What was the impetus for the water imagery in the book's title?
The imagery came out of the passage in John 7:37 where Jesus said, "If any man be thirsty, let him come unto me and drink."
I'm a pastor of a church, and I was noticing as our church was growing, people were busy doing a lot of things, but they looked as tired as people who didn't go to church. They just looked tired; they seemed so busy--you know, we have so many activities, good activities, things they wanted to participate in. And I realized at least in our church, a key segment of teaching had been neglected: the importance of receiving.
And the imagery of Jesus is that he can do for the soul what water can do for the body; he can go where it's cracked and flaky and dusty and he can bring nourishment; he can soften that which is hard. So I got really fascinated by this and began to experiment with it in my own life. I realize, when you drink, you don't drink one day a week for six days' worth. You know, you don't drink 3 or 4 gallons to get you through the whole week, but you take regular sips throughout the day.
And I've tried to develop a practice in my own life of receiving God's moisture and his nourishment, his fluid on a regular basis, taking Jesus literally at his word. It phenomenally changed my own life; I found that I wasn't anxious. I found that it was easier to forgive people, that I didn't have worries; I slept better. What I was doing was on a regular basis, receiving the basic gifts of God, his forgiveness and his drink and his presence. It really changed my outlook; that became a sermon series for the church, which became a book.
In a way, I think that what you're talking about is just good Christian spiritual practice.
Exactly. Uh huh.
Are you saying that you were not doing a spiritual practice?
I don't think I was. I was making the mistake of being a great doer, not a great receiver; very busy but not quenched. And the truth of the matter is, I've learned that you can't give what you've never received. There's no aquifer of love, there's no distillery of faith within me, so I have to receive it.
And this is one of the unique teachings of the Christian faith, that Jesus says that he is a living presence in the world today and that a person who gives their heart to him can tap into his power and then receive. Well, what does a person receive? In the book I try to crystallize these four gifts that God gives us-his work on the cross, the energy of his spirit, his lordship over my life-my day-to-day life, and then his love. And that's spelled "w-e-l-l" which works into a nice little acrostic.
So what I urge my people to do is on a regular basis, I mean literally three, four times an hour, offer a prayer that says, "Lord, I received your work on the cross. I'm forgiven. I receive the energy. The Holy Spirit is inside me. I come strong. I receive your Lordship. You're protecting me. Anything happens, it filters through you first and I receive your love because I can never outlive your love."
Three or four times an hour?
Or more, or more. It helps me to just keep that prayer in the back of my mind all the time. Some days I do well, and some days I don't. But you know, the Bible talks about praying without ceasing or living in a spirit of prayer, and it really keeps you connected to the source. To me, that's what it means to drink, come thirsty and drink.
You and I talked recently about that thirst, the need for the glory of adulation, and so many people do struggle with that. I wonder how that struggle informed the writing of this book.
What I've done--and I think it's a common mistake--is that I've tried to quench my thirst in well-meaning yet misguided ways. There's a passage in the Old Testament, in Jeremiah, where God says, "You have tried to drink out of broken cisterns." They don't hold water. It could be busyness, could be success, could be even another person. One of the things I discover a lot in marriage counseling is the husband or wife trying to get their spiritual thirst quenched by their partner; I think that's a real common mistake that we make.
It's almost like you're living in a different place, you know. It's almost like you discover that all of these attitudes and emotions that troubled you all your life are optional; they're inevitable but they're optional; they are quenchable. You know people just assume, well, all my life I'll be a worrier. That doesn't have to be true. There's a way to drink from God's presence so much that worry begins to dissipate. For all my life I'll be a bigot; my dad was a bigot, my granddad was a bigot, so I'll be a bigot. Well, you know, that doesn't have to be true; there can be a change that takes place.
Much of what you talk about is a version of eastern spiritual practice, which says you have to stay centered.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Practicing the presence, is the phrase. That was a phrase I picked up a long time ago, "practicing the presence of God." Something jumped out of me as I was reading the book; it said in essence that people have an easier time accepting the cross than they do the Holy Spirit. And to be honest with you, I don't feel that way. Tell me more about that. Do you hear that a lot from your congregants?
It could be that we come out of more of a legalistic background where we understand that the Holy Spirit is such a mystical concept. Maybe you're more inclined in a wonderful fashion to understand the secrets and mysteries of the Holy Spirit. My mind is more logical; somebody had to die for me? Oh ok, that makes sense. It's beautiful, powerful, and hard to believe, but I can comprehend it. But the idea that there is the living God inside me, enabling me to do everything that He calls me to do, that to me has been a mystery all my life.
And you hear that from your people?
I do, I do. I may have over-generalized the end of the book. My hunch has been that we Westerners tend to have more difficulty understanding this than people who grew up in a culture that was more inclined to spiritual and discipline.
I also was interested in the chapter about facing death.
Well, again, that's one of the works we can receive from Christ and his victory over death. So when I say, receive the work of Christ on the cross and in the resurrection, as long as I am afraid to die, then I really don't live because I'm always living on the defense. The fear of death can take away the joy of life; the Bible talks about when you were slaves to your fear of death in Hebrews. I think people are like that. If we can understand that death is not the end but is really a transition into the next life, the great part of life, that frees us up into receiving God's courage and his help.
So people in your church say to you, "Gosh, I'm afraid, I know I need to face this, but I'm not ready."
Yeah, and I see that in our culture; our culture faces death at arm's length. When she died, my grandmother's body was in the house of my father. There was a time when there was a wake, when people were brought near to the body--and now we seem to keep it at arm's length. Consequently, I've noticed in doing hundreds of funerals through my ministry that death sobers people, it just sobers people. And if there's no hope, they don't have any explanation for death, that just takes a lot of joy out of it.
One of the greatest gifts we can give people is the hope that their death is nothing to fear--you know, not that it has no fear in it, but the promise of scripture is that God will lead us through the valley of the shadow of death. So that promise gives almost a daily prayer.
Yeah, exactly. If I receive that on a regular basis, you know, in my prayer, in the back of my mind I'm thinking, Lord, I receive your work today, your work on the cross, your work in the resurrection. That means your resurrection is proof and preview of my own and so I don't have to live in fear of death. Imagine the load that lifts off of me. If I'm afraid to die that means I'm afraid to drive, I'm afraid to fly, I'm afraid of what I eat, what I breathe.
I'm not talking about an irresponsible life but a life that trusts the sovereignty of God.