What cup of cold water?

I was just starting out on an afternoon walk when a woman called me over to her car. She was standing near the front of the hood, trying to lift it. “Can you help me?” she asked. “My husband is recovering from a stroke so he can’t help me, but he said we need more fluid in the windshield washer container. How can I get inside to find it? I don’t know where the container is.”

It was a simple task to open the hood, find the container and pour in the solution. She took my hands in both of hers and thanked me over and over again. Then she said, “You see that man over there?” He was standing just a few houses away. The woman said, “I asked him to help me but he told me, ‘I can’t; I just had a manicure.’”   

Jesus spoke about giving a cup of cold water (Matt. 10:42). I don’t know that I have ever given someone in need a cup of cold water. I don’t live in a desert place. I don’t know anyone who is unable to get a drink. So, what am I to do? I’d like to be faithful to what Jesus asked us to do for others.

I study the words of the Apostle John, “Since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” And, “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him,” (1 John 4:11 & 16, NIV). What does that mean? How does that work itself out in the everyday events in my life? Does windshield washer fluid, poured into a container under the hood of a woman’s car, constitute love? Does it show that God lives in me?

The day after I helped the woman with her car, my wife and I saw her again as we were returning home from church. We chatted with her and she thanked me again for my help the day before and she told my wife what I had done for her. There was no witness given by us except a warm smile and the fact that my Bible was in my hand, clearly evident. Will this contact go anywhere? Will I have a chance to speak to her about Jesus? Will she meet another believer whose words about the Saviour will mean something more to her because that witness will be biblically based and she will remember that I was carrying a Bible? The links, the connections, can all fit together when God gives us opportunities to do little things.

But, I wondered, what about the act of giving a cup of cold water?  Is windshield washer fluid the same as a cup of cold water? I realized that we don’t always make biblical connections in our everyday, ordinary experiences. This connection between washer fluid and a cup of water didn’t come to me until a few days later when a Christian friend was telling me about his recent stop at a grocery store. He was standing at the check-out line as an elderly woman, bent over, hands shaking, put four bananas on the counter and held out a few coins. “Is this enough?” she asked the clerk. The clerk replied, “I’m afraid it isn’t.” The woman’s head fell as she stared at the coins in her hand. My friend signaled the clerk and mouthed the silent words, “I’ll pay.”

I realized that my friend had just given a cup of cold water. Only it didn’t look like a cup of cold water; it looked like four bananas. Jesus just as easily could have said, “And if anyone gives even four bananas to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward” (Matt 10:42, NIV). At last it clicked in: Bananas, windshield washer solution, a cup of cold water. It is all the same. Now I’m wondering and anticipating – what will a cup of cold water look like as I meet people today?


  • Roger Palms, former editor of Decision Magazine, is the author of 16 books and hundreds of magazine and newspaper articles.

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