Wednesday, August 5, 2020 02:57

Springs and Cisterns

no new stuff, materialism, stewardship

Growing up in Ohio, I experienced several ways to enjoy the life-giving blessing of water.  At home we had a well.  It was our source of pure, clean drinking water.  Outside by the back porch was a large cistern for catching and storing rain water which we used for washing.  Not far away some folks were on city water—which we turned up our noses at.  It was chlorinated and fluoridated and generally not fit for anything (at least to hear the small town folks describe it).

But every summer we would go “down on the ridge” in southern Ohio where my mother grew up.  There, just a little way down across the meadow, was a spring.  The sweet, refreshing water just bubbled up from out of the ground.  As a kid, I never completely understood how that happened, but I could taste the difference in the water.

In Managing God’s Money, Randy Alcorn briefly discusses in chapter 6 the ten fatal dangers of materialism.  I will not give equal time to each of his points, but let me mention just the first two.  First, he says: Materialism hinders or destroys our spiritual lives.  In Revelation 3:17, the Christians are rebuked because although they are wealthy (read, “have a lot of stuff”), God tells them they are spiritually bankrupt.  Too much stuff can pile up in front of our eyes and keep us from seeing God and from recognizing our own need for Him.

Second, and this is what I want to focus more attention on, Materialism is a broken cistern that can’t hold water.  The prophet Jeremiah speaks for the Lord announcing condemnation. “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.”

As a child, I remember that our family depended on our cistern for adequate water for doing laundry, washing dishes, bathing, and many other purposes.  During the summer, sometimes the cistern would go dry and that was a big deal.  (To be honest, my parents seemed more concerned than I.  A young boy isn’t all that disappointed if he can’t take a Saturday night bath!)  But nonetheless, a dry cistern was disappointing and useless.

Materialism seems to hold promise for refreshment, meaning, and satisfaction.  But the Lord warns His people it is an illusion.  You can put a lot into that tank—and we in America seem particularly prone to pouring many resources into our stuff—but it will not hold water.  It ultimately disappoints and does not refresh.

“A life centered on money and possessions is not only misguided; it’s utterly self-destructive” says Alcorn.  “It’s not only wrong; it’s stupid.  In stark contrast the Christ-centered life is not only right; it’s smart.  It sometimes pays off in the short run, and it always pays off in the long run” (p. 48).

Looking back on my childhood days, in the long and hot Ohio summers, though sometimes the cistern ran dry, the spring “just across the meadow and down the hill” never ran dry.  Its waters always flowed fresh, cool and clean.  It always satisfied one’s thirst and refreshed the soul.

As I reflect on my years of accumulation of stuff, I have to wonder why so much of it is in the basement instead of being close at hand.  It’s because it’s stuff I don’t often use.  For the most part, stuff I probably don’t need.  It’s stuff that has not satisfied—no matter the price once paid.  Jesus promised “whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.  Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14).  This is the water that satisfies.

Questions:  What do you think of Alcorn’s statement that materialism is a broken cistern that can’t hold water?  What has been your personal experience?

Day 21: NEW STUFF = 0

© 2011, Linden Kirby, Excel Ministries, Inc. All rights reserved. 

2 Responses to “Springs and Cisterns”

  1. Gary Hoag says:

    Linden,
    I have that new book by Alcorn in my "to read" stack, so now I am even more inspired to take it on an upcoming holiday to Ohio (as a matter of fact). My parents are celebrating their 50th. 
    On the "broken cistern" idea, I echo your sentiments and offer this comment: The purpose of God's blessings to us is for enjoyment (1 Timothy 6:17) and sharing (Ephesians 4:28b). Cisterns may catch them, but are broken if hoarding and collecting are the goal. A good OT example of this is manna. Did you ever stop to think that if there were 100,000 people wandering through the wilderness (and estimates actually rise toward one million but go with 100,000 for this example), that God would provide exactly 100,000 pieces of manna. All efforts to hoard (Exodus 16:16-21) were futile. It would rot. The day before the sabbath, however, exactly twice what was needed would fall, and would last the extra day. What's my point? The land was the cistern that would catch enough for everyone to enjoy and share. Any other purpose, is broken.
    Nine more days…you can do it!