Back in the early third century, when leading his troops on a long military campaign, warlord Cao Cao encountered a long stretch of the journey with no sources of water. With the heat bearing down and no rivers or wells to be found, his troops nearly died of thirst. To motivate the troops to carry on, Cao Cao said to them, “Not far ahead is a large grove of plum trees with many sweet, ripe plums. We can all eat until our hearts are content.” Upon hearing this news, each of the soldiers began to salivate, and they marched ahead even faster than before.


However, there was no plum grove ahead. Cao Cao used this image as a ruse to motivate his troops forward. In modern Chinese, “to quench thirst by looking at plums” 望梅止渴 means to feed on illusions, or to hope for something that will not come about.


In the natural, it is easy to abandon goals or challenges that may seem farfetched. Dreams on the inside may seem too fanciful to even consider pursuing. Yet the alternative is standing still, in which case we just wither away. Even though this Chinese idiom is now used to describe wishful thinking, Cao Cao’s troops would have all died if he had not improved morale.


As we travel through life’s deserts, we make choices on whether to follow God or go our own way. When we seek to him, the road becomes clearer. God even promises to give us directions, “And a highway shall be there…called the Holy Way” (Isaiah 35:8). As we go along this highway, the desert will give way to streams, rivers, pools, and springs to quench our thirst (35:6-7). By building this highway for us, Jesus has answered our hopes.


God has put dreams on each of our hearts. When worry and fatigue wear us down, it becomes easy to forget our purpose in life and become bogged down in boredom and malaise. This is just where the enemy wants us. But by standing firm in faith with our God-given goals in focus, even when they seem impractical or fanciful, we become instilled with enthusiasm for the work God has chosen us to do. And unlike the imaginary plum grove, God promises us safe travels to a land full of everlasting joy (35:10).


This photo of these cherry blossoms was taken outside of Yixing, Jiangsu Province, where the namesake Yixing tea pots have been crafted from the local clay for generations.