Inevitably, I find myself drinking from the rainwater cisterns of man. You’d think that the bitter taste of the water would help me see that I’m drinking from the wrong source, but I can drink there a while without realizing it. And sometimes, I drink there on purpose and enjoy receiving my satisfaction from what the cistern can give. I find myself craving 3 things: validation, vindication, and veneration. Where will I go to find them?
I want to be validated. I want my life to be substantiated, confirmed, and approved. I want to hear that my life is successful, fruitful, and valuable. I want to know that I’m not a loser. I want to believe that my life counts for something, both in the here and now and into eternity. Yet I easily seek to measure these things by worldly standards. How prestigious is my job? (and this is not just in a corporate America sense, but also for people esteemed by others for their full-time ministry positions). How much money am I making? (especially when the salary goes down at every new turn in life rather than up). Where am I living? (do I own a house, or at least can I rent an apartment, or I am unable to even manage that?) What do other people think of me and say about my life and how successful it is? Do I measure up? But by these standards, it looks as though I’ll never achieve validation. The cistern is broken and the water does not satisfy.
I want to be vindicated. I want to know that the choices and decisions I’ve made were the right ones, especially when they made my life harder rather than easier. I want confirmation that I’m going in the right direction. I want to know that I’m on the right track. Yet again, I look to the circumstances of my life or the chorus of public opinion for the vindication I crave. The cistern is broken and the water does not satisfy.
I want to be venerated. What do people think of me and say about me? As much as I am repulsed and embarrassed by kind acknowledgements, there’s another part of me that likes it. Oh please, don’t embarrass me by saying nice things (err…but please keep saying them!). What twisted hearts we have, the holy and the heinous both residing there. I want to be good enough, smart enough, attractive enough, godly enough, successful enough, etc. And I look to people to feed me what I desire. The cistern is broken and the water does not satisfy.
In its commentary on Jeremiah 2:13, the ESV Study Bible says this: “Palestine has three sources of water: the best is fresh running water, such as flows from a spring or stream, which is called ‘living water’ (Hb. mayim khayyim); next comes ground water, such as might collect in a well; and last is runoff water collected in a cistern…thus in Jeremiah’s image, not only have the Israelites traded the best of water supplies for the worst, but their cistern is broken, with all its water leaked out and nothing but sludge remaining. Their covenant infidelity is not just ungrateful and unnatural; it is also foolish. It leaves them without help in the coming difficult days.”
It reminds me of another woman looking for water. We seem very different on the outside, but perhaps we’re not so different after all. We meet her in John 4, where she meets Jesus. She came looking for physical water, but Jesus changed her life by giving her the living water of salvation and eternal life. In John 7:37-39, Jesus cried out to the crowds to receive this living water, the Holy Spirit who would indwell believers and empower them continually from the inside out.
And faith is not a one-time drinking, but rather, repeatedly going to drink from the living waters that only Jesus gives. It’s continually recognizing the tendency to drink from the wrong place. The cistern will not satisfy my desires for validation, vindication, and veneration. And even if it did, it would just be a pleasant-feeling deception. I have no validation in and of myself. Only in union with Christ and a life-direction of glorifying God does true validation of my life take place. Not in the world’s eyes and according to superficial standards, but in God’s eyes. Better to be considered invalid by the world than to be considered invalid by God, and better to be validated by God than validated by the world. Only in union with Christ will I be vindicated, because I actually don’t deserve vindication outside of Him. I deserve condemnation, but through faith in Jesus, He is my vindication before the Father. And whoever trusts in Him will not be put to shame. So I make my decisions and live my life with an aim to do what I believe is pleasing to Him, as best as any human being knows how to do. Because ultimately, His opinion is the only one that matters. Better to be vindicated in the eyes of God than vindicated in the eyes of the world. And only in union with Jesus do I remember that veneration for myself is not the right pursuit. God is to receive veneration, and I am to offer worship to Him for His worthiness, and live so as to receive His commendation of having been a good and faithful servant. Praise from the world is a lame and pathetic substitute for praise from God.
So may we seek mayim khayyim in the only place it can be found: the triune God.