“As the deer pants for the streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.” Psalm 42:1.
If I ask you what that “means” you can easily tell me. That’d be a very good question but a better question would be: “What do you SEE when you read it?”
There he is standing in the middle of the stream chest heaving and heart thumping like a runaway train speeding downhill. His wide-eyed and wild-eyed look scours every foot of ground around him but there’s no sign of them. Maybe he finally shook them off but his legs are trembling, throbbing and weary from miles covered at breakneck speed, his ribs are aching from the pressure of lungs expanded to their limit in sucking in great gulps of air, his throat is on fire and his mouth though foam-flecked is absolutely parched. He can wait no longer, danger or not he must find the nearest stream and drink or die.
The long chase, the fierce pack, the cunning way they pursued, always keeping him running full tilt with a single leader dog while the rest waited until he tired and then they’d take his life. This time he outwitted or outran them but the strain and the effort has been close to overwhelming. He pants for water. No sipping, no little desire but a desperate and unquenchable thirst. He finds the stream and sinks his muzzle in the ice-cold water and swallows it down in big life-giving gulps.
The psalmist might have seen that from some high place, have seen the drama of it all and rejoiced at the escape and felt like rising to his feet and applauding. That’s the picture the psalmist paints for us in Psalm 42:1. “As the deer pants for the flowing stream so my soul longs after you.”
How could he not be thrilled at the “great escape”? Did it not remind him of the days when he was pursued long and hard, like a frightened deer, a period in his life when he heard the ‘dogs’? There he was, hemmed in by circumstances beyond his control, his strength almost gone, his friends not within reach, the effort to stay on his feet having drained him and driven him to the edge of the abyss. He must find GOD. “My soul thirsts for God, the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God? My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me continually, ‘Where is your God?’” [42.2]
As the deer at the limit of his endurance instinctively knows he must find water so this little human knows he must find God for it’s only in God he has reason to hope! He tests every offer of help with the question: “Will it help me to find God?”
“Here, here is good advice and counsel.”
Will it help me to find God?
“Here, here is an offer of friendship.”
Will it help me see the face of God?
“Here, here is a place you can run to.”
Will I find God there?
“Here, here is a book you should read, a movie you should see, a seminar you should attend, a habit you should develop.”
Will they bring me to God?
(Holy Father, help us to see you in the words. Help us to see you EVERYWHERE. Help us to WANT to see you everywhere. And though you are not far from any one of us sometimes we’re so tired and afraid that we feel the need of something more “face to face.” We’re giving you no ultimatums Holy One but so many things frighten us and take us to very dark places and in our weariness we need your nearer presence. We are brave, because you have made us brave and we see gallantry in so many fine people. But sometimes, don’t you know, we feel like just sitting down. This prayer we bring to you in Jesus Christ and by His Spirit.)