“Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his belly will flow rivers of living water.’”
In a previous post we spoke about a festival in Jerusalem in the days of Jesus where the pilgrims would cry out to God to pour out His Spirit upon them, to revive them, and to bring them the unquenchable joy of His presence. It was at this festival that Jesus made the startling promise: “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his belly will flow rivers of living water.’”
Jesus promises a river of water flowing from our bellies, the innermost part of us. How do we drink from this river?
1. We need to have the river within us.
Some of us have lived our lives looking in on Christianity and gleaning from other people’s relationships with God, but we’ve never given ourselves completely to Jesus. Perhaps you’ve stood on the outside for long enough. Hear the words of God to you now: “now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).
First this means we understand that we’ve rushed to other failed sources of satisfaction and in the process have run away from the Living God. Do you feel the sting of rebellion? Instead, turn back to God knowing He invites you back to Him. Only then do we have the gift of the Holy Spirit given to our parched hearts. Believe that Christ is the one who offers you this living water.
2. We need unmask our thirsts.
Perhaps you’ve been spiritually thirsty for so long, you don’t even know it anymore. You would never catch yourself saying, “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?” (Psalm 42:1-2). We need to unmask this thirst in us.
In his book, Inside Out, Dr. Larry Crabb shares his thoughts on facing our thirst for God:
“Becoming aware of our deepest longings is a painful process and therefore will not come easily. The recognition of an unfulfilled void, a vague sense of emptiness that can be temporarily suppressed but never solved, can disturb an otherwise comfortable life or the difficulty of life already distressed. . . . How do we feel a thirst that so many elements of life combine to deny?”
Crabb’s first suggestion is to ask the tough questions that produce confusion. All of us go through life with painful questions. Why did God let such-in-such happen to me? Why are things so messed up? Why am I so messed up? We want to settle our stomachs with answers that end on a positive note. We wrap legitimate biblical truths into clichés in an attempt shut down our suspicion that this is a broken world. Or we exclusively focus on “what should be done” about our problems, we try to meet our hard problems head-on with practical action in order to shortcut the feeling that our lives are out of control. In other words, we like to slam the door on honest confusion.
Instead, we should ruminate on those tough questions in our mind and feel the raw emotion of their impact. Read the Old Testament book of Habakkuk and see how he did it. He faced his bewilderment and was truly upset, and there met with his God who revealed Himself as one that can be fully trusted. Instead of retreating to the sphere of management where we try to convince ourselves that we can control our situations and answer all our hard questions, we can enter the sphere of mystery, and there we will feel a passionate desire to know that Someone strong and kind is working behind all we see, moving things carefully toward a just and joyful conclusion.
Crabb’s second suggestion is explore the imperfections of key relationships until you experience deep disappointment. Most of us can identify with being let down by our parents or our spouse or our good friends. Instead of shrugging it off, we can face that disappointment and realize how thirsty we are for what no One has perfect love, One who is always there with understanding, sacrificial concern at every moment for our welfare, strong and wise enough to handle all our burdens in life. We long for Someone with great father love who can help us not take ourselves too seriously.
As we look into our past and our present and realize our unfulfilled longings for this kind of love, we will also face how we have been driven to demand from others what they could not give. In the face of this kind of longing we can either try to ignore it, we can run to self-pity, or we can look with a longing to the day when we will meet face to face with the One who does love us this way.
Crabb’s last suggestion is to study your own approach to relationships with an openness to developing conviction. The first and greatest commandments are to love God with all of our being and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Therefore, the deepest and greatest sin is our inability and unwillingness to love in this way. Many of us aren’t gripped with conviction when facing this standard of love.
But if we commit ourselves to seeing how poorly we truly love, how much we rush to self-protection, self-centeredness, and demandingness, then we can hear the voice of God convicting us of our sinfulness. The more we realize how profoundly broken we are, the more we will long for One who can make us anew, who can create us into the image of One who loves.
In short, as we face our confusion, our only true satisfaction will be faith; as we face our disappointment, our satisfaction will be hope; as we face our brokenness and conviction, we will long to love.
“And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).
3. We need go on a life-long pilgrimage with other thirsty people.
What would it have been like to hear the promise of living water fall from Jesus’ lips? Think about being in the temple that day: pilgrims gathered from all over the empire, shouting to God to save them and bring the joy of His presence. What encouragement it would have been to be in the company of so many worshipers.
These thirsty people weren’t alone. They had traveled many miles with their family and friends to shout “Hosanna” together. One of the means of grace God has given us is each other: together we can travel the dusty roads to our goal; we can model for each other what it means to take the long look inside. Being with other thirsty people means we will be less likely to be able to mask our thirsts and run to other wells of temporary satisfaction. Being with other thirsty people is a continual reminder of where real satisfaction can be found.
4. We need to know the meaning of “Hosanna!”
Jesus promises the living water to “whoever believes in me.” This is what it means to drink. First we thirst for God like we would die if we wouldn’t have Him. Then we believe that Jesus is the fulfillment of this longing. When we have that sort of deep confidence and trust in Jesus as the source, we will do the only thing a thirsty man before the only fountain can do: we will open our mouths wide and wait for God to fill us.
The people in the temple during Hoshana Rabbah all shouted “Hosanna,” meaning “Save us, now!” One of the hardest lessons I’ve ever learned is learning to cry “Hosanna!” It is such a helpless, desperate word. Only someone who knows he needs saving can cry it. To be able to shout “Hosanna!” with genuine longing for God takes more than just mental belief: it takes humility. As Andrew Peterson says, only in God’s Kingdom is a cry for help equal to a shout of praise.
by Andrew Peterson
I am tangled up in contradiction
I am strangled by my own two hands
I am hunted by the hounds of addiction
I have lied to everyone who trusts me
I have tried to fall when I could stand
I have only loved the ones who love me
I have struggled to remove this raiment
Tried to hide every shimmering strand
I contend with these ghosts and these hosts of bright angels
I have cursed the man that you have made me
I have nursed the beast that bays for my blood
I have run from the One who would save me
Save me, Hosanna
We cry for blood
We take your life
We cry for blood
We take your life
It is blood and it is life that you have given
You have crushed beneath your heel the vile serpent
You have carried to the grave the black stain
You have torn apart the temple’s holy curtain
You have beaten death at death’s own game
Hail the long awaited king
Come to set his people free
(We cry) Oh, Hosanna
Come and tear this temple down
Raise it up on holy ground
I will lift my voice and sing
You have come and washed me clean
No Other Stream
“Are you not thirsty?” said the Lion.
“I’m dying of thirst”, said Jill.
“May I – could I – would you mind going away while I do?”, said Jill.
The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the while mountain to move aside for her convenience.
The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.
“Will you promise not to – do anything to me, if I do come?”, said Jill.
“I make no promise”, said the Lion.
Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.
“Do you eat girls?”, she said.
“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms”, said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.
“I daren’t come and drink”, said Jill.
“Then you will die of thirst”, said the Lion.
“Oh dear!”, said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”
“There is no other stream”, said the Lion.
– C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair