The only thing I can give to God is “my right to myself.”
If I will give God that, He will make a holy experiment out of me,
and God’s experiments always succeed.
Oswald Chambers, Our Brilliant Heritage
The woman had seen a lot of life. But even with all her life experiences, she still had the unfortunate knack for picking the wrong man—again and again! How many romances had failed? Five marriages so far, and too many other relationships to count. She didn’t even keep track of those. She knew the village folk didn’t accept her lifestyle, but she’d given up trying to live up to other people’s standards. A deep need for love and acceptance drove her from man to man.
She usually went to the well for water in the afternoon, when all the other women weren’t around. They could be cruel—the silences, the looks, the whispers. She knew what they were saying. As much as she craved and needed real friends, she was definitely outside the circle. She knew she’d better just try to make the best of it.
Alone at night and early mornings, she had moments when she felt despair for the emptiness of her life. What was it all for? She knew that men used her, but at least they showed her some acceptance. As the years and relationships accumulated, her youth faded and her body attracted men less. The harder she tried, the emptier life became, and the future seemed hopeless.
Then there was that ordinary, amazing day when every-thing in her life turned upside down. As was her habit, she went to the well outside the city to get water when no one else was there. A man was sitting by the well, a Jewish man. She could tell from his dress and appearance. He looked tired and dusty. He startled her when he spoke to ask her for a drink of water. Jews just didn’t deal with the Samaritans—not to mention the fact that she was a woman, and alone in the afternoon at the well. Her thoughts raced. Was he coming on to her or what?
Thus began an astonishing conversation. He told her that if she knew who he was, she would have asked him for water . . . “living water” at that. That was an intriguing thought. Living water? Yes, he said. It was water so satisfying that she would never want for anything else, and it would become a perpetual spring within her, giving her eternal life.
Impulsively, she said yes. That’s what she wanted, needed. Jesus told her to go get her husband to continue the conversation, and then she had to admit the truth. She didn’t—at the time—have a husband. And Jesus, with a penetrating, loving look, said, “You’re right! You don’t have a husband—for you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now” (John 4:17–18 NLT).
She tried to change the subject, to get more philosophical. She suddenly realized she was not talking to an ordinary man. This man could search her mind and see inside her life—inside her very soul! Let’s talk religion, she suggested, how people worship . . . denominational differences.
But Jesus kept coming back to the heart issue and told her that “true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for anyone who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23–24 NLT).
She knew there was a Messiah who was going to come—the one who would be called Christ. She knew about that way-off hope. Someday the Messiah would have the answer, and he would solve everything. Then Jesus told her, “I am the Messiah!” And she believed. How could she not? He knew things about her no one else did. His words were like water to a dying soul, and she took them in, no holds barred. No tentative steps of faith here; she plunged in all the way. For the first time she had hope, a future. The Messiah—talking to her, offering “living water” to her! She grabbed on to the truth and was so excited she left her water jar by the well and ran back to the village to tell everyone she saw.
Her newfound faith was so contagious, people followed her from the village out to hear Jesus, and Scripture records that many of the Samaritans heard the message and believed that Jesus was the Savior of the world.
C. S. Lewis said, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: Those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, ‘Okay, go ahead and have it your way.’”1 Scripture doesn’t tell us how the woman’s life developed, but what was pivotal in her life was making the most important choice anyone can—to say yes to the living water of Jesus.
Saying yes to God is the beginning place of real life for every one of us. For me, it occurred when I was a very young child, after hearing the story of the cross; and then later as a college freshman, I reaffirmed that yes in a deserted chapel late at night.
Depending upon who and where we are, we come to faith in Christ in different ways. Vonette Bright says that although she grew up in the church, God was not a reality in her life. As a young woman, she met Bill Bright. They had a whirlwind romance but waited three years to be married.
During that time, Bill was growing in his faith, and Vonette was getting farther away from hers, deciding he had become a religious fanatic.
Around that time, and through Bill, Vonette met Dr. Henrietta Mears, director of Christian education at Hollywood Presbyterian Church. “Since I minored in chemistry in college, it made sense to me to add the person of Jesus Christ to the ingredients of faith I already knew. I received Jesus Christ as my personal Savior. As a result, God has become a vital reality in my life, giving me identity and direction.”2
Vonette and Bill Bright went on to have an amazing career as they established Campus Crusade for Christ, and they have influenced thousands to come to know Jesus. But all Vonette knew—and all any of us know when we say yes—is that we need something deeper, something of substance that will complete our identity and shape us through the years.
Like the woman at the well, we know there’s something more to life than the obvious, and when we are presented with the truth and see it, we say yes!
Love bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back, guilty of
dust and sin.
But quick-eyed love, observing me grow slack from my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning if I lack’d anything.
Look at your life. Where are you now, and how can you say yes to God from where you are? Life is constantly changing. You may be very young, just getting started in your journey, wanting to know what’s ahead. You may be a mother with children still at home, and from watching your children grow, you realize you are in an entirely different place now from where you were even five years ago. You may be considering a change of jobs, maybe an entirely different occupation. You may have lost your mate; suddenly your whole paradigm has changed, and you are in a place you never wanted to be—but here you are. Perhaps your children are grown and life is suddenly strange; you’re wondering where you fit now.
Sometimes in life we feel very much like the woman at the well—we need a refreshing drink of Living Water in the middle of our journey. It reminds me of the story of Jacob, when he ran away from home under bad circumstances (see Gen. 28:10–22). In the middle of the night as he slept with a rock for a pillow, he dreamed of angels ascending and descending. He awoke exclaiming, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it. . . . How awesome God is in this place!” (28:16–17).
It’s often the place where we feel most uncertain and afraid where we can open our eyes to see that he is present and he is awesome. In all of the changes of life, he is unchanging. His love is constant, never ending, never failing. Romans asks, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? . . . Neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God” (Rom. 8:35, 39 NIV).
What brings Living Water to our souls is believing who he is: the Christ, the Son of God. Saying yes to him changes us as we trust and follow him from wherever we are.
Nancy, wife of a rancher and mother of five in Montana, tells me that she said yes to Christ as a young woman. She says, “What it means to be a servant of Christ keeps changing. I now have two of my children in college, two in high school, and one in junior high. I’m helping to care for my elderly aunts and my mother as well as support my husband and be active and available in running our ranch. What’s in the future for me? Time will tell. I just want to be used of God and to be faithful.”
It’s comforting to realize that God calls us from who and what we are. You hear the call and present who you are—not who you wish you were—to see what he will make of you. That is how to answer the First Calling on your life. Saying yes to him is saying you recognize that he knows what’s best for you and you are available for him to use.
That’s when the stories of our lives with God begin and develop. Together with him, we build our lives the way we build a quilt: piece by piece, using various colors, light and dark, and creating contrasts. Putting together a quilt may take years of gathering material before we even know what the pieces are going to be, how it will look. But initially we must decide that we are going to make a quilt! As we stay patiently committed to the creative process, we see that it is becoming beautiful, that it is for something, and that all those pieces we weren’t sure were worth anything are finally making sense in the overall picture.
Getting to that place takes time. If you’re like me, sometimes you feel bogged down in the seemingly meaningless details, wondering what on earth all the fractured pieces are for: What good am I doing, and is this what I wanted so many years ago? I believe that saying yes to God is to accept his love and grace for us and to give him our worship.
Warren Wiersbe says it well: “We are either fashioning our lives by pressure from without, or we are transforming our lives by power from within. The difference is worship.”3
The coming of Christ into our lives is an issue of surrender
and opening our lives. Our many quarreling selves become one in salvation. .
. . Only when Christ comes in do we discover our own definition and why we are
in the world. . . . We are saved from living the undefined life.
Calvin Miller, Walking with the Saints4
The story of how the prophet Samuel became a mighty force in the time of Israel, when “the word of the LORD was rare,” is an intriguing one (1 Sam. 3:1 NIV). He was a gift from God to his mother, who at first seemed unable to have children. Overjoyed at his birth, she promised him to God and brought him to the temple at a young age to minister to the priest Eli.
The birth of every child is ripe with promise. The births of each of our four sons and the adoption of our daughter were amazing, never-to-be-forgotten moments for Bill and me as we thought in wonder, Here is a new life, with a unique calling and personality. Samuel certainly had a unique calling ahead of him, as he later became deeply influential in his nation.
One night when Samuel was still a young boy, God called him: “Samuel!” At first he thought Eli needed him and ran to his side. After Samuel had been awakened several times, Eli realized God was calling the boy, and he told him, “Next time you hear your name being called, answer, ‘Lord, here am I; your servant hears.’” And Samuel answered yes to the call.
As a young man, Isaiah was moved by the presence of God, and when God asked, “Who will go for Me? Whom can I send?” Isaiah responded in complete humility, “Here I am. Send me!” Here I am. Not “Here is what I think you need,” or “Here is what I will try to be.” It’s: “Here I am. Such as I am. Such as you created me, I am available for your purposes.”
Saying yes to God from who we are is the best decision we will ever make. And while there is that initial decision to follow Christ, it seems to me that in each phase of our lives, we can continue to say yes to him as we grow and change.
My mother would say, “Bloom where you are planted,” which may seem like a cliché, but it’s a great principle. The woman at the well went back to where she was from—her village—and shared what she had learned. She didn’t move away to another region to tell her good news, but she began where she was, with people she knew.
O earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you.
. . .
Do any human beings ever realize life
while they have it?—every, every minute?
Thornton Wilder, Our Town
Think back to when you were ten or twelve years old. What were your hopes and dreams? What did you love to do more than anything? What made you you?
I’m one of seven children raised on a farm, and I grew up with a sense of adventure. Our parents gave me and my siblings a lot of freedom to play outside. We sometimes took eggs from the henhouse or dug potatoes from the garden. Then we hiked out to a grove of trees, where we camped for most of the day and pretended, played, and explored. When we got hungry, we scrambled the eggs in a pan over a campfire or roasted the potatoes in the coals. I loved being outdoors. There was something so vital about it—feeling the wind on my face, hearing the meadowlarks, standing under the huge expanse of sky.
I attended a little country schoolhouse across the street from where we lived (half of the twelve or so students were my brothers and sisters). We had an unusual and wonderful teacher who taught us to memorize poetry and love good books. Since we had no television at home, the highlight of our week was going into town on Saturday and getting another stack of books to read from the library. My oldest sister was a writer and encouraged me in my writing. We also loved music. Piano lessons were very important—memorizing a good piece, getting the phrasing just so.
These were early callings that I just seemed to adopt naturally. It was not work; it was simply the way my life developed—along with my parents’ love of God and involvement in the local church. These things shaped me. There was also the dream to find the right man, to marry, have children, build a life. My sisters and I converted an old woodshed to a playhouse in which we put our dolls and playthings. When our brothers could take charge of the shed, they converted it into a fort from which they shot imaginary enemies. (That was my earliest lesson on the differences between men and women and the power struggles that exist. Let there be no mistake—we are different!)
The point is, our early passions and dreams help shape who we become as adults. I am grateful for my childhood and feel I have been given much. I’ve had pain and disappointment too, but I feel so blessed by what I’ve received. My parents’ early lives were marked by loss and betrayal and deprivation. Yet they came to Christ in their twenties, and they nourished us with their faith.
My daughter spent her first three and a half years in a poor orphanage in Korea, and although she has blossomed and developed, those early years still shape some of her thinking and her self-concept. We try to encourage her with this truth from Dr. Richard Dobbins: “It’s not so much the story of your life as what you tell yourself about the story of your life.”5
Even now, my family and home are great passions. I still love music and good books. My beloved grand piano is up here in my writing loft. I’ve been married to a great man of principle and faith and love, and I’m privileged to be a mother to five wonderful children and grandmother to three (so far!). Laurie Beth Jones writes, “We live according to the words which have been declared for us, either consciously or unconsciously. Words are prophecies which pull us, shape us, guide us.”6
As you look back on your childhood, what early influences and passions (or perhaps prophecies and visions from significant people in your life) helped shape you? What words pulled and guided you?
When we are young, we make important choices that help determine the pattern of our lives: where we go to school, whom we marry (if we do marry), where we live, what our work will be. So we get to a certain place in life, and our stories seem to have a specific shape. Our lives are well ordered, or maybe unconventional. (Yes, there are crazy quilts!) We live with the design we have helped to create—a job, a career, children. And then things change. For a while. But the story isn’t finished.
Maybe the job situation shifts. The family structure alters. The inevitability of loss hits you. Or you experience a deep disappointment, and you see that life is not turning out the way you thought it would. Still, we have the nagging sense that somehow there is something more, that we were created for something bigger, something that fits. We have a yearning to know and live out our calling, to rediscover the first love and passion of our lives.
It’s important to understand and appreciate who you are. As Os Guinness writes, “Recognizing who we aren’t is only the first step toward knowing who we are.”7 Sometimes we think that saying yes to God and living out the calling he has for us means we are supposed to go somewhere, do something specific (especially if we don’t want to), such as be a missionary overseas. A retired missionary told me, “I’m glad I got to go to the mission field. The best years of my life were spent there. The exhilaration of sharing the gospel in new places with new people can’t even be described. It was such an adventure, and we did it as a family.” One of the sure signs she was supposed to be a missionary in the Far East was her joy and sense of fulfillment.
We are all called to various things, and how great to know that we can trust him with our lives; that joy marks our callings. Christ doesn’t call us to an occupation—a series of accomplishments, an impressive résumé, or a statement of net worth. Christ calls us to himself. And there is joy in saying yes to him—it’s not drudgery. A worship chorus expresses this: “Jesus . . . all for Jesus. All I am, and have and ever hope to be.”
Yesterday was a beautiful, sunny Sunday afternoon. I’d been working on this book for a while and needed a break. I asked my husband, “Bill, do you want to walk along the Metolius River with me?” He looked up from his paper and said, “Sure!” We’re convinced we live close to one of the most beautiful places on earth—a sparkling river that flows from deep below the earth out of a spring less than a mile from here. We visit it often. It’s lined by massive ponderosa pine trees, willows, and an amazing variety of wildflowers. As I walked the trail and savored the sound and sight of the rushing river, I became aware of how overwhelmed I was feeling with trying to finish this book with the message that I know God had impressed on me to share. I simply prayed, “Holy Spirit, I need you.”
Although it’s an early spring, and a cold one, I was hoping we would see some wildflowers blooming. We did! I counted them—eight different varieties. Tiny white flowers, purple ones. Suddenly Bill said, “Look! A yellow warbler.” A small, exquisite yellow bird with a hint of pale green was nesting in a spot near the water in a willow tree. Later we went home, refreshed. That evening I read from Oswald Chambers’s devotional, My Utmost for His Highest. The entry for that day:
Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow, they simply are! Think of the sea, the air, the sun, the stars and the moon—all these are, and what a ministration they exert. So often we mar God’s designed influence through us by our self-conscious effort to be consistent and useful. Jesus says that there is only one way to develop spiritually, and that is by concentration on God. “Do not bother about being of use to others; believe on Me”—pay attention to the Source, and out of you will flow rivers of living water. We cannot get at the springs of our natural life by common sense, and Jesus is teaching that growth in spiritual life does not depend on our watching it, but on concentration on our Father in heaven. Our heavenly Father knows the circumstances we are in, and if we keep concentrated on Him we will grow spiritually as the lilies.
The people who influence us most are not those who buttonhole us and talk to us, but those who live their lives like the stars in heaven and the lilies in the field, perfectly simply and unaffectedly. Those are the lives that mold us.
If you want to be of use to God, get rightly related to Jesus Christ and He will make you of use unconsciously every minute you live.8
Christine, an artist and mother of three, who just celebrated her fiftieth birthday in Hawaii with her husband, told me, “The biggest change in my life from twenty years ago is that my purpose is now being instead of doing.”
Think about it: Who are the people who made a difference in your life, the people who most deeply influenced you? Most likely, if they are like the people who have most influenced me, they were not celebrities—they were just ordinary folk. My mother and father, who are both gone now, lived their lives, honest struggles and all, in the crucible of family life, being true and faithful, reading the Bible, supporting the local church, loving us children. Yes, they often worried and felt inadequate. In spite of that, Jesus shone through their lives, and besides, they were fun to live with!
Other important influences include my piano teacher, Mrs. Bain, who taught me to love good music, and week after week, year after year, she helped me make music out of stumbling attempts. Dorothy and Earl Book, who were our pastors when Bill and I were youth pastors, showed us how to love Jesus by loving people. Grandma Ferlen, an eighty-nine-year-old woman in the church, showed me how to pray and to believe God when it seemed impossible. My husband’s parents show us even now how to live a life of prayer and faithful love for family and friends. My husband and children, my close friends, and my prayer group all show me that it is possible to make a difference simply by saying yes from who I am.
Lord, like the woman at the well, we say yes to your living water, realizing that real purpose and direction in life begin with knowing you. And we reaffirm that yes, knowing that our lives are a work in progress, and that we are your workmanship. Develop us as you will. May our hearts and minds be open to whatever you have for us, knowing that your ways are perfect and we can trust you. In Christ’s name, amen.
Mapping Your Next Step
Read John 4:1–42.
• After the woman at the well had her encounter with the Messiah, were there any noticeable differences in her demeanor and behavior? What were they?
• Discuss what you think it means to say yes to God. What practical difference does it make in your life?
• What new situation are you facing? What are you learning about God and yourself in this new place?
How wonderful that he calls us from who and what we are! Here are some discussion questions to help you understand who you are and what your passions might be:
• Think back to when you were twelve years old. What did you dream of becoming then?
• Where and when do you really come alive?
• What project have you been so involved in that you lose track of time?