When I am spiritually thirsty–not just from one day of dryness, but from a period of chronic dryness–I literally feel in my body the sensations of thirst. Tightness in my throat and stomach. Irritation. Lack of ability to concentrate. Constant fatigue. For me, spiritual thirst feels almost exactly like physical thirst.
Whether you’re as psychosomatic as me or not, I’m sure you’ve said at one time or another in your life, “I feel spiritually dry.” If you haven’t felt that way before, you probably will at some point. Symptoms of spiritual thirst may include the following:
- lack of energy to do spiritual things, such as be with God’s people, pray, read your Bible, talk about your spiritual walk, or serve other people
- lack of spiritual fruit, such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, or self-control
- cravings for any and every source of distraction, entertainment, or escape that you can find to satisfy the itching, burning, restless feeling inside of you–and a feeling of defeat or frustration (anger?) afterwards as if you’ve been drinking salt water
Tuck this post away (and especially this month’s study guide, which will take you deep into Scripture on the subject) for the day you feel this way. If you’re already there, I hope I can encourage you.
What is spiritual water?
None of this post will make sense if you don’t first know what kind of water our spirits need to survive. The water Jesus claims to give to thirsty souls is the Holy Spirit (John 7:37-39), the very presence of God himself. It’s no accident that, when Adam and Eve were separated from their spiritual source of water (God), they were also sent from a land watered generously by four rivers (Genesis 2:5-6, 10) to live in a land that was physically dry, where they would have to pour their own few drops of sweat into the ground just to scrape by before they returned to its dry dust (Genesis 3:19,23).
The gospel restores water to us, first through the refreshing presence of the Holy Spirit, and eventually, in the new creation, through the restoration of life to the creation we will live in. For us, like Adam, we live in a world where physical thirst is a constant issue. How good of God to provide daily, even hourly reminders of our dependence on him and of our need for his refreshing, life-giving presence. Thirst drives us to the gospel, where water is found.
The good news about water
The Bible not only promises water to those who love Jesus, it also will show you the way to find it. Like any good father, God gives his children water when they ask him (Matthew 7:7-11; John 4:10).
Here’s the good news about water, both the spiritual and the physical kinds:
- Water is life. Of course, you knew that already. But what I want you to think about, when you’re feeling spiritually thirsty, is that God knows it, too. In fact, it was his idea to make life dependent on water. Remembering this helps you to look to the source, to the one who made water, who made you to need water, and who gives water to his creation. This is true in both the physical realm and the spiritual–all life depends on water (Psalm 42:1).
- God controls the water. It’s also true that water can mean death to living creatures. Water out of control–as it was before creation (Gen 1:2) and during the flood (Gen 7:11-12, 17-24)–is not what you’re looking for when you are thirsty. As you listen to Psalm 104 (shared above) you’ll realize that central to the creation account is God telling water where to go, and where not to go, based on how it will sustain the lives of flying, swimming, crawling, and walking creatures–and of the plants they need to eat. Listen to Psalm 104, and notice two things: 1) Water is life, and 2) God is in control of the water. This is true of physical water, and, since God created the physical realm to manifest spiritual realities (Rom 1:20), we can assume it is also true of spiritual water.
- Believers have access to a never-ending water source. The Bible portrays God as a provider of water for his people from Genesis to Revelation, and everywhere in between. (I’m telling you, you’ve got to read through the Study Guide for this month!) The overall lesson of Scripture regarding water is that you need it, God has it, and he’ll give it to those who love him (Deut 11:10-17; 28:15,23-24). Throughout the Bible, starting with Adam and Eve in the wilderness outside Eden, the trouble with us is that we don’t love God. And so, separated from our Source of life, we get dry, like the dust we were made from (Psalm 104:29-30.) But in Christ we are raised from the dust, made alive by his Spirit, and promised a never-ending source of life by his Spirit who dwells in us:
Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)
On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37-39)
According to Jesus’ words, it’s impossible for a believer to find himself in a spiritual drought. Maybe I’m wrong. But it seems to me that the promise of never thirsting again and of water that comes from a spring (implying that it will never run dry) is at its very essence a promise that you don’t need to ever fear of spiritual drought or death again. The testimony of other passages such as Romans 8, which describe the ministry of that “water” (the Holy Spirit) in our lives would affirm this. He’s here to stay. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Pretty good news, if you ask me.
Then why do I feel so dry?
Let’s assume that we can take Jesus quite literally and expect that, through faith in him, we are given access to a never-ending spiritual water source. Then why do we all, at some time in our lives, experience what feels like a spiritual drought?
For starters, let’s not call it a drought anymore. Drought is impossible where water springs and flows. And if you have come to Christ, you have come to that water (John 7:37). It has been poured out on you, never to run dry. So let’s not call what you’re feeling a “drought.” Let’s call it what the Bible calls it. Thirst.
Thirst is a feeling that comes and goes. It’s also, if it continues for too long, a very dangerous condition that might threaten your life. When Jesus says you will never thirst again, he’s assuming that you have found the water and that you’re drinking.
Therein lies the problem.
Whereas the Holy Spirit will never leave you, and his life-giving waters will never run dry, you are prone to wander. The problem isn’t that there is a lack of water (as in a drought) but that you and I are constantly wandering away from the river. We drink, we feel strong, we think we’re good to go, and we go. Thanks for the drink. I‘ll take it from here, God.
Spiritual thirst happens when we stop drinking.
But that’s not the only cause of spiritual thirst. Sometimes you get thirsty because you’re working really hard. Serving, ministering, battling sin, striving for unity with God’s people, being a good witness to the world–all of these are rigorous, exhausting, resource-draining activities that we must do as part of our life in Christ.
Maybe you aren’t feeling thirsty because you’ve done something wrong. Maybe you’re feeling thirsty because you’ve done something right.
But the solution is still the same: come to the waters–EVERYONE who thirsts–for ANY REASON! (Isaiah 55:1).
How to come to the waters
The metaphor of water and thirst is so very, very helpful to our understanding, but it doesn’t offer much in the way of practical application. Okay, we’re convinced we’re “thirsty” and we know how to find “water” but really, I don’t see a faucet anywhere. The only faucet I can see and really get to is the one in my kitchen. But that’s not the water I’m talking about. How can I intentionally access God’s faucet?
More good news! Many of the passages that build our understanding of how God uses water to give us life also tell us how to find spiritual water in the real world, practically speaking. Essentially, there are three things on your to-do list:
- Read the word of God. In Deuteronomy 8, Moses reminds the people about the lesson of manna: “that [God] might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 8:3). But bread can’t quench my thirst, you say. True enough. But bread only happens where water has first flowed (cf. Deuteronomy 8:7-18), and I think the point of the manna lesson is this: you depend on God’s word for life, as much as you depend on food and water. Consider Isaiah 55, in which God invites anyone who is thirsty to “come to the waters.” How? “Listen diligently to me and eat what is good…incline your ear…hear that your soul may live…” Spiritual drinking (and eating) involve hearing from God. The result of this spiritual drink is life: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth…so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth.” Thirsty? Come to the waters. Read your Bible.
- Go to the temple where the water is coming from. The Spirit of God is the “water” we need. He dwells in the temple of God, which is the church–the gathering of believers from every nation from Israel to the ends of the earth (Ephesians 2:19-22). The temple is where the water flows from (Ezekiel 47:1; Revelation 22:1), and that’s where you have to go when you’re thirsty. Before Christ’s ascension, the physical temple was a shadow of the true temple where you and I worship (see John 4:21,23 and Acts 17:24-25 for more on this), but the principle remains the same: go to the temple for water. But my church is as dry as me! you say. This could be, and the way to tell is this: is your church an oasis of the word of God? Is there spiritual manna and rain pouring from heaven each time you hear a sermon, have a discussion, join in prayer, and fellowship around the table? If so, then your church is not as dry a place as you might think. If not, find one where you can drink more deeply. But if you’re thirsty, you cannot give up on the temple of God where the water is coming from. You can’t give up on going to be with the people where his Spirit dwells. David’s “thirsty” Psalm 42 advocates a return to the temple. “These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival” (Psalm 42:4). If the ones who have come to Christ are the “land” where the springs of living water bubble up, go where they are. And don’t be polite. Be thirsty. Tell them you are. Ask for encouragement. Ask them to speak God’s word to you. Ask them for love. Drinking is taking, so humble yourself and drink!
- Draw near to God in prayer. Praying is hard work. This is why sometimes it doesn’t feel so refreshing. But as a matter of fact, of all the things you could do when you’re thirsty, praying is perhaps the purest, most direct way to get water, because in prayer you are going straight to the water itself, which is God. Not that he is less thirst-quenching when you pursue him in his people or through his word. In fact, these “vessels” are often necessary even to help us pray! But nevertheless, when you’re thirsty, pray. And when you’re thirsty, pray like a child who is crawling into the arms of a loving father, not like a soldier who is reporting for duty to his commanding officer. You can’t drain him dry, no matter how thirsty you are. Thirsty prayers focus entirely on him, his protection, his beauty, his love (Psalm 63:3-7). Thirsty prayers are honest, transparent, and humble (Psalm 42:9), even clingy (Psalm 63:8; 143:6). And remember that biblical praying can include worship in song, which is another terrific way to lasso your emotions and command them to drink from God (Psalm 63:7).
I’m doing it all–but still dry!
And this, too, is a possible reality. However, my guess is that you got dry one way or another. And, once dry, it takes time to re-hydrate. When I was hiking 10-14 miles a day in the June heat of Israel’s desert, I learned this lesson. I found that the days I suffered from dehydration were the days after I hadn’t had enough to drink. And I also found that it took a full day of drinking adequately before I felt back to normal again.
Likewise, if you’ve gone a while without drinking spiritually, or if you’ve been overexerting yourself with no refreshment, you may need some time of steady water intake before you feel you’re back to normal again. Don’t give up coming to the water! Keep reading your Bible, engaging spiritually (not just socially) with God’s people, and enjoying God through prayer and worship. In time you will stop feeling dry.
In the meantime, don’t doubt that there’s plenty of water to keep you revived and refreshed, and that you have constant, immediate access to it! You’re not in a drought, you’re walking alongside the river of the new creation–the Holy Spirit of God–every day. The “feeling” of dryness doesn’t always match the reality–you are full of living water!
Here’s a drink
This month I am sharing not one, but THREE songs with you. Well, sort of. They are all from Psalm 104, but it’s a rather long song so I broke it up into 3 parts. Also, please check out the Psalm 104 Study Guide for this month! It’s bursting with Bible readings that will tell you the whole story of water in the Bible, what God teaches us through it, and what it has to do with your life in him through Christ! Good stuff! Drink deep!
You can share the water story with a child or a friend using my Psalm 104 Sharing Guide.
Drink deeply, and I’ll see you in October!