by Robyn Engelbrecht
Parallel Worlds - Living Water of Life
Imagine a landscape of desert dunes - an aerial view, as far as the eye can see, of undulating white sand - like bed sheets waving in the breeze on a warm summer's day. This vast landscape is an endless vista of glistening white hills and valleys, more hills and more valleys. Now imagine that each of these valleys is filled with water. Yes, you did see it - pools of water in the desert dunes. It is like seeing a mirage, only this isn't a mirage. It's the Lencois Maranhenses, a large national park in Brazil's Maranhao state that encompasses around 600 square kilometers. (1)
Between January and June each year, around 1190 milimetres of rain fall over the Lencois each year, filling the valleys between the dunes with water, creating green and blue coloured lagoons that may be up to 91metres in length, and up to 3metres deep. "In early July these lagoons can become interconnected, when rivers, such as the Rio Negro, cut through the dunes, creating a route for fish to migrate into the lagoons". Here they feed on other fish and insect larvae. Water plants also thrive in the lagoon. (2)
People, too, live in and around the dunes. In the dry season, people in the oases raise chicken, goats and cattle, grow crops such as cassava, beans and cashews, and collect buriti and carnauba fibres from the restinga, or coastal vegetation, that grows near the dunes. When the rains come and planting becomes more difficult, they head for the sea, where they make their living for the season by fishing and selling their dried, salted catch to traders. (3)
It is a strange landscape, the Lencois - a mixture of desert and water. Even though it isn't a desert strictly speaking, because of the large annual rainfall, the contrast between dune and lagoon seems no less remarkable. ""It feels like a parallel world', says Carolina Alvite", former director of the national park. (4)
Our world is a landscape much like the dry, shifting dunes in the Lencois - desertlike - a place where so many of us are searching for hope, meaning and purpose in our lives, for something that will quench the thirst created by deep heart longings and needs. We crave for something more than what we find here, but nothing more seems to be found. David described this landscape as "a dry and weary land where there is no water." (Psalm 63:1) (5)
God understands our heart longings, and he knows our circumstances. Long ago he promised: "I will pour water on him who is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: I will pour my spirit upon your seed, and my blessing upon your offspring." (Isaiah 44:3) (6) Here in the desert landscape of our lives, he promised to create a parallel world.
Nicodemus knew what it was to be thirsty, to want for something more. He was wealthy and influential, and a religious leader of the highest standing - a teacher of the law. But even he wasn't satisfied. One night he came to Jesus, hoping to draw him into discussion on some of the issues that had been troubling him. (7) "Rabbi," he said, "we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him."(John 3:2) (8)
Jesus saw past Nicodemus' polished introduction, to his real need. Coming directly to the point, he said, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." (John 3:3) (9)
This came as a surprise to Nicodemus. Self-reliant, and confident that his Jewish heritage assured him a place in the kingdom of God, "he was irritated at the close application of Jesus' words to himself. Surprised out of his self-possession, he asked, in words full of irony, 'How can a man be born when he is old?'" (10)
Jesus didn't argue with him. Instead, he pressed the truth home with even greater assurance: "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit." (John 3:5) (11) "Nicodemus knew that Christ here referred to water baptism and the renewing of the heart by the Spirit of God. He was convinced that he was in the presence of the One whom John the Baptist had foretold." (12)
"Jesus continued: 'That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit.' By nature the heart is evil, and 'who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one. Job 14:4" (13) Nothing that Nicodemus did could make him the kind of person he needed to be to have a place in God's kingdom. The fountain of his heart needed to be purified before the streams could become pure. He needed a complete transformation, a death to self, and a new life altogether. No one but the Spirit of God could bring about this change. (14)
Nicodemus still didn't understand, so Jesus used the wind to illustrate his meaning: "The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you don't know where it comes from , or where it is going. It' s the same for everyone who is born of the Spirit." (John 3:8) (15) We don't know where the wind comes from, or where it is going, but we know it is there. We hear it, feel it, and see it moving on things around us. When we are transformed by the Spirit, we may not know how, or just when the transformation happened, but we can see the change he brings in our lives. We know that we're never the same again after he works in our hearts.
How do we receive this amazing gift - the Holy Spirit, the water of life that renews our hearts? Nicodemus had the same question: "How can these things be?', he asked. (John 3:9) (16) Jesus answered kindly, "Are you Israel's teacher, and do you not understand these things? I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. If I have told you of earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven, except the one who came from heaven - the Son of Man. (John 3:10-13) (17)
"Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life." (John 3: 14, 15) (18) Here is something to think on and contemplate: that in the wilderness of our sin and shame, our failure and feelings of hopelessness, Jesus was lifted up for us to see and to look to in faith. Like a tired and thirsty traveler, who finally catches a glimpse of fresh water to drink, you and I can look to Jesus, and find in him our source of life and healing.
What a sacrifice Jesus made to bring us this precious water, the gift of his Spirit. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life."
God loves us that much. We only have to believe, to place our faith in Jesus, his only begotten Son. When we do, we receive the precious gift of His Holy Spirit, the water of life - refreshing, purifying and life-changing, and we become wellsprings of his amazing power. "Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." (John 7:38) (19)
If we could catch a glimpse of heavenly things, and see them just as Jesus saw them when he talked with Nicodemus, we would never want to live our lives in pursuit of earthly treasures again. The things we worry about - the things we hope might bring us pleasure and satisfaction, seem insignificant and worthless when we realize that the source of life, joy, and peace, is already with us.
The pools of water in the Lencois Maranhenses were only temporary bodies of water. They were there for a season, and then they were gone, leaving the dunes desert dry again. Jesus is a never-failing source of life. He never leaves us. What is temporary, is the opportunity we have to accept the life he offers. We all have a period of probation, a time to seek God while he may be found. (Isaiah 55:6) (20) Understanding the uncertainty of life, God has called this time Today.(Hebrews 3:13) (21) He is patient with us, Peter says, "not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9) (22) There is no better time to drink take hold of God's promise of eternal life, than today. "The Spirit and the bride say 'Come!', and let him who hears, say 'Come'. Whoever is thirsty, let him come, and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life."(Revelation 22:17) (23)
As we come to Jesus, and accept his free gift, he will refresh our hearts, and "streams of living water" will flow from within us. (24)
Thankyou God, for sending us Jesus. There are times when we feel that our hearts are dry and desert-like. But by faith we accept the sacrifice that Jesus made for us, and the transforming power of the Spirit that is ours because of it. Make us channels of life and blessing in our world.
Barker, Kenneth, Donald Burdick, John Stek, Walter Wessel, Ronald Youngblood, eds. The NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995.
Ribeiro, Ronaldo. "A Sea of Dunes." National Geographic, July 2010, 108-115.
The Holy Bible: Containing the Old and New Testaments (World Wide Publishers).
White, Ellen G. Desire of Ages. Mountain View: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1940.
(1) Ronaldo Ribeiro. "A Sea of Dunes." National Geographic, July 2010, 108.
(2) Ribeiro. "A Sea of Dunes", 108.
(3) Ribeiro. "A Sea of Dunes", 108.
(4) Ribeiro. "A Sea of Dunes", 108.
(5) Kenneth Barker et al., eds., The NIV Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995), 842.
(6) The Holy Bible: Containing the Old and New Testaments (World Wide Publishers), 581.
(7) Ellen G. White, Desire of Ages (Mountain View: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1940), 171
(8) Barker et al., eds., The NIV Study Bible, 1595.
(9) Barker et al., eds., The NIV Study Bible, 1595.
(10) White, Desire of Ages, 171.
(11) Barker et al., eds., The NIV Study Bible, 1595.
(12) White, Desire of Ages,
(13) White, Desire of Ages,
(14) White, Desire of Ages,
(15) Barker et al., eds., The NIV Study Bible, 1595.
(16) The Holy Bible, 830.
(17) Barker et al., eds., The NIV Study Bible, 1595.
(18) Barker et al., eds., The NIV Study Bible, 1595.
(19) Barker et al., eds., The NIV Study Bible, 1607.
(20) Barker et al., eds., The NIV Study Bible, 1090.
(21) Barker et al., eds., The NIV Study Bible, 1861.
(22) Barker et al., eds., The NIV Study Bible, 1902.
(23) Barker et al., eds., The NIV Study Bible, 1949.
(24) Barker et al., eds., The NIV Study Bible, 1607.
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