I couldn’t talk. My lips and my tongue were tight and unresponsive. The words coming from weakened voice were slurred as I desperately tried to get out a cry for help. It had barely been two or three minutes since everything below my waist had gone numb while I was driving. Now my fingers were tingling and clinching into my hands involuntarily. I had pulled off the road but couldn’t even type out a text message. My only hope was to wave down the car behind me. I got their attention and hesitantly the driver approached my window and realized something was very wrong. All I could do was lay back in my seat and pray.
About an hour earlier I had run out of water in my backpack. It was a brutally hot day even at high altitude and I wasn’t drinking enough to begin with. My legs were not used to the pace I was trying to push them to move, and my whole body was feeling the toll as I pressed up the sloping paths. Despite the fact that I was alone with no one to answer, as I sucked the last moisture from hydration tube on the descent, I blurted out words of lament as though I had an audience. I knew it was bad. I just didn’t know how bad. By the time I reached the last half-mile stretch before the trailhead my head was spinning. My legs felt like putty and the sun was beating down relentlessly. My exhausted body dropped into the front seat of my car and I grabbed a water bottle that had a couple ounces of water now the temperature of a warm bath. It wasn’t enough. I started down the mountain, but it was a mere three or four turns before the whole scene unfolded.
The altitude, the heat, the intense exertion – it was a perfect recipe for rapid dehydration. I laid in the back of the ambulance with an IV delivering fluids directly into my arm and I could feel everything returning to normal. It was all because of water. My entire body started shutting down and I was incapacitated simply because I didn’t have water.
God designed our existence in such a way that a healthy adult can easily go weeks without eating anything and survive. It will be extremely uncomfortable, of course, but your life would not be at risk. Yet if just two days passed without any water, the strongest warrior would be on the brink of death. It is no accident, then, that this language of living waters appears so frequently in God’s word. My experience made quite graphic what we in the West often take for granted with the many faucets running into our homes: water is life. And we are meant to understand that there is a thirst in our inner man that is just as vital, just as necessary, as the water our bodies require.
As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants 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
Surely there is a river that will make glad the city of our God (Psalms 46:4). There is no metaphor or allegory in play here. It is a real river that is talked about with astonishing frequency in the scriptures, and the water is just as literal as the leaves of the tree of life that we will eat from in the age to come (Psalms 36:8, Ezekiel 47:1-12, Joel 3:18, Zechariah 14:8; cf. Revelation 2:7, 22:1-2). It is also true that there is another kind of drinking that was must partake of as we wait for that glorious Day – the quenching of our soul’s thirst.
In one of the most remarkable self-descriptions in the entire Bible, God calls Himself “the fountain of living waters”. Hear the words from the prophet Jeremiah:
“Has a nation changed gods when they were not gods? But My people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. “Be appalled, O heavens, at this, and shudder, be very desolate,” declares the Lord. “For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water. Jeremiah 2:11-13 (cf.Jer. 17:13)
When Jesus stood up on the last day of the feast of tabernacles and echoed these very words, it was because He was the Lord of glory who had taken on flesh to try to cure humanity of this appalling insanity which we commit day after day (John 7:37-39). My lack of judgment on the mountain pales in comparison with the foolishness of my soul when I try to slake its thirst by drinking from what the world has to offer. Our hearts languish from spiritual dehydration, and we turn the broken cisterns of this present evil age for a bit of relief. Entertainment, social media, shopping, recreation, and food all leave us wanting still, unable to actually wet our parched souls.
My hope is that I, like you and all men everywhere, can find myself at the well of Sychar alongside the Samaritan woman (see John 4:7-14). If we only knew the gift of God! I am just trying to fill my bucket in the heat of the day, and then Jesus comes in His mercy and offers me the prospect of something so much greater. We are thirsty, we are empty, and our Maker invites us to come and freely drink from a fountain that never run dry (Isaiah 55:1, Revelation 22:17). Let us glorify Him today by asking Him for the living waters!