“I’ll have a glass”: the metaphor of the cup for the modern Christian

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
— Psalm 23:5

As we set down our mugs of hot chocolate and glasses of eggnog, let us ponder the metaphor of the cup. There are many intricacies that envelop this metaphor, and it all starts with the idea that God is an infinite source of life (John 4:13-15) that we, as believers, have the blessing to be able to draw from. We are the chalices that have the capacity to hold a portion of God’s love within ourselves and to then pour out that love unto others. 

Over the summer, I was a camp counselor and a lifeguard, working long hours for weeks at a time without much sleep and without many modern conveniences. To say I was exhausted each week would be an understatement as I dragged and was dragged around by many young boys in the Oklahoma summer heat. However much it pained us physically, my group of counselors made it a priority to get up early in the morning to pray for the energy to get us through the day. We hungered for our daily bread to sustain us like manna in the wilderness, just enough to keep us going. After those meetings, we would approach each week with supernatural energy, bringing the hype to campers and fellow counselors alike, spreading the joy of the Lord. The Lord gave us more than we needed; He gave us a surplus of energy and life, going above and beyond our needs.

We don’t deserve anything. By nature, we are broken vessels in need of a Savior. However, we are creations of a good Father. Just as a good father doesn’t give his children coal for Christmas, God shows us mercy through the gift of His Son, Jesus, our Savior. The gift is one that we do not deserve, but one that we receive anyway out of God’s immeasurable love for us. Jesus led a perfect life and poured Himself out continuously for His family, friends, and strangers. He was and is the wellspring of life, and, as vessels, we are called to be filled by the life He gives us and to pour out that life unto others, emulating the actions of our Savior (Matthew 5:6). But before we can pour, we must be filled.

We are filled by allowing the Lord’s will to guide our lives daily, by taking in scriptural truths, and by judging our actions solely on these truths which God has given us to serve as our guide to proper living. In other words, we are filled by “thirsting” for Him: by desiring the life which He freely gives out to us. 

Because we are not God, who is a wellspring of infinite supply, our metaphorical cup can only contain a limited amount of life-giving water. We may be brimming with it, always asking for more of God to fill us up. Alternatively, we may only allow for a few drops to enter our lives, content with our excuses and emptiness. Living an empty life is not sustainable. We become nihilistic when our lives become empty, and there is purpose to our lives only through Christ. It’s dangerous to be content with emptiness, to be content with not allowing God into all parts of our lives. We need to be filled with life and purpose and love, all of which God has gifted us unconditionally.

One thing is for certain. Just as Jesus didn’t withhold His love from us, we too must be selfless in pouring out our cups unto others, mimicking His actions. Practically, we can share the love of the Lord with others by investing in relationships and sacrificing our time, our blessings (tithes, gifts, etc.), and our energy, both physically through acts of service and emotionally. 

However, should we allow temptation in, we can be filled with sin. This allowance of sin tarnishes our supply of living water within us (because sin brings death and emptiness (John 10:10)) and can make our life-giving outpourings less effective for the will of God (Isaiah 1:22). We must be actively and humbly praying that God would fill us up, acknowledging our willingness and his ability to do so. In addition, we can drain ourselves selfishly by putting on airs of righteousness or attempting to feed ourselves with our sin. By withholding the blessings of God from others through our omission of action we simultaneously distance ourselves from our Creator, denying Him our willing participation in His will for our lives. We can’t imitate a Savior that we distance ourselves from.

Ideally, we want to be like Jesusa spigot that is constantly pouring out life unto others. For Penn students, it is easy to lose focus on the practice of thirsting after God. We often forget that not only is Jesus our life but He is also our rest, so we turn to other means. The energy and rest we seek cannot simply be found in late-night Starbucks runs or energy drinks from Wawa, but only in the Lord, who gives us life and love unconditionally.

We, like cups, are fragile. We can only take so much use until we take on some damage. Our cups can break, chip, and shatter; our circumstances alone can make us feel like broken pots, useless and dead (Psalm 31:12). Our shards of porcelain can be seen in the tears after broken relationships and the disappointment of unsought dreams. We may also damage ourselves, selfishly seeking things that go against what God wants for us. This damage can be worsened when we fail to acknowledge our own faults and shortcomings; we can’t see the holes within ourselves that make us broken. In other words, we can be broken through our own sin or through the deliberate process of growth through trial and hardship. There is no way in which we can repair ourselves on our own. 

But thank God, there is good news. We can be repaired by the masterful potter who created us (Isaiah 64:8). Only He can put us back together perfectly, gluing each broken piece of ourselves back together, making us into something more useful than before. Our God “heals the brokenhearted and binds up [our] wounds” (Psalm 147:3). As we are repaired by our Creator through our continuation to seek Him, we allow ourselves to expand our capacity to hold and pour out God’s love. Because we are seeking to imitate Christ, we should be seeking to continually increase our outpouring of His love.

Broken clay can be used to make new vessels, and our Creator is shaping us for a specific role in His kingdom. After we have been shaped and molded, we must ensure that we are durable by facing “trials of various kinds” (James 1:2-4) and by learning and growing from these challenges. Our faith must be tested in the kilns of suffering to some extent, as it will show our true character and beliefs when we are placed in non-ideal circumstances. Hopefully through this testing we can burn off any impurities and remove the dross and doubt, leaving us standing strong in our faiths and ready to perform our roles once more (Isaiah 48:10 & Proverbs 25:4). 

So next time you’re holding your Starbucks latte or a late-night cup of tea, remember that in many ways, we too are vessels. We are vessels for Christ’s love and His will for our lives. Continue to be filled. Continue to pour yourselves out. And when your life seems in pieces, continue to turn to He who restores and replenishes.

I will lift up the cup of salvation and praise the Lord’s name for saving me
— Psalm 116:13

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