Thirsting for God
Topic: Christian Living Passage: Psalm 42:1–42:11
Turn with me please to Psalm 42. Several weeks ago as I was praying and thinking about different ideas and directions that we should go in after we finished the book of Galatians, the theme thirsting for God came to my heart as a timely word for us as a church in this season. I think the reason that theme gripped my heart is that it reminds us in a really basic way that what we need most is God Himself. Having recently moved into our new building it would have been easy to go in a “let’s get busy doing our mission together” direction – and that’s good and we do want to get busy doing our mission together, but it’s important for us to remember that activity for God in the church needs to flow from the activity of God in the church. We need God more than we need to be busy for God. And one of the ways the Bible describes our need for God is through the metaphor of thirst.
Physical thirst is, very simply, the craving for water. Spiritual thirst can be described very simply as the craving for God, and that’s what we see in Psalm 42. This morning we’re going to concentrate our attention on the first two verses but let’s read the entire psalm. Read Psalm 42:1-11 and pray.
Background of psalm
This psalm carries the inscription To the choirmaster. A maskil of the sons of Korah. That’s a surprising inscription because Korah was the guy who led a rebellion against Moses and Aaron in Numbers 16 and God opened up the ground and swallowed up Korah and the other men and their families right in front of the Israelites. But Numbers 26 tells us that “the sons of Korah did not die.” It’s possible that they were too young to be involved in their father’s rebellion but it’s more likely they simply chose not to join him and God had mercy on them and spared their lives. Several generations later the line of Korah went on to become mighty warriors in King David’s army but what they are most noted for was leading the choral music of the temple. They were great warriors and great worshipers. Don’t ever think that it’s not a manly thing to sing to the Lord – the sons of Korah, like David himself, were men that were good in a fight, but also wrote about 25 beautiful psalms of worship. Psalm 42 in particular is a beautiful psalm that expresses a deep longing for God but also gets real honest with God. The psalmist is in deep emotional distress – he is discouraged to the point of being depressed. His enemies appear to have the upper hand over him in every way, and their taunt, “Where is your God?” is particularly painful because it echoes the question that his own heart is asking, God, where are you? Have you forgotten me? He longs for God’s presence the way a deer that’s dying of thirst longs for a flowing stream.
I. Physical thirst is a reflection of a deeper spiritual thirst that we all have
We live in a thirsty world. Bruce Springsteen came out with a song in the 80’s that said, everybody’s got a hungry heart. Everybody’s got a thirsty heart too. Spiritual thirst is a universal human condition. We are born with hearts that thirst for something that this world just can’t ever seem to quite deliver. What I admire about this psalmist is that in the midst of a lot going badly in his life he bores down deeply into his own soul and recognizes that his soul is thirsting. It’s craving something. We’ll talk about what his soul is thirsty for in a minute, but let’s just pause and consider his honest assessment of his soul.
This may not seem like such a big deal, but I think that many of us rarely bore down into our souls to identify what’s driving us to do what we do.
Several weeks ago we watched a short video introduction to the course How Do I Change and in the video Tim Lane talked about unreflective activism - where we lead a busy life, not taking time to ask the kind of questions the Bible calls us to ask of ourselves such as why are we responding to life the way we are responding, and what is driving those responses? One way to frame that is to say we are driven by thirst but rarely, if ever, stop to ask what thirst is driving us - what is it we are craving? Even Christians can fail to take an honest assessment of our cravings and how they drive us and where they are driving us.
This can play out in so many ways:
- The guy who puts in long hours at work – and then is available to be interrupted at home 24/7 knows that he is driven, but does he know what thirst is driving him? Is it a drive to succeed? Fear of failure? Is it just a desire to make more money? Is it that he loves to be considered indispensible by his coworkers? Is it unhappiness with his home life? He might be very aware that he is driven, but not take the time to honestly assess what is driving him, what he is thirsting for.
- Or consider the woman who never wants to disappoint others, so she says yes to commitments that she knows she should say no to, which makes her life so busy that she has even less time to catch her breath and consider where she is going and why. What craving, what thirst, drives her to want to please everyone?
- Or the person whose life goes from crisis to crisis, and every time a crisis pops up, they run back to God and cry out to Him for help. But as soon as the crisis is resolved, they return to the same habits and lifestyle that led them from crisis to crisis in the first place. For them unreflective activism means they never ask the bigger questions such as, why does my life go from crisis to crisis? Or, why don’t I pursue God until I find myself in a crisis?
My point is we all have cravings – thirsts – that work deep inside of us and drive us, but many of us don’t take the time or find the quiet to reflect on the state of our souls. Whether it’s craving approval, craving security, craving our ego being stroked, craving peace, craving conflict, craving power, craving pleasure – our souls are thirsty, but many of us rarely do what the psalmist does: bore deep inside to examine what it is our souls thirst for, and why. I know that’s true of me, and I suspect it’s true for many of us in this room. There is a deep, spiritual thirst that goes deep within all our souls and it drives our lives in ways we may not even be aware of.
II. Spiritual thirst was meant to drive us to God but sin has redirected our thirst away from God and towards things that can never quench our thirst
Just as God designed physical thirst to drive us to water, He designed our spiritual thirst to drive us to Him. Thirst isn’t an end in itself – we get thirsty because there’s such a thing as water, and we have spiritual thirst because there’s such a thing as God. But even though our thirst is meant to drive us to God; sin, Satan, and the world all work in tandem to redirect our thirst away from God and to things that can never satisfy our souls.
Obey your thirst – not!
In the summer of 1996 Coca-Cola was looking for a way to change the image of its Sprite products. Sales were down and the old campaign of “I like the Sprite in you!” wasn’t connecting with the younger crowd. So they contracted with a well known advertising company to come up with something fresh and hip to attract the Gen X crowd.
Ad executive Donald Ritkin knew exactly what that new campaign would be. He had recently read a speech given in 1971 by then Gov of California Ronald Reagan. Reagan was addressing the Boy Scouts of America on a scorching day and as he neared his conclusion, he paused to take a drink of water. When he resumed he said, “If you are to remember one thing, and only one thing, it should be this: Speeches are nothing. Thirst is everything. Always remember to obey your thirst.” Ritkin took Reagan’s ad lib sentence and tweaked it to become the new Sprite campaign:
Image is nothing. Thirst is everything. Obey your thirst.
Nevermind the irony in an ad campaign declaring that image is nothing when the whole purpose of that campaign is to change the product’s image. The fact is, Sprite didn’t actually want you to “obey your thirst.” Thirst would never lead you to a can of Sprite. If you were in a desert dying of thirst, and saw a glass of water and a can of Sprite, if you obeyed your thirst you’d choose the water. Sprite would only leave you more thirsty. Sprite doesn’t really want you to obey your thirst, they want to redirect your thirst away from water (and every other drink) and towards a can of Sprite.
This is a small picture of how sin, Satan, and the world tries to redirect our thirst away from God and towards things that can’t ever quench our thirst: Human history is literally filled with skeletons of corpses who died of thirst with a metaphorical can of Sprite gripped in their skeletal hands. Millionaires who testify through their unhappiness that money doesn’t quench the thirst. Ambitious men and women who stepped on others to climb the ladder of promotion, only to find that their thirst climbed the ladder with them. People who have lived incredibly self-indulgent lives who find this paradox at work in them: the more they drank of pleasure, the thirstier their boredom got. And how often is this scenario reenacted: a man sits up late in front of his computer feeding his thirst for pornographic images, only to find that when he turns off the computer and heads to bed at 2am that his soul is dryer than ever, emptier than ever, thirstier than ever.
The world promises us that the next oasis will be the one that quenches our thirst, but it always turns out to be a mirage –as soon as we reach it, we find it has moved once again just out of reach. But over and over again we believe that the next mirage will be the one that pays off. If I had this, if I had that, if I had more of this, if I had more of that, if this were different, if that were different…
III. Choose your thirst
Spiritual thirst was meant to drive us to God, but sin redirects it away from God and towards things that will never quench our thirst. I submit to you this morning that God’s word doesn’t call us to “obey our thirst” – it calls us to “choose our thirst.” The psalmist isn’t just describing his thirst when he says, as the deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God…he’s also directing his thirst. With all that’s going wrong, his soul must be tempted to just want things to ease up but he takes his thirst and aims it right at God. He recognizes that what his soul is parched for is God, and so he chooses to direct his thirst at God.
The bottom line is that we can choose what we thirst for. Isa. 55 talks to the thirsty man and woman and invites them to choose to quench their thirst with God:  “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.  Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? The question isn’t whether or not someone is thirsty (or hungry) the question is whether they will go to the waters the Lord provides to quench that thirst and satisfy that hunger.
Jesus gives the same invitation to come to him to quench the spiritual thirst of our souls when he stood up at the feast of Passover and cried out in John 7:37-38: “if anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Listen, everyone thirsts! When Jesus says, if anyone thirsts…he isn’t implying that maybe some thirst and some don’t. Everyone thirsts, but Jesus is inviting the thirsty to come to him to quench that thirst. Jesus says he can satisfy our spiritual thirst once and for all, and even better, make us thirst-quenchers for others who are spiritually thirsty too. He doesn’t just say we will all have our private rivers, but out of our heart will flow rivers of living water – so others can come and drink too. Jesus means for the church to be more than a place where believers are refreshed, the church is meant to be a place that a thirsty world can come to find living waters. I believe that true revival is when God takes the normal flow of the Spirit on His church, and He opens the floodgates so that there is an outpouring of the Spirit like a flood, like a torrential rain, so much so that a thirsty church is saturated with drink – and then we overflow with that living water so that a thirty world comes to drink!
So how can the church become what God has called it to be – a place where living waters are flowing to a thirsty world? We’re gonna look at that question in more depth next week, but here are three thoughts to get us started: 1. Be honest with God about your thirst
The psalmist isn’t spouting out some religious cliché that he knows God wants to hear. He really is thirsting for God. I can’t always say that and you probably can’t either. God doesn’t want the church to package its image so that it looks like its passionate and thirsty for Him when really our hearts are thirsty for the world. The Sprite ad campaign got this right: image really is nothing. God isn’t interested in our image, He’s interested in our hearts and our souls. This is soul talk – My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and see the face of God? Maybe that’s not true of your soul, maybe it’s not true of mine, but God wants to hear where my soul and your soul is honestly. Lord, I thirst for you, help my lack of thirst! I love the world too much. I try to fill my thirst at – and name the mud puddle that you return to time and again to quench your thirst. Be honest with God about your thirst.
2. Ask God to give you a greater thirst for Him
The psalmist goes back and forth between praying to God and talking to his soul. He opens with a prayer: as a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. He’s praying about his thirst. That’s a good place for us to start too. Only God can give us a thirst for Him. Ask God to increase your thirst for Him.
3. Choose to do things that will increase your thirst for God
I mentioned that the psalmist goes back and forth – sometimes talking to God and sometimes talking to his soul. When he sees that his soul is depressed (cast down) he then talks to his soul – Hope in God, for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. We can choose to direct our souls towards God and do things that will increase our thirst for God. Things that put our souls in the flow of His grace, in the streams of His mercy, in the fountain of His love. Reading His word, turning off the TV and taking a walk to pour out your soul to Him, listening to a message from His word, spending time with other believers who challenge and encourage you in Christ. The more we drink from the fountain that God provides, the thirstier we become for more of Him.
Let me bring this plane in for a landing. There’s more to say, but I believe the main thing is pointing our thirst towards God, our souls towards God and away from the Sprites that we’ve been drinking and have left us thirsty. Jesus promises us that rivers of living water will flow in us and through us – why would we want to settle for anything less? Let’s pray.