Reservoir Power

Bernard of Clairvaux was a French abbot who lived in the 1100s. He once said something that has deeply informed my understanding of life in Jesus:

If then you are wise, you will show yourself rather as a reservoir than a canal. For a canal spreads abroad water as it receives it, but a reservoir waits till it is filled to overflowing, and thus communicates without loss to itself its superabundances of water.
— Bernard of Clairveau

This is my favorite Bernard quote (true confessions: this is one of the only Bernard quotes I know). But what does it mean?

A reservoir is a body of water that fills up and then overflows. The more you fill a reservoir, the more it overflows without ever losing any of its own fullness. This is an image of what our Christian lives should look like.

But a canal is the opposite. A canal just moves water from one place to another. It never fills up. It starts empty, then water flows through it, and it is empty again. This is an image of what our Christian lives often look like.

When we are canals, we are just moving grace from God to others. We think, “Help me be a good parent. Help me serve others at church. Help me be a good witness at work.” We can do these things for a while. But then the flow dries up and bitterness, resentment, and complaining set in because we are empty.

When we are reservoirs, we first meditate on God’s love and mercy in Christ. We think about how he shows kindness to us when we are so underserving. We read Scripture and attend the means of grace. And God floods us with his grace. We are full and brimming over! Now we work and live and serve others out of the overflow. We bring grace into the lives of others without being diminished ourselves.

Bernard concludes, “We have all too few such reservoirs in the Church at present, though we have canals in plenty.” Apparently the church hasn’t changed much in the last 1000 years. Pray today for more reservoir power.