For a sermon I am preaching on Sunday I have been immersed today in these verses,
As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?
You, God, are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you,
my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land
where there is no water.
I spread out my hands to you;
I thirst for you like a parched land.
I long, yes, I faint with longing
to enter the courts of the Lord.
With my whole being, body and soul,
I will shout joyfully to the living God.
All night long I search for you;
in the morning I earnestly seek for God.
“Hungering, longing, yearning, thirsting, panting, earnestly seeking” .… these words describe longing and desire but of a particular type. I was trying to think of one word that summed them up and the best I could come up with was “passion.” To thirst, long, year or hunger for something is to desire it passionately.
Sometimes its a disadvantage to be Scottish, I know you will find that hard to believe but that’s the truth. One thing we never really have here is a real drought. Water is not a commodity that is ever in short supply in Scotland. So its difficult for someone like me, born and brought up in Scotland, to fully appreciate the strength of longing and desire that is expressed in words like these “I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched in a land where there is no water.”
There can be no stronger human desire than the desire for water when your tongue has swollen and stuck to the top of your dry mouth from thirst and there is no water anywhere around. I can only guess at that kind of longing. Its the same with hunger, I get some hunger pangs but I have never fully experienced hunger in the way some one does who is truly starving. Living in the ancient near east there is no doubt that the people who originally heard those words, living as they did in an arid dry climate, where crops often failed or were destroyed or stolen by marauding armies, would have understood from personally experience the depth of desire expressed through words like “hungering and thirsting” They would have know that kind of desire would cause you to do almost anything, they would have known there was no deeper desire they could experience.
I find it interesting then that the Psalmists link this incredibly powerful human physical desire, the strongest kind of desire we can experience, with the desire for God. These words, like “hungering, thirsting and longing” show us that meeting God, knowing God, encountering God was the passionate pursuit of the life of the people who penned this ancient poetry. These people were serious about knowing God, they were in a sense driven by that desire to know him more deeply and have fresh encounters with him than just about anything else in life.
Its unavoidable when you think about these kind of words and the desire for God they express not to become slightly introspective. I have been thinking about my desire for God and whether in all honesty any of these words could describe my desire to encounter and know God. Trivial pursuit is not just game, it is perhaps an accurate description of how many of us in the church today pursue God. Trivial, being of course something that is relatively unimportant. I am trying not to judgemental, except of myself, but it does appear to me that so many of us who claim to be God’s people are in truth passionately pursuing, pleasure, making money, getting on in our careers, having a house that looks like a page from the Ikea catalogue, having more stuff, being prominent or powerful etc, etc. Pursuing God in contrast, is our trivial pursuit, a relatively unimportant drive in our life that motivates us to turn up to a church building but very little beyond that.
If you don’t believe me, think about the last prayer time you were part of, how many people used this kind of language? How many people expressed a desperation to encounter God, how many people prayed passionately about coming to know God more deeply?
It would be easy for all of this just to lay an enormous guilt trip on us, perhaps there is a place for some guilt if our relationship with God has been more of trivial pursuit than a passionate pursuit. But I came across a quote from one of the great “soul doctors” of the church a medieval mystic called Meister Eckhart, this is what he said
“The soul must long for God in order to be set aflame by God’s love; but if the soul cannot yet feel the longing, then it must long for the longing. To long for the longing is also from God.”
“long for the longing” I love the hope contained in those words. If you read those words like “hungering, thirsting, longing and seeking” and thought I wish my life was marked once more by that kind of passionate desire for God Meister Eckhart has an insight you need to cling to. Eckhart realises that the very longing to long for God is in fact from God. That that sense of dissatisfaction with your trivial pursuit of God and a longing, to long passionately for God was in fact in nudge from God for you take the first step on the journey to that passionate spirituality you want to experience.
A soul doctor of the 20th century AW Tozer wrote a famous book called The Pursuit of God in which he makes this almost throw away remark speaking of God “He waits to be wanted.” God is waiting for your to want Him, he is nudging you in that direction, he wants you to have that passionate desire for him, so why not take the first step, and simply ask God to give you a “longing for the longing” and see where that leads?