re okay. It’s not our source. We step into that environment, okay and strong. When the good times come, we get to enjoy them. When they go away, we get to be sustained through them. This is the impact of drinking water that God longs to provide us. May that be the case. May we be the ones who discover the depth of our thirst. In our thirst, may we turn to the one who says, “I can give you water that will satisfy you so deeply, you will be able to enjoy every other aspect of your life. You will be sustained.” Oh, may that be us.
God, thank you. I thank you that you are the one who is able to meet us in our need. You are the one who lovingly makes us aware of our needs. You’re the one who never shames us for our needs, never, never ridicules us. Never speaks to us as less than, but you step into it. I pray, God, that you would help us receive your satisfying, cleansing, and sustaining water. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.