A lonely stream brings a green trickle of life to an otherwise brown, dry, dusty and dreary desert scene.
This aerial photograph of a beautiful slice of the Arizona desert shows how important water is for life. In the background you can see evidence of erosion cut into the green-red-yellow rock. It is a beautiful place, but a place where signs of life are few and scattered.
The average rainfall for the entire state of Arizona is just over 13 inches, and most likely much less where this picture was taken. Making matters more difficult for life to thrive in the Arizona desert is the fact that there is little to no topsoil to hold water, so the little rain that does fall quickly runs off or evaporates.
On the left hand side of the picture you can see a lake. At the end of the lake is a small stream that carries a trickle of water through the valley floor. Even though this stream barely flows most of the year, it brings enough water to nourish a thin ribbon of green that cuts through the heart of the brown, dry, dusty desert. With beautiful red rock cliffs in the background, it’s the kind of place that would be wonderful to visit, and looks pretty on postcards, but isn’t likely a place you would want to live.
The scriptures use the stark contrast between dry, dreary, dusty deserts and luscious waterways to describe the difference between living an abundant life in light of God’s love and the difficulty of living without the hope that comes through Christ. Is it then any wonder that God chose to use water in baptism so that we could be reminded daily that He has given us life through the gift of His Son?
He poured His life out for us on the cross. Baptismal water pours His life over us and into us when Holy Spirit given faith enters our hearts. How fitting it is to daily remind ourselves that just as water brings life even in the driest deserts, that God’s love poured out for us on the cross and poured over us in our baptism gives us life! Through daily confession and the gift of forgiveness in Christ, we grow in His life. Even when life is difficult, hope dries up and death threatens us, we live confident of the gift of everlasting life.
If Jesus is the living water the world needs, He is well represented in this picture by the lake full of enough water to impart life to an otherwise dead desert. We, the people of God are represented by the green living things fed along the stream as it wanders through the wilderness. The stream is the Church which carries living water into the world that desperately needs it.
The desert pressing in on all sides of the green ribbon of life represents many whom, living in the dry desert of hopelessness that sin has ushered into the world, don’t know the wonderful gift of life in Christ. Apart from Christ, they are literally dying of thirst for the One who can quench their spiritual thirst with life-giving waters that well up to eternal life. As Jesus told the Samaritan woman in John 4:13-14, He freely gives living water to all. Yet, in order to receive it, people need to be connected to God in Christ through the ministry of the Church.
And yet many of the baptized seem content to idly drink deeply from the well of salvation without sharing their life-giving water of God’s love with others. We convene lots of church meetings and hang out with our Christian friends and go to lots of worship services in our quest to get more of Jesus. These activities aren’t bad, they’re all good. But if we are so involved in the church, so inwardly focused that we aren’t reaching out to our community, then our life in Christ is much less than it should be.
Christ’s life was spent outwardly focused on others. If we are only inwardly focused on ourselves, and what Jesus can do for us, we lack something. We lack a measure of God’s love that is only experienced when we selflessly focus on others.
In light of this illustration, what should the people of God be doing? Well, like any tree or shrub seeking to thrive, we should put our roots as deep as we can into the soil and be filled with as much living water as we can. But we don’t only stretch our roots towards the stream, we put them out in every direction, knowing that this water has the power to penetrate deeply into the desert, bringing life into the lives of those around us. When our thirst has been quenched, we grow, we thrive, and those around us are brought the water of life.
This is how the Church works. This is how individual Christians grow. And this is how God, in His infinite wisdom, has chosen to pour living water into the desert of sin and death that is the world we live in.
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad;
the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus;
it shall blossom abundantly
and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord,
the majesty of our God.
Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who have an anxious heart,
“Be strong; fear not!
Behold, your God
will come with vengeance,
with the recompense of God.
He will come and save you.”
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then shall the lame man leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.
For waters break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water;
in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down,
the grass shall become reeds and rushes. (Isaiah 35:1-7, ESV)