7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)
10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?”
13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
John 4:7-14 (NIV)
Two things really jump out at me from this passage.
First is the way that Jesus takes a seemingly mundane question, “Will you give me a drink?”, and uses it to open a life-changing spiritual conversation. Jesus was always on the clock. He understood that His job was to seek and to save what was lost (Luke 19:10), and He was about that job 24/7. It didn’t matter where He found those who had wandered off of God’s path, He purposefully engaged them, and did His best to get them back on track.
As Jesus was leaving Earth, He gave this unfinished job of seeking and saving what was lost to us (cf. Matthew 28:18-20, Luke 1:8-9). He has sent the Holy Spirit into His disciples to empower them, and now each of us is to be His witness in our sin-darkened world. And a very effective means of doing that is to talk to the people around us. We don’t have to be “in your face,” confronting people in a belligerent and hostile fashion. Instead, just like Him, we can engage those around us in purposeful conversation designed to give us an opportunity to share Jesus with them. All it takes a lot of the time is a simple greeting to get things going, a little awareness of what the person is doing, or how they are responding, and a willingness to get into their personal space.
Sometimes just asking, “How are you?” like you mean it, and then actually listening to the answer is enough to get a conversation rolling that you can turn toward what God has done in your life. Or you can be a little more clever. One time I asked a grocery clerk, “Hey, did you hear the good news?” His face brightened, and he asked, “No, what?” And I answered, “God loves you and wants to have a relationship with you!” If I remember correctly, it turned out that he was already a believer, but it opened up the door for several good conversations over the following weeks.
The second thing that strikes me about this encounter that between Jesus and the woman was how He described the living water that He was offering her: “A spring of water welling up to eternal life.” This is very similar to what He said later at the Feast of Tabernacles: On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” John goes on to explain: By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. (John 7:37-39 NIV)
The living water is a symbol for the Holy Spirit. And the way that Jesus talks about the Holy Spirit in a believer’s life is much different than many people think about it. Often we seem to look at ourselves as a jar or a cistern for the Holy Spirit. We want to be filled up, but then, over the course of hours, or days, or weeks, He seems to drain away, and we feel empty and in need of being filled up again. We try in vain to cap ourselves off, and seal our cracks so that we can hang onto Him for longer, but eventually we are empty again.
Jesus paints a different picture. Instead of a cistern, He actually paints us as a spring, an artesian well, a rapidly flowing stream, more like a fountain than a cistern; a conduit through which the Holy Spirit flows powerfully out into the world. Yes, we do leak, and we will never be able to “hold onto” a filling of the Holy Spirit any more than a sprinkler will be able to hold onto the water that flows into it. We were designed to leak, because we were designed to have a never-ending flow of the Holy Spirit into and through our lives, Just like Jesus did.
These two insights are closely related. If we picture ourselves as a cistern and the Holy Spirit as filling us for a time, but then gradually leaking out, we will tend to focus on ourselves, and what God is doing IN us. If, on the other hand, we see ourselves as a channel of the Holy Spirit, the means by which He intends to change the world one life at a time, then we will tend to focus on others, on actively engaging them, and drawing them right into the kingdom, looking instead at what God is doing THROUGH us.
With Jesus as both our Savior and our role model, we must see ourselves as a channel of the Holy Spirit, and Him as a rushing river flowing through our lives and sweeping others along in His current. We need to see ourselves as a sprinkler that purposefully allows the Holy Spirit to continually flow through us, so that everybody around us gets wet!