Psalm 42:1-2 (ESV) As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
What is the ultimate difference between duty and delight within the realm of Christianity? How is it that there are times in our Christian experiences where maintaining a prayer life is burdensome, reading the Bible is onerous and exemplifying Christ in all we do seems like an obligation rather than our supreme pleasure? It is my contention that duty supersedes delight in our spiritual life when we cease ‘panting for God.’ When I reflect upon the years of my Christianity, I find instances where my relationship with God is formal, mechanical and religious and it as at those times that I am not passionately pursuing God.
In the opening words of this wonderful psalm, the author portrays three metaphors in the Hebrew which cannot be extrapolated from the English text, but which have profound impact upon every believer.
1. The Need for Refreshment
The first illustration is of a fainting deer in the midst of a severe drought running from place to place in pursuit of the streams which will quench its thirst. Like the deer, the Believer must run to God for refreshment. It is not simply enough to run to Him for salvation, we must daily run to God for sustenance and strength. A Christian cannot survive in this land which is void of spiritual food and in darkness; he must daily, moment by moment return to the well-spring of Salvation.
In our day, Christians are encouraged to turn to psychologists, counsellors, self-help tapes, step-by-step programs, pastors and church leaders when the only place they can find nourishment for their spiritually fatigued soul, is GOD! How many times we forsake the fountain of living waters for the self-made cisterns which cannot satisfy.
‘Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid, be ye very desolate, saith the Lord. For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.’ Jeremiah 2:12-13
Another consideration in this illustration is that the deer is not meandering along the path in search of this life-sustaining water; it runs with every ounce of vitality knowing that it must drink or die. It searches high and low, beyond the forest, upon the mountain tops, in the woodlands and the desert places. Finally it finds not a stagnant pond or declining brook, but a full-flowing watercourse, a gushing stream where its thirst is fully quenched. What a tremendous picture of the thirsty Christian and his God, who is not akin to some trickling creek, but the fountain of living waters that will always satisfy our souls.
2. The Need for Refuge
The second illustration is of a hunted deer which instinctively seeks after the river where it may find refuge and immerse itself in the cool waters, thereby removing the trail of its scent.
Tuberville summarises: ‘The deer that is spent and sore run will commonly descend down the stream and swim in the very middle, steering clear of all boughs and shrubbery lest the hounds should catch the scent. Sometimes the deer will lie under the water with all but its nose submersed and remain in this position until all danger is passed.’
Like the deer, the believer must run to God for refuge. There are times when the battle is too fierce and the enemies encamp against us and we must run to the water for refuge. It is at these moments that we learn what it is to abide under the shadow of the Almighty. Why when we are pursued by the enemy, when the dogs are almost upon us do we turn to friends or family when we MUST hie to God for refuge?
‘Trust in Him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before Him: God is a refuge for us. Selah.’ Psalm 62:8
‘The Eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms…’ Deuteronomy 33:27
3. The Need for Rest
The third illustration in this text is of a deer experiencing the sore heat of summer, longing for the cool water where it may bathe its smoking flanks and rest a while. Like the deer, the believer MUST run to God for rest. The Christian race is long and hard at times and our weary bodies need to bathe in the water of life. Our wounds, sores and blisters can be soothed by immersing ourselves in God. The believer cannot find his rest in the pleasures of this life. He cannot bury his sorrows in alcohol or entertainment as do the heathen; he must dive into his Heavenly Father and find rest in the everlasting arms. The pleasantness, peace, fulfilment and rest that the believer found in Christ at the moment of his conversion is the same that he will find upon his return. The weather-beaten garments, the stains of the day, the stench of the world are totally removed when the Christian plunges into the fountain afresh. Dear brother or sister in Christ, come to the well and rest a while. Bathe in His virtues, drink of His kindness and immerse yourself in His infinite character!
‘Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him….’ Psalm 37:7
‘Be still and know that I am God….’Psalm 46:10
The author of this Psalm was thirsty for God. He did not seek ease, plaudits of men, but the enjoyment of communion with God was the urgent need of his soul! One might ask ‘How do I escape the ritualism of my Christianity?’ The answer is simple; develop an insatiable, unquenchable desire for God. Not for His Word only, nor for fellowship with His people, but for Him, only Him! ‘How can I develop this insatiable desire for God?’ Run to Him, Approach Him, Learn of Him, commune with Him, not using all the spiritual jargon, but in sincerity and truth. Perhaps the great need of the hour is for God’s people to lay aside all their ministries and church commitments which can distract, and devote time to developing a genuine walk with God.
‘Give him his God and he is as content as the poor deer which at length satisfies its thirst and is perfectly happy; but deny him his Lord, and his heart heaves, his bosom palpitates, his whole frame is convulsed, like one who gasps for breath, or pants with long running. When it is as natural for us to long for God as for an animal to thirst, it is well with our souls, however painful our feelings.’ ~Spurgeon
A Passion For Thee
Written by Joe Zicherman © 1994 by the Wilds.
Set my heart, O dear Father, on Thee, and Thee only, give me a thirst for Thy presence divine. Lord, keep my focus on loving Thee wholly, purge me from earth; turn my heart after Thine. A passion for Thee; O Lord, set a fire in my soul, and a thirst for my God. Hear Thou my prayer, Lord Thy power impart. Not just to serve, but to love Thee with all of my heart.
Because of Calvary