Desires after God
Francis Bourdillon, 1864
As the deer pants after the water brooks — so my soul pants after you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God — when shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, while they continually say unto me, "Where is your God?"
When I remember these things, I pour out my soul in me; for I had gone with the multitude, I went with them to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holiday.
Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted in me? Hope in God — for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance.
O my God, my soul is cast down within me; therefore will I remember You from the land of Jordan, and of the Hermonites, from the hill Mizar. Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls; all Your waves and Your billows are gone over me. Yet the Lord will command His loving-kindness in the daytime, and in the night His song shall be with me, and my prayer unto the God of my life. I will say unto God my rock, "Why have You forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?" As with a sword in my bones, my enemies reproach me; while they say daily unto me, "Where is your God?"
Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.
Though our circumstances may not be exactly like those of the Psalmist — yet this need not hinder us from receiving good from his words. Often the same thoughts, feelings, and prayers are suitable to very different circumstances.
Who or what these people were who said to David, "Where is your God?" We do not know. They may have been enemies, taking pleasure in his afflictions, reviling him and taunting him. Or they may have been friends or servants of his, who had no faith in God and who added to David's troubles by trying to make him as unbelieving as themselves. Very likely we have neither such enemies — nor such friends. Yet there is much in this Psalm that may be profitable to us.
In one point, it is especially suited to the sick. David was kept away from the house of God. Probably it was when he was driven from Jerusalem by the rebellion of Absalom. The sick also are kept from the house of God.
David was very sad at heart. He thought of the happy days when he used to go up with the congregation to the temple, "with the voice of joy and praise." He longed to go there again. Of all his troubles, this was perhaps the greatest in his eyes — to be cut off from the public worship of God. "My soul thirsts for God, for the living God — when shall I come and appear before God?"
Some who lie on a sick-bed feel the same. They loved the house of God when they were well. It was a true delight to them to join in prayer and praise and to hear God's holy Word. They look back with regret on these past Sundays. Now they cannot go. It is what they miss most of all. Ah! How thankful would they be for those opportunities which thousands of the strong and healthy are neglecting every Sunday!
David was sad at heart when he thought thus. Yet he blamed himself for being sad. "Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me?" He encouraged himself to trust and to look for brighter days. "Hope in God — for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance." God would help him in some way, and it might be that He would soon even restore him to the worship which he loved.
Desponding thoughts are apt to come in sickness. At such times we should encourage ourselves in God. "Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me?" Thus we should speak to ourselves. We should nourish hope; never despairing as if God had forsaken us, but hoping in Him, even against hope — that is, when all ground of hope seems gone. For it is not gone really. The ground of the Christian's hope is God — God in Christ. And God does not change. His love, His faithfulness, His Word, remain unaltered.
Our circumstances often change — from sickness to health, from calm to trouble; but He never changes. We should hope in Him through all. Can He not raise the sick? Can He not bring him again to worship in His house? Can He not help him and comfort him? And will He not do all that is wise and good and kind — for those who seek Him and trust Him?
There seems a strange mixture of thoughts here: despondency — and hope; complaining — and rejoicing. Yet there is nothing strange in this really. Thought is quick, and different feelings pass swiftly through the mind, one following on another. Do we not find this in ourselves? At one moment trouble presses heavily upon us, and our feeling is like that of David: "Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls; all Your waves and Your billows are gone over me." Then hope revives, and a gleam of light and comfort appears: "Yet the Lord will command His loving-kindness in the daytime, and in the night His song shall be with me, and my prayer unto the God of my life." "My prayer," yet a prayer taking sometimes almost the form of complaining: "I will say unto God my rock, 'Why have You forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?'"
With all these changes of feeling, we see that David still addresses himself to God. In his despondency — it is to God that he speaks: "O my God, my soul is cast down within me!" His hope is in God; his prayers are to God; his complaints are to God. In all his thoughts, he still clings to God.
In the same way, God loves us thus to speak all our thoughts to Him. He would be no stranger to us. Every change of feeling, we may make known to Him. In our distress, we may use much boldness in speaking to Him — a humble boldness: "Why have You forgotten me?"
Yet, even while using such words, David did not really believe that God had forgotten him, for he says, "I will say unto God my rock, 'Why have You forgotten me?'" It was faith that cried — though faith in weakness and distress. Ah, never let us, in any trouble or fear, lose sight of God as our rock, our strength and defense, our refuge and shelter, firm and unchangeable.
Some, when they lie on a bed of sickness, cannot think as David did about the house of God. They had no love for it while they were in health. They neglected it. Perhaps they are sorry now. Wasted Sundays, and slighted means of grace — rise up to their remembrance and make their hearts sad. But God is very gracious. He will forgive all who seek forgiveness through the blood of Jesus. Let them ask God, for Christ's sake — to pardon their past neglect. It was a great sin, but Jesus is the great Savior of great sinners — there is forgiveness in Him.
If God should raise them up again — then how gladly will they attend His house and worship Him and hear His Word! So they think now. Yet let them not trust their own thoughts and resolutions. Let humble and earnest prayer be made, that God will incline their hearts to what is right and help and strengthen them by His Holy Spirit; that so, if they are indeed restored, they may live to His glory, and love and serve Him all their days.
David longed for the house of God — but we see that absence from the temple did not cause entire absence from God, for his heart was with God still. And we, though shut out from the great blessing of God's house and laid upon a bed of sickness — may still draw near to God in heart and pray and praise and hold sweet communion with Him.
God is never far off. David found Him near when he sought to remember Him "from the land of Jordan and of the Hermonites, from the hill Mizar." And all who seek Him in Christ Jesus will find Him near — wherever they may be. When He gives us (for it is His gift) a hungering and thirsting after righteousness — when He inclines our soul to desire His presence, to pant after Him "as the deer pants after the water brooks," and to thirst for God, for the living God — then we need not ask in despondency, "When shall I come and appear before God?"
Even then, at that very time, and in that very place — we may find God present with us by the Spirit. Earnestly as we may desire to join once more with the congregation in prayer and praise — yet let us not think that we are altogether shut out from prayer and praise. Not so! Even then, we may come and appear before God. Even then, we may find access to the throne of grace through Jesus, our Mediator and Advocate. And all such access to God will be a happy foretaste of that time when, in a yet higher and better sense, we shall "come and appear before God" in His kingdom of glory.
O God, raise our thoughts and affections toward You. Give to us by Your Holy Spirit, this longing for Your presence, these ardent desires after You. Bless to us all Your providential dealings — sickness, pain, weakness, sorrow. Sanctify them to us by Your Spirit. In all despondency — be our Comforter; in all weakness — be our strength; in all fear — be our hope. Deepen our sorrow for past sins. Increase our faith in Christ our Savior. Pardon us for our past sins. Give us right desires and holy thoughts and spiritual affections. May the light of Your reconciled countenance shine upon us. Grant us Your peace. Hear us and bless us, for our Savior's sake. Amen.