Psalm 42:1-2 utters words that sometimes seem distant from our experience: “As the deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for You, O God. My soul thirst for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?”
I am not unaware of those very longings of which the sons of Korah describe. There are within all true believers what older theologians called “pious longings.” Peter would say, “Though you have not seen Him, you love Him. Though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.” (1 Peter 1:8)
More scripture comes to mind. Psalm 73:25 says, “Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides You.” Or consider the longer passage in Hebrews 11:13-16: “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is a heavenly one.”
Psalm 63:1 speaks of the soul thirsting for God. Isaiah 26:8b-9a says, “O LORD, we wait for You; Your name and remembrance are the desire of our soul. My soul yearns for You in the night, my spirit within me earnestly seeks You.” Matthew 5:6 speaks of hungering and thirsting after righteousness. We could go on and on.
The images of a heart set on flame after the living God is the pervasive testimony of those who have been born anew. To have been redeemed is to be awakened with a set of desires we did not know could exist. But once having tasted that the Lord is good, there is absolutely nothing else that can satisfy or endure.
But I began by saying that in spite of this, there are times when this very experience is distant from our experience. What is to be done when the soul is dry and when the heart seems unresponsive? There are two unproductive responses, and one mandated response. The first unproductive response is to doubt our salvation. After all, an unresponsive heart can grow out of leaving sin unchecked. But doubting our salvation is the result of our eyes fixated on our sin and refusing to look up at Christ’s cross and His atoning sacrifice. The second unproductive response is to do nothing. Time alone does not cure this, although at times, time does become an issue.
The only healthy, faith-filled response in times of spiritual bareness is to turn and return to scriptures and prayer. One of the often unpracticed disciplines of the Christian faith is to meditate on Scripture. Let me explain. I grew up on a dairy farm, and remember as a young boy being fascinated by watching cows chew the cud. They ate something earlier, and stored it in one chamber of the stomach. At an appropriate time, they brought that food up, and began to chew it.
That is an apt picture of meditation. It is to take one passage of scripture and chew it. For instance, when Paul said of God, “In Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28), it is fitting that we should imagine – or meditate on all the places where we have and will move and have our being that day. Imagine all of it done in the immediate presence of God. The car, the store, the gas station, breakfast, grooming, experiencing stressors and dealing with disappointment. In all of this, I was living and moving in God. Let it wash over your soul for a day. And sense in that, a renewed longing for the living God.