The stranger pressed on, searching and seeking through the endless rolling dunes of the vast desert wasteland. For as far as the eye could see there was nothing but hot, scorching sand baked by the noonday’s sun hovering overhead in the cloudless sky. Scattered randomly throughout the dunes were small motionless mounds by which the stranger knelt and brushed the sand from, revealing a person buried in the sand.
“Awaken from your slumber,” ordered the stranger.
I opened my eyes slowly, blinking several times; squinting in the blinding sun. Then the stranger held a canteen up to my lips. Its water was cold and refreshing. As I drank, I was renewed within and came alive.
“Arise!” He said. Then he helped me to my feet and brushed the sand off my shoulders.
Pointing he said, “To the east you must go. For there lies a great city, one that will fulfill all your needs and satisfy you. All I ask in return, is that you do for others as I have done for you.” Then he handed me a canteen and told me that its water shall never cease.
In obedience to the stranger’s command, I headed east. But it wasn’t long before I too came across a small mound and brushed the sand off another person. I awoke the man and shared the water given to me. I spoke of the great city and he arose, and together we awoke as many as would join us. Both young and old alike, trekked eastward through the perilous desert. However, try as we may, some refused to be awakened and would not stir from their slumber.
It wasn’t long until the terrain changed to a massive wilderness, a mighty forest with steep mountains and rushing streams. Many dangers and hardships ensued as we continued to press eastward. As we walked, we encountered stragglers who had gone before us but were now sitting alone, with their backs up against the trees, asleep. We encouraged them to join us and while some did, others refused for they had given up entirely.
Then we encountered a man who was coming from the east and heading back towards the desert. With anger in his voice he yelled as he passed by, “There is no city! Your journey is in vain. Turn back now and don’t believe this fantasy.”
Many traveling with us questioned if we too had been fooled. Had our faith been in vain? Quarrels broke out amongst our group as one of our weary members cried out, “How do we know for certain that the city exists?”
Sadly, I was unable to respond for I, myself had grown tired. For so long we had journeyed and struggled together, and marched on through the greatest of threats and adversities. How was I to know for certain if the city existed, for shouldn’t we have arrived already? Perhaps our faith was in vain?
It wasn’t until the youngest amongst us stepped forward and said something that no one could hear over all the arguing. Undeterred, she pointed and raised her voice, “The Canteen!” Immediately we all quieted and stared at the canteen. Softly she continued, “Didn’t the stranger promise that the canteen would never run empty?”
I took the canteen off my shoulder and opened its lid. To the brim, it was still filled with water. True to the stranger’s words, the canteen had never run empty. Amazed at her example of childlike faith, we forgot what was behind us and together we pressed eastward with our faith restored and a new determination in our hearts.
And then it happened! We arrived at a great cliff, a ledge that overlooked a divide and across the divide was something our eyes had never seen before. A city so brilliant that it gleamed as bright as the noonday sun, larger and more spectacular than anything we could have imagined.
It was at that moment, that twinkling of an eye, that all our past struggles, hardships, and everything we had overcome faded and all that mattered was standing right before us. For what was before us was far greater than anything in our past.
Together, we stood arm-in-arm at the edge of the cliff, staring at the city with our jaws dropped in amazement and tears streaming down our faces. I looked aside and saw that we weren’t alone. Others sent by the stranger had arrived and stood staring.
Stepping down from the edge of the cliff, we descended onto narrow hand-forged steps carved into the rock. So slender were the steps that any extra baggage had to be left behind. Then we walked across the divide onto a brick pathway leading into the city. We passed through the city’s enormous gates and were welcomed by a great gathering. Colorful decorations were strung everywhere as music filled the air and a fantastic feast was prepared for us.
As evening approached, trumpets resounded and with great excitement everyone moved quickly towards the gate, shouting with joy. I inquired of one standing nearby what was happening.
“We’re celebrating the return of the Prince!” He exclaimed. “For he has been gone a long time.”
The gates opened as people aligned both sides of the street vying to get a glimpse of the prince. He was robed in purple, wearing a crown of gold, and seated atop a white horse. As he passed by, he glanced over at me and smiled. Shocked, I couldn’t believe my eyes, for his face was familiar to me. It was he who started me on this journey so very long ago. Tears welled up as I realized the depth of his sacrifice, that he left the safety of his kingdom to come and rescue me. For the prince, he was the stranger in my desert.
“… whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:13-15