South Dakota Cisterns

In the midst of homeschooling, cooking, loving, laundering (clothes!), and pining for spring my heart grew distant from my Savior. Life began feeling like a cycle again and I found myself looking to my broken cisterns to fill me . . . an intriguing show, a bowl of popcorn, mental escape . . . In my heart I knew that circumstances and comforts would not bring the joy and pleasure that so deeply stirred in my soul.

On my knees again, “Jesus, return me to the joy of your salvation! Draw my heart back to you and remind me that you alone can fill me with springs of living water. Forgive me again for running to my broken dirty cisterns.”

I was reminded of the vivid parallel of the water crisis on our farm where I grew up. Our ancient wind mill continually creaked in the wind insufficient to pump the water we needed to use on a daily basis. Instead an electric pump needed to be installed to draw enough water from the ground to satisfy the daily demand for water needed for showering, dishes and cooking. For all the work it did, the water was still undrinkable. A rural water system was being developped, but would take a while to reach our farm. We lived in a small, rural area so we couldn’t hire a professional service like Culligan to deliver water. My mom’s ingenious method was to save milk jugs that we brought to town regularly to fill with potable water from the city well. Often times I would grab the six-pack box of empty jugs and fill them at my grandparents house on the way home from school. Surprise came when we realized we had forgotten to rinse a milk jug and the water tasted of spoiled milk.

We still used the cistern water for showering, cooking, dishes and washing. The cistern was a huge concrete cube underground with a sizable hole covered by a slab of wood and a heavy rock. One summer day my dad lifted the lid to see how much water it held. I jumped back as I saw a snake swim through the water. Future showers brough flashbacks of the images of the murky water and snake and left me wondering what else might be dropping on my head as I showered in the contaminated water.

“for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,
the fountain of living waters,
and hewed out cisterns for themselves,
broken cisterns that can hold no water.” Jeremiah 2:13

When the rural water system finally reached our house what joy it brought! We could drink from the tap, shower in peace, and rest from the battle with rust. We had tapped into a source of endless water pumped from the mighty Missouri to rural areas all over South Dakota.

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst again. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:13

The water crisis in my own spiritual life is so similar. I try to survive by relying on my cisterns. I try all sorts of different cisterns to see if maybe the next one will hold better.  But not one allows me to tap out of the endless resources that I need for life. It seems so completely stupid to expect our cisterns to come through for us. Small, finite caverns that accumulate stagnant pools of water.

So Jesus has again directed me to The Source of Living Water . . . Himself. The waters are so sweet to this thirsty soul. Mercy, Grace, Love, Acceptance, Freedom.

Our cisterns are a great danger to us. My mom always warned us never to play on the lid of the cistern in case it were to fall through. We would be wise to heed the same motherly advice about our own cisterns. They lead to sin, addiction and numbness to God.

God is persistent and jealous. He will do what it takes to help us leave our cisterns in favor of His deep, satisfying presence. Most often the times when he brings heartache, trial and suffering, I am better at remembering how damaging these cisterns are to my relationship with Him.

Chris Tomlin has a song entitled Waterfall that reminds me of how refreshing it is to go to Him for satisfaction and life. Each one of us lives in a dry, desert land, and it is essential we go to Him lest we fall into our cisterns. Beware, the snake is in there!

Waterfall :: Chris Tomlin

Oh God, my God I seek You
I wanna move when You move
You’re more than I could long for
I thirst for You

You’re an ocean to my soul
To my soul

Your love is like a waterfall, waterfall
Running wild and free
You hear my heart when I call, when I call
Deep calls, too deep
Your love is like a waterfall, waterfall
Raining down on me

Oh God, my God I seek You
In this dry and desert land
You lead me to streams of mercy
Once again

You’re an ocean to my soul
To my soul

It’s coming like a flood
I’m dancing in the rain
Everything I’ve done
Is covered in rivers of grace, amazing

It’s coming like a flood
I’m dancing in the rain
I lift up my hands
Your love never changes, amazing


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