Quenching Our Spiritual Thirst (Psalm 42-43)

1 As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.

2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God? 

Instinct is a powerful mechanism in the animal kingdom. Instinct enables species to survive and thrive by guiding them in certain mysterious ways even from birth. I’m always amazed to watch documentaries, for instance, that show sea turtles traveling hundreds or even thousands of miles to return to the particular beach from which they hatched in order to lay their eggs—and then witness those hatchlings instinctively heading to the sea to start the cycle all over again. Years ago I was able to watch part of that process one dark night on a beach in northwest Costa Rica.

Salmon defy all odds against a raging river current to return to their spawning grounds. Spiders practice the intricate art of web making in order to get the food they need to survive. Countless species follow precise innate behaviors to protect themselves from predators on the one hand and to lure their next meal on the other.

The examples are endless and fascinating. But if for some reason an animal ignores instinctual behavior, it is not long for this world.

When it comes to seeking God’s presence, I feel an instinctual yearning. It’s a holy lust. A spiritually magnetic pull. A longing so deep in my soul that it feels as powerful as the tides of the earth.

Whether I am giddy at a sudden positive turn of life, fretful about the future, or despondent about a loss, whatever the circumstance I want to be in God’s presence to share it, reflect with God on it, praise God, or seek God’s comfort.

And if anything hinders that longing—whether my circumstances, my choices, my laziness, my distractions—then truly I will not survive, and cannot thrive.

The psalmist felt it, comparing himself to the thirsty deer, yearning for refreshment in the presence of the Creator. That thirst demands to be quenched. And it can be quenched in healthy ways or unhealthy ways.

The world offers innumerable ways to deal with our innate thirst for God’s presence. And you know how easy it is to pursue them. We deaden ourselves to this inborn drive or try to fill it with spiritual junk food. We fill our days with the all the distractions of the media or sex or empty success. And unless we surrender to the pull of God’s presence, we will not survive.

If we’re not sensing the refreshing presence of God, the fault is likely not God’s. The psalmist recognized this at a time when he felt abandoned by God, alone in his thirst.

3 My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually, “Where is your God?”

4 These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I went with the throng, and led them in procession to the house of God, with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival. . . .

The psalmist remembered what it was like when his longing was satisfied and his thirst quenched. The joyful company of his fellow worshipers surrounded him then. He wanted to get back to that place. He wanted to be with God once again, and always.

It’s amazing how present and lively God can be for us when we let God have all of us—when we let all of who we are be known and loved. Sure, I’ve experienced countless times of feeling alone and abandoned, when the tears of loss and fear would run off my chin. But those are times that come and go. Paradoxically, the deep sense of alienation is dissipated only when we let our longing for God grow. Because that’s when God fulfills it.

If your soul is resonating with this sense of alienation and abandonment, you are no doubt asking yourself what the psalmist asked so many years ago, and what I have asked of myself from time to time in this life:

11 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.

Why indeed? Hope in God. Let yourself long for God’s embracing presence. It’s not that hard. We really don’t have to work at it. We simply need to follow our spiritual instinct as God’s created and beloved child. And let the restoring waters of the Spirit flow.

[Adapted from Connected: You and God in the Psalms (Morehouse Publishing, 2009)].