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Intersection of Life and Faith

The Journey Part 4: Refreshment

  • Alister McGrath Professor of Historical Theology at Oxford University, and President of the Oxford Center for Christian Apologetics
  • 2007 16 Jul
The Journey Part 4: Refreshment

Anyone who has struggled through a dry and rocky wilderness needs rest and refreshment. Just as a parched land cries out for rain, so we long to be cooled and revitalized by draughts of fresh water. It was natural for the prophets to see the coming of rain to a dry land as a powerful analogy of the human need to be restored and renewed.

Travelers through the desert wastes were kept going by the thought of an oasis – the luxury of a pool of water, in the blissful shade of date palms, round which weary travelers could find rest and peace. Soon they would have to move on again. But in the meantime, they experienced the sweet calm of freedom from toil and exertion. It was a rare and refreshing moment of delight.

Psalm 63 brings out the yearning for spiritual refreshment after an exhausting struggle along the road of faith:

O God, you are my God
Earnestly I seek you
My soul thirsts for you
My body longs for you
In a dry and weary land
Where there is no water.

The Psalm vividly depicts the weariness of an arduous journey through the desert. It generates a mental image of the journey which allows us to enter into the experiential world of a tired and weary traveler, who longs for rest and refreshment. But where is it to be found?

The Psalm makes the point that it is God alone who can refresh and renew us along the journey of faith. Just as the exertions of physical travel cause us to hunger and thirst for food and drink, the journey of faith must be sustained by the living God.

Jesus speaks of giving us water which becomes ‘a spring of water welling up to eternal life’ (John 4: 14). Dwell on this image, and begin to appreciate it. The point being made is that ordinary water satisfies temporarily; the water that Jesus brings brings permanent refreshment. In the same way, Jesus speaks of being the ‘bread of life’ (John 6: 51). Unlike the manna given to Israel in the wilderness, anyone who eats this bread will be satisified fully and will live for ever. Ordinary bread leads to death; this bread leads to eternal life.

It is helpful to pause and meditate on these two images. Both speak of refreshment; both declare that this refreshment is to be only in Jesus Christ. Jesus does not tell his audience that he will show them the bread of life, or that he will take them to some special place where it may be found. No; he himself is that bread. To feed on Christ is to be sustained and nourished along the road of faith. So how are we to make sense of this? What does it mean to ‘feed on Christ’? One answer was given by the great English Baptist preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-92).

In a celebrated sermon preached in 1855, Spurgeon spoke movingly of our need for refreshment along the road of faith, and unhesitatingly identified where that refreshment was to be found – in the contemplation of Christ.

There is, in contemplating Christ, a balm for every wound; in musing on the Father, there is a quietus for every grief; and in the influence of the Holy Ghost, there is a balsam for every sore. Would you lose your sorrow? Would you drown your cares? Then go, plunge yourself in the Godhead’s deepest sea; be lost in his immensity; and you shall come forth as from a couch of rest, refreshed and invigorated. I know nothing which can so comfort the soul; so speak peace to the winds of trial, as a devout musing upon the subject of the Godhead.

These were bold and powerful words, all the more remarkable since the preacher was merely twenty years old at the time. Yet Spurgeon was here drawing on the distilled insights of travelers along this road before him.

For Spurgeon, meditating on Christ is profoundly consoling. Notice how he uses a series of verbal images to explore the impact of meditating upon Christ for the tired soul. Images of tiredness, stress and wounds are scattered throughout this brief passage. Those undertaking the journey of faith must expect to be battered, bruised and weary. Spurgeon urges his hearers to plunge themselves into the immensity of God, and emerge from this refreshed, healed and consoled. He has traveled the road of faith himself, and knew both the need for spiritual refreshment, and the abundance of grace promised to those who turn to Christ.

Used by permission of Alister McGrath

Alister McGrath is Professor of Historical Theology at Oxford University, and President of the Oxford Center for Christian Apologetics. He has co-authored the international bestseller The Dawkins Delusion? Atheist fundamentalism and the denial of the divine (InterVarsity Press) with his wife, Joanna Collicutt McGrath, who is a psychologist. He has also authored the forthcoming book, due to be published on 25 September, entitled Christianity's Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution from the sixteenth century to the twenty-first (HarperOne). For further information about Alister McGrath, visit his website at