“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.’” —John 7:37-38
The farmer/author Wendell Berry, in his essay “Damage,” tells this story about his work on his farm:
I have a steep wooded hillside that I wanted to be able to pasture occasionally, but it had no permanent water supply. About halfway to the top of the slope . . . I thought I could make a small pond. I hired a man with a bulldozer to dig one. He cleared away the trees and then formed the pond, cutting into the hill on the upper side.
The pond appeared to be a success. Before the bulldozer quit work, water had already begun to seep in. Soon there was enough to support a few head of stock. To heal the exposed ground, I fertilized it and sowed it with grass and clover.
We had an extremely wet fall and winter, with the usual freezing and thawing. The ground grew heavy with water, and soft. The earthwork slumped. A large slice of the woods floor on the upper side slipped down into the pond.
The trouble was the familiar one: too much power, too little knowledge. The fault is mine. . . .
In general, I have used my farm carefully. I have improved it far more than I have damaged it. . . . And yet there is damage – to my place, and to me. I have carried out before my own eyes and against my intention, a part of the modern tragedy: I have made a lasting flaw in the face of the earth, for no lasting good.
I am a damaged man preaching to damaged people doing more damage. And Jesus has called us to disciple Nashville? Yes. He has called us to make it our goal to help everyone in Nashville love Jesus wholeheartedly, go deep in community, and live boldly on mission. He is not just calling us to love him wholeheartedly and go deep in community and live boldly on mission; he has called us to spread that to everyone in our city. No one outside Christ is disqualified from receiving it, and no one in Christ is disqualified from spreading it. Everyone in Nashville is commanded by the King of kings and Lord of lords to love him wholeheartedly and go deep in community and live boldly in mission, and to influence everyone else on the face of the earth to live that way. When we realize what the Lord is calling us to, what we’re really here for, an honest response could be “Yeah, like that’s gonna happen.”
Which is why John 7:37-39 matters. If we think in terms of our strengths and abilities, we’re defeated already. But Jesus is offering us himself. We’re not asking Jesus to help us do what we can do; we’re coming to Jesus for what only he can do. That means John 7:37-39 must come into your experience. What he’s offering here is real.
Every church faces a decision. It’s a choice between being a sandbox and being a river. It’s possible for a church to be a religious sandbox, where spiritual children assemble a little world around them just the way they want it. But a sandbox knows nothing of Christ. He is the man for others. He is calling us to build a church for others, a river of living water flowing from him through us to them. That kind of church has authority. And here’s the wonderful thing. To be involved in his ongoing miracle, we don’t need to be strong. It’s better to be weak, because then we really depend on him, and when we depend on him we do become strong. All you need to feel is thirst for Jesus. And all you need to do is come to Jesus. And he works the miracle in you and through you in others.
I see four barriers to flow-through-ability. The Bible clearly teaches that we can clog and hinder the work of God. We should not see the sovereignty of God in such a way that we think of ourselves as incapable of holding back the blessing of God. The Bible says, “He did not do many miracles there because of their unbelief” (Matthew 13:58), “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God” (Ephesians 4:30), “Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:19), “Do not destroy the work of God” (Romans 14:20). How is it possible for us to hold God back?
One, coddled sin. Not sin. Coddled sin, protected sin, accepted sin, making peace with our sins. The Bible says, “To obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Samuel 15:22). If I am obeying God in one area in order to evade obeying him in another area, even my obedience is covert disobedience. And God cannot bless disobedience. Let’s surrender to God and declare war on our sins.
Two, resisting the Word of God. The Bible says, “Receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21). The humility that welcomes everything the Bible teaches gets traction for newness of life. But setting limits to what God is allowed to say is the opposite of what God blesses. God empowers truth.
Three, lack of faith. Jesus said to the suffering woman, “Your faith has made you well” (Mark 5:34). Jesus said, “According to your faith be it done for you” (Matthew 9:29). A man greatly used by God in the Bible is described as “full of faith and the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5). The Bible says we receive the promised Holy Spirit through faith (Galatians 3:14). The Bible also says, “If you will not believe, you will not be established” (Isaiah 7:9). Works-righteousness pushes God’s power away. But so does nothingness and passivity. The Bible says, “Take up the shield of faith” (Ephesians 6:16). We do not trigger God, but we must engage him as he tells us to, i.e., through the openness and yearning and expectancy of faith, moment by moment.
Four, busyness. We always have a reason to say no to living on mission, and it’s a plausible excuse. We’re so busy! And it will always seem so, and week after week will slip away forever. But if your child were injured, you’d find time to take him to the ER. Why? Because you care. You have a sense of loving responsibility. It’s not really about busyness. It’s about caring. But here in John 7:37-39 is the remedy. Here is where non-flow-through-able people become a living river of blessing to others. It’s when we go back to Jesus and satisfy our thirsts in him.
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.” (verse 37)
Each day a priest drew water from the pool of Siloam with a golden pitcher and carried it ceremoniously to the temple where he poured that water out at the altar. It was an acted prayer to God – for more outpourings of blessing. This was when Jesus said, “If anyone is thirsty for something beyond themselves, let him come to me and drink.” He was saying, “I am your hope. I’m what you’re thirsty for. Wherever you are weak and dry, I am what you thirst for.” Christ is inviting us to come to him and drink him in moment by moment, every day. If we will, living on mission will happen, not because we are adequate but because Jesus will flow through us.
Everything Jesus does he does wholeheartedly. This is obvious from one end of the Bible to the other. In the Old Testament God says, “Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it” (Psalm 81:10). In the New Testament Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Can you imagine any one of our politicians looking into the TV camera and saying to us, “Come to me and drink, and out of your heart will flow rivers of living water”? But that is what Jesus says.
For example, you long for acceptance. You feel your failure. But Jesus says, “Neither do I condemn you” (John 8:11). He accepts sinners through his cross enthusiastically. The Bible says, “He will rejoice over you with gladness, . . . he will exult over you with loud singing” (Zephaniah 3:17). You desire to be valued. Others have treated you poorly. The gospel says that Christ cherishes his own (Ephesians 5:29), like a husband who’s head over heels in love with his bride. You long for hope, you want a future worthy to get excited about, and there have been so many disappointments. God says, “I know the plans I have for you, . . . to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). What you thirst for is significant. And Jesus alone can satisfy the massive desires of your heart. Everything else will break your heart. But Christ says, “My grace is sufficient” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
His invitation is wide: “If anyone . . . .” His invitation is relevant: “If anyone thirsts . . . .” His invitation is personal: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me . . . .” His invitation is simple: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” Isaiah 55 tells us, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!” All we need, to qualify, is thirst and poverty. But we must get up and come. That means we turn away from other offers, other satisfactions, other saviors, other promises. It means we don’t say to ourselves, “I can fix myself.” It also means we don’t say to ourselves, “I will wallow in my status quo.” Neither self-confidence nor self-pity. It also means we don’t say, “I’ll study the doctrine of coming to Jesus.” No, we get up and come to him. How? Obey your thirst. What are you longing for? It’s in Jesus, but purified and real. Given who Jesus is, you have no right to stop short of coming to him, and you have every right to expect him when you do come. Do not seek spectacular experiences. Seek him. Seek to know him. Seek to love him. Seek to live closely to him, moment by moment. Let nothing get in your way. Push everything else aside, get up, and come to Jesus now! If you came yesterday, fine. But that was fine for yesterday. This is a new moment. You need Jesus now. He is here now. Come!
Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” John 7:38
The most unexplored truth in our city today is that Jesus Christ is the oceanic fullness we all desire. In him awaits you not just the noble things you should desire, if only you were a better person. In him awaits you everything you do desire, but in purity and reality. But you have to believe him and come and drink. You have to submit to him – which is, after all, what every false “satisfaction” also demands. Believing is what we’ve already given so many times to money and pornography and status and ego and all the rest. The difference is that Jesus is the only one who forgives us when we fail and the only one who satisfies us when we come. But we have to come, real-time, in living relationship. Don’t just think about coming to him. Come to him. Don’t come to him to get something else. Come to him to get him. And he will give himself to you.
Do you have your own stories of Jesus Christ satisfying you? Do you know from personal experience what he’s talking about here? If not, there’s no point in talking about mission, because for you it’s just one more hassle on your to-do list. But if you will trust him and come to him and drink from him what your heart needs moment by moment, you’ll have something real to give somebody else. Here’s what happens when you trust him and come to him and drink him in. Your heart becomes aware, you have a realization, a new certainty, that you matter to God. He gives you a clear sense that he is yours and you are his. His love washes over your heart, and you feel “How marvelous, how wonderful, is my Savior’s love for me.” Many of you know what I’m talking about. It’s when you really do have something to give to other people. But if that is not your experience, Jesus is there for you. You need to off-load the junk from your life. You need to believe the Bible and take it straight. You need to come to Jesus on a moment by moment basis. But he has given you a promise here. He awaits you now.
We don’t deserve to swim in the ocean of God’s love. We have run after so many lies. But God in great mercy said, “It’s their fault, but I’m making it my problem. I will clear the way for my Spirit to flow out onto thirsty people.” So, what did God do? He went to the cross for us. When Jesus was lifted up on that cross, he proved how far he was willing to go, to remove our sin and pour out his love into our hearts. He didn’t die just to forgive us. He died to fill us with rivers of living water to flow over onto our world today. We’ve all drunk at the sewers – and then come to church. Isn’t it time to come to Jesus himself?
When I was a boy, my family spent a summer in England. One of the castles we visited had a dungeon where the only water for the prisoners had been a little trickle seeping down the stone wall of that cell. Over the centuries the prisoners had worn a groove in the rock with their tongues from licking that drip of water. That is who we are in our modern dungeons of privilege – licking the stone walls and trying to live on mission. And to us Jesus says, “Come to me. I will satisfy you. I’ll even splash onto other thirsty people around you.”
Dwight Moody loved the Lord, but he found in his heart so much that was wrong he couldn’t stand himself. He was walking the streets of New York in 1871, wrestling with God, with himself. God met him on Wall Street. He hurried to a friend’s home to pray. Later he wrote,
Oh, what a day! I cannot describe it. I seldom refer to it. It is almost too sacred an experience to name. I can only say that God revealed himself to me, and I had such an experience of his love that I had to ask him to stay his hand.
Jesus isn’t always that intense. But he always loves sinful, disqualified people who come to him. And he refreshes them so that their hearts flow out to other thirsty people. This is Jesus in the world today. This is our Jesus. Will every one of us say to him right now, “Lord, I am thirsty. I come to you. Satisfy my heart. And use me as a river of blessing to many others in our city”?