This week the Book Stop blog is featuring book excerpts from chapter four of Kay Warren's new book Choose Joy. For background on the book, see the article Kay, Warren, Saddleback Church Co-founder, Helps Christians to 'Choose Joy'.
Kay Warren, Choose Joy, Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, © 2012
Used by permission. All rights to this material are reserved. Material is not to be reproduced, scanned, copied, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without written permission from Baker Publishing Group.
Through the prophet Jeremiah, God tells the Israelites, "My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water" (Jer. 2:13).
Here Jeremiah uses language that his listeners would readily understand. "Living water" refers to the running water of springs that never stops. In Israel at that time, springs provided the most dependable, refreshing, cool, clear water available. Cisterns, by contrast, were large pits dug into rocks that were used to collect rainwater. Not only was the water in cisterns dirty, but it could also easily run out if the rains were light that year. Cisterns were also undependable—if a cistern had a crack, it would not hold water at all.
It didn't make any sense to choose a cistern over a spring. Yet that is what the nation of Israel was doing when it abandoned Yahweh, their God, to pursue false gods.
Just like the Israelites, we—instead of going to God for satisfaction in life—get our shovels and start digging our own cisterns. We believe that our cisterns will hold enough water to quench our thirsty souls. Then we go to those cisterns when we don't have enough joy in our lives, hoping they will produce joy for us.
The problem is that the cisterns you and I dig don't hold enough water to get us through the tough times. They crack and run dry. Rather than turning to God, we just dig a little harder. We drag ourselves out day after day looking for joy in the same place that didn't bring joy the day before.
Larry Crabb says:
People are moving in wrong directions in response to their thirst. They refuse to trust God to look after their thirst. Instead, they insist on maintaining control of finding their own satisfaction. They're all moving about determined to satisfy the longings of their hearts by picking up a shovel, looking for a likely spot to dig, and then searching for a fulfillment they can generate. To put it simply, people want to run their own lives. Fallen man is both terrified of vulnerability and committed to maintaining independence.1
Let me show you how this has worked in my life more than once. I can think of a dozen times when I've had a bad day. A situation is breaking my heart. I'm upset, lonely, scared, and anxious. I think, I've got to talk to somebody. Rick's busy. I'll call my friend. She'll listen to me. And I dial the number of a friend. She listens and gives me great advice. She even prays with me. She shares the Word of God with me. It helps for a moment. But after I hang up, I find myself feeling anxious again. I'm still thirsty.
I decide I need to distract myself. I turn on music I really like. It works for a little while. My mood lightens a bit. But then I remember why I was feeling anxious. I'm thirsty again.
Food! Food will help! So I start foraging through the refrigerator. I find last night's roast and potatoes and carrots, and it all tastes so good. But I'm still thirsty. Chips! Chips and salsa! Chips and guacamole! Chips and ANYTHING will fix what's bothering me.
After a few minutes of mass chip consumption, I've got a stomachache, but I remain anxious. Still stubbornly focused on alleviating my thirst, I think, Chocolate! Nothing can stand in the way of chocolate. So I get out my stash of candy. But within minutes I'm feeling that familiar ache again. God, why am I still so thirsty? I'm stuffed! I've talked to a friend. I've distracted myself. So why am I still thirsty? And by the way, why won't you help me? I am trying my hardest to be joyful, and I can't understand why you stand there and do nothing.
I've been trying to dig my own cistern. I've picked up shovel after shovel after shovel in my attempts to find joy. And clueless to the fact that God will never help me dig my own cisterns, I get bitter and angry at God.
God may use other things and people in our lives to give us water. But he won't help us dig our own cisterns. Not because he's mean, but because he knows that the cisterns we dig will leave us thirsty and dry. He puts his efforts into drawing us back to himself, back to the living water he offers.