Sunday, September 12, 2004

Wetting a Dried Up Sponge: John 4:1-42

A dried up sponge isn’t worth much. At best it’s a minimally effective scouring pad, as likely to crumble as to clean. It's just an annoyingly ineffective abrasive, too rigid to do much good.

But that changes with water. The sponge becomes flexible and, rather than taking on the dirt with its own abrasive force (however little it has), it dissolves the grime, cleaning much more effectively. And if the sponge is fully saturated it goes further, replacing the dirt with a coating of clean water.

We are like sponges
We too have a similar purpose, to clean up those parts of this fallen world under our influence. But on our own, our effectiveness is quite limited. Sure, we can try to remove the dirt around us with the force of our own “dry” determination, and we probably will make some limited progress, but we are more likely to wear down than ultimately succeed. We certainly will not replace dirt with cleansing water. Instead, it is very likely that some of that dirt will end up in our dry, empty, spaces.

So where do we get the water we need?

God takes away dryness
From God.

His eagerness to give it is demonstrated by the interaction between Jesus and the Samaritan woman described in John 4:1-42. Jesus had been doing some hard traveling and stopped, tired in the mid-day heat, for a break in a traditionally hostile area. Despite the fact that he was “worn out by the trip," John 4:6, he reached out to a woman who needed help.

Her life was more than dry; she had a long string of failed relationships and apparently couldn’t relate well to others. That’s probably why she went to the well at noon, when there was usually no one else there.

Jesus went out of his way to give her what she needed, in spite of cultural barriers, John 4:9, 22, social conventions, John 4:9, 27, her skepticism, John 4:11-12, and her incomplete understanding of what she was being offered. John 4:25. The living water Jesus gave her had a wonderful effect on her and those around her. She overcame her social isolation, and without prompting, reached out to her neighbors. John 4:28-29. She went from being an outcast to a person with a tremendous—and very positive—impact upon her community. John 4:30, 39-42.

Nothing had changed in the woman’s situation from the time she came to the well except her meeting Jesus, but that changed everything. He, God in flesh, was what transformed her from the equivalent of a dry sponge to a wonderfully effective cleansing tool, replacing the dirt of the disbelief around her with a sheen of living water that blessed others.

That’s not to say that it was easy or that nothing was expected of her. She had to drop her defense mechanisms, her cultural prejudices, and skepticism, John 4:9, 11-12, and confront her own brokenness. John 4:16-19. Moreover, she had to overcome the downright rude reactions of other, more “mature,” believers, who hardly welcomed her with open arms. John 4:27. But Jesus’ gracious persistence met her more than halfway, and her bold use of the gift He gave her—the real reason God gives such gifts—transformed her and her neighborhood and likely laid the ground work for future blessings. John 4:30, 39-42; Acts 8:5-8.

So what does that mean to us?
So what does that have to do with us? After all, we’re 21st century American Christians, not first century Samaritans.

A lot.

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever,” Hebrews 13:8, and his transforming power transcends ethnic differences, Colossians 3:11, so the chronological and cultural differences between us and her are irrelevant. So is the fact that we already know Jesus as God of the universe, while she was just meeting him. God gives the same living water to people long in relationship with Him that He offered to that then unsaved woman. Psalm 1:2 tells us how God quenches those who already “delight in doing everything [he] wants.” That living water is just as available to us as it was to that broken woman 2,000 years ago.

But first we must admit that we need it. Maybe you’re not rebounding from your fifth divorce like she was, but we are all broken in some respects. Each of us falls short of the really good things God wants from us and none of us can get them without his help. That’s why almost every one of the New Testament writers tells us that we just can’t get it done on our own, Matthew 18:3, 19:23-26; Mark 10:15, 23-27; Luke 18:17,24-27; 24:29; John 3:3, 12:24, 15:4-6; Acts 5:38-39; 2 Corinthians 4:7; James 1:5, 1 Peter 5:6-7, Revelation 3:17-18. The Old Testament also recognizes that dynamic. Deuteronomy 8:17-18; Psalms 33:16-19, 127:1-2; Proverbs 10:22; Isaiah 10:15, 31:1-3. Indeed, Peter, the epitome of perceived self sufficiency earlier in his life, grew to recognize that all who seek to live in God’s power must humble themselves and recognize their own inadequacy before He can lift them up. 1 Peter 5:6. So we have to recognize that, in one way or another, we need God’s grace just as much as the woman at the well.

And we shouldn’t be afraid, or ashamed, to approach God in our dryness. Jesus, as tired as he was, initiated the contact with the Samaritan woman, as estranged as she was. He is even less likely to be put off when we come to him since we already family. John 1:12; Romans 8:14-17; Galatians 4:4-7. In fact, Jesus explicitly instructed us that His, and our, Heavenly Father is eager to give us what we need if we ask for it. Matthew 7:7-11. Jesus’ apostles, his hand picked messengers, expressly tell us to bring our needs to God without hesitation. Hebrews 4:16, 1 John 3:19-22. There is no simply no need to stay dry.

Last, but very emphatically not least, we must put that water to use for God’s purposes. God blesses us so that we can bless others. We only receive His best if we use what He has already given us according to His purposes. Matthew 25:14-23. That living water may well dry up if we don't. Matt 25:24-29.

So the choice is ours. We can live dry, unproductive, and ultimately crumbling lives in our own power, or we can let God fill us with his living water. It really isn’t much of a choice at all.

(Images based on water related themes were posted on September 12b, October 1, November 6, 7, and 10, 2004. A series of four images dealing with a somewhat related theme (a garden hose) were posted September 18, 2004 here, here, here and here.
Images about God providing things we need, but can’t provide for ourselves, were posted September 12a, 17a, and 18c, October 3a, 3b November 6, 10, 21 and 27, 2004 and January 2, 10b, and 10c, June 13 and 27, 2005.
Images about the fact that God blesses us in order for us to bless others were posted September 12b, 18c, and 18d, 2004 and August 27, 2005.)

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