Stay or Go?

Dear Friends:

It was a sunny morning in my eighth grade year when I first heard the song, “Fill My Cup, Lord.” A visiting soloist sang it for special music for the worship service in the little church that my family attended in Soquel, California. He was a friend of my parents and had a nice tenor voice, but I must confess that I didn’t like the song very much.

There is no arguing with the direct and simple message of the song which is an appeal for the Lord to quench spiritual hunger and thirst with the life of Christ ministered by the Holy Spirit. Here is a link to the words:

Part of my dislike is that the song was overused, but it was rarely sung well in my hearing. The melody has a dramatic flair that turns sappy and maudlin in the overwrought treatment of singers who believe that the higher the volume and the bigger the vibrato, the closer they and their listeners are to God. “Fill My Cup, Lord” can end up sounding like something out of a bad amateur production of the musical, “Carousel.” A notable exception is the fine version sung by CeCe Winans.

The song was successful in getting me to think about Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well in the City of Sychar. The story is described in detail by the Apostle John in the fourth chapter of his Gospel.

Bible stories were a matter of daily discussion at home and school during my childhood, but this one had eluded me.  Perhaps that was because the adults in my life didn’t want to answer questions about the woman who had been married five times and was living with a man who was not her husband.

My parents and my teachers preferred the simple plot lines of violent tales like David drilling Goliath in the head with a rock and Samson killing a thousand Philistines with the jaw bone of a donkey to the sophisticated nuances of “adult” relationships. This pious strategy was blown when they let soloists stand in front of the congregation to sing, “Like the woman at the well I was seeking for things that do not satisfy. . . .”  M-m-m-m, what were those “things”?

All kidding aside, over the years, I have come to realize this story of a brief encounter between Jesus and a woman going about her daily business as a powerful and surprisingly complete description of what God sent his Son to do for us. For weeks now, I have been pondering the story verse by verse and I will be sharing these meditations with you in the next few weeks.


Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard, “Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John” — although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized–he left Judea and started back to Galilee” (Jn 4:1-2)

You are likely to resist going back to your Galilee. You moved on up to the “big time” when you came to Judea. “Doesn’t it mean you’ve failed if you start back to Galilee?”

“Judea” is the place that you know in your heart by the conviction of the Holy Spirit that you are meant to be. If other people don’t think that about you, what are you going to do?

You can try to please, “play the game,” work hard to keep up with expectations, silence the critics, and do things the way that they are urged upon you. When you are measured by the size of the crowd you attract, the temptation is great to be a “crowd-pleaser.” You will have lost your way if you succumb to the size of the crowd as a measure of spiritual success (Lk 13:21-24).

You can stay and battle for your vision. You can “fight the good fight” for hearts and minds to accept your cause and your way. You can react to the lack of acceptance by keeping a perverse “body-count” of those you have offended. The temptation is great to be a “spiritual warrior” for what you “know” is right regardless of whether or not your point of view is accepted. You will have lost the humility of the petition, “Father, if it be your will . . .” if you succumb to this idolatrous obsession (Lk 22″42). There is no darkness quite as black as that which surrounds those who validate their zeal by those who they alienate and destroy.

To go and be considered a failure, if only in your mind; to stay and give up your vision and submit to the popular will; or to stay and fight to the bitter end, inflicting as much damage as you can on those who oppose you; seeking vindication by your martyrdom–those are your choices when your calling and work are misunderstood.

Are you open to the fact that God may have other plans for you? Your purpose on this trip to Judea may have already been fulfilled. Do you believe in a Savior who would go looking for one lost sheep out of 100 (Lk 15:3-7)?

Disciples have been made on this journey. Who knows what one of them might do to advance the kingdom. Are you caught in the trap that you are only as good as your next performance?

Galilee is where you are “at home” (Mk 2:1), with room to breathe, and solitude to pray (Mk 1:35). There are demons to be exorcised, a woman bleeding out with fading faith, a leper begging to be made clean, a young man paralyzed by sin and unforgiveness, and illustrations for new messages waiting in Galilee. On the way to Galilee waits a woman thirsty for the water of life. Would you limit the Father’s call on your life to only one place and time? Are you only worthy of the big stage?

The key to the choice that Jesus made is in the phrase”When Jesus learned. . . he left.” There is an openness and humility implicit in those words that reflect a healthy grounding in God’s reality. Conditions change. The winds of the Spirit can change direction (Jn 3:8). “Are you a teacher of Israel and do not understand these things?” (Jn 3:10).

What Jesus learned was that the thinking of the Pharisees about his mission and his methods was wrong. If he gave in to that thinking, the Pharisees, not the Father’s will, would be the driving force in his ministry. If he fought and argued with the Pharisees, their smug labels and contentions, not the Father’s will, would be the driving force in his ministry.  Either way, the Pharisees would drive him and he refused to be driven.

By leaving, Jesus acted upon what he learned, not on rigid ideas of how he was to accomplish his destiny. The cross and resurrection morning were still to come, but there are times when the Spirit says “Go,” and times when it says “Go back.” True faith rests in our certainty of God, not in our certainty of direction.  A faith that will not yield to the leading of the Holy Spirit is a faith that’s lost its purpose and its life (Jn 16:13-14). Such a faith will break under pressure.

I often pray to the Lord to make me like a stalk of water grass in a desert stream–with a strong root wrapped around the rock to hold me fast against the flood and nourish me in drought and with the flexibility to ebb and flow with the current, but always growing up toward the light.

Lord, grant us the grace to be supple and willing to start back to Galilee when the Spirit leads that way, but “to set our face like flint to go to Jerusalem” when the time comes for that journey (Lk 9:51).

Under the mercy of Christ,


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