Finding Our Worth

            Those of you who are mothers, I’m sure you can relate to the story of the mother who put her 5-year-old son to bed.  And, after a few minutes, she heard him call out, “Mom, can you please bring me a drink of water?”  And she said, “Now you had your chance when we were getting ready for bed and it’s past that time, so go to sleep.” 

            And, of course, five minutes later, she hears him again, “Mom!  Can you please bring me a drink of water?”  And she says “Now, son, we’re not going to play this game.  Don’t call me anymore or I’ll have to come in and give you a spanking.”

            About five minutes later, she hears him again, “Mom! When you come in to spank me, can you bring me a drink of water?”  Because if there’s one phrase that mothers have heard about a thousand times, it’s, “I’m thirsty!”

            And God has heard that phrase many times as well.  But, unlike those of us who are parents, God takes great delight when he hears his children say, “I’m thirsty.”  As the Psalmist said in Psalm 42:2, “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.”  And Jesus lets us know that he is ready and anxious to give us a drink that will satisfy our thirst. 

            This morning, we’re going to be in John chapter 4, and we find that Jesus is on his way from Judea in the south to Galilee in the north.  And verse 4 tells us, “And he had to pass through Samaria.” 

            Now, the truth is, Jesus didn’t have to go through Samaria.  In fact, most of the Jews chose not to.  If they were traveling from Judea to Galilee, they preferred to go around Samaria.  That route was a lot longer, but it was worth it to be able to avoid any contact with the Samaritans, for reasons that we’ll see in just a moment.

            And so, when scripture says that Jesus had to pass through Samaria”, it lets us know there was something in Samaria that Jesus needed to do.

            Starting in verse 5, “So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.  Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.

            “A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink.’ (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) 

            “The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?’ (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 

            “Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink,” you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.’” (John 4:5-10)

            And so, we find that Jesus is doing here what he does so often during his ministry.  Jesus goes out of his way to engage someone in conversation that most people went out of their way to avoid talking to.  And so, he comes to this well outside of Sychar and there were some big walls around that well – not literal walls, but figurative walls.

            One of them was the wall of race.  The Jews had a deep hatred for the Samaritans because they were a mixed blood race that was part Jew and part Gentile.  And while the Samaritans worshiped the true God, they didn’t do it the right way. 

            And so, these two nations despised each other.  If you want to get an idea of what their relationship was like, just take a look at the Middle East today.  Because the way the Palestinians and the Israelis regard each other today is exactly how the Jews and the Samaritans felt about each other in Jesus’ day.

            So, when this Samaritan woman says, “How is it that You, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” she’s indicating that she knew that the Jews didn’t think she was worth much.  You see, they lived in a time when the common assumption was that some lives matter more than other lives.  And they had ways to determine who mattered the most, and one of the ways they decided was race.  What race a person was determined how much he or she was worth.  And, unfortunately, much of the world hasn’t changed that much in this regard. 

            I think Paul Farmer was right when he said, “The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong with the world.”  And so, in Jesus day, there was this wall of race.

            And there was also a wall of gender.  During the time that Jesus’ disciples had been following him, they had expanded some of their narrow views.  Before Jesus came along, they would never have associated with a leper, because they were unclean.  Or a demon-possessed person.  And certainly not a tax collector.  But, by this time, a tax collector was a part of their inner circle.  I mean, these guys had changed a lot. 

            In fact, think about where they went to buy food.  They went to a Samaritan town.  That means they were going to eat food that had been prepared by Samaritans.  That’s something they never would have done before they started following Jesus.  And, so their viewpoint has expanded, but there was one thing they weren’t prepared for.  In verse 27, “Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman.”  Or, as the New Living Translation puts, they “were shocked to find him talking to a woman.” 

            Because, in that day, women were considered inferior.  And no rabbi ever discussed spiritual matters with women in public.  Until Jesus showed up.  On numerous occasions, Jesus taught women.  And there were women who followed him and became his disciples.  In fact, it was their money that helped support his ministry.  And it’s worth noticing that when Jesus was dying on the cross, all the men deserted him, but the women were still there.  Most of us have no idea how much Jesus changed the way we look at people. 

            There’s an anthropologist at Stanford University named Rene Girard.  This guy was not a Christian.  But he was intrigued by this question:  How did movements that advocate for the helpless get started?  Because as you go back into history, the ancient people never did that.  The ancient people celebrated those who were strong.  The mighty.  The conquerors.  Not the weak, not the oppressed, not the disadvantaged.  So where did all this energy come from to speak out for the homeless or the oppressed or the children or the slaves?

            And Girard studied history and he found that it all went back to one point in time — the ministry of Jesus.  Because no matter what you may think about Jesus, there is no denying the fact that this one man changed the way the world looks at the weak and the oppressed. 

            Because Jesus did not determine the value of people the same way that others did.  Jesus saw value in people no matter what their race was, not matter what their gender was.

            And he let people know that whoever you are, he loves you and he cares about your spiritual well-being.    Starting in verse 13, “Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.  The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’

            The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.’

            “Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come here.’

            “The woman answered him, ‘I have no husband.’

            Jesus said to her, ‘You are right in saying, “I have no husband”; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.’” (John 4:13-18)


            Here’s a woman who’s been married five times, and now she’s shacking up with somebody else.  That lets us know why she was at the well in the middle of the day.  Because, normally, women would get up early in the morning and they would go to the well with all the other women, when it was cool, and they would get the water they needed for the day.  And then they would come back in the evening with all the other women, when it was cool, and they would get the water they needed for the night. 

            But women did not come usually out in the middle of the day, in the heat of the day, by themselves.  Unless, of course, they were one of those women that mothers warn their sons about.  And this Samaritan woman was one of those women.  A woman with a reputation.  A woman the other women didn’t to be want around.  And so, she’s at the well in the middle of the day because she’s trying to avoid people.  In fact, she probably wasn’t too thrilled to see this Jewish man at the well. 

            But this man turned out to be a lot kinder than any other man she’d ever met.  And then, she realizes from what he has said that he’s a prophet.  I can tell you from experience that people change when they realize you’re a preacher.  Years ago, I used to ride around with the sheriff’s department in Virginia as a chaplain.  And we would come in contact with people in public who would curse and swear and the deputy would say, “By the way, this is our chaplain”, and all of a sudden, they would get all embarrassed and start talking about spiritual things.

            Like the little boy who saw a rat in his back yard and he decided to kill it. So he took his baseball bat and he beat it to death. He got so excited that he ran inside to tell his parents.  He had his baseball bat in one hand and the rat in the other.  But, he didn’t realize their preacher was visiting.  So the boy ran into the house yelling out, “Mom and dad, you’re not going to believe this! I beat this rat in the head and then I stomped on it.” But then he noticed the preacher, so he said, “And then the Lord called him home.”

            So, this Samaritan woman realizes that Jesus is a prophet and very quickly, she turns the discussion away from her situation with men to a religious topic – Jesus, where should we go to church?  And I think the reason she did that was because she expected to receive from Jesus what she had received her whole life – which was rejection.  Because the biggest wall of all was this wall of worthlessness

            Remember, this woman lived in a time when it was commonly accepted that some people mattered more than other people.  And you determined through ethnicity and gender and religion who was worth a lot and who wasn’t.  And no matter what guideline you were using – race, gender or morals — everybody agreed that this woman was at the very bottom.  She had absolutely nothing in her life to give her any sense of worth.

            And, centuries later, things really haven’t changed all that much.  Because we still use some pretty dumb ways to determine how much someone is worth.  But Jesus was different.  He didn’t say to this woman, “You’ve been divorced five times?  Here, let me give you one of our pamphlets on marriage and divorce.  You need to read it.”   Because Jesus didn’t see a woman who needed a lecture.  He saw a woman who needed some water.

            Look again at verse 10, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”  I want you to see that this is not an evil woman.  This is a woman who is desperately trying to find something deep inside that’ i missing from her life.

            And Jesus knew that she was going to keep feeling what she was feeling as long as she kept doing what she was doing.  And I want you to know that the same thing is true in your life, too.  You’re going to keep feeling what you’re feeling as long as you keep doing what you’re doing.    And at some point in your life, you’ve got to decide where you’re going to go to try to satisfy that deep need inside of you to be accepted, to be regarded as someone of worth.

            Jesus said in verse 13, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.  The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)

            So often, we go to wells that can’t satisfy our thirst.  And we keep going back to them over and over!  We go to the well of performance.   We think, “If I can just score enough, if I can just earn enough, if I can just achieve enough, if I can just get enough degrees – somebody will validate me.  Somebody will consider me to be important.” 

            Or we try the well of romance.  “If I can just find the right guy, if I can find the right girl – they will validate me and finally, somebody will consider me to be important!” 

            Or we try the well of wealth. “If I could just get a better house, if I could just get a newer car, if I could just have a better job!” 

            And if you are a woman in our culture, there is tremendous pressure to go to this well called appearance.  Rick Atchley talks about all the women’s magazines you can see at the cash register and he says there’s the same face or two on all the covers and he always has the same thought, “Enjoy your 15 minutes of fame.  Because next year, we’ll be tired of you and we’ll need a new face.” 

            And here’s the fact — 98% of women in America will never have the body shape of the women they put on those covers.  But we keep sending the message, “You need to have a certain appearance if you want validation.” 

            And the result is that 70% of girls 18-30 don’t like their bodies.  And 20 million women, at some point, will have an eating disorder because of this sick idea, “If I just keep trying to change my appearance, somebody will validate me, somebody will think I’m worth something” 

            Most of the people I know that are making bad choices in life are not doing so out of wickedness.  They’re doing it because they’re thirsty – they’re thirsty for somebody’s approval, they’re thirsty for somebody to tell them they’re worth something.   Like this Samaritan woman who keeps going from man to man to man and from bed to bed to bed.  Not because she’s evil, but because she wants so much to have somebody in her life that will make her feel like she’s worth something.  And what she’s doing is numbing the pain.  But it’s not satisfying her need.

            And that’s why Jesus was actually being kind when he said to her, “Go, get your husband.”  He is gently exposing the well that she keeps going to that’s not working.  And he still does the same thing today.  Have you ever thought that maybe the reason Jesus isn’t giving you what you want is because he’s trying to show you what you need.  Because only Jesus can satisfy our thirst for worth.  Most of us think the answer is out there somewhere.  Out there somewhere is a well where I won’t get thirsty if I can just find it.  And we will wear ourselves out going to wells that leave us just as thirsty as when we arrived.

            There’s another well we sometimes go to.  It’s called the well of family.  And I want you to listen carefully because I don’t want you to misunderstand.  I understand how consuming it is to be a parent, especially a mother.  The Peace Corps used to have as its slogan, “It’s the toughest job you’ll ever love.”  That’s not true.  I think being a mother is the greatest and most difficult job you’ll ever love.  When you have that baby, your life is changed forever. 

            I heard about one young mother who just had a little girl and she spent countless hours playing peek-a-boo and all the things you do to entertain little children.  One night, in the middle of the night, she got out of bed and stubbed her foot on the dresser.  She’s crying because it hurts, and her husband says “Where does it hurt?”  And she says, “It’s the little piggy that ate roast beef.”  I mean, when you are a mom, your brain is consumed with the job.  And the problem is not the mother who thinks her family is worth it.  The problem is looking to family for your ultimate sense of worth. 

            We’re a culture that is determined to keep score, so we can decide where to place people on the value chart.  And we turn everything into a competition.  Even our children.  “Have you got that A/B honor roll sticker on your minivan yet?  Did your kids make the first-string team? What kind of scholarships did they earn?  What awards did they get on field day?”  And we look to our children and how they turn out to validate us. 

            And there are a lot of problems with that.  What about the child that has some very real and deep emotional struggles?  What score is our culture going to give you for that one?  Or what about the young woman who desperately wants to be a mother and hasn’t yet had that privilege?  What about the child that heads in the wrong direction?  You see, here’s the thing about young people.  They grow up and make their own choices.  And when they get old enough, they can head in any direction they want to go, not necessarily the direction you tried to point them in. 

            And the problem is not thinking that your family is worth it.  The problem is thinking your family is supposed to be the source of your worth.  Because nothing outside of you, no matter how valuable, can be the measure of your value.  You don’t matter because you’ve raised amazing sons and daughters.  You matter because Jesus, the Son of God, died for you so that you could be the son or daughter of God.  And Jesus said “You can only find that worth from the living water I provide.”

            Jesus goes on to explain in John 7:38-39, “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’  Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive.”

            What that means is that our sin separated us from a holy God and we needed a Savior and so, he came to this earth, born of a woman, fully God, fully man, totally sinless.  And he went to the cross in our place and became our substitute.  And on that cross, Jesus said, “I thirst”. 

            He was thirsty because his throat was dry.  But maybe, maybe it was more than that.  Maybe it was because of all our thirst, everything within us that wants to be quenched and filled, disappointed by every well we’ve ever gone to.   Maybe Jesus took all of that on himself. 

            And they put him in a tomb and three days later he rose from the dead to validate God’s approval of what he did for us.  But it didn’t stop there – it says he ascended to heaven.  Because Jesus said to his apostles, “It’s better for you if I go, so that I can send the Holy Spirit.” 

            And in Acts chapter 2, the Spirit comes and twice it says, “He has poured out the Holy Spirit on us.”  Poured into us the refreshing river of the Spirit to drench our hearts, to saturate us.  With what?  Paul says in Romans 5, “God has poured out His love into your heart through the Holy Spirit”. (Romans 5:5)

            And, as a result, you don’t need anything outside of you anymore to validate you, to affirm you, to tell you that you matter, if you will learn to listen to that sweet, refreshing voice of the Spirit that you are the beloved child of God.  And it will never be well with your soul until Jesus is the well for your soul.  And when you drink from the water he provides, your life will be changed. 

            The Samaritan woman said, “Well, I know Messiah’s going to come.”  And Jesus looked at her, and for the first time ever, in public; He said “That’s me””  And she got excited and this woman who has spent most of her adult life trying to avoid people, now she can’t find people fast enough.  She runs into town and she tells everybody she can find, “You’ve got to come meet this guy.”  Because water this good has just got to be shared. And there’s no greater gift you can give to the people you love than to be a bucket for Jesus, to drink deep from him, and then carry that water to someone else.

            As I close, let me share with you a story about a lady by the name of Bobbie Lidem.  She grew up in a time and in a day and a church that taught her you can’t really be sure of your relationship to God.  Maybe you haven’t done enough, maybe you don’t know enough.  And all those tapes played over and over in her mind for decades.  But one day, something happened.  And she became a new person.  She couldn’t stop talking about her faith.  Every time the family got together, she would insist that they have devotionals and she would pray.  She would pray over every one of her family members by name.  Her daughter finally asked her, “Mom, what has happened to you?” 

            And she said, “In Isaiah 49, there’s a verse that says ‘Could a mother forget the child at her breast?  I will never forget you.” And she said that something clicked. And she realized that as much as she loved her babies, God loved her more.  And she said “I always knew God loved everybody.  But I had a hard time believing He could love me.  But He does.  He loves me.  He really, really loves me.”  She finally found the well where her thirst could be quenched.

            When it comes to love and acceptance, our culture says, “Look a certain way, or act a certain way and we’ll love you.” Our culture teaches us that love is something that has to be earned.

            But when it comes to God’s love, there is nothing you can do to earn it.  Just like Jesus with the Samaritan woman, God knows you for who you really are.  He knows everything you’ve done, and he still loves you.  And understand that God doesn’t love you because you’re valuable; you’re valuable because God loves you. 

            Are you thirsty for someone in your life who loves you that much?  Are you thirsty for a relationship with someone that thinks that you have such great value?  Are you ready to give up on the wells that you’ve been drinking from to fill that void in your life and take the living water that Jesus offers.

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