Regardless of the ministry we are involved in, whether we live at home or abroad, Jesus’s offer of “rivers of living water” is hard for us to believe.
Many of us are tired and discouraged, frustrated and lonely, but we still avoid admitting our thirst for as long as possible.
In fact, we may not see our struggles as thirst at all. And when we finally admit that we need help, our independent natures lead us to quench our thirst by redoubling our efforts, self-medicating, or managing things better. We forget that only Jesus can meet our need.
Even when we remember, we may find it so hard to believe Jesus’s offer for ourselves that we walk away. It can’t be that easy!
Those rivers can’t be meant for us! Rivers of water flow by our feet, but we are unwilling to bend low and take a drink.
Others of us struggle to believe and see little evidence of these rivers in our lives.
We are believers, but our living water has been reduced to a trickle. Perhaps we never had much of a flow at all. We may find ourselves in ministry because of our spouse or other influences rather than our own call from God. When these rivers of the Spirit are absent from our lives, we naturally assume that Christ’s offer is not true or that we have somehow missed our opportunity.
It’s either God’s fault or ours if those rivers are not flowing from us. What else could it be?
Actually, our questions and failures create a door of opportunity for us. Our weaknesses can become our strengths because they reveal our need; they turn our focus from ourselves to Christ (2 Corinthians 12:10b). Of course, we can choose to remain weak. We can say that the trickle is all there for us. Weakness does not magically turn into strength.
But Jesus’s offer to the thirsty gives us insight into how our weaknesses can make us strong.
If we are willing, our weaknesses, struggles, and failures can be the flashpoints that awaken us to our need for Christ. When weakness reveals our thirst and we go to Christ, he responds with rivers of living water, an overflow of his Spirit.
When Jesus quenches our thirst with his Spirit, our weaknesses have become our best friends because they remind us of our inability to do anything apart from Christ.
Leaning into our strengths, gifts, and abilities creates an illusion of spiritual competence but leaning into our weaknesses grounds us in our need for the Spirit to produce lasting fruit in and through us. We then agree with Paul: “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).
One dear friend who has been in ministry for many years models these ideas well.
She is a high introvert who often hosts long-term guests. She also consistently volunteers to cook for and host events. All these activities are draining, but she does them with genuine joy and grace.
Knowing her weaknesses well, she schedules occasional alone time to renew and regroup. Instead of using her people-exhaustion as an excuse to say no to ministry, like Paul, she glories in her weaknesses. This friend regularly puts herself in situations where she knows she will feel her need for Jesus so that ministry does not become something that she does apart from the Spirit.
I have another friend who is an amazing doer.
Energetic and efficient she can get more done in a day than I can even think of to do. Her work is a great help to those in need. Yet she has made teaching the Bible a high priority in her life. Although the results have been slow compared to her high-efficiency days, she has seen the fruit of spending a large chunk of her time studying and teaching Scripture.
Doing comes naturally to her. Taking time to work through Scripture with women who are unbelievers or new believers keeps her dependent on the Spirit. She doesn’t feel her need of Christ so much when she is organizing things, but each time she meets with the women in her Bible study, she is keenly aware that only the Spirit can open their eyes and hearts to the gospel.
These women habitually put themselves in situations where they are weak and will feel their need for Christ.
You do not need to convince them that they are thirsty as ministry drains them dry. Although they are normal women with normal struggles, they have learned over the years that only Christ can renew and refill them when they start to feel empty.
Still, for many of us – and even for these faithful women at times – we forget Christ’s promise that if we will come to him with our need, he will fill us to overflowing with this Spirit. Sometimes we are full of pride in our accomplishments; at other times we are discouraged by our inadequacies or lack of results.
Jesus’s voice is easily lost in the din of battle.
Yet his message to all of us, whether we are tough or fearful, managerial or disorganized, competent or frustrated, is simple. He invites us to come to him. Being needy is a normal result of spiritual ministry since we are giving what we cannot renew in ourselves.
Our need for renewal pushes us back to Christ.
Many times, we do not recognize our thirst. But just as when someone hands us a glass of cold water and we say, “I had no idea how thirsty I was!” so is the moment of being in Christ’s presence.
We become aware of our thirst even as he fills our glass and, as water begins to spill over onto the floor, we realize we have water to share.
Jesus promises rivers of his Spirit pouring through our lives.
In the middle of church and kids, language learning and bureaucracy, homework and dogs, grocery stores, oil changes, and the millions of other things that fill our lives, Jesus tells us that rivers of his Spirit will flow through us.
We have odd ideas about what that looks like so we often miss the wonder of it in our daily lives. The Spirit’s flow through our lives is the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control he creates in us to bless those around us. It is the boldness to speak to others about this Jesus we are learning to love and depend on.
His Spirit takes us beyond what is comfortable to places we would not naturally go to share Christ.
Faith does not presume that the flow of God’s Spirit will be predictable and always look the same but believes that when we come to Jesus with our thirst, the rivers of his Spirit will flow from our hearts to the places he wants those rivers to go.
This post is an excerpt from Running on Empty, by Barbara Bancroft.
Author Barbara Bancroft draws from her experience as a missionary woman and pastor’s wife to demonstrate how the gospel must be our message to ourselves as well as others.