Keeper of the Spring

November 16, 2023 | Chad Vinson

The late Peter Marshall, a Presbyterian pastor, and for several years, the chaplain of the United States Senate, used to love to tell the story of "The Keeper of the Spring," a quiet forest dweller who lived high above an Austrian village along the eastern slopes of the Alps.

The old gentle man had been hired many years earlier by a young town council to clear away the debris from the pools of water that fed the lovely spring flowing through their town. With faithful, silent regularity he patrolled the hills, removed the leaves and branches, and wiped away the silt from the fresh flow of water. By and by, the village became a popular attraction for vacationers. Graceful swans floated along the crystal-clear spring, farmlands were naturally irrigated, and the view from restaurants was picturesque.

Years passed. One evening the town council met for its semiannual meeting. As they reviewed the budget, one man's eye caught the salary figure being paid the obscure keeper of the spring. Said the keeper of the purse, "Who is the old man? Why do we keep him on year after year? For all we know he is doing us no good. He isn't necessary any longer!" By a unanimous vote, they dispensed with the old man's services.

For several weeks nothing changed. By early autumn the trees began to shed their leaves. Small branches snapped off and fell into the pools, hindering the rushing flow of water. One afternoon someone noticed a slight yellowish-brown tint in the spring. A couple days later the water was much darker. Within another week, a slimy film covered sections of the water along the banks and a foul odor was detected. The millwheels moved slower, some finally ground to a halt. Swans left as did the tourists. Clammy fingers of disease and sickness reached deeply into the village.

Embarrassed, the council called a special meeting. Realizing their gross error in judgment, they hired back the old keeper of the spring . . . and within a few weeks, the river began to clear up.

The Christian life is intended to be lived out in the public arena. The public arena plays its role where we are encouraged, convicted, and motivated by the songs, which are sung, the preaching, which is preached and fellowship, which is experienced.

However, what the keeper of the spring reminds us of is the Christian life has a private arena as well. It is in the private arena called solitude where the devotional life is fostered and nurtured. Solitude provides times of stillness where we can hear from God and times of refreshment where we can be recharged by His Spirit. Solitude can be a challenge to implement as a rhythm in our lives because the mind is always telling us we have more important things to do.

When I graduated college, I was thinking about going into vocational ministry. I was dating a girl at the time, who would later become my wife. On the outside I played it cool, but on the inside, I was scared to death. In God’s kindness to me, I was meeting regularly with a seasoned pastor (I know he had better things to do than meet with this young 22-year-old). He gave me some advice which I have held tightly to all these years. He looked me in the eyes and said, “Son, in all my years of ministry I am going to sum it up for you.” Then he dropped the mic on me. “Don’t you ever forget what I am able to tell you. When your output exceeds your intake, your upkeep becomes your downfall.” I don’t have the time or space in this blog to mention how many times I have been in a posture of repentance for not following this seasoned pastor’s advice. For example, on many days I must confess I begin the day looking at the items on the to do list (which are often good things), but I don’t make an intentional decision to make room for the best thing (time with God). And if I don’t catch myself in these moments, God will be eased out of my schedule for the tyranny of the moment.

The years have gone by but I have never forgotten the words shared with me. As I grew in my faith, I realized he got those words of wisdom from Jesus.

When Jesus Chose to be a Keeper of the Spring:

  • Luke 4:1-2: To prepare for a major task.
  • Mark 6:30-31: To recharge after hard work.
  • Matthew 14:1-13: To work through grief.
  • Luke 6:12-13: Before making an important decision.
  • Luke 22:39-44: In a time of distress.
  • Luke 5:15: To focus on prayer.

Let’s be encouraged as a church body to follow Jesus’ example and be a keeper of the spring in private moments where no one sees “But God”. Then let us step out into the public arena once we have been still before God and been refreshed by God to provide living water to those around us.

“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.”  Proverbs 4:23

“Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save yourself and your hearers.” 1 Timothy 4:16