Inflow, overflow, outflow – lessons from John 4

John 4 provides a great insight into the changes that Jesus can bring to a person’s life. The individual encounter Jesus had with the woman of Samaria shows how He combined both grace and truth in everything He said. There are many ways to approach studying and applying the chapter, but one message I heard some years ago seems to sum things up very neatly. There were three headings.

1. INFLOW.

Jesus has something to offer that can be found nowhere else in the universe. God alone is the source and Jesus Himself is the provider through the Holy Spirit. In the account Jesus uses the term “water of life” as a figure for all these spiritual resources and blessings that God offers freely to mankind in the gospel. These resources and blessings are received and then used on an individual, personal basis. The same inflow of spiritual resources received by the woman of Samaria is available in the Gospel message for every person in the world today.

Somewhere in our hearts we all have a thirst for this spiritual life. God created mankind with a sense of eternity in the heart, whereby the natural resources of the world just cannot fully satisfy our lives. As one preacher of the past has put it – there is a God-shaped hole in our lives that only God Himself can fill.

In the account of John 4 Jesus met a woman who had been trying to fulfil here life with a succession of relationships, but sadly one by one they failed and were broken. Some look to career, some to money, others to culture or pleasure. All these are good and healthy in the right perspective, but if God is left out of the picture, they can never make a human life fully complete by themselves. We all learn this lesson in our own way and through our own journeys in trying to fulfil our lives.

Sin breaks the relationship with a holy God, and prevents the inflow of these blessings.  The recognition of the seriousness of our personal sin in the sight of a holy God is vital before we can be open to receiving the blessings.  This matches the experience of the Samaritan woman, who is a lesson for us all.  Our individual failings will vary, but only Christ can bring forgiveness from God.  Thankfully, while He speaks the truth and cannot sweep anything under the carpet, He speaks the truth in a way which provides an opportunity, in grace and love, to be made right with God.  This was all ultimately achieved through the death and resurrection of Jesus Himself.

Jesus has the answer, tailored to every individual requirement. He is ready and willing to give freely and completely. All that we need to do is to come to Him with our sense of need and looking to Him alone for the supply. In the encounter in John 4, Jesus had not yet died and risen again, but for us today, as we look back in history, we see that everything He offers really comes through His death and resurrection. He promises forgiveness, eternal life and a personal relationship with Himself as Saviour and Lord and with God as Father, to all who will simply trust Him and His promises in the same way that the woman of Samaria did in the heat of that day when she met Jesus herself.

2. OVERFLOW.

The purpose of the Christian life is not just to receive a constant supply of spiritual blessings just for our own benefit. The purpose, however, is not that our own hearts and lives should be the terminus. We are not meant to be like reservoirs and become stagnant, but like channels where the flow continues in a cycle of blessing.

Anyone who knew the woman as she was that morning would not expect her to be the recipient that very day of some of the greatest teaching that Jesus Himself was to give on the subject of worship. However, as part of that one great conversation, Jesus led her into the two-fold result of the inflow of blessing into her life that He was to bring. The first and most important was this matter of worship – the vertical relationship with God being one based on reverence and praise. The blessing of eternal life is so great that it is our joy and privilege to respond in an overflow of praise and worship back to the God who provides so abundantly.

A worshipful attitude of heart is one of the clearest indicators that a person really is in the living relationship with God through Jesus which is at the heart of true Christianity. By the Spirit of God we receive the benefits of the exceedingly great and precious promises of God in the Gospel.  The natural response is that we should worship God the Father in spirit and in truth. It has been well said that intelligent worship of the true God is the highest possible calling and achievement and occupation for any human being.

No-one can offer true worship apart from first receiving the inflow from God when the broken relationship with Him is restored.  True worship can only be accepted by God from those who have trusted Jesus as personal Saviour from their sins.  Those who have trusted have every reason to praise and worship with all their hearts at all times.

3. OUTFLOW.

Just as there is the vertical relationship of inflow from God and overflow back to Him, there should also a horizontal relationship of sharing an outflow of blessing and encouragement to others. This is vividly illustrated by the immediate action of the woman of Samaria – she went back to the town where she lived and told all the people about Jesus. This would have been a hard thing to do because she was regarded as something of an outcast. She now had a strong burden to tell the Samaritans that Jesus was the promised Jewish Messiah. Such was the impact of the inflow she had received that she was enabled to do this in an open and positive way.

There are two main ways in which this outflow should operate. One is to testify of Jesus to those who do not yet believe, as the woman did that same day. The spreading of the gospel message is still the great commission of the church, because the gospel is the power of God unto salvation, which is the most important human need of all, according to God Himself. It is therefore at the heart of His plans and purposes for the church and therefore for all Christian people.

The second way the outflow works is to be of service and encouragement to other Christian believers, those who are brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. We all need help and encouragement as Christians, and I am deeply thankful for those who have been of practical and spiritual help in so many ways. Those who have received from God now have something genuine to give to others. However weak and small we may feel, we can have a little part in giving to others as a part of the expression of our bigger “thank you” to God. We can give a word of comfort or encouragement, take a little time to draw alongside, or help in a variety of practical ways. We can all at least pray for others.

The ripple effect.

When these two aspects of outflow to others are in place, only then will the third area really have an impact in a godly way. So many people think Christianity is based on good works, but without all three parts of the above foundation in place, good works in our own efforts will never work. With the foundation in place of inflow, overflow, and godly outflow, then human relationships with the family and the community will benefit. Huminitarian aid can be given in the name and for the sake of Christ and the gospel, in the power of the transformation it has brought to lives in the good knowing Jesus as Saviour.

We need to ask ourselves whether we are in the reality of the Christian life that the woman of Samaria started to experience that day when she met with Jesus personally. True Christians know the personal relationship with Jesus is just as real for us as it was for her, with the same divine supply of spiritual inflow, and the same result of overflow of worship and true godly outflow of blessing from the Lord to others in the world today. My be be challenged, but also encouraged to remember that the resources are freely available to all who will come in faith, and that the divine supply never runs dry.

The divine plan is for a flow that should and can run smoothly and naturally in the spiritual sense, just like the water cycle in our physical world. Water is raised from the oceans into the atmosphere to then fall as rain and flow through rivers back to the sea. Jesus is the one who can lift humanity to what it should be and can be when individuals are properly in the loop in their relationship with God. It is this fundamental vertical relationship with God that Jesus came to bring. Without that inflow from God in place, none of our own efforts at meeting our own needs or those of others can ever really succeed.

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