One of the things which made Jesus’ teaching so effective was His use of the ordinary. He was able to use the common and usual to illustrate profound spiritual truths. The truths had always been there, but nobody had thought of them quite that way before. Or, to put it another way, Jesus gave new meaning to ordinary things. Who could ever look at a flower or a sparrow in quite the same way after hearing Jesus talk about them?
Sometimes we become so used to our environment that we lose sight of the lessons we can learn from the ordinary. It’s only when we are confronted with a different set of circumstances that we realize just how blessed we’ve been. The following tales are adapted from some journal entries I made while on a mission trip.
Consider the source
“Water is one of those things we in the West often take for granted. Just turn on the appropriate tap depending on whether you want hot or cold. If you want a drink, take it right from the tap. As with most things out here, the water situation requires a shift in thinking. Unless you’re a local, drinking right from the tap is unthinkable, and risky even if you are. Fortunately, bottled water is plentiful and reasonably priced. Presumably, bottled water wouldn’t be so commonly available if a great many people didn’t see the need for it. But the concept seems to go only so far. We were at the airline office the other day to confirm our tickets. While waiting for our number to be called, I noticed that there was a water cooler in the middle of the room. I thought it was rather considerate of the airline to provide safe drinking water for its customers. What made me do a double-take, however, was the communal glass on top of the water bottle. Nobody seemed to think it was any big deal. Lots of people used the glass, seemingly as the usual and normal thing to do. Now, maybe I’m missing something here, but doesn’t using a communal glass, sort of negate the benefit of drinking bottled water? Especially, the same glass as people about whom you know nothing? Who knows what sort of diseases the person who drank right before you might have?”
In the Old Testament, God calls Himself, a ‘fountain of living water.’ (See Jeremiah 2:13, 17:13) Jesus also spoke of ‘living water’ when He promised the Holy Spirit to His disciples (John 7:38-39). If ever there was a source of pure water, surely that is it. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that we not only have to consider the purity of the water, but also the container from which we drink. How many spiritual diseases have I picked up because I’ve drunk from a container encrusted with bad habits, unsanctified cultural bias or unscriptural tradition?
Do I even consider the source from which I drink? The Apostle Peter warns that there will be false teachers even in the church (2 Peter 2:1). It’s interesting that Peter goes on to say that these people are “springs without water.” (2 Peter 2:17 NIV) If I’m not careful about checking out the source, instead of a refreshing drink of living water, I can easily swallow deadly poison.
In contrast, knowing the source gives confidence about the purity of the teaching. Paul wrote to Timothy, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 3:14-15 NIV)
A free gift
“Back home, if a faucet drips we usually get the thing fixed fairly rapidly. Out here I have seen faucets left running full bore onto the floor, for hours – to no purpose that I could see. One would think that in an area which experiences water shortages that there would be a public consciousness about such waste. But more than that, and even lacking such a consciousness, what I can’t understand is why such waste wouldn’t make a drastic difference in the water bill. In a poor household you’d think that every effort would be made to shave the utility bills down to a bare minimum. Perhaps they pay a flat rate no matter how much water is consumed?”
However, when I think about it, the running faucet illustrates God’s generosity. There is no shortage or lack with Him. He pours out His blessings on us without measure. God is lavish with His gifts. He pours them upon us. “…God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit…” (Romans 5:5 NIV) In the context, the pouring out of God’s love involves Christ’s death on our behalf. How could anyone be more generous than that? The Apostle John describes this love as ‘lavish.’ “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!…” (1 John 3:1 NIV)
James mentions another aspect of God’s generosity. “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” (James 1:5 NIV) What I especially appreciate about that verse is that God not only gives wisdom, He doesn’t begrudge it. He doesn’t accuse or find fault. He generously and lavishly gives what we need.
But what about the water bill? While Christ does tell us to ‘count the cost’ before deciding to follow Him (see Luke 14:26-33), he doesn’t make us pay for salvation itself. There’s nothing we can do to earn it or even deserve it (Ephesians 2:8-9). It’s Jesus who paid the price. “The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.” (Revelation 22:17 NIV)
Then, there’s the matter of water temperature…
“Mr. C. pointed out that water pipes aren’t insulated out here. Since water heaters are often located some distance from the place you want the hot water, this means you have to run the water for quite a while before it gets hot. Not only does this waste water, it also requires more of whatever fuel you use to heat the water.”
In the summer you have the opposite problem. Because of the long, unprotected water lines, you have to let the faucet run a while in order to get cool water. Combined with water shortages (there are lots of times when there is no water at all) this can make for some very uncomfortable bathing.
It’s interesting that Christ uses the metaphor of tepid water to describe us at times. He had this to say to the church in Laodicea: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3:15-16 NIV)
Hmm… The next time I can’t get the temperature right in the shower, maybe it would be good to ask myself what the temperature of my spiritual life is. Am I just coasting along, going with the flow, trying to get by with a minimum of effort, or am I really ‘on fire’ for God? Can Jesus stomach what I’m doing, or is He ready to ‘spew’?
The prayer of a righteous man…
I don’t suppose that any Christian would dispute that prayer is important. Yet, in the West, we sometimes view prayer with a certain measure of skepticism or unbelief. The whole concept of prayer, particularly intercessory prayer, runs a bit counter to the rationalism which has shaped so much of our culture. Many are more than a little uncomfortable with passages such as James 5:14-18. This is an area where we can learn from the faith of fellow believers in other cultures. However, when the Bible’s teaching on prayer has not been fully understood, or it’s layered on top of pagan concepts, it can result in some interesting situations…
“We’re often asked to pray over people. After the assembly where we spoke the other night a lady brought a bottle of warm water to me. At first I thought she meant it for me to drink during the common meal which was about to be served. Though appreciating the sentiment, I wasn’t about to oblige as the water was obviously not of commercial origin. Fortunately, the lady explained her real intent before I made too big a fool of myself by refusing something meant for my enjoyment. She explained that her children were sick. She wanted me to pray for them and, in addition, to bless the water which she would then give them to drink. No doubt the blessed water would effect a cure. Well, I did pray for the children but I did not bless the water. Since I am not at home enough in the local language to pray in it, I prayed in English. I really don’t know whether this poor woman, who was in all sincerity trying to do what was best for her children, thought the water had been blessed or not. I’m sure she didn’t understand a word of the prayer, so very well may have left with the impression that I had complied with her wishes. It was another of those situations, which seem to come my way quite often, which leaves you feeling rather foolish and uncomfortable and wondering what you should have done differently. Among other things, I found myself left with a theological conundrum: Granting the woman’s presuppositions regarding blessings, (which, by the way, I don’t) would a blessing counteract the effects of tainted water? Supposing the water to be tainted, to what extent am I an accessory to the crime of giving it to her children to drink? I don’t have answers, and I doubt that there are answers in situations like this. About all you can do, is do the best you can under the pressure of the moment. God have mercy!”
“Though there are times when there are water shortages out here, there are also times when there is entirely too much water. A few days ago, we had torrential rains. Now I really don’t know whether the drainage is inadequate, the drains were blocked, or a combination of the two. But the next morning when we got near the place we needed to be, there was raw sewage running down the street. It was flowing up out of a manhole and covered the entire width of the street. There was no alternative but to walk through it to get there. Lovely. We not only had to walk through it, we got to smell the effluent the whole time we were there. Doubly lovely. As a matter of fact, we’ve had to walk through sewage several times to get to where we were going. You know, it’s really not surprising that people get sick out here. What’s amazing is that anybody is well.”
There’s a parallel between the situation with the sewage and a lot of the spiritual information and teaching that’s given these days. People sometimes wonder why I’m so persnickety about doctrine. After all, there’s a lot of truth in what we hear from radio preachers and what we read on various websites. So what if a little is wrong? What’s the harm? Well, I suppose that the same could be said about the sewage I walked through. It was probably about 98 percent water. It’s not the water that I object to, it’s that other 2 percent. It takes very little to taint or pollute the whole. In terms of total volume, by far the greatest portion of the sewage was composed of something good and wholesome. But mix in that tiny percentage of pollutant and it was transformed into something vile and deadly. In the same way we should evaluate what we hear and read not only by the amount of truth it contains, but by the falsehood that is in it. “Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 NIV)
Scripture gives us two reasons why we need to concern ourselves with the purity of the message we accept. Peter expresses the positive side of it in 1st Peter 2:2, “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation…” (NIV) We grow when we feed on the pure and wholesome.
On the other hand merely coming into contact with some teaching places us in mortal danger. Jude writes, “…to others show mercy, mixed with fear–hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.” (Jude 23 NIV) We need to handle some teaching with the same precautions and care as we would the clothing of the victims of cholera or other highly contagious diseases – or which has come into contact with sewage!