Are You Bitter or Thirsty?

It Starts with Thirst:

She was thirsty. She grabbed her vessel and headed for the well in the middle of town. As she turned the corner, she saw a stranger resting there—a man she recognized to be a Jew. She hesitated and thought of turning back, for Jews did not treat Samaritans well, but this was her town, she reminded herself. She raised her chin a notch and approached the well. Without a word to the stranger, she plunged her vessel into the water. 

            He turned towards her, “Give me a drink,” he said.

            She was taken aback. “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” John 4:9b (ESV) 

            He smiled. “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” John 4:10 (ESV) 

            She pointed out he didn’t have anything to draw water with, but she was mistaken, because living water needed to be drawn by a living vessel. She was the vessel, an insecure woman, who’d married and divorced five times, eventually settling in with a man she wasn’t married to. A woman who’d filled her soul with winks and flattery, a temporary boost to her confidence, but after, drained her of integrity and hope.

            The stranger saw past her insecurities, her heritage, and her immoral lifestyle. He saw potential in a heart thirsty for love.

             “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:13 (ESV)

            Due to this woman’s willingness to become the vessel for the living water, many came to realize he was not a stranger after all. He was the one they’d been waiting for, promised by the prophets. He was Jesus and many in Samaria made Him their Lord. A great revival starts with one willing heart. 

Next a Willing Heart:

            Another willing heart can be found in Catherine Mumford Booth, who was known as “Mother of the Salvation Army,” because she was married to William Booth the founder. The mid-1800’s was a time when churches refused to allow the poor to enter their ornate doors. Catherine and William felt “church” needn’t be contained in an elaborate building, but rather the gospel should be shared in the street slums of east London. Here they met the poor’s physical needs by offering them a meal as they shared the gospel of Jesus Christ. Although many turned from their addictions and received the gift of grace, there were just as many protestors who pelted them with dung, alcohol, and rotten vegetables. 

            Catherine held a special concern for alcoholism as her own father became addicted when she was a young teenager. In her lifetime, she also fought child slavery, child prostitution, unsafe working environments for factory workers, and unequal pay for women. All ironically still problems in the world today. She shined a light into the dark sewage-filled streets of London’s slums, bringing hope to those shackled there. She became the voice for those whom polite society ignored. 

            After meeting their physical needs, it was said she delivered the gospel message like a lawyer fighting to save his client from death row. She was compelling and drew a large crowd at a time when women held little influence and were looked upon as intellectually inferior to men.            

            Catherine and William developed a volunteer army to feed, clothe, and share the good news. Using her persuasive abilities, Catherine began speaking in the wealthy churches, to raise funds for their project, while William continued to minister to the poor. It became a team effort, and soon a group of men and women volunteered to be a part of the Salvation Army. The women formed a division called the “Hallelujah Lassies.”  William Booth liked to refer to them as his “shock group.” These women marched into the slums, gaining large audiences while they preached the gospel. The Hallelujah Lassies gained notoriety and one girl was paying close attention. 

Then, a Burning Determination:

            Eliza Shirley was raised to be a proper Victorian lady and to later run a house, but her heart burned for a bigger life. When she was fifteen years old, the Hallelujah Lassies marched into her town and Eliza wanted to join them in their mission. Her parents, who’d become involved with the Salvation Army asked her to wait until her sixteenth birthday. 

            When she turned sixteen, William Booth met with Eliza and assigned her a post in a poor coal mining village in Northern England. She worked alongside Annie Allspop and lived in slum conditions. They ate the food thrown at them when they were preaching in the streets, because the coinage was usually stolen by the mob. Eventually, hearts were softened towards these women and the hardest of men accepted Christ as their Savior. The spirits in the village were revived. 

            Later that year, her parents sent word they were moving to the United States and thought Eliza could join them in moving the Salvation Army across the waters. She agreed.

            They arrived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1880 and immediately began looking for a place to start their mission. They found an open-air meeting place and started with only 12 listeners. The local pub owners became angry that they were preaching against alcohol and set out to dissuade them in their pursuit. They pelted them with sticks, rocks, and rotten vegetables. Night after night, there were more protestors than willing listeners and the Shirley family became discouraged.

            Four weeks later, they were walking to their meeting place and found someone had set it on fire. Around 200 people showed up to watch the flames lick the sky. Eliza and her parents finally had the numbers they’d hoped for. They began preaching the gospel with a fire as their backdrop. After their sermon, Reddy, a town drunk with a mean reputation came forward.

            “Would God forgive a drunk like me?” Reddy said.

            “Yes, he would forgive anyone.” They replied. 

            Reddy accepted Christ and a transformation occurred in him. Throughout the area, word spread and sermon attendance grew because people wanted to see if Reddy really was a changed man. 

            Eliza found another building in West Philadelphia and Booth sent her helpers.  Today, due to her hard work, she’s credited for the birth of the Salvation Army in the United States.

Last an Application:

Reading their incredible stories, I can’t help but reflect on the more recent rioting, looting, and fires. I’ve been saddened by the things I’ve read on social media from subtle shaming to downright name calling, but if I’m not careful bitterness could root. These women withstood these things on a more personal level without allowing bitterness to skew the vision for their kingdom work. They maintained their focus on reaching those that rioted against them for the gospel of Christ. While we feel justified in wanting to stand up for our principals at the cost of relationships, we must consider what will this cost the kingdom? Our principals should never become more important than people. Christ gives us the perfect example, when He asked the Samaritan woman for a drink at the well. 

While we approach inauguration day I hope we remember those that risked their lives and reputations to bring revival to the very ones who treated them ugly—those downtrodden by society. 

We see the cure of bitterness from the example of those who’ve gone before us. The Samaritan woman, Catherine Booth, and Eliza Shirley filled themselves with the living water and became a spring that bubbled up to eternal life. Their springs gave hope to the weary and downtrodden. 

            If we desire to find pure love like the woman at the well, or want to shine a light on the injustices of this world like Catherine Booth, or just want a more abundant life like Eliza Shirley, we all start by being thirsty. We must have a thirst for the living water that is satisfied only by a relationship with Jesus Christ. It is here, we find revival for our own hearts before it bubbles up and revives others. 

            Jesus is waiting by the well. Can you see Him? Are you willing to set down the vessels in your arms and open your heart? 

“Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.” Hebrews 12:14-15 (ESV)

English Standard Version (ESV)

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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