“Has a nation ever changed its gods
(even though they are not really gods at all)?
But my people have exchanged me, their glorious God,
for a god that cannot help them at all!

Be amazed at this, O heavens.
Be shocked and utterly dumbfounded,”
says the Lord.

“Do so because my people have committed a double wrong:
They have rejected me,
the fountain of life-giving water,
and they have dug cisterns for themselves,
cracked cisterns that cannot even hold water.”  Jeremiah 2:11-13 NET

This passage reminds me of a cistern which held a shallow layer of stagnant water located north of my parents’ Nebraska farmhouse. Like the cisterns described by Jeremiah, a significant crack developed in its concrete wall. Because that crack rendered it useless for storing and distributing water, it instead became a potential danger for innocent passers by.

Before the cistern crack became a problem, my father proactively hired professionals to dig a well and install an electric pump adjacent to our house. What an amazing difference – afterward we enjoyed pure, cold water delivered by a simple twist of a faucet handle!

I can’t imagine any sane person voluntarily choosing the cistern over our deep well and electric pump. Likewise, God says the heavens (the unseen angelic realm) were shocked that the people God had chosen to bear his name committed a “double wrong” in exchanging him, the One True God and source of ” life-giving water”, to instead, dig cracked cisterns for themselves and hope for a refreshing water supply.

So what does it look like today when God’s people abandon God and dig cracked cisterns for themselves?

A myriad of cultural icons, such as Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, and the Kardashian family, have provided tales and slogans advancing this concept: “pursue your passions and your life (self-dug cistern) will eventually overflow with every happiness you’ve imagined”. But scripture counters this notion. Devotion to following personalized desires divorced from pursuing God and his wisdom inevitably results in this progression:

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted by evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each one is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desires. Then when desire conceives, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is full grown, it gives birth to death. James 1:13-15 NET

So pandering to self-directed, worldly desires or passions leads to death, just as does relying on a broken cistern to supply water in a land of infrequent rainfall. As we meditate on Jeremiah 2:11-13, God assures us he’s the only fountain of life-giving water. Following him and his ways gives true fulfillment, plus the strength to avoid fruitless pursuits.

Is there an area of your life where you’ve dug a do-it-yourself, broken cistern? Have you found yourself figuratively slogging through ‘stagnant, scum-covered’ water as a result? Write a prayer or letter of confession to God about this misdirection. If you’ve not already done so, ask him to help you leave that path, wash you in his fountain of life-giving water, and remind you of his ways. If the Holy Spirit has helped you leave a fruitless path, write God a letter or prayer of thanks for his deliverance.