If there was one thing my dad taught me, it was to enjoy language – to find pleasure in the way words work together. Puns, riddles, crosswords and spelling games were the à la carte fun-fare when I was a lad. His favourite poem was “If” by Rudyard Kipling. But should someone ask him if he enjoyed Kipling, he would reply (straight-faced) that he couldn’t really say, because he’d never Kipled.
So even now, so many years on, I instinctively look for the play in words. The title of this little article has already put a twinkle in my eye. Living Well; just what does that look like? Earthly instinct tries to convince us that living well is an activity; a certain life-style, a certain comfort-level, a certain income-bracket. I’d like to propose that it’s not so much an activity as it is a place. It’s not living well…it’s the Living Well.
There was a certain man who seemed to be living well. He is described variously in the Gospels as being rich, being young, and being a ruler. Money, youth and position. He was living well, right? He had the world by the tail. But he knew something was wrong, something was missing. He said to Jesus:
Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? (Luke 18:18)
Jesus told him to discount the crutch of wealth – the illusion of living well, and follow Him. Not so much an income-bracket as a place; close to Jesus, with Jesus.
We also read of a woman in John chapter four who had developed a lifestyle that many today take as par for the course – a string of marriages and then settling in with her latest man without any thought of yet another marriage. “I have no husband,” she defiantly told Jesus, hoping to change the subject when He brought it up. Up to that point she was right there with Him, sitting there by Jacob’s well, intrigued by His mysterious talk about a spring that bubbles up to bring constant refreshment. “No more dreary slogs to this place” is what was on her mind:
Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water. (John 4:15)
She wanted to live well, and she wanted things easy, but in particular she didn’t want to talk about the ethics of her current living arrangements. So she tried to divert His attention to the issue of worship. Surely He being a Jew and she being a Samaritan, that should kindle an argument and she could hide behind the smoke it sent up. But as Jesus drilled in concerning her situation, this woman came to realise that her version of living well was nothing more than a mirage. It was she who had been smoke-screened. She abandoned her water jar and told the villagers:
Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” They went out of the town and were coming to him. (John 4:29-30)
Come to Him, be with Him. Living well was not so much a life-style as a place; close to Jesus.
Bear in mind, it wasn’t just a first-century mistake, to go in search of living well and to miss the Living Well. Six centuries earlier God had warned His people through the Prophet Jeremiah:
But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit…
…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.
The nation had moved away from God, the Living Well, thinking they could set about their own work of living well. They had traded their place close to God for a life that could not satisfy, could never quench their thirst.
So as we go about our daily routines – even like the rich young ruler, maybe doing all the right things – it’s still possible to get the sense that something’s missing, something’s wrong. We’re looking for something more. Perhaps it’s not the activity that’s at fault. Perhaps it’s the place. The spiritual place. In the day-to-day push and pull of life on earth we can gradually drift away from that place of sweet refreshment. We get distracted, we compromise, and we chase after the wrong things. We thirst. At the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem Jesus said:
If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:37-38)
If we don’t stay close to the Living Well, we have no chance of living well.