As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When I can I go and meet with God?
What a lovely, bucolic image—a sturdy buck beside a babbling brook or Bambi spying his reflection in the stream while bluebirds twitter overhead! Now, clear your mind’s screen and read it again. This deer is thirsty. He’s panting for water, which indicates there’s none around. Whence his thirst? The Psalmist doesn’t say. Maybe he’s stranded far from home in dry badlands. Maybe he’s running for his life, too frightened to pause for a sip of water to sustain him. Maybe streams he once drank from are now polluted. Maybe his dire need results from his negligence. Whatever caused his thirst, seeing him in such distress doesn’t paint such a pretty picture after all.
“My soul pants for God,” the Psalmist says with a cry that pierces the heart: “How soon can I find Him?” Then, he explains why he’s thirsty. He’s severely, visibly depressed. He’s fallen in with bad company that ridicules him. “Where’s your God?” they say. And just why is he so sad, surrounded by cynics? He’s moved away from people of faith. “These things I remember,” he writes in verse 4. “I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God.”
What led him astray isn’t important. Maybe it wasn’t his doing. Perhaps his personality clashed with the others. Perhaps they condemned him as a sinner unfit for worship or misjudged his enthusiasm. Then again, it may have been entirely his fault. Possibly he grew arrogant in his own knowledge and lost his faith. Possibly he invested all his energy in earthly success or sought out the wrong crowd, thinking it more sophisticated than the one he knew. At any rate, he landed far from his Source of spiritual refreshment and survival. He had to return.
Anyone who’s ever wandered from God attests to two things. First, extreme thirst for His presence builds gradually. We experience dryness early on and only by ignoring it—or deluding ourselves it can be satisfied elsewhere—do we wind up panting for Him. Second, once we return we’re always amazed to find He never left us. The water we crave is, and was, right there, on tap by the gallon.
Jesus told the woman at the well, “Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4.14) When we come back, not only does God quench our thirst. He pours His water into us, guaranteeing we’ll never go without again. Are you thirsty for God? Drink up! There’s always more where that came from.
We can find ourselves isolated from God for all sorts of reasons, some of our own doing, some not. But He's always closer than we think, ready to refresh our thirst for Him.
(Tomorrow: God’s Approval Rating)