Broken Cisterns or Living Water?

I’ve heard Tim Keller describe prayer as “intimacy with the infinite.” This idea intrigues me—the majestic, infinite God stoops down to hear the cries of his creatures. He comes near. In fact, he comes inside. Intimacy: Into me you see, O Lord.

We are connected in Christ to the mystery of the infinite and the eternal. This is something we just cannot fully grasp while in these mortal bodies. The Preacher of Ecclesiastes exclaimed,

“I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race.  He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end” (3:10-11).

No one can fathom. Throughout history, humans have denied this because of pride. Because Adam and Eve ate of the wrong tree, they thought they had become like God, and we still pay the price. One way that we pay the price is in our tendency to try to make the infinite finite, and the eternal temporal. The prophet Jeremiah lamented over this in the name of the Lord,

“My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewn themselves cisterns—broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jer. 15:16).

Instead of going to the infinite source of all life, truth, and righteousness, we choose religion, idolatry, or human wisdom over simple trust and obedience. We think we can tame, explain, capture the living Lord of the Universe and find peace and satisfaction in this. We can figure out the mysteries of God. This is likened to making cisterns. Cisterns can be useful if they are intact. But the Lord tells us that these cisterns we make are not. They are useless in the end, because they leak.

Jesus uses similar imagery twice in the Gospel of John. To the Samaritan woman at the well, who starts to debate with him about religion, Jesus answers, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water” (4:10).  Dear woman, if you knew the God of infinite supply, you wouldn’t be asking me for a little bucketful!

“Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life” (4:14).

man wearing blue shorts holding vehicle tire facing waterfalls

In the second account, Jesus cries out to the people at the feast in Jerusalem,

“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” John 7:38).

Jesus speaks the language of rivers and fountains. He isn’t interested in cisterns. He is the Lord of the infinite supply. He is the God of eternity. He is clothed in everlasting light, and his ways are past finding out (Job 36:26).

One day we will understand more fully what it means to become one with the infinite, and to enjoy eternal communion with him. We will see beyond the blurriness of the looking glass. We won’t try to satisfy ourselves with little sips out of our broken cisterns. And yet we will still be overwhelmed and overcome by the beauty and mystery of our holy God.

 “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying:

“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom,
Thanksgiving and honor and power and might,
Be to our God forever and ever.


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