In this guest post from my wife, Deb Sternke, she describes a dynamic all disciples of Jesus in their life. Deb is an incredibly gifted coach and discipler (as well as a great mother to our four kids!).
Awhile back, one of our pastors asked me a question that instantaneously produced PANIC in my soul.
What kind of question would do this, you ask? What sort of frightening activity did she ask me to perform?
She asked if I would give a short talk at an upcoming women’s retreat.
Now, I had planned to attend this event, but I wasn’t planning to speak at it! And this was the question that sent me spiraling down into a vortex of anxiety.
I quickly noticed all the reasons I couldn’t do this quickly building in my mind like Tetris blocks. The litany of fear-riddled thoughts began to scroll through my mind:
- I don’t really have anything to offer.
- I have no idea what to say or do.
- I’m not as good as others at communication and teaching.
- I’m not equipped enough for this.
- I’m just not ready.
After a lot of arguing with God and processing with trusted friends, I (very reluctantly) agreed to give a short talk at the retreat.
As I said yes, though, I realized that this was the pattern of my life. When I am offered opportunities to give to others out of the overflow of my life, I feel afraid. I am reluctant.
Receiving good stuff but standing still
See, for me, a regular part of my life with God has been things like:
- Listening to sermons
- Going to conferences
- Devouring books
- Journaling my experiences
- Receiving healing prayer for past wounds
I loved all of that stuff! However, I had always felt like something was off in it. In the midst of receiving so much good stuff, I felt like I was standing still. Part of me was sluggish and stale.
Here’s the picture that came to mind. Imagine for a moment a pool of water that has no outflow.
This was me – always receiving and rarely giving. The result was that I had become stagnant. I was a container only. A reservoir with no outlet.
Because of this, my life was becoming stale and stagnant, no matter how much “good stuff” I kept bringing into my life.
Inflow and outflow
I realized that part of following Jesus was not just bringing good things into my life, but also allowing good things to flow out of my life to others.
This is the pattern of Jesus. He was “filled up” by his Father and he “flowed out” to those around him. He spent all night in prayer, receiving from his Father, and then he spent the whole day giving to others out of the overflow of his life.
We are to have this same kind of life. We are called to be springs of living water, not containers. We aren’t buckets, we’re fountains!
Jesus gives us this vivid metaphor in John 4:13 when he tells a Samaritan woman at a well, “the water I give will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Here’s a matrix I came up with to illustrate this dynamic of having both an inflow and an outflow to our lives.
Let’s examine each of these quadrants. As we do, see if you notice your tendency in one of these quadrants.
Strong inflow, low outflow
The result of having a strong inflow combined with a low outflow is that we SWELL UP.
Because we are always receiving and never giving we become bloated, stagnant and stale. The “water” within us is not flowing but is still.
Stagnant water doesn’t make life flourish. We can become “spiritual hoarders,” essentially consumers.
Low inflow, low outflow
When we have nothing coming in and nothing going out, we DRY OUT.
We are neither being filled, nor pouring out. We become like a dry desert, where nothing is happening and everything is dead.
Strong outflow, low inflow
When we have a strong outflow combined with a low inflow, we TRICKLE OUT.
We are constantly running on fumes because we’re always pouring out more than we’re taking in. We are exhausted by the pace of our own lives.
We feel as though we could faint at any moment. Burn out is always just around the corner. We look active, but what we give others is increasingly NOT abundant, healthy life, because of the lack of an inflow from God.
We become providers, but what we provide increasingly comes from ourselves and not the life God gives.
Strong inflow, strong outflow
When we have a strong inflow combined with a strong outflow, we SPRING UP.
We become a fountain of living water, welling up to eternal life. We participate in eternal life and it flows easily and naturally to those around us.
We are giving and receiving, being filled and passing it on, investing and reaping, blessing and being blessed.
Here we are partners with a living God who is alive and active in us and through us.
What holds us back?
As you look at these quadrants and think about your life, begin to ask why you hang out in the quadrant you do…
- What keeps me from having a strong inflow of receiving?
- What keeps us from having a strong outflow of giving?
- What kinds of internal and external resistors are keeping us from being a spring of living water?
It’s different for all of us. This is why I’ve found it so helpful to be part of a coaching process where I have space and time to process questions like these with someone else.
For me, what held me back from giving was simply fear. I’m sad to say that fear kept me in the top left quadrant for a long, long time.
As I processed this, I felt like I heard God speak to me gently, “What you have is needed, because I’ve given it to you.”
This word gives me to courage to keep stepping out in generosity toward others. I may not have the same gifting and competencies as others, but what I do have may be exactly what someone needs.
Welling up to eternal life
The world NEEDS me and YOU! This is how God has chosen to work in the world.
What God has done in us may bring breakthrough, healing and freedom for someone else. This truth gives me confidence to keep offering myself.
Jesus promised that if we come to him and drink, rivers of living water will flow from within us (John 7:37-38).
Paul encourages us to be continually filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18).
In Revelation 22, John’s vision of heaven shows a river of life flowing from the throne of God, with trees thriving along its banks. The fruit of these trees brings sustenance and the leaves of these trees are for “the healing of the nations.”
I see this as a picture of the life that is available and within reach for each of us today. The life to which we are called is one of partnership with a loving, willing and powerful God who chooses to use his people to bring healing to the nations.
So how about you? Which quadrant to you tend to live in?
What internal or external pressures keep you there?
What one step can you take today to respond to the call to be a spring of living water?
Leave a comment below!
Great advice, Deb… and I love that very helpful matrix!
Deb Sternke says
Deb Sternke says
GregPipkin Glad it’s helpful Greg!
Emily Blaylock says
Really insightful and helpful Deb.