As a minister of the gospel, I have enjoyed the privilege of regular public speaking since 2003. Whether serving as missionary to my Jewish people, as an outreach pastor at my local church in Johnson City, TN, or in my current capacity as director of a ministry, I derive great joy from teaching and preaching the Word of God!
To open God’s Word with God’s people is thoroughly satisfying. So much so, that after a message, talk, or seminar, I typically feel energized rather than exhausted.
Exertion bringing energy rather than exhaustion may seem counter-intuitive. But in the spiritual, we find this principle illustrated in a fascinating conversation between Jesus and the disciples. In addition, this principle has specific applications to our evangelistic efforts as followers of Jesus!
The context is John 4 – the account of Jesus ministering to Samaritan woman at the well. Initially in the narrative, Jesus leaves Judea, heading north for Galilee:
“He left Judea and departed again to Galilee. But He needed to go through Samaria” (John 4:3-4).
Why did He need to go through Samaria? Well, it wasn’t for social or cultural reasons, because Jews and Samaritans were kind of like the Hatfields and McCoys – they didn’t like each other and they typically didn’t mix due to historically bad blood. You see, when Assyria conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel, including the capital of Samaria, 7 centuries earlier, many non-Jewish people intermingled with the Jewish population. This group of people of called ‘Samaritans’ were despised by the Jewish people in the southern Kingdom of Judah. Jewish people called Samaritans ‘half-breeds’ and enmity grew.
In fact, in the first century, Jewish people heading north into the Galilee, like Jesus, would normally go around Samaria to avoid any contact with Samaritans. But Jesus ‘needed to go through Samaria’ because He had what we might call a ‘divine appointment’ to keep.
His divine appointment included ministering to the woman at the well. In the narrative, Jesus begins the conversation by asking her for a drink of water (John 4:5-7). A discussion ensues regarding water, with Jesus telling her about the ‘living water’ he can provide (John 4:9-14).
As the interaction continues, the woman realizes she’s not talking to just a mere man. She thinks Jesus is a prophet (John 4:15-20).
At the end of the conversation, as the topic turns from the physical to the spiritual, the woman tells Jesus that when the Messiah comes, “he will declare all things to us” (John 4:21-25). Jesus responds famously with these words from John 4:26: “I who speak to you am He.”
Two things may get lost in this John 4 narrative. First, the disciples ‘had gone away into the city to buy food’ (John 4:8). Second, during this entire conversation, there’s no record of Jesus drinking water! It’s possible he did. The narrative simply doesn’t say.
When the disciples return from the city (Sychar), the woman heads for the city to give testimony about Jesus. Upon hearing her testimony, the city folk head toward the well to see Jesus (John 4:27-30). At this point, the disciples are not only amazed He’d been speaking with a Samaritan woman, they’re concerned for Jesus’ physical welfare, urging Him – “Rabbi, eat” (John 4:31).
While Jesus response is remarkable – the disciples understanding is typical:
But He said to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.” Therefore the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought Him anything to eat?” (John 4:32-33)
Jesus then provides clarity amidst their confusion with a statement that is both profound and perplexing:
Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work” (John 4:34).
I have been a believer since 1987, but have only begun pondering and meditating over this verse since I began serving full-time in Christian vocational work in 2003. How is it that by being poured out, one is filled up? How is it that we’re fed spiritually by doing God’s will? I read these words of Jesus and think, ‘Ok, it’s true for Him, but is it true for me?’
When I was a new believer, I understood that I needed to be fed spiritually by the Word, and through prayer and fellowship. This filling up would prepare me to be poured out…in service to the Lord. Just as an athlete eats a pre-game meal and then uses that energy in the competition, so we get fed spiritually so as to exert our spiritual muscles in service to the Lord.
Yet, my experience over the past number of years has broadened my understanding of this verse. So today, I’ve come to a place where these words of Jesus have applied to me at various times in my journey of faith.
How about you? Perhaps this also your experience, but maybe it’s a concept you’ve pondered little. Wherever you may be on the this continuum, it is food for thought (pun intended!).
The Lord’s words from John 4:34 most likely echoed Deuteronomy 8:3, where the Torah states:
“…man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.”
Just as Jesus’ ministering to the Samaritan woman brought Him greater sustenance and satisfaction than mere physical food could provide, the same may apply to you and I in this sense – when we’re not simply hearers of the word, but doers of the Word, we are fed in a unique way.
But there’s more.
Jesus concludes this lesson for the disciples with an evangelistic thrust, utilizing a harvest analogy:
Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest! And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together.For in this the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labors” (John 4:35-38).
Jesus, speaking of a spiritual harvest of souls that was ever present, was referring to both the Samaritan woman and the people of Sychar. At the same time, the laborers rejoice!
Throughout my Christian life, I have experienced spiritual satisfaction and sustenance through sharing the gospel with people. And I hope that has been your experience.
As followers of Jesus, the doing of God’s will as His witnesses includes praying for the lost, serving those who’ve yet to trust in Christ, and proclaiming good news – often in the context of personal relationships.
So, in light of your witness to others, and God’s will for your life in this area of your walk with Christ – are you feeling sustained and satisfied…or are you hungry?