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A Bucket of Cold Water

Category Articles
Date July 9, 2021

While the metaphorical bucket of cold water may not be a distinctively British phenomenon, it certainly seems to be an outlook that many here have perfected, and doubtless others besides. Some cultures and societies seem easily enthused. In some places you could give people the chance to go out and hit themselves with wet sticks and it seems that they will leap at it with eagerness. But not everywhere.

So consider some of the following experiences, and perhaps some of them will resonate with you.

Overseen and overheard:

Someone approached the preacher.

“I really appreciated what you said this evening.”

“Oh, thank you,” he responded. “I really felt under the weather, and am so glad that it came across OK.”

“That’s not what I meant,” came the reply: “Normally we all just want to pour a bucket of cold water over you.”

And, more or less, it had indeed occurred.

Overseen and overheard:

A young man was sitting at the dinner table at a conference with an august gentlemen, a big name. Happy to engage in conversation, he answered honestly when the great man asked what he was reading next.

“I would like to make my way through the collected works of John Owen,” he enthused.

“I shouldn’t think that there are more than four or five people who can actually do that,” replied the name. “It’s probably not worth you trying.”

You could almost see the young man’s soul and hopes shrivel.

Overseen and overheard:

“I should like to try something to reach our community with the gospel,” said the church member to one of the pastors, and outlined the plan.

“There’s no point,” replied the elder. “We tried something like that before, years ago, and it doesn’t work.”

And it didn’t, because it was never tried again.


Such negativity too easily characterises the church of Jesus Christ. Yes, there are happy exceptions, but the norm can often be the bucket of cold water. We instinctively know all the reasons why something will fail. We can immediately see all the reasons why something will not work. Perhaps enthusiasm exposes our own lack of appetite. The earnestness of another shows up our lukewarmness. We may have become weary, even cynical. We would rather drift than drive. It is easier not to try, than to try again and fail.

There are different constitutions; there are different personalities. This we readily acknowledge. But hopelessness is sin. Unbelief is sin. Not all of us find encouragement instinctive. Perhaps some of us are naturally buoyant. Many of us have to work hard to get anywhere close to a state of biblical expectation. That is not a mindlessly upbeat, ignorantly optimistic mindset. That is the cheerful confidence of the thankful child of God who believes that your God is King; your Father reigns; that Christ is at the Father’s side—the Man of love, the Crucified.

It is an attitude that dares to believe the promises of God, that ventures along the path of obedience in faith. It is the spirit that actually expects God to do what he has said he will do. It is a confidence that, even when providences seem to run counter to promises, remembers that he who promised is faithful. Such confidence therefore persists in obeying and expecting, looking to God for supervision, for sustenance, and for success.

This is not mere carnal excitement. It is not thoughtless activity. It is not mindless enthusiasm. Indeed, some who are more eager, especially possessed of youthful zeal, may need particular direction and instruction. Note that the aim here cannot be to stifle and restrain. The intention is to channel the zeal, to direct the energy. As the water dispersed lacks much impact, so enthusiasm diffused tends to accomplish little. But run the same fluid at pressure through a hose toward a point, and the effect can be phenomenal. So with Christian zeal.

Not everyone will generate new gospel momentum. Not everyone will be in a position to pursue fresh gospel ventures. Not everyone need agree on every detail of every effort. But everyone can encourage, everyone can support, everyone can pray. Everyone should remember that the God of salvation is the great non-variable in all our endeavours for his sake. There is a righteous testing of God when we go in faith, feeling our weakness, but expecting his power and looking to his hand. There is an unrighteous tempting of God when we limit the Holy One of Israel, forgetting his power and presuming on failure (Ps. 78:41–42). Those attitudes will not only possess our hearts, but will spill out of our mouths, colour our faces, show in our eyes, and open or close our hands and our wallets. Such attitudes will, on the one hand, generate fervency in the preacher and eagerness in the hearer, effort in the study, endeavour in the field. Or, on the other, they will generate flatness in the preaching and dullness in the hearing, shallowness in study, and laziness in labour.

When we believe God, we look at the feeble instruments, the difficult circumstances, the previous failures, the present obstacles, and the multiplied enemies. Seeing all that, we still conclude that God can save by many or by few, that his arm is not shortened that it cannot save, that he delights to appear at break of day, that the Lord on high is mightier than the noise of many waters, and that the weakness and foolishness of God is both stronger and wiser than all the strength and wisdom of men. And so, rather than weariness, lethargy, unbelief and discouragement, we will at least throw the weight of our hearts, our hands, our words, behind the efforts of our brothers and sisters. We might actually begin to expect that the fervent preacher might accomplish something; that the reader might learn something; that the evangelist might reach someone. Why? Because God is still God, and ever will be.

Scripturally speaking, a simple cup of cold water is typically a good thing, refreshing and stimulating. Spiritually speaking, a whole bucket of cold water is a bad thing, debilitating and depressing. Let us, then, be slower to fill the bucket, slower to throw it at those who aim at doing something for the cause of Christ, and quicker to remind ourselves and others of the God whom we serve, who does great things for us, and makes us glad.

Of Further Interest


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    While the metaphorical bucket of cold water may not be a distinctively British phenomenon, it certainly seems to be an outlook that many here have perfected, and doubtless others besides. Some cultures and societies seem easily enthused. In some places you could give people the chance to go out and hit themselves with wet sticks […]

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    While the metaphorical bucket of cold water may not be a distinctively British phenomenon, it certainly seems to be an outlook that many here have perfected, and doubtless others besides. Some cultures and societies seem easily enthused. In some places you could give people the chance to go out and hit themselves with wet sticks […]

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