Spiritual Thirst Opens the Conversational Door

A young man came to me one evening during the camp meal and he asks,

“Do the non-elect go to hell?”

I was startled.  This question was out of context, out of the blue, seeming to come from left field. I was in this guy’s life for just a couple of days while we were on a work team together at a service camp hours away from our homes.  We were painting trailers, cleaning yards, and doing community service type work. Most of the conversations during this week of co-laboring with teenagers focused on mundane trivial stuff like sports teams and Hollywood gossip, and even who had started liking whom.

“Pastor, do the non-elect go to hell?”

This was a question out of the blue, asked by an 18 year old doing more than making conversation.

Some questions reveal spiritual thirst.

I’ve learned that questions like this are more likely a reflection of something deeper underneath. Eighteen year old boys don’t regularly ask me that question. Most don’t even think upon such things. Here is where I sensed the Holy Spirit underlining this moment, drawing my attention to this boy’s spiritual thirst.

Source: Flickr
Source: Flickr

I could sense this was not an academic question of curiosity, but something underneath was causing this man to think along these things. Instead of answering I ask:  “Well, why do you ask?” And he says,

“Well, because I’m afraid that I’m not elect and that I’m going to hell.”

There it is. The real motive behind his question was a fear that he was separated from God.

Spiritual Thirst opens the conversational door.

A lot of practical evangelism training starts with us trying to manipulate the conversation to our required starting point. If our gospel starting point is man’s sinfulness, we have to steer the conversation to that point, attempting to convince people of their sinfulness. If our gospel starting point is God’s kingdom and our role in it, we have to steer the conversation there. So many scripts require us to attempt control of a conversation. Manipulating conversation is part of the root of the our conversational fear — we feel like we have to control the conversation. Intuitively, controlling the conversation doesn’t feel good. So how to we have a spiritual conversation that moves a person towards Christ without manipulation?

Listen for Spiritual Thirst.

“Well, because I’m afraid that I’m not elect and that I’m going to hell.” There is the spiritual thirst. A fear that he was separated from God. His spirit was not bearing witness with God’s Spirit that he could cry, ‘Abba Father’. Our conversation naturally centers around Romans 8:16, “Our spirit bares witness with God’s Spirit that we can cry, ‘Abba Father.’” He is experientially aware that he is separated from God. This makes it very easy to talk about sin as the cause of that separation.

If anyone is thirsty, let him come.

“On the last and greatest day of the Feast [of Tabernacles], Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.”  (John 7.37) Scholars tell us that during that feast, the High Priest would go to the Pool of Siloam, take a golden pitcher, dip it into that pool, and carry it back to the temple. There he would pour that water out on the altar of sacrifice. At that moment the Levites would blow the trumpets, and the great crowd would cry out,

“With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” (Isaiah 12:3).

There would be leaping, and dancing, and shouting, and singing, and great hallelujah’s would fill the air. Jesus said something entirely different on that last day.  He rewrote the litany:

“If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.” (v.37b)

Jesus knows we have spiritual thirst

“If anyone thirsts.” Jesus plainly taught that if anyone wants a relationship with God, it can be obtained. But notice that this claim to a relationship here is specifically addressed only to those who are spiritually thirsty. That thirst is the starting point of a person’s quest to seek God. That thirst is the restlessness of the human heart that drives one to Jesus.

“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God”(Psalm 42:1-2a).

“God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1).

“I spread out my hands to You; my soul longs for You like a thirsty land” (Psalm 143:6).

Does this describe the longing of our soul? A thirst for knowing God that is almost a desperation?

Spiritual Thirst is the conversational starting point

A recent survey of my readership showed that nearly one out of three do not know how or where to start a spiritual conversation with their friends about Jesus. Spiritual thirst is the starting point. Spiritual thirst is the initial contact point. Spiritual thirst is the need that causes people to seek the water to satiate it. Spiritual thirst is the experiential evidence that helps a person see their separation from God. Spiritual thirst is the launch point that makes conversation natural. Spiritual thirst is the conversational context to begin the conversation. Spiritual thirst is the open door to the heart when it comes time to starting a conversation about following Jesus.

Some other examples of Spiritual Thirst:

I want to give you examples of how spiritual thirst can play out in real life.

Let me ask you this?

In your journey to faith in Christ, what was the underlying need that drove you to start seeking for God? What helped you realize that you were separate from God? For more information on my thoughts on spiritual thirst, click some of the related links below. Talk #2 in the Fear Free Evangelism Study Course is all about spiritual thirst and the role it plays in drawing people to start following Jesus.

Well Water Image Source: Flickr, Department for International Development

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  1. says

    great post – that is one of the challenges we experience over and over as we speak to and consult with pastors and churches – how do we #1 get to know people w/spiritual thirst that aren’t already inside the 4 walls of the church and #2 how do we help those inside the church to own their own spiritual thirst so they can not only see it in others but relate their own thirst story in a way that isn’t programmatic or cliche-filled?

    we’re trying to help folks create the space and context for the thirst quenching conversations. not only does it transform the person displaying the thirst and looking for the answers, but it transforms the person recognizing the thirst and offering direction to the source of quenching the thirst…


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