“Like a deer that yearns for running streams, so my soul yearns for you, my God” (Psalm 42). This powerful, even beautiful poetic prayer, along with Psalm 43 are a lament in three sections, each ending in the same refrain. The psalmist, writing this prayer, is far from Jerusalem and is longing for the divine presence that Israel had experienced in the Temple liturgy. He is sad, but his faith is strong that one day he will be able to join with others in worshiping God once again.
This psalm’s shifting moods are very familiar to us. Do we not find ourselves going through such moods throughout our lives, even our individual days? Do we not find ourselves in a desert of one kind of another at times, feeling alone? Do not our prayers seem dry at times, seemingly barren, or fruitless. Do not our souls thirst for God in those times, wanting more than anything to enter into his presence, to feel his embrace, to see his face (verse 3)? Does not life often seem to overwhelm us with burdens, with sorrows, with tears? And in those times, do we not cry out for the Lord? Are there not those around us who taunt us with the question, “Where is your God” (verse 4)?
This psalm is a powerful expression of those times, yet it is also an example of real faith, the kind of faith that we are all yearning for in our own lives. In it we see the clear recognition that the world is God’s, that all of creation reveals the presence of God to us. “Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me” (verse 7) It is a recognition, too, of God’s constant love. “By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me, I will pray to the God of my life” (verse 8). This is a recognition of the faithfulness that God has for us, and a reminder that we are to be faithful in return.
For some, the intensity of their faith in God is matched with an inclination to ask questions of God. We see that here in the psalmist’s question, “Why have you forgotten me” (verse 9)? This is not a sign of doubt, or disrespect in one who believes in God’s love and mercy. Rather, when one asks God intimate questions like this it is out of a trust in God’s abiding love. Such questions, because they are not often readily answered, summon in us a deeper act of faith. In asking such an intimate and personal question of God our souls are plunged more deeply into the mystery of God. Logic is not the medium for such answers. Mystery is not within the competence of human logic. It is in our patient and faithful waiting, so often, it seems, in the darkness, and in the dryness, that the quiet spiritual insights come to us. And quite often the answer calls us to offer more of ourselves to the relationship, to love God with our whole lives, by giving ourselves to him in and through our generous service to others. It is then, in faith, that we direct other questions to ourselves: “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” This is the great gift of faith at its best.
Lord, When we are downcast, hear our petitions, listen to our questions with your steadfast love. We long for you like the thirsty deer and cry out to you in our need. Yet, even when we are in the midst of our trials, we trust in your love and your mercy. You are the oasis of living water that our hearts yearn for through all of our days. Increase our faith and our desire to return your love. We pray these things in Jesus’ name. Amen!
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