One of the most extended interchanges in the Gospels is between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well (John 4). Jesus was resting from His journey when the woman came to the well to draw water. He asked if she would get him a drink of water. She could not respond to the request because of the shock of it. Here was a Jewish rabbi who engaged a Samaritan woman in conversation. She knew that the Jews detested the Samaritans and wanted nothing to do with them.
Maybe there is a parallel between the Samaritan woman and us. We fallen humans have every reason to expect censure from Jesus; after all, He cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance and, I for one, am quite brimming with sin. Oh, sure. I’m polite and properly dressed at church. But I judge people harshly (though I don’t let it show). I get impatient (read: angry). I want the world to meet my needs at all costs (Yep. Selfishness!). I could go on in the tired litany; suffice it to say that I have plenty of reason to dread an encounter with Him.
Yet He calls me. In my case, He has not asked for a drink of water, but He has called upon me to enter into a relationship with Him. He wants me to open up my soul to Him-to unburden my thoughts and concerns, to listen to His counsel, to lean upon Him, to allow Him to renew my downtrodden soul. He calls on me often.
Like the woman at the well, I’m puzzled. Why would You associate with me? He surprises me (like He surprised her) with His answer. “Wally, I want to open your eyes. I want you to see that I have water that will slake that unrelenting thirst in your soul. I want to fill you with an amazing message-to give you fantastic news, beyond-your-wildest-dreams news, that will spring into an enduring relationship with the One who can offer you peace, hope, purpose and joy.”
Why me? Certainly there are others more worthy of your company? The woman at the well must have wondered why He would associate with her.
Then He asked the woman at the well to do something she was incapable of doing. He asked her to go get her husband. She answered: “I have no husband.” Jesus already knew that: “For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband” (John 4:18).
He also asks each of us to go get the thing we cannot bring-our perfect purity, our unfailing patience, our energetic temple attendance, our flourishing charity. But like the woman at the well, we cry out, “I cannot. I don’t have it!”
And this is the turning point in our relationship with Jesus. We are tempted to believe that He made the request to highlight our failings, to chide us for our flaws. We’re wrong. He asked us to bring what we cannot bring to underscore our desperate need for Him. He does not want to pain us with our inadequacy but invite us with His adequacy. We are weak but He is able. We are thirsty and He is the water. We are hungry and He is the bread. We are lonely and He is the comfort. We are broken and He is the Physician. He draws our attention to our lack so that He might fill it.
In the Lectures on Faith we are taught a surprising truth. We sin continually. That is part of our fallenness. The problem comes if we don’t know that God is “long suffering, and full of compassion, gracious and merciful and of a forgiving disposition.” If we won’t know in our bones that we can trust Him with our fragmented lives, we will not go to Him to be saved (See Lecture 3:20). It is absolutely necessary for us to know that “God is merciful, and gracious, long suffering and full of goodness,” otherwise we will never drink of the water of life.
That is the vital lesson that the woman at the well learned. Though she was a sinner repugnant to any ordinary Jew, she was cherished by the Messiah. Jesus did not instruct her to slink back to town and fast in sack cloth and ashes until the time she was worthy to approach Him. No. He invited her to return to the city and gather up all the sinners she could find and return to the well where they would all receive the most refreshing water they would ever drink.
Jesus said to them as He says to us: “Come boldly unto the throne of grace, that [you] may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
What a transaction! We provide the need and He provides the grace! We bring our failed resolves and multitude of failings and He provides the grace that we desperately yearn for. We make ourselves humble and He makes us clean.
But this will only happen if we know that “God is merciful, and gracious, long suffering and full of goodness.” If we have been tricked into believing that God is a grudging and irritated father, we will not come to Him and we will not drink of that precious water.
His Multitude of Invitations
We often talk about the gospel being the good news. But do we really believe it? Jesus interrupted His announced journey to Galilee with a two-day stop in Samaria because the people were willing to drink the water He offered. In like manner, He gladly pauses from any heavenly demands to spend time with you and me when we go to Him without reservation. He repeatedly invites us to come to Him.
He invites us to meet Him at church so we can rejoice in hymns of praise, renew our covenants, hear the testimonies of fellow saints, and ponder more on His amazing plan. Do we cherish that weekly opportunity to meet with Him in worship?
He invites us to study the scriptures because He wants to reveal more of His mind and heart to us. Do we relish that offering? Do we dive in excitedly to see what God will teach us in each fresh encounter?
He invites us to chat with Him in conversation. Unfortunately we often experience prayer as a tired and unrewarding, rote obligation. He wants us to meet Him for heavenly encouragement and a divine embrace. Do we look forward to prayer as a time of conversation and renewal?
He invites us in the midst of challenges, painful or ordinary, to lean on Him for counsel and support. When we are feeling lost and weak do we pause and turn to Him for direction and strength?
He asks us to invite others to the well where they, too, can discover the living water of the gospel.
Do we welcome and create opportunities to learn about the spiritual needs of others and then joyfully share our discovery of the good news with them?
Most telling of all, when He invites us to come into His presence, do our hearts rejoice at the prospect even if our knees shake just a little? Do we run to Him throwing ourselves gladly on His merits, mercy, and grace?
The Great Lie
Satan was a liar from the beginning (D&C 93:25); he wants us to believe that the gospel is all drudgery and suffering. He may not be able to convince us by direct assault, so he uses indirect methods. He causes us to see the gospel’s demands as intrusions on our busy lives. He hints that the scriptures are tedious and irrelevant. He gets us to chafe about some imperfect soul at church. He whispers that Jesus is an impossible taskmaster. He lulls us into simply going through the motions of church membership without any joy of relationship with Jesus. Or Satan gets us distracted with 1001 worries and concerns thereby crowding out Jesus as our central focus.
Many, maybe most, of us feel spiritually inadequate. “Obviously I’m a spiritual flop. I am either not doing the right things or I’m not doing them in the right spirit.” This may be a little like saying that I failed at the buffet. “I didn’t eat nearly as much as Brother Oistad. I probably consumed less than 3500 calories. I only ate three desserts. I’m a failure.”
A sumptuous buffet is not a perfect metaphor for our spiritual lives; but it’s not a bad one. Every day God lays out an amazing spread. We can dive into the scriptures anywhere and find sustenance. We are offered a direct line of communication with the One who best knows how to feed our starving souls. We will face unnumbered ways to serve in any given day-and be renewed by that service. Each of us can share our delight in God’s meal with fellow diners. We can go to the buffet line picking a little here and complaining a lot there or we can stand in awe of the offerings, choosing that which will strengthen and build us. We can remain hungry or we can be sumptuously filled.
Time and again He invites us to come to Him: “I stand at the door and knock.” “Ask and ye shall receive.” “My hand is stretched out still.” He seems to be saying: I have prepared a feast for you. But you must set aside other business and come and rejoice with me. We’re tempted to delay: “Well, let me take care of other pressing tasks first.” “I have meetings today.” “I’m just so tired.” “I’d rather relax in front of the TV or computer.”
Still He waits for us at the buffet. I would like to expand on a statement made by Timothy L. Hall. “The gospel is not just good news but knock-your-socks-off, couldn’t-have-dreamed-it-up-in-a-thousand-years,” blow-your-mind good news. God’s plan is the ultimate fairy tale-come true!
Preparing For the Feast
I’m trying to respond more faithfully to His invitations. In particular, I’m trying to be prepared for that sacred fifteen minutes when we meet our Redeemer for the sacred meal we call the sacrament. On Saturday evening I outline my dilemma and need in my journal: Thou art holy. I am fallen. Have mercy. Grant according to my desires (See Ether 3). I ponder my requests-my spiritual priorities. They tend to focus less on blessings of convenience than on cravings for sanctification and renewal.
Sunday morning before going to church, I review my prayer. I head to sacrament meeting knowing that that He waits for us there. I enjoy gathering with fellow saints of the ward family. We sing hymns of praise and I ponder the words-there is always some phrase of praise that lifts my heart. During the sacrament I imagine a personal encounter with Him. I hear Him knock at the door of my life. I welcome Him in and fall to my knees. I beg Him to patch my soul and ordain me to do His bidding. He comforts me and points me to appointed duties.
Wow! Joy-that elusive taste of heaven-is so life changing! Even little moments of joy patch up great gaping holes in my body and soul. He sends me into the week armed with joy.
I am so grateful that He would attend to our messy journeys so patiently, so redemptively, so lovingly. All discomfort is forgotten when we glimpse His perfect purposes.
The gospel is breathtakingly good news. He is waiting for us at Jacob’s well where He offers the greatest feast ever set before hungry humans. He invites us to come join Him. He gladly gives us all the joy we are willing to receive.
Hall, T. L. (December 2013). Christ in color. Christianity Today, 54-55.
Heartfelt thanks to Barbara Keil for her patient refinement of this article.
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