A Reservoir Not a Canal

In a past-paced society which is prone to success more than solitude, this excerpt from Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) pinpoints why it is so important that we slow down.

If you are wise therefore you will show yourself a reservoir and not a canal. For a canal pours out as fast as it takes in; but a reservoir waits till it is full before it over flows, and so communicates its surplus…We have all too few such reservoirs in the Church at present, thought we have canals in plenty. – Bernard of Clairvaux, Sermons on Song of Songs

Be a Reservoir Not a Canal

Rest, reflection, and extended times of listening to God are essential to blessing, serving, and honoring others. People who do not slow down to fill up, never really live, work, or minister out of a deep reservoir of grace. If we’re honest, many of us are more like a canal. We dispense advice, counsel, creativity, labor, and parenting as soon as it arrives in our minds. Our half-formed notions run from our heads and out of our mouths with little reflection at all. When the flow dries up, we trudge on generating sludge that drips out in complaining, bitterness, cynicism and despair. A canal never fills up; it just runs out and eventually runs dry. A reservoir, however, fills up and flows out.

We Have Too Few Reservoirs in the Church

“We have too few reservoirs in the Church.” A ten century old stinging critique. I long to counsel, teach, preach, parent, and live out of deep wells of grace, but sometimes life and ministry cause them to dry up more quickly than others. Bernard reminds me that in times of dryness, it is all the more necessary to run our cups back under the waterfall of God’s fountain of never-ending grace.

To bully on without a reservoir is not only foolish but sinful. It is a subtle, but deep declaration that all we need is Self, and that God, should he play a part in our day, is privileged to do so. This is an act of self-worship, a gross heresy that flies in the face of the gospel. Fortunately the gospel of grace is big enough for this. Out of his great love God may press our nose into our odorous behavior, not to shame us, but to lead us into pastures that are green with repentance and flush with joy, to lead us by streams of living water, where once again we can be awakened to God’s deeply satisfying presence. Repentance will be necessary to escape the run-off of a canal lived life.

A Reservoir Waits Til it Overflows

Bernard reminds us that we know a reservoir by its overflowing. Pastors, if we are to speak, work, write, teach, counsel, and preach with depth, we must wait until our reservoir is full. Waiting over God’s Word and in prayer until our affections, thoughts, and desires are flooding with grace and wisdom. For me, this is a daily if not more frequent necessity. My health and the vitality of those I lead depend on it–an overflow of grace. Lord, make us reservoirs not canals!