Friday, April 12, 2019

Living Water in the Wilderness

[Originally published in the Monroe News on Friday, April 12, 2019]

In September 2017 I found myself on a 4-day backpacking journey with two friends of mine across Zion National Park. If you’ve ever been out to Utah to see the splendor and beauty that is Zion you’ll likely be thinking of Zion Canyon and the Virgin River running through it. The vast majority of tourists to Zion see these classic sights. And rightfully so, it is majestic and unforgettable.

My friends and I took the less travelled trip. We started at the western end of the park and hiked 44 miles across desert and arid landscape back into the main canyon. Now before you think this a crazy endeavor, rest assured, it’s not quite like that. It is not rolling hills of sandy desert like one might picture the Sahara Desert in Africa. It is more like the dry, small shrubs and trees kind of desert with no water to be found. Yet still beautiful!

The greatest challenge of this adventure was of course, with water. Everybody knows that water is hard to come by in the desert. No streams, no ponds, no puddles, practically nothing to be had for water. Yet, to complete our four day journey we would need to find some to survive. The answer for backpackers in Zion is to find a couple of well hidden natural springs. They’re in places you wouldn’t just find them on your own. If you read the maps and the guidance of park rangers you can find them and the watery sustenance necessary to continue life in the desert.

We ended up having a wonderful time, and were successful in locating these natural springs of water to keep our bodies going and dehydration at bay. This relationship of water and springs and wilderness got me thinking of the way Jesus talks about springs and water. In John 4 he meets a Samaritan woman at a well. He asks her for a drink. She is rightly surprised at this as the Jews and the Samaritans didn’t get along so well. But Jesus sure has a surprise in store for her! He says to her if she knew who He really was, she would have turned around and asked for a drink from Him, and He would have given her “living water”. A truly exceptional gift!

Jesus explains further “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (Jn 4:13-14 ESV).

Jesus talk of springs of water resounded with my experience out in Zion. We could not have found those springs on our own without the wisdom of others showing us the way. We could not have made our four day journey without those springs of water. Our journey in this life is much the same. We cannot make it without the spring of living water that is Jesus. Neither can we find Him on our own without the guidance of the Holy Spirit calling us through the good news of the Gospel.

It is amazing how God can open our eyes through the beauty and wonders of His creation to the eternal truths that He works for our own good!

To God be the glory.

Mark Witte is the pastor at Grace Lutheran Church. Contact him at

The following photos were not printed in the published column but are included here as illustrations of places described. 
A look at the "desert" landscape of Western Zion

A look at the "desert" landscape of Western Zion
A natural spring along the West Rim Trail

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