Priming the Pump

Isaiah 55: 1-7 and John 4: 1-18

As a congregation, our reality is that we are in different places on our spiritual journey. Some of us are just beginning to live an intentional life as people of faith. Others of us are so busy that we aren’t sure that we could find time to breathe if it wasn’t automatic – and to think about adding one more thing, no matter how important it might be, is simply unthinkable. Others of us have been practicing living intentionally for many years. But it is likely that all of us, no matter where we are on our faith journey, suspect that there is more to life than we have at the moment. We wonder if it is possible to be happier, more fulfilled, more satisfied. Our devotional book for the next 40 days, Treasures of the Transformed Life, suggests that the answer is “Yes.”

  • Yes, there is more to life than we are currently experiencing.

  • Yes, it is possible to feel greater contentment even in this crazy, mixed-up world.

  • Yes, happiness can grow from where we are right now, even if we are happy.

God offers us true riches in life. Jesus said that he came to bring us life more abundant and full than we have dreamed. The more that matters comes with the transformed life of faith. MORE.

(Unsatisfied.) We truly are not ever satisfied. (pause) Not for long, anyway. We achieve a point where we are content – and then we move the goal posts. We are not satisfied. No matter how many presents are in our pile, we ask if there are any more. We want more.

The woman in the story in John 4 came to the well because she needed water. Despite a lot of fairly irrelevant scholarly speculation, that IS why women went to the well – to get water. And to go in the middle of the day most probably meant that she had been to the well already once and needed more water. She needed more. We know that she was at least seeking water. She appears to perhaps be seeking something else as well. She is not quite satisfied with her life. She is curious about what more might be possible.

We may relate to the woman in the story. As soon as Jesus engaged her in conversation about living water, (pause) this hint of something more, she is hooked. First of all, he treats her like she matters. That ALWAYS draws us in. She fully engages in the conversation, trying to follow his riddles about who he is and what “living water” means. By the time she says, “Sir, give me this living water,” we know she is ready for MORE. She wants more. She is not going to be satisfied with life as she has known it anymore. She is unsatisfied.

In the musical, Hamilton, when Alexander Hamilton meets Angelica Schuyler he says, “You strike me as a woman who has never been satisfied. You’re like me. I’m never satisfied. I’ve never been satisfied.” And we relate to Alexander Hamilton – after all there’s a little bit of us in his story. We identify with this “upstart, orphan, son of a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten Spot in the Caribbean” There’s a little bit of us that’s also ambitious and unsatisfied.

But today we are talking about being unsatisfied in our spiritual life. When the answers we have been taught are not enough. When going through the pattern or ritual that we have been taught is not enough. Spiritual authors have asserted for a long time something like the way St Augustine (13 November 354 – 28 August 430 AD) expressed it, “Our hearts are restless until we find our rest in Thee.” Or perhaps as Blaise Pascal (19 June 1623 – 19 August 1662) said a century later in his Penseés… They are expressing our human experience of wanting more than what we know…wanting to connect with a divine being outside of ourselves.

Thomas Hawkins tells about visiting the monastic community at Taize and going to find a spring that has been a part of a prayer walk for many years. The path had crosses with readings from scripture along the way. One stop was in a field where there was no relief from the beating sun. The grass was brown and dried, suffering from a lack of water. One of the pilgrims read Isaiah 55: 1-3. They journeyed on until they reached the spring. He describes it as “brackish and unappealing.” He had to talk himself into cupping and drinking the water – an act of faith. “To my surprise the water was cool and refreshing. It tasted clean and pure. Is this how it is with the living water God gives? The springs that look appealing to us will never satisfy. They seduce us with their lovely promises of vitality through control and success. These sources are not only false, they are also dangerous. The living water…seldom appeared attractive or life-giving…It takes an act of decision to drink.” Perhaps it seems unappealing – but if we will taste, it is cool and refreshing – exactly what we have been craving without knowing it. We long for something truer and more real. More.

We won’t receive water unless we prime the pump. Anyone who has had experience with an old-fashioned water pump knows, that before you can get any water OUT of the pump, you have to pour some water down the pump to prime it. You have to prepare it, get it ready, so that the pump can operate and give you the supply of water that you need.

In a desert store in southern California, there is a note now mounted behind glass. It was written with a pencil stub on a piece of wrapping paper, and had originally been folded and put into a baking power can. The battered can had been wired to an old pump, which offered the only chance of water on a long and seldom-used trail across the desert. This is what it says:

“This pump is all right as of June, 1932. I put a new sucker washer into it and it ought to last five years. But the washer dries out and the pump has got to be primed. Under the rock I buried a bottle, out of the sun and cork end up. There’s enough water to prime the pump, but not if you drink some first. Pour in about one-fourth and let her soak to wet the leather. Then pour the rest in medium fast and pump like hell. You’ll git water. The well has never run dry. Have faith. When you git watered up, fill the bottle and put it back like you found it for the next feller, (signed) Desert Pete.

P.S. Don’t go drinking the water first. Prime the pump with it and you’ll git all the water you can hold. And the next time you pray, remember God is like this pump. (He) has to be primed. I’ve given my last dime away a dozen times to prime the pump of my prayer, and I’ve fed my last beans to a stranger while saying “Amen.” It never failed to get me an answer. You got to git your heart fixed to give, before you can be give to. Pete.”

We’ve got to prime the pump. It starts with giving, praying, reading, serving -- even if we are a bit unsure. It takes a bit of trust. We have the stories of the Bible, the promises of both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament to help us to trust. These are the faith stories of people over generations who found full lives, meaningful lives in relationship with God. God is the one who loves us and wants us to have full lives, blessed and meaningful. God is ready to give (not necessarily the material things – this isn’t a prosperity gospel kind of thing -- but the things that matter more.) God wants to show us what is the vest for us. God wants a life of transformed living for us -- but we have to prime the pump. We have to give a bit to start. Trust a bit in the process. Invest in a relationship with God. These are the things that prime the pump.


Relationships, good relationships – satisfying relationships – require commitment. We know this. Friendships grow deeper when there is commitment to support each other. Partnerships and marriages only are good when there is commitment on both sides. One committed partner does NOT a marriage make. And it is true with our relationship with God. A contact now and then doesn’t make for a deep relationship. Deepening the commitment has amazing relationship rewards – treasures even!

As we work through Treasures of a Transformed Life, we will be focusing on some things that deepen our relationship with God. No secrets here: they are the things we promise when we make the commitment to join the church. We promise to be faithful with our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service and our witness. All of them – not one or two. And the rewards will be true treasures.

There was a little girl who was terribly sick with a very rare blood disease. Her parents were distraught – and then the doctor told them that a blood transfusion would offer her a good chance at life. She had a very rare blood type, but her brother was a perfect match. Normally, they wouldn’t consider a transfusion with a young child – but this was a desperate situation. They brought the boy into the room and explained that his blood could save his sister’s life. He was quiet for a while – and then solemnly agreed to give her his blood. He was on the table in the operating room, and the medic explained that it would hurt as the needle was inserted, but then it wouldn’t hurt much and it wouldn’t take too long. After a minute or two he noticed a tear rolling down the boy’s cheek, and he asked, “Is this hurting you?” “No,” the boy replied, “I just wondered how long it would be?” “Until it is over? Until your sister is better?” the medic asked. “No – until I die,” the boy replied. He had made a commitment to give his blood to his sister thinking that it was ALL of his blood. That is a commitment of real love.

But God doesn’t ask for THAT much. Just intentional living. Just focusing on what God intends for our lives. YES it is a real commitment. YES it is challenging. And YES it offers us meaning and treasures beyond our imagination. The scriptures and stories in the devotional book will help to encourage us on this journey – no matter at what point we find ourselves. We’re going to take a step, and then another step, into a deeper relationship with God. “Commitment primes the pump for receiving the water of life,” the life-giving water that God has offered us. Deepening the relationship, step by step, will lead us to the living water that we long for.

Like the woman at the well, we are looking for something more – even if we aren’t aware of it. We long for life to be fuller, more meaningful, more satisfying. More. There is more available to us than we think, if we will just stop to prime the pump. Desert Pete tells us, “God is like this pump…you got to fix your heart to give before you can be given to.” Step by step we can move closer to God, investing in the relationship with commitment. That’s the path to the living water we long for. And so let’s begin….the journey towards the transformed life.

1 Influenced by, but not used in the particulars, by John Ed Mathison’s sermon, “Priming the Pump,” preached for a

series based on his book.

2 Lin Manuel Miranda, Hamilton.

3 Hamilton, “Alexander Hamilton” – Lin Manuel Miranda. Words adapted for audience.

4 Thomas Hawkins, The Potter and the Clay, 103-106.

5 I’m not sure of the original source for the story. Donald M Thomas used it in a sermon preached November 24,

1985 at Court Street United Methodist Church in Rockford, IL. I’ve used his version of the story.

6 John Ed Mathison’s sermon, “Priming the Pump,” preached for a series based on his book.

Photo by Fikri Rasyid on Unsplash