I often think back to my years of desert wandering.
That’s what I call them now, as I look back on my faith journey: my years in the desert. They were not years when life was particularly difficult or particularly joy-filled or particularly busy or particularly anything. They were years when life when was exceedingly normal.
I don’t know if it happened suddenly, or if it was a gradual meandering, but one day, I looked around, and realized I was in the desert. My soul was parched, and no matter where I looked or what I did or how hard I tried, I could not find the Living Water I longed to drink.
God seemed to have disappeared.
I knew He hadn’t. My mind still had faith that God existed, but my heart had lost the ability to feel Him. My soul became lonely for the God who used to fill it with the unmatched experience of connecting with His presence.
I read Psalm 42 now and I wonder if I read it during those years. They are words that could have been lifted from my own journal.
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? – Psalm 42:1-2
As Christians are all-too-prone to do, we put Psalm 42:1 on paintings and notebooks and greeting cards and musical lyrics without hearing the depth of its context. We read it as this peaceful imagery of a fawn beside a river, blessed by the refreshment of the water.
But these verses are not about the presence of water, they are about the lack of water.
Nothing made me long for God’s presence more than the sense of God’s absence.
My tears have been my food
day and night,
while people say to me all day long,
“Where is your God?”
These things I remember
as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go to the house of God
under the protection of the Mighty One
with shouts of joy and praise
among the festive throng. –Psalm 42:3-4
Oh, how I resonate with the Psalmist. He lost in frustrated wandering. Where can he go to find God? He remembers what it used to be like. What happened? He is thirsty and desperate for a response from the God who used to satisfy him.
What is he supposed to do when he is searching for God and God is nowhere to be found?
This Psalm is only 11 verses long, yet one verse is repeated twice. Verse 5 and verse 11 are exactly the same.
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. – Psalm 42:5 or 11
There is a deep and difficult truth that the Psalmist must learn: the feeling of God’s absence does not mean that God is not there. It is worth it to persevere, to have the discipline to keep seeking God, even when he cannot find Him.
There is beautiful commitment and faith to the words, “for I will yet praise him.” We learn them in the desert times better than any other.
No matter the feelings I do or do not have, no matter the answers I do or not get, I will yet praise my God. He is my hope and my Savior.
Walk through the Psalms is a series working its way through the book of Psalms, one Psalm a week, one post a week, in order. It is grounded in the belief that as Psalms swirl through prayers of pain and praise, they paint a portrait of a life of faith. And, as with any walk, it is better with company; all are welcome to join. To learn more, read this.
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