“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.”—Jeremiah 2:13
This past week I had an experience I’m sure many of you will be able to relate to. I was frustrated about something, and my frustration was aimed partly at other people and partly at God. If everyone else would just do what they were supposed to, I thought, things would be fine. It was early in the morning, so I sat down to read my Bible and pray, but my heart wasn’t in it. It was the time and place I normally do that, so I was having a quiet time out of discipline, but not out of joy. The truth is that I didn’t really want to spend time in prayer, because I suspected that if I did God would take my bad mood away, and I didn’t want Him to do that yet, because I was still enjoying it. And I didn’t want Him to change my heart, I wanted Him to change the situation. But my good habit won out over my bad attitude, and I opened up the Bible and began to read.
Guess what happened? 30 minutes later my heart was full of peace. First, God showed me why my attitude was wrong and my frustration was unjustified. So I had to repent of that. Ugh. Then He reminded me of how many good things He has done for me and how good my life is. Suddenly my whining seemed a little pathetic, and it was replaced with genuine gratitude. Then I began to pray for the things I was facing that day, and He gave me fresh motivation to do what He has called me to do. I even got to the point that I was praying for the people I had been frustrated with. I saw how hard it must be to be in their situation and what a heavy burden they carry, and soon my heart was full of nothing but love for them.
I sat down grumpy and got up refreshed. I started out thinking I needed certain things to happen, and was reminded once again that all I really need is God.
I once had a theology professor say something that I’ve never forgotten. He asked our class to give him a definition of the word “sin.” What is sin? People gave him all the usual answers: things we do that are morally wrong, things that are against God’s rules, things that offend God, things that hurt others or ourselves. He said, well, yes, those are all sinful things, but where do they come from? What is at the root? Why do we do those things? And then he gave us this definition of sin: “Sin is seeking meaning, purpose, pleasure, or satisfaction apart from God.” Any time we think we can get what we need by turning our back to God and looking elsewhere, that’s sin. When I try to create a life for myself and leave God out of it, that’s sin.
Now, obviously, that definition would fit the person who has rejected faith in God and is living in rebellion against Him. But what about those of us who claim to have faith? As believers, how often are we guilty of this? How often do I face a problem and turn everywhere but God for the solution? How often would I have to admit that it’s not really God’s solution I’m looking for, because I’ve already decided what I think needs to happen? How often do I tell myself that I will be truly happy if I have more money or more of a certain type of experience? I can say I love Jesus, and yet be hoping and planning for a future that is focused completely on the things this world can offer me.
Through the prophet Jeremiah, God told His people they were guilty of two sins: First, they had forsaken Him, the spring of living water. God is the source of all real satisfaction, all real joy, all real life. But His people say, “no, thanks,” and turn their backs to look elsewhere. Then comes the second sin: “and they have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” The ultimate slap in the face to God comes when I turn away from him and start believing that something else can satisfy me, and that new thing is a pathetic substitute. It’s something that will leave me disappointed every time. It’s not worthy of my trust, my hope, my worship.
Something in my sinful heart lives in denial of the fact that it’s God I really need. Not getting my way or winning the argument. Not more money. Not a new pleasure. Not an empty accomplishment. Just God. The Spring of Living Water. The source of love and joy and peace and satisfaction. I want to get better at remembering to say: “God, it’s you I really need.” When life is frustrating, when I’m tempted to sin, even when everything is going great and I’m surrounded by blessings of every kind: “God, it’s you I really need.” This week, let’s not turn to God as a last resort. Let’s not dig our own wells. Let’s seek satisfaction the one place it can be found.