Wells or Cisterns?

I remember one of the greatest highlights each summer as a child on our West Texas farm was when my father would start hooking up the irrigation pipe to water the fields.  Water was a big deal out there. We had no lakes or ponds. There were no crashing sounds of waves from the ocean or consistent experience of rainfall. When the cold, fresh well water gushed out of the pipe, it was an exciting moment.  I would stand there and listen for the water coming through the pipe as Dad would turn on the pump at the well-house. You could hear the air popping and burping out of the line and as the water came closer to the outlet you could feel the cool wind surging out.  Then whoosh! Gushing out of the pipe would be wonderful wetness. The water was so cold you could barely stand to be in it, so I would run in and out, splashing around and enjoying the feeling of being refreshed.

Interconnected with this wonderful experience was yet another much anticipated event.  We had an old livestock watering tank in the center of one field. It was rectangular in shape and made out of concrete.  On the bottom corner was a drain spout which we plugged enabling us to fill it with water. The tank served as our summer swimming pool; however, before we could use it each year, our mother insisted on disinfecting it by scrubbing it down with bleach.  Even though there were no livestock in the area actually using the tank, Mom wanted it sanitized before we filled it with water and set so much as one toe inside. As a child, I never understood why no one stopped me from jumping straight into the water coming out of the pipe, yet I was not allowed to jump straight into some water in a concrete tank.  What I did not comprehend was the difference between fresh and stagnant water.

In the Bible, we read about holes dug down into rocks called cisterns.  Typically water would be drained (during the short rain season) or transported to the cistern to supplement the supply during the dry months.  Wells were also dug but different in the respect that they were extremely deep reservoirs. In the upper section of the well there were openings for natural springs to flow from, thus filling the lower reservoir.  Hence, cisterns had to be manually filled while wells were naturally fed by flowing water.  

It was not uncommon for cistern water to develop a thick layer of scum on the surface, which required the people to literally ‘drop’ their bucket to break through the sludge to get to the water beneath.  Eventually the water would become undrinkable if not replenished with a fresh supply. This is because water that is not flowing becomes stagnant. Moreover, cisterns would eventually run dry either from not being replenished or from cracks that would develop along the walls.  Wells were different. As long as water was continually being removed, the source would replenish the levels, thus refreshing the stock.  

Where do we get our water from – our spiritual water?  Do we dip into the stale pools of sectarian dogma or do we drink from the fresh, flowing, living water of Christ Jesus?  Do we cart our doctrines in and pour them into static, leaky holdings or do we allow the river of God to stream healthy teachings into our presence?  In Jeremiah 2:13, God states, “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. 

How do we know when we have traded the river for the dormant hole?  It is when people come to us who are suffering with the pain of a sin-filled world and we attempt to apply our beliefs and teachings.  The person who is being crushed under the weight of a divorce could care less whether of the methodology of worship. The person who is in the final stages of cancer ravaging their body finds no reassurance in whether someone uses systematic theology.  The person whose body is convulsing from the withdrawals of addiction sees no relief in ministerial boundaries. The person immersed in grief and loneliness to the point of suicide sees no relevance in dogma, tradition, or ritual.

Do all the things we concern ourselves with in our doctrines and issue oriented arguments hold a cup of fresh water for the person who is dying in their thirst for relief?  Do the net results of all our debates make any difference to the person who is in anguish? The question must be answered – does it matter?  

When Jesus met a woman who was drowning in her misery, He did not offer her a cup of rules and regulations.  He extended a drink of His “relief.” He said to her, “but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”  

Living water means growth.  Living water means healing. Living water means liberation.  It is constantly moving (a fountain) and being renewed.  One of the greatest features about this refreshment is we do not have to go somewhere and haul it in.  God personally brings it to us. “I bring near My righteousness, it is not far off; and My salvation will not delay.” (Isaiah 46:13a).

We thank You Lord for supplying what we really thirst for.  We ask for Your forgiveness for the cisterns we have carved and subsequent abandoning of Your will.  Please give us new life Lord. Flood us with precious streams. In Jesus’ name, amen.

-James Sterling