WILDERNESS: The Gift of Thirst


Exodus 17:1-3 (NIV)

The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.”

Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?”

3 But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”


Is anyone thirsty?

The truth: Everyone is thirsty. Really, really thirsty.

It is fascinating how God provides quail in the evening and manna in the morning yet he is willing to let the Israelites struggle and suffer with a lack of water. Why does he allow them to thirst. The average parent never tells their children to make sure they eat enough on a hot day, but you can bet they will tell them to drink lots of water. We can go quite a while without food, but we would never even consider fasting from water.

The Israelites added a new feature to their grumbling habit—quarreling. Look at Moses terse response:

Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?”

They only wanted a drink, Moses. How is that testing the Lord? They were thirsty.

Here’s my take. Something about thirst creates desperation. Something about desperation focuses prayer. Something about prayers of desperation creates a context for divine breakthroughs. Something about divine breakthroughs transform nominal religion into blazing faith. Something about blazing faith changes not just one life but transforms entire communities and traverses up and down generational lines.

Remember where we started’thirst creates desperation. Thirst is the setup for the miracle.

God allows them, and us, to thirst because he wants to give us the gift of desperation.

There is a profound connection between the thirst of our physical bodies and the much deeper thirst of our souls. Our souls thirst for the Spirit of God like people walking for days in the wilderness without water. We try to quench our thirst in every conceivable way yet our thirst only deepens. I’ve always been fascinated the way liquor stores are often called “Spirit Shops.” There’s something really ancient in this connection between drinking and spirits. In fact, Paul confirms the connection in his exhortation, “Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Ephesians 5:18. It’ why addiction has been called the sacred disease.

Here is a great truth: the deepest, most profound and otherwise unquenchable thirst of every single person on planet Earth is for the Holy Spirit. Do we really believe this?

As we close today, let’s remember this story from the Gospel of Jesus.

Jesus once made a secret trip from Galilee to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles. This feast commemorated the Israelites’ wilderness years. In order for the memory to lead them into the mystery and back into the movement, people would make little brush arbor huts and live in them throughout the feast. By this time, Jesus was a wanted man and he laid low for most of the week. He did some teaching in the Temple courts. And then John shares this bit:

37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

Here’s the thing about thirst. As Jesus quenches our thirst with the gift of the Holy Spirit, we find ourselves both satisfied yet thirsting for more. This is the great challenge and inestimable gift of the wilderness. There is always more.


Father, reveal to me the deeper wisdom of your will and ways in the wilderness. I know the thirst-quenching gift of the Spirit and yet I thirst for more of the Spirit. Bring me deeper into the mystery of a fullness that can yet be filled beyond—not an overflow but a rushing river. O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy his consolations, through Christ Our Lord, Amen.


Are you in touch with your thirst? Do you know an experience of desperation for more of God? Are you willing to become more real with this than ever before—not religious, but real?

For the Awakening,
J.D. Walt