THE DEHYDRATED CHURCH
Is it possible that the church has lost too much water and is suffering from the symptoms?
One day a few years ago I conducted a whistle-stop guided tour of Galilee. Those who have visited are awestruck by the sights, undifferentiated from the short years that Jesus walked the hills and, when he felt like it, the lake. It was 43 degrees and, so the tour guide said, unusually humid. I could have coped with all that, but I had also woken up with the Worst. Migraine. Ever. Like being kicked repeatedly in the head and made worse by the speed with which we dehydrate in such heat. I wandered round Galilee in a daze, impervious to my surroundings, craving oblivion; one of those followers of Jesus who wasn’t healed by the lake. Hey ho.
Jesus said, let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. The Church is described as the body of Christ, a metaphor we don’t push as hard as we should. Is it possible that the Church is dehydrated? The symptoms of physical dehydration include light-headedness and loss of focus, tiredness, loss of strength and stamina. Don’t some of our churches manifest the kind of headache I endured, unable to relate to the world outside its skin because the internal pain is too great?
While Jesus calls the world to drink deeply from the springs of his Spirit, waters to quench any thirst, we spend most of our time guzzling sugar saturated fizzy flavoured drinks – cans we think relieve our thirst but only deepen it, creating dependency. The world is full of these alternatives to the water Jesus offers and people choose them. Sometimes we choose them.
But there is also dehydration which happens because we are doing the right thing: expending ourselves on others. Dehydration occurs when the body loses more fluid than it takes in. When we minister, power goes out from us as the Gospels suggest it did from Jesus. There has to be a way of replenishing the power of the Spirit within us, for if we do not allow this, the rivers of living water which Jesus says flow within us will slowly dry up.
Those who minister have two particular duties which express the love we are called to have for ourselves. The first is the conscious adoption of a Sabbath rhythm of work and rest. Some push themselves ever harder as a sign of their commitment to Christ. As we are called to work out our own salvation, that is, to inhabit our particular life in a way which is honouring to God, it can be difficult to challenge others who feel it is their calling to work themselves into the ground. I learned early in my Christian life about the Victorian missionaries who made a virtue out of this and assumed it must be right. Then somehow the penny dropped that God rested on the seventh day. If the creator of endless space voluntarily limited himself to a period of rest, perhaps it was a mark of my discipleship, of my obedience to Jesus, to do the same. Not just obedience but a sign to others of how a person can flourish in Christ.
The other duty we have to ourselves is to seek to be filled with the Holy Spirit regularly. This precious gift of God, to be filled with his being, is open to all and a vital resource for those who are giving out in God’s name. The notion of being spiritually dry can be attributed to many things and sometimes to none that we can identify, but it may simply be because we have not asked God to fill us with his Spirit much. In this way, we dehydrate spiritually.
The global Church celebrates Pentecost once a year but we should be Pentecostal people, eager to be filled daily with the living water. Without his presence in us, God seems ever more up there and us ever more down here, with a vast chasm between us and too much Christian work is conducted this way.
This replenishing with the Holy Spirit is not a functional transaction, like one of those quick stops at the petrol station where we try to make the calculation whether we will get to the till before the person who drew up alongside us, so quickly do we want to re-start our journey. It is to sit down in the presence of our Saviour, to eat and to drink with him until we are changed by the experience.
Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.
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