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Living Water and Broken Cisterns

I think one of the advantages to living in West Africa, in one of the poorest countries of the world, is that it puts you closer to how life must have been in Bible days.  The Bible is a rich, deep book no matter what, but living here brings it to life even more.

Niger is usually one of the last on the United Nation's Human Development Index List.  This list includes a number of things such as access to health care, literacy rate, access to clean drinking water, under-5 mortality rate, life expectancy, etc.  

I was trying to find the official UN statistics on access to clean water in Niger but the internet is so slow and I've already spent too much time on isn't inherently obvious on their site!  My rooting around on the internet indicates that somewhere between 59 and 63% of Niger's population has access to clean drinking water.  If we go with the lower number, that means that 41% of the country's people are drinking dirty water.  Drinking dirty water and not being able to stay clean means more dysentery, more cholera, more typhoid, more guinea worm, etc. which in turn means more deaths of children and a lower life expectancy in general.  It also means that the women and girls who spend much of their day in search of water can't go to school resulting in a lower literacy rate among the female population.  (See this article on how no source of clean water affects all of life.)

The government and non-government organizations such as World Vision and Samaritan's Purse are working hard to install wells in villages and to teach good sanitation.  See for example, this blog by Wells Bring Hope, an organization that partners with World Vision to dig wells.  When we lived where we did for 16 years, we ran a Famine Relief Project for a few years (all credit to John when I say "we"!) and one of the things we did was to help install a well in a nearby village.

Many villages are built near streams or areas that have "lakes", both of which fill up in the rainy season but are dry in the dry season.  
In the rainy season, people will take water right out of these streams or lakes for drinking, bathing, and watering their animals.  They also drink, bathe, and water their animals right on the spot. So there is soap and animal urine and feces in the water. In the dry season when the water is gone, they'll dig down into the ground where the stream or lake once was and pull up underground water.  It isn't very clean, either.

A pot of drinking water
 Many villages now have wells that are closed and which have a foot pump that draws up the water.

 These wells are safe from people falling in and the wells stay cleaner.  As these wells are installed, people are taught how to maintain them.  Many of them have a trough on the other side to catch run off and to keep the area close to the well from getting muddy.  The donkeys have figured out where to come for a drink!

So, you say, what in the world does this have to do with the Bible?

Well, let's imagine that you live in a village where the only water accessible to you is dirty water.  It makes you sick, it makes your kids sick.  You don't expect to live long and you don't expect your kids to live long.  And you certainly don't expect your girls to go to school because you need them to help you haul in water.  Then one day your village is able to dig a well.  Suddenly there is clean water and your quality of life improves.  But you refuse to drink the clean water and continue on drinking the disgusting filthy stuff you pull up from under the stream bed.  You keep being sick, people in your village continue to die from cholera and typhoid and dysentery, and your girls can't go to school.  But you like it that way.

Sounds ludicrous, doesn't it?  Who would actually do that?  Us, it turns out.

I've been reading the book of Jeremiah recently.  And this is exactly what God says we do.  The LORD says, in Jeremiah 2:13, "My people have committed two sins:  They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water."

I've provided you with a well, says the Lord.  A well of living, refreshing, life-giving water.  A well that will never run dry.  It's free and it's boundless. It's Jesus (see John 4:10-13). But you insist on digging your own holes in the ground and pulling up your dirty water.  Water that is barely enough to supply your needs for the day.  Water that makes you sick.  Water that keeps you from advancing in your spiritual life.

How do I forsake the Living Water and return to the dirty water?  I believe it is by accepting Christ, then returning to things I believe will satisfy.  That might include looking for love in wrong ways, depending on a government to give me what I need, believing the world's lies, working to please God through legalism, bad habits, materialism, immorality, following false teachers and their flimsy promises, etc.  The list could go on and on.  In fact, the entire book of Galatians is about a group of believers who returned to legalism.

Now, don't get me wrong.  Drinking from the well of living water doesn't give me the freedom to do whatever I want.  Instead it gives me the freedom to stop doing those things that I think satisfy but that don't really.  It gives me freedom to do what is right because it is satisfying.  It gives me freedom to love the one who first loved me and who took the punishment for my sins.

I no longer have to work to obtain water that really doesn't satisfy.  The last few years that we were in our village we would have no water at our house for three to four months.  I mean not a drop day or night.  So we'd take our water jugs to the public water tap and haul it home.  It was clean water, but it sure wasn't a spring of living water and it was a lot of work.  I think sometimes the water I return to might not even look dirty.  It might seem harmless.  But it's full of amoebas and other microbes that cause disease.

God doesn't want our relationship with Him to be a lot of work.  By that I mean that we don't have to work to earn his favor, to receive his living water.  I think like any love relationship it's a lot of work to maintain the relationship, to keep it growing.  But it is not a lot of work to earn God's love. It's there, and it's free.  Stop working so hard and stop returning to things that don't satisfy!

"If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him."

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