Rivers of Living Water

Today’s reading is John 7:33-39Open Link in New Window

Here is today’s reflection by Richard.

Water—it is as they say, is the stuff of life and without it, we would not live long. In this country we take it for granted that we can turn on a tap any time and have safe drinking water. Perhaps next time we have a drink we might spare a thought for the 1 in 3 in our world for who don’t have regular access to clean safe drinking water and sanitation.

Because of where we live, we are rarely really thirsty unless we have been unprepared.Can you remember when you were last really parched?For us as a family it was on a walk in the summer in the French Alps, we had one bottle of water between 4 of us and had taken a wrong turn and had subsequently run out of water. I will never forget that feeling when we got to a café—I think I downed a litre of water in a matter of seconds. I have never made that mistake again.

In our Bible reading today Jesus is at the Festival of Tabernacles one of the three main feasts, the others being The Passover and Pentecost.The Festival of Tabernacles had a dual purpose.

  • Firstly, it was a reminder of God’s provision during the Israelites’ 40 years in the desert following their escape from Egypt. During the festival people lived in temporary structures or booths to remind them that they had been homeless wanderers in the desert.
  • Secondly, it was a harvest festival on a grand scale to thank God for his provision and goodness to His people. The rules of the Festival are set out in Leviticus 23Open Link in New Window and they are quite specific.

    On the last day a priest would draw water from the pool of Siloam with a golden pitcher, then carry it back to the temple and pour it into a silver bowl next to the altar, accompanied by musicians and choirs. As the priest poured out the water he would pray to the Lord to send rain.

It is in this context that Jesus declares (v37 and 38) ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.”’

If you read chapter 7 without knowing the context then Jesus words appear quite random—why was he talking about water? As always, Jesus uses illustrations from everyday life and his daily encounters.

You may have spotted the similarity between these words of Jesus and those spoken to the Samaritan women at the well in John chapter 4. You will remember Jesus asked her to draw water from the well and in the ensuing dialogue Jesus promised that he could give her ‘living water’. She asks where can she get this living water? His reply in verse 3 is: “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

We have to remember that life in Jesus day was tough. It was a hot dusty country where water was a precious commodity. The idea of never being thirsty again is very appealing to a woman who had carry water from a well on a boiling hot day.But of course Jesus is referring to belief in him being the source of eternal water or eternal life.

It is easy to read this passage and only concentrate on Jesus being our salvation. I confess that for years I have done this… but to do so is to miss half of a very important point. The second part of the promise, having received the water of eternal life we in turn become springs or rivers of living water which in turn will lead others to eternal life

John who is narrating the story explains what this means in verse 39. “Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”

The water in other words is the Holy Spirit dwelling in each believer. John wrote this after Jesus death, resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. When John says ‘there was no Spirit’ it does not mean the Holy Spirit did not exist until Pentecost; it was just that believers had not received the Spirit until that point.

There is great abundance in Jesus words: “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.” You will notice it is not a trickle but a great volume of water—imagine the greatest river you have seen.

It is worth noting this outflow from our ‘heart’ is a modern translation. The original word used koilia really means “stomach” or inner most being. This was considered the seat of emotions in Jewish thought.

It is from this deep place comes this Spirit filled outpouring which blesses those we encounter each day.

When you really think about it, if we all lived lives like this then the world would be transformed around us. This should raise questions for each one of us:

  • Is this our experience?Are we so full of the Holy Spirit that God’s goodness is affecting the lives of those around us?
  • Are we in the words of the hymn attributed to St Francis—a channel for God love and peace?

One of the wonderful aspects of walking in hills and mountains are the streams and rivers that flow from them, sometimes ending up in cascades and waterfalls.

Some of this of this ends up being bottled a long way from its source. An advert of a bottle of water in front of a picture of the Alps, Brecon Beacons or the Highlands of Scotland does not translate into a wonderful experience when you drink the water.

Each day we have access to the Holy Spirit of God in our lives. He eagerly desires to make us more like Jesus. He wants to pour His goodness on us to overflowing, like streams in the mountains. However do we metaphorically bottle the Spirit and only release His power in our lives when it suits us?

Bottled water eventually gets stale, it has a use by date. Without the constant flowing through of the Holy Spirit we can become stale and dare I say ineffective in our Christian witness to the world. One of our previous vicars, Mat Ineson, used to say; we needed to ask for a fresh infilling of the Holy Spirit each day.

Let us get into the habit of doing just that—saying a simple prayer at the beginning of the day. Here is a suggestion:

Lord fill me with your Holy Spirit, use me in your service this day.

I can guarantee if you pray that prayer every day, you will be someone from whom living water will flow in abundance.

God bless

There will be a video version of the service.

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