The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
May 31, 2020 – Pentecost
John Piper gives an illustration for comprehending the greatness of God’s gift in pouring out His Holy Spirit:
The Nile River’s Aswan Dam houses 12 huge turbines for the production of hydroelectric power. With their 10 billion kilowatt-hour capacity, they use the Nile’s waters to send out enough energy to light every city in Egypt.
While the dam was being built and even while its reservoir was filling, water was allowed to pass downstream to drive, as it always had, the mills along the Nile’s banks. But once the power of those turbines started working its wonders, that previous gift of power amounted to nothing in comparison.
Prior to Pentecost, the Holy Spirit had given life to all people and blessed God’s special servants with special power. With Pentecost, there was such an incredible expansion of the Spirit’s working to send forth God’s light that, for all intents and purposes, it was as if the Spirit had been given for the very first time.
In today’s scripture Jesus is in Jerusalem for the celebration of the eight-day festival called the Feast of Booths. The climax of this festival occurred on its last day with a ritual that involved pouring out precious water before the Lord as a sacrifice of praise.
Jesus draws from the imagery of that ceremony to make the most wonderful promise: that God will for us pour out like water His very life. This great gift will both quench our deepest thirst and put into us “rivers of living water”.
Jesus makes an invitation to His listeners, saying, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me, drink.” Jesus knows that some of them have imbibed the sweet nectar of the best this world has to offer: wealth, success, influence and comfort; but He also knows that people could drink their fill of that heady brew and still feel thirsty and unsatisfied. We all have seen people gulp down drafts of pleasure, prestige, achievement and entertainments; and remain painfully parched in the throat of their soul.
Admitting our unsatisfied thirst moves us to seek a drink of what God is pouring. That’s why Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” When we recognize our unfulfilled longings and get in touch with our need of God, we turn to the One who in His very Person can quench our thirst for life at its best.
Jesus promised, “Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty”. The Apostle Paul – who well knew, for example, physical thirst, the thirst for greater accomplishment in his mission and the thirst for the company of those dear to him – experienced how quaffing the waters Jesus pours and satisfying thereby our deepest desires enable us to endure the deprivation of lesser desires and to remain true to our highest priorities. That’s why Paul could write, from jail and under constant threat of execution, “I have learned to be content with whatever I have.” Paul could be content “in any and all circumstances” because he found his ultimate thirst satisfied through the Spirit.
Living in the Spirit makes us, not just content, but also powerful. Jesus says, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water”. We can ride their currents and be carried by them to places we could never reach on our own.
I think of the alcoholics delivered from their addictions by the Spirit’s power, of the touchy folks enabled to control their hair-trigger temper by the Spirit, and of me more and more freed from character defects such as impatience, worrying and self-centeredness.
Yet, if we mean to make use of this strength beyond our own, we must employ the strength we have. If we want to avail of the Spirit’s greater power, we must apply our meager power to take hold of it – or, rather, to let it take hold of us.
I often think of the spiritual life as like canoeing. It is magic to be seized by the current of a river and ride its mighty power; but, unless I keep an eye on where it is going and use my paddles to keep in its flow, it does me no good. It may roll on, but I will just drift – and soon enough end up stranded on some sand bar.
I don’t determine the course of the Spirit’s currents. I just discern their course and adjust to their movement and direction. I discern their course when I study God’s word, pray for God to show how to proceed, listen to the counsel of the saints, and obey God’s will fully wherever I’ve already discerned it.
It is really good news that I don’t have to do it all, especially when I can’t do at all the most crucial things. But, if I don’t do what I can, I become dehydrated and too weak to stay in the Spirit’s flow. So, day after day, I must choose to drink from the Spirit’s living waters for refreshment and contentment, and follow the Spirit’s currents for empowerment and fulfillment. Won’t you join me?