Thirsty for the Water of Life
Just before He gave up the ghost at His crucifixion, Jesus uttered the words “I thirst” (John 19:28). There’s no doubt that He was physically thirsty. But was there also a deeper symbolism behind His thirst? Did this reveal His deepest longing for His father’s presence, the soothing and comforting presence of the water of life, the Spirit of God in what was His most desperate and agonizing hour?
And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely (Revelation 22:17).
What is this water of life and how can we get it freely? The Bible often likens our craving for relief from life’s hardships to a physical and spiritual thirst. It uses the image of the water of life or living water as a metaphor for God’s Spirit, which brings us the comfort and respite we yearn for. Water is crucial for sustaining human life. Around two-thirds of our body weight consists of water, and it serves a variety of vital functions, such as:
You can live without food for up to one or even two months, but only for about three days without water. And it’s our sense of thirst that prompts, almost forces us, to desire fluid intake, especially water, in order to fulfill the need for hydration.
I tell you now, I know a lot about being thirsty because I’ve been battling thirst all day every day for more than eight years of my life, the whole time I’ve been living on kidney dialysis. Why? Because one of the consequences of kidney failure is losing the ability to pass urine. So I haven’t urinated for years. Any fluid I take in, rather than being eliminated from my body by my kidneys, has to be filtered out of my bloodstream during the dialysis treatments I have three times a week. Because there are limits on how much water my body can handle between treatments, and how much can be filtered out during dialysis, I’m restricted to being able to drink only two moderate cups of any kind of fluid per day. So I constantly struggle with thirst. And when I have a drink, I make sure I enjoy it and I savor every drop. During summer especially, I long for more cool drink, but I can’t have it. When I’m around fresh water, like a swimming pool, a river, or a stream, I just want to dive into it, immerse myself in it and revel in it just to feel some sense of refreshment, even if I can’t drink any. This constant struggle with thirst has taught me some spiritual lessons about the human condition and our desperate need for God. Just as my body yearns for relief through drinking water, so does my spirit long for respite from life’s daily struggles by drinking in God’s Spirit. The writer of Psalm 42 shared similar sentiments when he wrote the following:
As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God? (Psalm 42:1–2)
The illustration in this Psalm is of a severely distressed person who likens his desperate need for God to a deer wandering through dry land searching for life-giving water. Have you ever felt like that? Do you feel like that now? The water of life, the living water that God provides will give you the relief you need. And thankfully, there’s an unlimited supply; He pours it out freely to anyone who wants it. Jesus so desperately desired to get the people to understand this that He virtually shouted it out to them in the middle of a heaving crowd at a religious festival.
On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive (John 7:37–39).
The water of life, the living water, is the Spirit of God. And those distressing feelings in times of weakness and trouble are symbolic of your spiritual thirst for the Spirit of God. So how do you get this living water? By coming to Jesus, by taking time to get alone with Him to read His Word and pray. That’s how you get refreshed and refilled, rehydrated with the cool waters of His Spirit. And once you get spiritually refilled then, as that scripture says, out of your heart will flow rivers of living water that can overflow on to those around you so that they too can have their spirits refreshed by the Spirit of God.