One of my friends got me into watching this TV show called Naked and Afraid. It’s basically the most intense survival show out there. Survivalists, people who are extensively trained in being able to stay alive in the most punishing situations, apply to be on the show, to see if they have what it takes.
And here’s the premise—one male and one female, both survivalists who are complete strangers-- are dropped into some remote area in the world. They have no clothing, no food, no water. They are allowed one object—usually they pick something like a knife, or a fire starter, which they have in a crude tote bag. But that’s it. For 21 days, three weeks, they must try to work together to survive. There is a very small camera crew that follows them during the day, and at night they document themselves on a hand-held camera. The crew is only allowed to intervene in a life-threatening situation.
Usually, the first thing the survivalists do is try to build some sort of shelter. They do this with varying degrees of success depending on how they get along and what is available. Then they try to figure out a plan for water and food.
Many times, they are unable to figure out water for a few days because it’s really hard to find drinkable water. And if you know anything about survival skills at all, you know that you can’t just drink any water you find. You can get really sick from drinking unpurified water. You typically have to boil it to make it drinkable. Which of course, means being able to make and keep up a fire first.
And because finding water and making it drinkable can be hard, many times the people on the show end up without water for a few days before they figure out what to do. You can’t survive without water very long. Anyone know how long you can typically go without water….? Three days. Food, you can actually go three weeks without, although your body will really not like that. But water—you need it pretty quickly.
And watching the people on this show go thirsty is rough. You can actually hallucinate when you are dehydrated for days. And you get so thirsty that you do things to get water that you wouldn’t normally do. Sometimes one of the people would end up drinking water that they haven’t purified first because they are so desperate and so thirsty. And then they can get pretty sick. Sometimes they get so sick that they have to leave the show to be hospitalized and their survival partner has to carry on without them.
It always fascinated me that their extreme physical thirst became so consuming that they sometimes drank whatever water they found, no matter what the consequences would be—even though they were trained survivalists! They knew better. But their thirst was so extreme that they couldn’t afford to care anymore.
We may not have experienced an extreme thirst like that, but we all know what it’s like to be thirsty. After working out, or being outside on a summer day, or just forgetting to drink water for a while—we know the feeling of a dry throat, dry mouth, needing that drink of water.
And according to Isaiah, we hear that God offers us water, free of charge. “Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters, and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”
How great is that?? Free water, free food, free milk and wine. Free drinks for all!
Physical thirst is a very real thing, and that’s clear in the promise that God makes in this passage from Isaiah. But the thirst and hunger that he talks about is more than just those physical needs.
He writes God’s words: “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live.”
We hear twice, God saying “Listen to me”. In fact, God says, “Listen, so that you may live.” It’s not just physical thirst Isaiah is talking about—it’s spiritual thirst. Thirst for God. And we need God, to live.
Sometimes we know we thirst for God, like that extreme physical thirst the survivalists experience in Naked and Afraid. We can sometimes be in a spiritual desert, where it feels like God is absent and we desperately need God.
Sometimes we don’t know even know we are thirsty for God. We are doing OK, and don’t feel like we need anything more.
One of my friends has a son who is a toddler, named Owen. And if you’ve ever had a toddler around, you know they get into EVERYTHING and make themselves very busy, even when you don’t want them to be!
Well, this kid lives hard, plays hard. And then when it’s time to eat, Owen sits down and gets handed a sippy cup. And every time, this kid chugs the contents of the cup like it’s his last drink on earth. He was really thirsty, but he was so busy that he didn’t notice until he had a chance to drink!
So even if you don’t know it or feel it, you are still thirsty for God. Like Owen, we may be so busy that we don’t even notice how thirsty we are. But we all have a God-shaped hole in us that longs to be filled. We sometimes try to fill it with other things, but as we heard in Isaiah, only God can fill it. Only God can satisfy us, satisfy that emptiness. Saint Augustine said “"You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you."
We all have that longing for God to fill that emptiness, that hole—but we may not notice it until someone or something brings it to our attention. We need God pouring into us, relieving us of that thirst. And only God can do that.
In the fourth book of the Chronicles of Narnia series, The Silver Chair, C.S. Lewis writes about a young woman named Jill. She and her friend Eustace are in the woods, and they get separated. Jill is wandering in the woods by herself, for a very long time, and gets very thirsty. She searches for water for a long time, until she finally finds a stream—but stops dead because the Lion is next to the stream. In Narnia, the Lion is Aslan, and anyone know who he is supposed to be? He’s supposed to be Jesus. So this is what it says in the book:
“But although the sight of water made her feel ten times thirstier than before, she didn’t rush forward and drink. She stood as still as if she had been turned into stone, with her mouth wide open. And she had a very good reason: just on this side of the stream lay the lion.
…“If I run away, it’ll be after me in a moment,” thought Jill. “And if I go on, I shall run straight into its mouth.” Anyway, she couldn’t have moved if she had tried, and she couldn’t take her eyes off it. How long this lasted, she could not be sure; it seemed like hours. And the thirst became so bad that she almost felt she would not mind being eaten by the lion if only she could be sure of getting a mouthful of water first.
“If you’re thirsty, you may drink.”
…For a second she stared here and there, wondering who had spoken. Then the voice said again, “If you are thirsty, come and drink.”…It was deeper, wilder, and stronger; a sort of heavy, golden voice. It did not make her any less frightened than she had been before, but it made her frightened in rather a different way.
“Are you not thirsty?” said the Lion.
“I’m dying of thirst,” said Jill.
“Then drink,” said the Lion.
“May I — could I — would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill.
The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl.
…The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.
“Will you promise not to – do anything to me, if I do come?” said Jill.
“I make no promise,” said the Lion.
…“I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.
“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.
“Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”
“There is no other stream,” said the Lion.
It never occurred to Jill to disbelieve the Lion – no one who had seen his stern face could do that – and her mind suddenly made itself up. It was the worst thing she had ever had to do, but she went forward to the stream, knelt down, and began scooping up water in her hand. It was the coldest, most refreshing water she had ever tasted. You didn’t need to drink much of it, for it quenched your thirst at once.”
So even though Jill is desperately thirsty, she is almost too scared to drink the water that the Lion, Jesus, offers her. But even though she is terrified about what will happen, she eventually drinks, and it was the best water she ever had, and quenched her thirst almost immediately.
Jesus offers this free water to us, as well. This story between Jill and the Lion is the story of our own spiritual thirst, wanting God to fill us and satisfy that thirst that only can be filled by God. “There is no other stream,” the Lion said to Jill. We are only able to satisfy that thirst through the water that Jesus offers us.
In John 7:37, Jesus says, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” And then John explains: “Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive…”
The Holy Spirit is that “living water” that Jesus talks about. We are thirsty, and Jesus offers us that drink—to be filled by the Holy Spirit, to have God literally poured into us. Reading the Bible, worshiping in Christian community, being in prayer with God—and listening and being open to God while doing all of these things—opens the door for us to be filled with the Spirit. And Jesus offer this filling of the Spirit freely.
And we have to constantly keep being filled. Someone once asked the famous preacher D.L Moody “Brother Moody, are you filled with the Spirit?” He answered, “I am, but I leak!” Even a world-famous preacher needed that filling of the Spirit, over and over. We fall back into bad habits and forget to listen for God, all the time. But then Jesus is there, offering that drink of living water, that filling of the Spirit, again and again, whenever we need it, whenever we are thirsty.
Let us pray. Loving God, we are thirsty. Even if we don’t feel it, we are thirsty. We are thirsty for you. We thirst for your loving presence in our lives, we long for it. We thank you for your son Jesus, and that he offers us that drink of living water, the Holy Spirit. We pray one of the oldest prayers of the Church: come, Holy Spirit. Fill us with your presence. Fill that emptiness, that God-shaped hole that we have. Quench our spiritual thirst. Fill us until we are overflowing with your goodness and love and bursting to go out into the world and tell others about the good news of Jesus Christ. Fill us with your Spirit, Lord. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.