When I was a kid, going to the store with my mom was probably the most boring experience of my life. Nothing was more frustrating than being forced to stroll down every aisle while on my best behavior, only to fill the cart with unappetizing foods. Foods that I would later be forced to try even though I had already decided that I didn’t like any of it.
These are just some of the fiery trials little boys must endure. There was, however, one ray of hope. After experiencing hours of torture, if I could survive without giving my mom too much trouble, I would be rewarded with a trip down the toy aisle.
The toy aisle, a tower of refuge in a land full of the mundane. It was the one thing boys my age could count on, that and Saturday morning cartoons. I remember a specific time when I conquered the foes of restlessness and complaining long enough to make it to the magical land of the toy aisle. Even though there was little hope of taking home a new toy, I was always happy to be there. My senses were overwhelmed with the bright colors and the faint smell of fresh factory plastic.
However, this time was different. Walking past a mountain of action figures, I found the holy grail! Not the actual holy grail but something just as good. It was the king of all action figures! It was so great that I still can’t remember which one it was, but at that moment, something inside of me screamed, “You need this!” If I could get this one hero, my life would finally be complete.
So that day, I put all of my cards on the table. Before I even asked, I knew the answer was no, but I knew that if I were persistent enough, I would have a chance to take home my prize. So the war of attrition began. To my mother’s credit, she held out for a long time, but I was determined. So after empty promises to never ask for anything ever again and do a lifetime of chores, I walked out of that land of darkness victorious.
I could hardly wait to get home and introduce all of my old toys to their new king. However, during a time of intense play, I remember looking at this new king and all of my old faithful champions and feeling a distinct feeling of emptiness. At that moment, I had a great revelation; this sultan of plastic figurines did not live up to its hype. The kid on the box seemed to be having way more fun than I was. That revelation continues to ring true with everything in my life, even today.
The world tends to promise us… well, the world, yet nothing this life has to offer can ever live up to the fun the kid on the box is having. It reminds me of the Lord’s words to the prophet Jeremiah “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 ESV).
It’s strange to think that we live in a time where we carry all of the knowledge and entertainment the world has to offer in our pockets. I can microwave my dinner in a matter of minutes, go shopping without having to put my pants on, and get all of my daily vitamins with a tiny little pill. I don’t even have to search for things online anymore. The internet knows what I want and shows me advertisements for it.
Despite all of this, happiness is ever fleeting. All of these things that we look to are just broken cisterns, dried-up wells. Even the people we love and the relationships we hold dear cannot fill the emptiness we feel inside.
God’s complaint against the people of Israel was first that they had forsaken him and second that they were hewing out cisterns for themselves. He is the fountain of living water, yet we turn away from him to gulp dirty water flowing out of a crack in the wall. We struggle with this because we like to be the center of our universe. We are the action figure king over all the other action figures, but we are all just plastic. We are from the dust, and to the dust, we are going.
Christianity realizes that life isn’t all about me or my happiness. It’s about God’s glory. Our rotten hearts lead us to search for cheap thrills and knock-off brands of spirituality that make us feel good today, but tomorrow the well is dried up.
This reality is true of the Samaritan woman who encountered Jesus, ironically, by a well. She had many lovers, but none of them could make her feel truly loved or valuable. “Jesus said to her, ‘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 4:13–14 ESV).
What is the pursuit of your heart? What is it that you are chasing after? Things? Relationships? Accomplishments? I say this to you today: only Jesus satisfies. He doesn’t promise you happiness that is here today and gone tomorrow. He promises everlasting joy. Joy because life is no longer about my happiness but his glory. He is the center. He is the king, and only he can fill that role. Everything else is a broken cistern. A lifeless action figure.
Trevor Rickard is an Associate Pastor at New Life Christian Fellowship.