I was filling up my car’s gas tank at the station the other day, complaining as usual about the cost, when I saw a man drive up, park his car by the pump, and then walk into the store. He came out with a couple of 2-liters of Pepsi, which he then proceeded to pour into his tank. He got back into his car, tried in vain to start his engine, got out, mumbled to himself, “There must not be enough in there,” and went back into the store. He soon returned with two more 2-liters of Pepsi, which he again poured into his gas tank. He again tried to start the car, and this time with a little more frustration in his voice remarked, “There’s not enough Pepsi in my gas tank!” This whole scenario played itself out a third and a fourth time, until there was Pepsi literally running over the tank opening down the side of the car.
Finally, I asked him, “Why are you putting Pepsi into your gas tank?” Looking at me like I had just arrived from Mars, he replied, “What kind of a question is that? My tank is empty, and I’ve got to put something in it. Pepsi tastes great, it’s on sale, it’s popular, that new Pepsi commercial is hilarious, what more reason do you want? I’ve got a long, rough drive ahead and I need something that will get me there.” I answered, “Have you considered that just maybe Pepsi, although it is all those things you said, and I happen to enjoy it too, just wasn’t made for filling a gas tank? That maybe the problem isn’t not enough Pepsi, but that you need something else entirely? That you’re always going to be frustrated and that your engine will never run as long as you keep putting Pepsi in it?” He seemed to ponder that thought for a while, then turned back to go into the store. As I drove away I think I heard him say, “Maybe diet Coke will work better.”
If you haven’t figured out the point of my strange little parable yet, the man’s gas tank is his soul, and the Pepsi could really be Pepsi (20% of all American calories consumed last year were liquid!), or chocolate, or watching NASCAR, or a romance novel, or sex, or a promotion, or seeing your kids make the honor roll, or even becoming a reptile in the TLLB (inside joke for the bloggers out there!).
There’s not anything inherently evil in any of those things of this world, and we can enjoy all of them. But it’s useless to try and fill up our soul with them; they’re not the right “fuel” at all. Yet, isn’t it true that the harder the “road” ahead, the more we try to fill up our soul with them? And we end up feeling empty or frustrated or out of control, and we wonder what the problem is? And then we try to fix the emptiness in our soul with just more of the same, because we conclude that there just must not be enough “Pepsi in our tank”? Jeremiah 2:13 speaks rather pointedly to the predicament we create: “for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”
Look at the parable of the rich fool in Luke 6:13-21:
And Jesus said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
This man just kept pouring in more “Pepsi”— he even thought about buying a bigger “gas tank”! But Jesus said that his soul was in want, for he was not “rich toward God.” He saw his life consisting “in the abundance of his possessions,” and he turned out to be wrong, dead wrong.
He wasn’t the first. Think about Solomon. He poured in the Pepsi by the truckload— the finest food every day eaten off solid gold, thousands of horses & chariots, his own merchant fleet, tons (yes, literally tons) of gold in his treasury, and a thousand different women at his command just to give him enough variety. But in the end, even posessing everything that he desired wasn’t enough, he bitterly found it to be “vanity and grasping for the wind.”
Are we within the church today any different? Aren’t we pouring in the Pepsi, and never thinking there’s enough in our tank? Aren’t we? When obesity and divorce and bankruptcy and pornography addiction are epidemic among us? When church members living in one of the richest countries in the world on average give less than five percent of their income to their local church? When it is hard to find virtually any demographic which shows that churchgoers are “buying Pepsi” of any sort (affairs, television viewing, consumer spending, take your pick) any less often than non-Christians?
Why do we keep going back to these broken cisterns? Maybe because “the road ahead is hard”, that life is hard, harder than we thought at first, and the things of this world seem to help, a little, at first. And when they don’t help as much as we hoped or as much as they used to, we frantically search for more Pepsi or maybe switch to diet Coke, not realizing the problem actually is that we are pouring into “broken cisterns that can hold no water.”
So, what is the answer to filling your gas tank in a sin-stricken, hardship-filled world? We can’t just run on empty— that’s a recepie for burnout, despair, or worse. So what can we do? What is the secret when your tank is empty, when you have a deep, yawning chasm in your soul because of a lost job, a disappointing relationship, a dying parent, a car that keeps breaking down, or a million other things that go wrong every day for all of us?
Paul said he had found the secret in Phillipians chapter 4:
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
Paul says that he had learned the secret of facing any situation. What was it? He had found a source of strength for his soul that was completely independent of his posessions or circumstances, one that would never fail, no matter what the situation. He had learned the secret of drawing strength from abiding in Christ.
Jesus told us both our need and our answer:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30 ESV)
Jesus knew that the road was hard, and He knew our need to fill our tanks. He offered something more precious than Pepsi, chocolate, sex, or gold— He offered us Himself. If we will only take the time to turn our gaze from the world and turn it to Christ and abide in Him, we can learn to stop using the things of this world to fill our tank, to stop trying to draw strength or comfort or pleasure from the things that cannot truly satisfy. Instead, we can learn to drink deeply, yes, to our fill and to overflowing, as much as we desire, of the living water which is found only in Christ.