Pouring from an Empty Cup

Pouring from an Empty Cup

Picture, for a moment, a man stumbling through the desert; sand filling his shoes, blazing sun scorching his back. Each step he takes feels like it might be his last because of his unimaginable thirst. We don’t know how he got to this place. Maybe his plane crashed, leaving him as the lone survivor. Maybe he arrogantly set out to conquer the vast desert wilderness on his own. Regardless of his story, it’s obvious that he is in desperate need of a drink.

Suddenly the man spots a tent, surprised to find that it is not a mirage. As he enters the tent, his heart leaps. Before him stands a smiling group of people holding pitchers and cups. One of the smiling strangers speaks up, “Would you like a drink?” The thirsty man’s throat is so dry he can barely answer, but squeaks out a, “Yes” before desperately grabbing a cup and holding it out to the stranger. Relief flows over him as the smiling stranger moves to pour, but relief is quickly replaced with horror as nothing comes out. The pitcher is completely dry. The man looks up at the people, confused by their smiles as the strangers wish him well and show him the door, confident they served him well and met his needs.

It’s an ugly picture, a story that leaves us upset, frustrated, and demanding justice for the thirsty man. It doesn’t matter why he was thirsty, we think, nothing is more unloving than offering a thirsty man water only to give him nothing. There’s actually a name for that. It’s called torture and it isn’t even allowed in prison. We think, “I could never be so cruel! Not even to my worst enemy!”

But the longer we look at this little fable, the clearer it becomes that we Christians can’t identify with the thirsty man. We have found the Living Water and will never truly thirst again. We are much more prone to become the smiling strangers offering hope and relief to a broken world but giving it nothing.

In John 15, Jesus gives believers the organizational chart of God’s Kingdom. He says, “My Father is the gardener, I am the true vine, and you (Christ-followers) are the branches that spring from that vine.” It’s pretty clear: God the Father, Christ, you. Don’t get it backwards. And because of this order, Jesus can confidently say, “Just like branches can’t grow oranges if they aren’t connected to the tree, Believers are completely unable to produce good, lasting Kingdom fruit if they aren’t connected to me.” Then, just in case anyone missed the analogy, He sums up with the statement, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.”

How often do we Christians attempt to pour from an empty cup? We are surrounded by broken, thirsty people desperately looking for something to drink. Some are completely at fault for their extreme thirst, others seem more like victims of a broken world, but regardless of their situation, there is only one thing that will satisfy. We have it. They need it. But so often the amazing gift of God we were once so excited about has been relegated to an hour on Sunday and an obligatory prayer before dinner and bedtime. We are not being filled by Christ daily, and so, as He so obviously points out in John 15, we have nothing to offer the thirsty people around us. Even worse, we pretend like we DO have something to offer them, but forget Jesus’ words, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.”

Pouring from an empty cup is actually a double-edged sword. Over time it will damage the thirsty, but it will also damage the believer. There are three primary dangers to those who are thirsty for hope and relief.

First, the thirsty might see a worldly Christian, one who calls him/herself a follower of Jesus but lives like the world; thinking, “Why would I want to be a Christian if that’s what a Christian looks like?” Next, the thirsty might see a joyless Christian, someone simply following God’s rules to avoid Hell or punishment. “Being a Christian looks miserable; lots of rule following and judgment.” Finally, the thirsty might see a fake Christian, someone who pretends to follow Jesus, but has not been radically transformed by the gospel. “I can’t stand fake people. Not even THEY believe what they say they believe so why would I?”

Likewise, there are three primary dangers to those who claim to know Christ but are not filling themselves with Him on a regular basis.

The believer might begin working FOR God’s love, acceptance, and approval instead of FROM it. “Gotta do everything right to keep God happy so He’ll bless me and not be mad.” Or maybe the believer might begin thinking that they can save people on their own, without God’s help. “I’m an expert in the gospel. God’s lucky to have me on His side.” Thirdly, the believer might begin misrepresenting the gospel or sharing a false gospel, causing confusion instead of clarity. “God doesn’t really require anything from people. He just wants them to be happy and go to Heaven.”

At Always Going, our aim is to never send a believer without making sure they are being filled regularly. In fact, we spend the first major section of our curriculum is dedicated to diving into spiritual disciplines, sin habits, and environmental factors that either build them believers up or tear them down. We have been given a tremendous task: “Go and make disciples,” and we cannot take our preparation lightly. The good news is that our preparation is not strenuous. It is not taxing. It does not steal from us. The preparation for our mission is intimacy with the True Vine, Jesus Christ. We prepare for our mission by talking to our Savior and spending time in His Word. We prepare by serving others and sacrificing our time, energy, and resources. We prepare by confessing and resisting sin and pursuing Christlikeness every day.

So I ask you, Christian. Is your cup full today? Are you overflowing with God’s mercy, love, and grace? Are you joyful and satisfied? Because there’s a broken, tired, thirsty man approaching your tent.