There are far more empty cisterns than we realize

Evan Forester —  November 20, 2013

Jeremiah 2:13 is a rather fascinating Bible verse. It boils down all the sins of Israel into two evils: “for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.

I believe we can say the same thing today. All of our sin – our lying, cheating, stealing, pride, lust, sexual immorality, greed, hate, selfishness, and so on are the result of forsaking God and pursuing other means of satisfaction.

This creates a bit of a paradigm shift for me. It means my sin has the same two roots as a murderer, adulterer, and addict. We have each forsaken God, and we’ve each turned to different cisterns to find satisfaction. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the majority of sin (maybe even all of it) occurs because the sinner is seeking satisfaction or happiness.

Living Water verses Empty Cisterns

The great tragedy, of course, is that no sin can satisfy us. The imagery is striking in Jeremiah 2:13. Living in New Zealand has reminded me of how beautiful living waters can really be. We are spoiled here with clear, blue rivers that rush across the entire country. A cistern is meant to catch and hold rain water. They are necessary in many parts of the world, but fresh living water is always preferred to water that has sat stagnant in a holding cell.

God promises us living water!

And yet, God’s people have rejected clear and fresh running water. Living water is available in abundance, but instead they poorly build their own cisterns, hoping to find refreshment by their own devices. And while they may find something to drink, the dirty and diseased water never satisfies. It leaves them feeling empty, sick, and thirstier than ever before.

When you really open up Jeremiah’s metaphor, it seems insane. Why would anyone forsake abundant, clear, and clean water for dirty water that runs out far too quickly? And yet, all of us do it.

Some cisterns I like to build:

Until recently, I thought cisterns were limited to outright sins. God has begun to show me, however, that I run to more than I realized. Here are three examples:

1) Approval of man: I am a people pleaser. I had anxiety issues in high school because of it. My desire to please people still remains strong today – I seek satisfaction in the knowledge that I have impressed people (in fact, I’m probably hoping to impress you with this blog post right now – pray for me!)

2) Self-Righteousness: I want to appear godly. I don’t always desire godliness when I’m on my own, but I want to hear other people talk about how godly I am. Why? Because I seek satisfaction in my own self-righteousness. This is wrong, and frankly has caused me to treat people rather poorly because I thought I was “better” than them. Being godly is a great thing to desire, appearing godly is an empty cistern.

3) Dollar bills: I’d like you to think I don’t believe money satisfies. And really I don’t care about the bills and coins and numbers on my eBank statement. I just want the lifestyle that comes with lots of money – I want to eat out whenever I want and travel wherever I want and not feel bad about it. I just think I deserve a rich man’s lifestyle sometimes. This can sometimes have rather negative effects for me.

Full disclosure: This is embarrassing, but I once spent $130 on a year’s supply of body lotion. It was a luxury item, and I was tired of always saving money and saying no to nice things. So I decided I deserved to have a nice thing or two around. I know my sin nature drove this decision. Why? Because I don’t even use body lotion. I just don’t like the stuff. But for some reason, as I stood there in the mall I decided I deserved the luxury lifestyle and so I handed someone my debit card. I regretted it greatly after two hours, and despite having well moisturized hands for two weeks (before I gave up) it certainly has not satisfied me yet.

The need to demonstrate compassion

All of my thinking has lead me to two conclusions:

1) I need to pursue satisfaction in God alone. It’s not enough to reject cisterns. Rejecting old cisterns along will lead us into new ones, and there is no limit to cisterns we can create. If we hope to move away from our idols, we must turn to the only one who can satisfy us and provide living water.

2) I need to demonstrate more compassion to others: It’s so easy to compare myself to others. “I may need the approval of man, but at least I haven’t cheated on my wife!” I’m not hear to argue that some sins are less heinous than others, but they do have the same root cause. An adulterer commits adultery because he (or she) believes it will make him (or her) happier. In the same way a thief steals for thrill, a murderer vies for power, and a teenager first looks at pornography.

All of us are desperate to find happiness. We want satisfaction and we all look into our own cisterns. Instead of looking down at others who simply want happiness, I challenge you to be like Christ and enter into their world. Don’t join in their sin, and don’t give them excuses to continue in it either. Instead point them to the source of true happiness and fulfillment: God.

Once you’ve tasted living water you know that nothing can be better.

So share the good news: that Jesus offers the life they desire. He is the good shepherd, and he has come that we may have life to the full.

Your turn: What are some empty cisterns in your life?

Evan Forester

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This post was by Evan, an adventure enthusiast learning to #LiveFully in New Zealand. He now writes for Embracing Exile.