We all have them. ‘Yuk’ moments. Some notice them. Some are unaware of them. Some ignore them. Many form addictions in an attempt to eradicate them. What are they? They are those moments when for whatever reason we feel a lack of fulfilment and purpose and a feeling of emptiness washes over us instead.
The Israelites in Jeremiah’s time experienced this. It was as if the miracles, deliverances, protections and presence of God with them in the past had become like vapour in their minds. It was as if the faithfulness of Yahweh in the past and the promises for the future provided less satisfaction for life now than the immediate physical reality of the wooden and stone gods of the surrounding nations. It seemed the past and future provided nothing of immediate value; for them only the present satisfied. So what did they do? They committed two sins: They left God, the spring of living water, and dug their own cisterns (earthen water containers), broken cisterns that cannot hold water (Jeremiah 2:13). Feeling God was not enough, they left the one true permanent stream of life, to drink from the many other temporary sources that they provided for themselves. Leaving the living God for lifeless idols, they abandoned true life for a mirage.
Do we also feel as if the actions of God in the past do not satisfy us now? Perhaps they feel like ancient sands of time that have slipped through our fingers, hard to hold onto, bringing no life to us now. And maybe we feel as if the promises of the future, even though they seem amazing, somehow are elusive, too distant to satisfy us. We feel they are like a shimmering desert mirage, off in the distance. They look great, but we fear that if we start to count on them too much, get too close, reach out to take hold of them, they will disappear into nothingness. No life there we feel. So we dig. We need something now.
Just like the Israelites doubted and exchanged God for other counterfeit options, we are disappointed with the brokenness of the world because we are designed for perfection and perfect relationships. We want heaven. Now! But it’s not here. We want everything to be perfect now. But it’s not. We want no problems, no pain, no crisis, no virus and no worries. We want our own significant, certain, secure and comfortable life here on earth. We want our best life now. Heaven is coming. But it’s delayed. We feel abandoned. We feel as if God has let us down.
So if we can’t have heaven now and we can’t wait for heaven, what happens? We find we are living with ‘yuk’ moments which grow to become an ache in our heart. We have a nagging sense of disappointment with the world, an insatiable longing for more. We are tempted to try anything to either satisfy our longing for more or to escape the emptiness and pain of life. So we go and dig our wells of self–satisfaction. We dig our leaky cisterns of sex or success, of sports or shopping, of Facebook or fashion, of TV or travel, of drugs or pornography, of adoration or alcohol, of gaming or gambling, of Instagram or ice cream, of chocolate or the cinema, of food or parties, of leisure or any other pleasure. And more, more, more, now, now, now, until we are a slave to our unquenchable desire to relieve the ‘yuk’ moments of emptiness and replace them with moments of gratification, no matter how superficial or fleeting. We then find ourselves addicted to a cycle of self–satisfaction, of self–worship, of self–fulfilment.
If we seek to be completely satisfied here and now, through digging wells anywhere other than in our relationship with God, they will leak, and eventually dry up. Yes, heaven is coming. But we must learn what it means to long for a heaven that is not yet here, at the same time to be dissatisfied with this broken world, and also be satisfied that we can find all we need in God, not in our range of alternative broken cisterns.
But we are not in heaven yet. Yes, we have the spring of living water in Jesus, but life in this world here and now, often disappoints. If we seek to be completely satisfied here and now, through digging wells anywhere other than in our relationship with God, they will leak, and eventually dry up. Yes, heaven is coming. But we must learn what it means to long for a heaven that is not yet here, at the same time to be dissatisfied with this broken world, and also be satisfied that we can find all we need in God, not in our range of alternative broken cisterns.
Sara comes from Cambodia, and James from South Sudan, two of the most war–torn and poverty–stricken countries on earth. They are both very good friends of mine, and both pastors of their people. In a conversation over mediocre coffee in a café in Siem Reap, James says to Sara,
You know what the best part of our life is? We started out in life with absolutely nothing. You were discarded by your family and had to beg to survive. I was born in the bush under a tree with nothing, no food, no clothes and no education. Both of my parents died when I was young, and I was treated like a slave by my uncle who raised me. We were both considered by the people of the world to be rubbish. We had nothing when we found Jesus. When we found Jesus, we then had everything. We experienced the absolute joy of knowing him in our nothingness. And now God has blessed us with other things, but it is only the joy of knowing God that sustains us. The richer people, on the other hand, they have so much already when they find Christ. And they often just add Christ into all they have. Many never really experience only having the joy of Christ. They have so many things in life to sustain them already.
Perhaps that is the problem. Those of us with much have confused the abundant life found in Christ, with the good life here plus a dash of Jesus sprinkled around now and then. The Israelites had done similar. They had gone pursuing the good life by chasing other false gods, all the while effectively leaving the living God back in the temple, relegated to hosting a festival now and then. They were pursuing their hidden agendas. They were not finding true life, full life, all of life in God. They seemed satisfied with broken cisterns and unfulfilled lives. Are we?