I recently had the privilege to cycle the winding roads and rolling hills of Sonoma Valley, California. As our bikes cruised the wine country, bright green vines dripping with burgundy grapes popped against the sandy, bone dry hills littered with scrubby bushes. The drought made the wildfires quite a threat, and fires spread rapidly.
Bone-dry seasons of ministry happen to nearly all of us. These are the seasons when you tap into the living well of Scripture only to leave feeling like your parched soul barely sipped at God’s fountain of delights.
During a recent spiritual drought, I grabbed my journal and stole away for some much-needed prayer time. In written words, I confessed just how very tired I was. God patiently listened to my whining thoughts, and then the still, small whisper fell as gently as the rain outside the window: “Broken cisterns.”
I flipped to the second chapter of Jeremiah and cringed at the title: Israel Forsakes God.
I kept reading.
“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” (Jer. 2:13 NIV).
Though Jeremiah’s words were not easy to hear, perhaps they revealed the reason for my weariness. Perhaps they might shed some light on the reason for yours, too.
The Problem with Broken Cisterns
Trying to get broken cisterns to hold water is like filling up a tire with a nail hole in it. It may appear to hold air, but in the end it’s a pretty pointless exercise and a waste of time.
In the arid climate of ancient Israel, the scarcity of springs made it necessary to collect rainwater in reservoirs and cisterns. Receptacles called cisterns were used to collect rainwater directed from irrigation canals. First came the backbreaking work of digging ditches and setting up cisterns. Next came the long wait for rain to fall so water could be collected. Finally, imagine walking up to the cisterns to discover that nearly all the fresh water had drained from the cracked receptacles. What a recipe for frustration and weariness!
The Israelites’ broken behavior in Jeremiah 2 was equally pointless. By turning to idols, they’d grown weary, just as my broken behavior had invited near burnout and weariness in my own life. God’s rebuke to them might seem harsh at first, but only for a moment. “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:11). Greater freedom awaits any child of God who is willing to acknowledge her sin.
Are you returning again and again to a behavior or source for strength and stamina instead of carving out time to let Jesus meet you at the well of His living water?
Here are a few practical ways to embrace freedom and minister from a place of fullness by forsaking your broken cisterns.
Forsaking Broken Cisterns
1. Recognize your broken cistern.
Reflect on which cisterns you turn to. Write them down, and ask God to help you resist the temptation to turn to these “gods who are not gods at all” (Jer. 2:11). The enemy of our souls, who’s fluent in his native tongue of lies, can easily entice us with quick-fix cisterns that don’t hold water. Let’s take a look at a few.
When you feel depleted, dry and empty, where do you turn?
- Bingeing on books, TV, movies, or video games
- Bingeing on news
- Food, especially sweets or fatty food with empty calories
- A friend or spouse who’s an especially good listener
- Excessive fussing over seemingly urgent but unimportant tasks (housecleaning, yard work, etc.)
But wait . . . fitness? Reading books? Cleaning house? Aren’t we supposed to devote time to these good endeavors? Anything—even something that’s good—becomes dangerous when it become our go-to source of supply or refreshment in place of the One whose supply never runs dry.
2. Recapture your wonder.
Jeremiah 2:19 says, “Consider then and realize how evil and bitter it is for you when you forsake the LORD your God and have no awe of me.” Have you lost your wonder and awe of God? A small view of God can really mess with our ministry by deceiving us into controlling habits. When we maintain our awe and holy fear of God, we tend to sin against and forsake Him a whole lot less.
Confess your small view of God and ask Him to remind you of His power, sovereignty, and greatness beyond what anyone can imagine. (Here are a few Scriptures to get you started: Jeremiah 5:22, 10:7; Psalm 119:120; Luke 12:5; Revelation 15:4.)
3. Return to the Source.
Don’t simply think about taking some time away; block your calendar and plan a personal retreat. My pastor often reminds our team, “What gets scheduled, gets done.” If you can’t get away for a weekend, get creative. Carve out twelve hours or even a half day to enjoy an extended time of soul care. Four hours in the quiet corner of a coffee shop can do wonders to rejuvenate a weary soul. Keep in mind this basic principle of rest I learned from my pastor: “Meditate daily, rest and renew weekly, and retreat monthly.”
Use your time away to ask the Lord to pour back into your soul the very things you are seeking from other places.
4. Rest in your unique rhythm.
Some people are wired to run further faster. Others thrive with a slower pace of ministry. Get to know the rhythm of ministry that is most fruitful for you. Take note of the days or times of month when you’re most likely to burn out and proactively block out times of rest. When asked to schedule something during that time, respond with “I have a commitment during that time,” or “I’m not available.”
5. Preach the gospel to yourself.
Daily recognize that your position in Christ—not your pace or performance—gives you worth. When our view of God is aligned with His immeasurable greatness and our souls are replenished, ministry flows from being His child rather than from doing. Continue in ministry by yielding to your established rhythm of rest and daily returning to the life-giving Truth of the gospel. Taking time to daily apply its Truth to our lives restores our gratitude and frees us to minister out of delight rather than duty.
Is fruit bursting forth from your vine or has ministry left you dry? Do you need to schedule some time to return to the Source of living water and pray through these questions? If you’re overdue, make a date with Jesus today and let Him refresh your soul.
What other ways are you forsaking broken cisterns to replenish your soul? The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail (Isa. 58:11).