For Lent this year, I decided to drink nothing but water. The plan was to give the money that I saved to help purchase clean water for those who have none, and to spend Lent meditating on images of actual water and Living Water in the Bible.
What I found in Scripture, however, was not water but thirst.
So frequently when the Word talks about water, it does so from the perspective of a lack. The Israelites cry out for water in the midst of the desert. The psalmists thirst for the Lord. The woman at the well in John 4 offers to fill Jesus’ physical thirst, and he offers her water that will quench her thirsts forever. Some of the final words of Scripture are a promise that the thirsty will receive that Living Water.
How the Fast That Satisfies Also Confronts
Part of the basis for my fast was Isaiah 58, in which the Lord rebukes the people for their insincerity and hypocrisy in fasting. He commands them to share their food with the hungry, to free the oppressed, and to shelter the wanderer. He instructs them to allow their lack to remind them of the needs of others. He demands their humility in recognizing that coming to God in prayer must also mean prayerfully providing his love and justice to those who are offered none by the culture or by those around them.
This is what I wanted my fast to be: an opportunity to be reminded to pray for others, and an easy way to directly follow these commands. So I wasn’t prepared for a fast that called me to confront my thirst.
Recognizing our dryness and our stubborn thirst in light of an invitation to come and drink deep of the water God has offered us is no easy thing. In Psalm 42, the psalmist bemoans his weakening thirst for God, and then says, “When can I go and meet with God?” I always want to scream, “Now! Go now!” But I know that sometimes the panting of our souls deafens our senses to a present and satisfying God. Thirst has a strong pulse.
A Stubborn Thirst
God has made me thirsty for his justice. Like many others, I have heard the stories of people in bondage and oppression and have felt compelled to move in response. It’s a core part of who I am.
But it’s so easy to get “activist fatigue” in a world so needy. We hear cries for help on every side and are paralyzed, or we rush from one to the other without pausing at the well where Jesus is sitting, running ourselves ragged until, panting and out of breath, we yell, “When can I go and meet with God?” as though he’s not there in the midst of what we’re doing.
Near the end of Isaiah 58, the prophet says this:
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.”
We are, indeed, called to spend ourselves on others’ behalf. We won’t solve the problem of our constant running, our restless passions, our stubborn lack of rest by keeping to ourselves. But we need to recognize that we spend a lot of our time walking in a sun-scorched land. We need to know the Lord’s guidance and satisfaction, and trust in his promises of strength and fulfillment. This promise to us is the same one Jesus extended to the woman at the well: we will be springs of unfailing water—water that runs with the life of the Lord.
There are times when we are driven by thirst, but sadly there are also times when we are wholly consumed by it. God has promised to water us, and to make us sources of his life for others. So many now are—praise the Lord—seeking to bring that water to others, to plant well-watered gardens in sun-scorched lands, and to extend God’s invitation to come and drink without cost. Don’t be like me in forgetting the source of the spring.
Jen Herrmann is an InterVarsity student and chapter president at the University of Oklahoma. She’s double majoring in Professional Writing and Film and Media Studies. You can see some of her media work atvimeo.com/jeniffles.
Spend time today meditating on thirsty people in Jesus’ final days. What were they thirsty for?