Have you been to Honduras? To Ecuador? To somewhere in Africa? If so, it WILL be a question you or someone will ask at one point before your trip: CAN I DRINK THE WATER?
Guess what? The quest for potable water recurs many times in John’s gospel too.
I actually considered this question to be the title of the book I wrote on missions. Because ... you get it. If you are a sponsor (or partner!) of mission trips you know that plenty of them are in third world countries -- areas where the truth of living water is essential, right?
Let's talk about that.
What I'd like to do with you first (yet quickly) is to contrast the characters and circumstances in Jesus’ interviews with Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman. Come on; it'll be fun!
Old Nick was one of the ten magistrates (or 'senators') who had the principal authority in Jerusalem under the Romans. And he had a good question!
“How can anyone,” said Nicodemus,
“be born who has already been born and grown up?
You can’t re-enter your mother’s womb and be born again.
What are you saying with this ‘born-from-above’ talk?”
(John 3, MSG)
My quickie Nicodemus character study: I like the way that guy thinks! ;-) I can be a sceptic, too. And I'll bet he was even humourous about it, possibly said it tongue-in-cheek! And like I said, HE HAD A VALID QUESTION!
God Himself in the flesh said this with Nicodemus, who was having a hard time with belief. Let's look at what he said to Him as interpreted by The Message:
This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him. John 3:16-18
And Jesus said this as He was at that very moment, introducing Himself to Nicodemus through water.
THE WOMAN AT THE WELL WHO HAD A LOT OF 'HUSBANDS:'
Okay, who knows if she was actually THAT loose - I mean I don't know if she was loose enough to be called a 'hooker' (although I've heard plenty of sermons from scholars that aid that opinion of her). It doesn't matter; she still posed an equally legitimate question.
“How come you, a Jew, are asking me,
a Samaritan woman, for a drink?”
(John 4, MSG)
Jews and Samaritans did not really get along. The women and men in this culture ordinarily kept a safe civil distance from each other. So she was doubly surprised when Jesus invited her to drink. When she commented to that effect, he instead offered her ... living water.
“Everyone who drinks this water will get thirsty again and again.
Anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirst—not ever.
The water I give will be an artesian spring within,
gushing fountains of endless life.” John 4:13-14
I can hear her possible mental response: "Umm …. thanks?" Perplexed, but piqued, she asks about this miraculous water. His answer? His answer was wrapped up in proving to her that He knew all about her.
So let's talk about this water and why it offers God's 3-in-1 (sound familiar? *wink*) of The Most Important Lessons About Mission Work.
THIS WATER OFFERS INSIGHT INTO REAL LIFE
So what can we learn from Nicodemus? What can we learn from the woman at the well? The key is that both instances, whether the approached or the approachable, Jesus offered BOTH characters an insight into ... real life. Both listeners were allowed to understand what it means to start over.
Jesus uses WATER to explain both to Nicodemus and a desperate woman, what life is “all about.”
We know John 3:16, right? "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son ..." The truth that has been the motto of Christians everywhere. It is really easy to forget where we first heard it because it has been such a part of our walk as believers. It is even easier to be unaware of what was happening when HE first shared it.
I hope that's what you believe. And if you know anything about the people you are going to touch, water is certainly a good place to start with them too. You can offer them physical AND spiritual thirst-quenching water...
THIS WATER OFFERS INHERITANCE
Remember the verse from the same chapter where Jesus met Nicodemus. It has been on several mission t-shirts I have seen teams wear gregariously off the aeroplane. And they are typically trying to look inconspicuously unlike North Americans (*wink*).
Hey, maybe it's even on yours!
It is John 3:30:
"He must become greater; I must become less."
His message for YOUR mission trip is clear, no matter where it is, at home or abroad: you must humble yourself so that HE may be seen.
A wonderful message for any missionary (anywhere they are) is to share the news that drawing near to God is also knowing that one day, their body will be perfect -- but only through Him. Your flesh and your heart may fail, but God is the strength of your heart and your portion forever. (Psalm 73:26)
If you are a sponsor (or partner!) of mission trips you know that plenty of them are in third world countries -- areas where the truth of this verse is essential.
Because God is their portion too.
And what a glorious heritage we have! IN. CHRIST. JESUS. That being said, check out this awesome video from The Bible Project to explore the “water of life” theme through the biblical story and see how it leads to Jesus, who presents himself as the one bringing living water to a world that is desperately thirsty.
YOU AND THE PEOPLE YOU ARE SERVING HAVE THAT SAME INHERITANCE!
This hope is such a great message to share with the impoverished that as a child of God, they will one day have a new and perfect body.
They won’t be hurt or be subject to pain or illnesses.
They will be made perfect through Christ to live forever with Him.
The moment we are born, we inherit that wickedness nature that comes from the disobedience in the Garden of Eden. Right? So plainly put, because of sin, our bodies are no longer perfect.
So what is a Christian's inheritance in Christ?
When anyone accepts the gift of salvation through Christ, they inherit the kingdom of God.
And this is something YOU already know. We become God’s children, and because of that, we can look forward to all that He has for us today and in eternity!
As you think of your own culture today, what things are unique to it? To you? Does your culture enjoy sports, cooking, or perhaps going to the lake? Do you have a unique greeting or ways to express your love for one another that is unique to your culture (and this doesn't have to be a whole national group of people -- this can be your FAMILY!)?
As part of God’s family, we know that He will work all things together for our good.
So what is the 3-in-1 lesson about mission work? You got it. Water. It's a mission work object lesson that isn't an object you can hold in your hands unless it's in the tangible water held in a bucket.
This intangible water is water that offers insight into what YOUR inheritance is all about, water that then transformed your life, and water that you can offer to others.
We know that one day, He will remove all the struggles and pain we have here on earth. And He will quench all spiritual thirst. No matter who or where you are. And however you plan to share on your mission, you are sharing this 3-in-1 truth:
He offers you water you can drink. Trust that. But there is so much more to the kind of water He offers. He is the one true Shepherd, Savior, provider, and friend. He is always good, kind, loving, faithful, and just.
See, He knew "who" they were ... and He knew "how" to reach them. Take some time, missionary, and spent it finding out how best to reach your people too.
Not sure if God can use you to share this truth? There are ways to find where your skills, experience and gifts intersect with God's redemptive plan to meet the real needs of real people on the mission field. Check them all out. ;-) But ultimately, talk to God. You can trust Him to teach you what it means to be a missionary.
I hope you continuously ask Him to be the strength of your heart, a river of "living water" who lives out the inheritance you have been given and seeks ways to share that joy with others ... no matter where you are.