Keeping Your Cisterns Clean



“After spending a few days in the southern Negev desert, Maik comes to a few conclusions about finding water in the desert, and how that applies to his life in the U.S. and Central America.”

We spent a few days this past month in the Negev Desert, in the southern part of Israel. We were near the Red Sea, in a very remote spot, for a time of reflection after a busy two months of travel and study. We trekked for three days in the Negev with five camels and nine friends along with our guides Shaiya and Yael. The desert is a good place to go to listen to God.

Photo: Shaiya and Arielle.

There is an absence of modern noise, and life gets down to the basics. It’s just you, your camel, the rocks and sand, and God’s creation. We slept under the stars, made bread, cooked over an open fire, and even had a wolf invade our camp one night and carry off three bags.

One of the places we stopped was a waterfall.

Photo: The waterfall with the pool at the bottom.

Yes, it does rain in the Negev- about an inch a year on the average. Some years it rains more, and when it does, rivers form in the wadis. This particular wadi (riverbed), called the Wadi Isaron, has a 150 foot drop- to a natural pool/cistern below. We were at this same “waterfall” in September a few years ago, and there was water below in the pool. This time in March, at the end of the rainy season, the cistern was dry. I asked our guide why, and he gave me an explanation that has deep spiritual significance.

 Shaiya told me that the annual evaporation rate in the desert is 4.5 meters or about 14 feet a year. That means that if you have a standing pool of water 14 feet deep, after a year of no rainfall, all the water will naturally evaporate and the pool will be empty. The Bedouins, the desert people of Israel, know this, and they annually would come to this pool, and clean it out, removing all the rocks and sand, which can naturally fill it, so that it’s depth would be at least 5 to 8 meters (16-25 feet deep). This way, when it did rain, and the river formed, and the waterfall suddenly came to life, water would fill the cistern, and there would be water all year in the pool.

The Bedouins could then count on having a secure place to come for water. This is a very important factor in desert life. The key is keeping the cistern clean. If you didn’t, the pool would become shallow due to sand and rock filling it, and even though the pool would be filled during the rain time, water would quickly evaporate. After a few months, the pool would be dry.

Shaiya explained that a Bedouin family who lived to the east in Moab would cross into Israel each year and clean this pool, so that they would have a secure place of water in their yearly grazing and wanderings. Due to the political problems, and closed borders, this tribe had not come to the pool for the past few years, and the pool/cistern had filled with sand and rocks.

Photo: The filled up cistern

Even though there had been plenty of rain, there was no place to “catch and hold” the water.

As I thought about this, suddenly I realized a spiritual principle.

God has made me to be a “container”.

But now, O Lord, You are our Father; We are the clay, and You our potter; And all of us are the work of Your hand. Is 64:8 NAS

He wants to continually fill our container with His Holy Spirit.

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, Eph 5:18

However, often my “container” gets filled with other things.

What things? Me, My Desires, Things that the world system tells me I should be doing or desiring, Distractions, Emotions that have nothing to do with God, Schedules filled with activities that have no spiritual significance; Many things actually fill my “container”. Think about what things will naturally fill your container. Simply turn on a television, or go to the internet, and watch how suddenly your “container” gets filled with “junk”. The result is that there is little room for the Holy Spirit in my container. Even when I do get a “filling” at church, or in a private worship or prayer time, or through a rich reading of the Word time, my cistern is so crowded with other “stuff”, that I don’t get enough to last me. It naturally evaporates over the next few days, and once again I find myself dry and thirsty, looking for refreshment.

The Bedouins knew that if they kept their cisterns clean, there would always be water there to refresh then, even during the driest times.

There is a lesson here for me, which I meditated on during the next few days as we walked around the Negev. I determined that I would keep my spiritual cistern, my “vessel”, clean, and always have more than what would naturally evaporate.

Then I got on the airliner for the flight back to Florida. After a 30-hour journey with literally two days of no sleep, I was so tired that my spiritual disciplines evaporated. My schedule began to fill up with meetings and household chores. I found myself reacting to situations with strong emotions, taking offense needlessly. I caught myself watching mindless History Channel programs late at night (since I was still on Israel time). I began eating junk food robotically. Suddenly I realized that my cistern was full of “stuff”. There was little room for the Holy Spirit.

This week, I determined to clean out my cistern. I got to bed at decent hours. I began eating healthy. I dedicated time daily for reading the Word, and praying. I sat and talked with my children, and my beautiful wife. I was more focused on hearing God speak.

Keeping the cistern clean is a life long task. It’s like cutting grass in the lawn- you have to do it on a regular basis. Often I don’t, and that’s when there are problems. It’s essential that we Children of God keep our vessels clean, so that He may fill them up to overflowing. If that happens, then there is a lot of Spiritual Fruit in our lives, because we have an abundant amount of the Holy Spirit with us, even in those troubled moments.

We don’t react according to our human nature to circumstances, but continue to walk through life as God intends us to by loving Him, and those He places around us.

Paul gave an example of this principle of “keeping the vessel clean” to his friends in Thessalonica when he wrote:

Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more. For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God;                     1 Thess 4:1-4


The "vessel" Paul was referring is a "Loutrophorus". It was common for every unmarried woman to keep this two handled jug filled with water- for a special occasion: the nuptial bath before her wedding. The image is to keep the water in this special vessel clean and pure.

This was in regard to sexual issues, but the principle applies across the board with all our “issues”. “Keep your vessel clean!” said Paul. God wants to use you today to touch someone who is in need of His Love.

Are our cisterns fill of sand and rocks? Do we have enough “water” to get us through even the driest times?  Maybe its time to clean these important storage places out.


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