Drink Before You’re Thirsty

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Sarah and I were on a dinner cruise, having a wonderful meal at sunset. Suddenly, I was looking up at the sky, and Sarah was calling my name quite loudly. Why?? What was going on?? A crowd surrounded me, peering down on me. Then I realized I was flat on back, and my chest and head hurt. I’ll never forget the fear and concern in Sarah’s eyes. After an ambulance ride and checking into the emergency room, they ruled out what we feared (heart attack) and confirmed what we suspected: I was dehydrated.

It was all quite embarrassing and humbling. But the physician’s advice was (almost!) worth the whole experience. “Always drink before you are thirsty.” I see a message in those words.

In addition to being sound medical advice, there’s a powerful spiritual principle here. How often have we found ourselves flat on our backs spiritually, failing to recognize soul dehydration until it’s too late?

We live in an arid culture that sucks the spiritual moisture from our lives. When we neglect our regular times of reading scripture, prayer, community worship and fellowship, our spiritual reservoirs drain. We lose spiritual focus, waver in unbelief, doubt God’s love and care, and are smothered by spiritual lethargy. The key is to recognize our thirst.

Psalm 42 (NIV)
1 As the deer pants for streams of water,
    so my soul pants for you, my God.
2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.

Thirst is a consistent biblical metaphor for longing, for desire, for yearning for God. It’s a highly experiential word, especially in the arid and semi-arid climate of Israel. And God promises to quench that thirst.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6 NIV).

Jesus’ promise to the Samaritan women whom he met at the well is the most encouraging of all.

10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”… 13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water [from the natural well] will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:10-14 NIV).

Staying spiritually hydrated means abiding in Christ moment by moment, being filled with the Holy Spirit (see John 7:37-40). What does that look like? For me, a primary practice is continual conversation with the Lord, punctuated often with phrases like, “I need you for this, Lord.” “Help.” “Thanks.” “You’ve got this, Lord, right?!” “Give me what you want me to give this person or these people.”

You don’t have to drink in big gulps. The continual sips add up.

PAIN CHECK Part 2: When pain stops – it’s not back to normal.

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What does it take to get your attention? What does it take to motivate change? What’s your wake-up call?

I left myself in pain at the conclusion of my last blog, so let me briefly share the second chapter of the “Pain Check.”

The back spasms continued through the weekend. I preached three services Easter morning and crawled into my bed-sheet grave as soon as I got home. The next morning, I sent a text to an orthopedic surgeon in our congregation. He put me in touch with the “spine guy” in his group. By God’s grace, I saw him Tuesday morning. The course of treatment included a shot and a round of medication over the next six days. Within a few hours, the relief was amazing. Oh, thank the Lord! After 8 and a-half days of dreading every movement, I could walk, sit and move with minimal discomfort. So, off I went, doing a few projects that had been on hold… (You can see where this is going, right?).

That night, feeling so much better, I was getting ready for bed and moved my leg just the wrong way and– Wham!–that familiar shot of pain went up my back and took my breath away. I cannot express the fear, the anxiety, the regret that overwhelmed me: How could I be so careless? Had I just undone all the relief the initial dose of medication had provided? (More “Pain Check” questions).

I went to bed, fuming at myself for my carelessness, and prayed and prayed.

The next morning there was a measure of relief again. Mercy! I got a call from one of our sons, Peter, who is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, asking how I was doing. I shared the story of the relief and the relapse. And that’s when he “corrected me gently” (1 Timothy 5:1) as only an adult child can do with a parent. “Dad, he treated the pain so you could rest and get relief,” Peter said, “not so you could just ‘go back to normal.’ You need to begin to rebuild your foundation with core-strengthening exercise and learning proper body mechanics so this will be less likely to happen again.”

So now I’m in the process of developing a “new normal.” I don’t want to go back to the way things were. I don’t want to be sidelined by pain and immobility again.

Pain is most often the body’s warning system. In many cases, it signals a need for attention, and often a need for change. For a “new normal:” like proper body mechanics in movement, or a healthier diet, rest, and exercise. And that’s where I make the connection to soul distress. Soul pain is often a signal to pay attention to God, to my inner life, my priorities and perspective. It’s often a call to pursue a “new normal” spiritually.

There are several images for this in spiritual formation. One is “putting off” the old nature and “putting on” our new nature in Christ, as we read in Colossians 3:5-10:

5 So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you… 10 Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. (NLT)

A second metaphor is moving out of bondage/ slavery into freedom, as we read in Galatians 5:1-13.

So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law… 13 For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. (NLT)

When pain comes, be ready to consider the possibility that it is signaling a call to a “new normal.” Put on the new thing– and be free!