Water is important. It is important to us, because without water we cannot live. In fact, our material existence is more than half water. It is nearly as important as air.
Without water you cannot live more than a few days. Without water all the plants and animals would die. Without water, our planet would die. Water is the stuff of life.
The Bible also talks about water a lot.
Earlier in John (John 4:14) we hear Jesus saying – ‘Those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.’
In Isaiah 44:3 God says – ‘I will pour out water to quench your thirst and to irrigate your parched fields. And I will pour out my Spirit on your descendants, and my blessing on your children.’
Isaiah 44 is quite probably one of the passages that Jesus was thinking about when he said in today’s reading that the Scriptures declare that ‘rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’ That is, from the heart of every believer.
Another passage can be found in Revelation 22:1–5, where God is talking about how things will be once evil has been driven out of the world and the new world has arrived. It is such a beautiful part of the Bible. We have in one sense three sections in the Bible. The first few pages tell us of the creation before it became fallen. The rest of the Bible up to the last few pages tells us all about how God has been working to remove evil and restore his creation to holiness. And the last few pages describe the time after he has completed his work of salvation and all has been made new.
And it is in this part, describing heaven, that God says:
‘Then the angel showed me a river with the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. It flowed down the center of the main street. On each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month. The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations. No longer will there be a curse upon anything. For the throne of God and of the Lamb will be there, and his servants will worship him. And they will see his face, and his name will be written on their foreheads. And there will be no night there—no need for lamps or sun—for the Lord God will shine on them.’
Oh what a marvellous future awaits those who persevere.
Always when the Bible talks about this water, it is flowing and bubbling up. It is active moving living water. When Moses split the rock in the desert for the Hebrew slaves so that they could drink, the water gushed out. After they had drunk and filled themselves it kept gushing. It is always continuous and ongoing. We breathe one breath and we need at once to breathe again. We drink some water and even as we breath we are losing water. We need to drink again. But all this time we are not really talking about water. Water is our way of picturing what we are really talking about. And what are we talking about? Well, we can know the answer to that question because the Bible tells us in verse 39.
‘When he said “living water,” he was speaking of the Spirit, who would be given to everyone believing in him.’
Water is the material stuff of life, and the Holy Spirit is the stuff of spiritual life.
Revelation gives us a picture of a river of living water flowing out from God’s throne and giving life and healing to all the people.
Jesus speaking in John gives us a picture that is almost identical and uses the same language of rivers of living water. But there is a crucial difference in the way Jesus explains the river of living water. He says that anyone who is thirsty may come to him and drink. That is, anyone may come to Jesus and be filled with the Holy Spirit. And just like with our intake of water, to come and keep being filled. Keep drinking of the living water.
But Jesus adds in verse 38 that every believer who drinks of the water will himself become a source of that water for others. The living water will flow from the heart of everyone who believes in him. In Jesus words then, when we believe we become the throne of God from where the stream of living water flows.
There is a responsibility for us to allow as much living water to flow out from us as possible to bring God’s salvation to our family, our friends, our neighbours and our enemies.
We are not to fill a cup and then stop. We are to keep on pouring out living water.
You may think that all you need to do is believe. Once you have believed, then the tap is turned on and the living water just flows from you in torrents that feed a thirsty land. The Bible does not seem to support this view. It seems to require our active effort.
We are all ministers if we are believers. As disciples of Jesus, we minister the life of Jesus on earth. God doesn’t lay his hands on the sick, we do. And when we lay on hands or pray then it is him in us who flows out in a river of living water to bring healing.
God’s life, his spirit, is in us, and it flows out of us in power when we pray. We need to continually be filling up with the Holy Spirit, just as we continually need to drink water. And then to pour out that spirit in prayer, releasing God’s power and blessing. We are the ones who wield the sword of the spirit.
Many times prayers are not answered instantly. In fact, it is normal that the answers to our prayers take time. Elijah for example had to pray three times for the widow’s son. Jesus had to pray for three hours in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Let me suggest a way of looking at this that might help you understand the spiritual reality that lies behind these words. There is no limit to the river flowing from God. Something else is also at work. In Revelation 8:3 it suggests that when enough prayer has been collected, then the work can be done.
Let’s read the verse – ‘Another angel with a gold incense burner came and stood at the altar. And a great amount of incense was given to him to mix with the prayers of God’s people as an offering on the gold altar before the throne.’
The angel collects our prayers. When he has enough prayers he mixes it with fire in a bowl and pours it out. This is a picture of how it works. We are filling up bowls when we pray, and when a bowl is full God can mix it with his fire and pour it out on earth.
This is just a picture to show you how important it is for God’s work on earth that you keep filling yourself up with his spirit, and that you keep praying to fill up his bowls.
When God mixes your prayers with his fire, something awesome can happen.
But what happens if your bowl is empty? Or if it is only half full? You may accuse God of not answering your prayer, but God is waiting desperately for you to fill your bowl of prayers so that he can act.
Don’t let this make you afraid. Rejoice that God takes your prayers and makes a river of living water flow from you. God doesn’t need loud prayers or long prayers or eloquent prayers. He is not looking for your energy or your anger. God needs your compassionate and your persistent prayers. Victory comes when you are dedicated, determined, committed, systematic. Plodding, not fireworks.
Finally. Most of us need to repent. We need to say sorry to God that we haven’t prayed long enough and sincerely enough. We need to change from being hearers of the word only to doers of the word.
We need to get busy filling up our prayer bowls so that God can use them.