Desert-Thirst

Psalm 143:1-12 NLT
“Hear my prayer, O LORD; listen to my plea!
Answer me because you are faithful and righteous.
Don’t put your servant on trial, for no one is innocent before you.
My enemy has chased me. He has knocked me to the ground and forces me to live in darkness like those in the grave.
I am losing all hope; I am paralyzed with fear.
I remember the days of old. I ponder all your great works and think about what you have done.
I lift my hands to you in prayer.
I thirst for you as parched land thirsts for rain.
Come quickly, LORD, and answer me, for my depression deepens.
Don’t turn away from me, or I will die.
Let me hear of your unfailing love each morning,
for I am trusting you.
Show me where to walk, for I give myself to you.
Rescue me from my enemies, LORD; I run to you to hide me.
Teach me to do your will, for you are my God.
May your gracious Spirit lead me forward on a firm footing.
For the glory of your name, O LORD, preserve my life.
Because of your faithfulness, bring me out of this distress.
In your unfailing love, silence all my enemies and destroy all my foes, for I am your servant.”

Perhaps as you read this post you can identify with David’s distress. The weight of depression attempting to attach itself to your life. Feeling chased into  an unknown territory, into darkness, by the enemies of trouble, strife and hardship. Maybe you feel as though you, too, have lost all hope. Hopes for improving, changing, healing, or rescue for your body, finances, children, marriage, or your dreams. Maybe hope has been dashed against hard realities. Maybe there is a part of you that wants to pray, wants to trust, wants to lift your hands in surrender but fear, and perhaps exhaustion, are paralyzing.

I don’t write this morning to present you with a sweet and nicely packaged answer. What I share won’t be shiny or broken down into five neatly ordered steps. I can’t tell you how things will turn out. I won’t promise you that answers will come in the colors, shapes and sizes you are wanting or expecting. I would like to. I realize there can be a short-lived comfort in hearing someone tell us what to do and how to do it so God will work things out the way we ask Him. God is so mysterious and grand, so unexplainable, so far beyond what we can grasp. And so we arch our backs and strain our necks for a way to make it all work out…a way to fit this majestic, mountain carving God into our pocket. We need to make life – Him – make sense. So we give in to the temptation to take Him apart, reducing Him to points and formulas and a God we can manage.

But He is not.

I thirst for you as parched land thirsts for rain. As I read back over the Psalm above, my heart responds to these words. David wants rescue from his plight, wants to see his enemies vanquished, wants relief, but what He thirsts for, like parched land for rain, is God Himself. Is David’s quest for answer to prayer and God one in the same? Is ours?

What if seeking answers, clarity and rescue from hardship is meant to be a part of our experience with God, but not its totality? What if we come to realize deep within, like David, that our greatest thirst is not for changes in our circumstances or the people around us, but for Creator Himself? See, there can be a point in our lives when knowing Him, learning to hear and see Him in everyday life, becomes our deepest satisfaction. More precious than answers, more sacred than clarity, more longed for than a rescue, is the nearness of Jesus.

Like medicine. Like oxygen. Like the missing piece of a puzzle.

He loves us. He wants to help, comfort and rescue us. But what if more than being an answer-giver, God wants to be our desert-thirst? Sometimes we want to know the answers more than we want to know Him. Want the  feelings of comfort far more than the Comforter. Search for doctrinal bullet points with greater fervor than the One they are supposed to point us toward. We are trying to do it right, aren’t we? Trying as best we can, being mere humans and all, to connect with a Creator we can’t prove on paper yet yearn for in ways we barely comprehend. Perhaps we fear trading in our pocket-size version for one we could never wrap our minds or hands around will leave us with less. Perhaps we keep reducing Him to bullet points and five step formulas because deep inside we in fact do possess a desperate desert-thirst for God Himself. And so we grasp at Him to know Him. Answered prayer becomes our proof of Him, feelings our reality of His presence, rescue from hard times a banner of defense against a world that won’t believe. We define Him, corner Him and at last tuck God snugly inside the pocket of our understanding. God, if you love me you will answer a certain way, make me feel a certain way, move in my circumstances a certain way. We are left dazed and confused when the answers don’t come the way we asked, the feelings aren’t nicer and the hardship is still, well, hard.

For me, these times have been and surely will always taste bittersweet. I pause in reflection because prior to my first adult encounter with slashing heartbreak, my most secret fear was that I could not manage God the way I was supposed to if I was faithful, and faith-full, enough. Whether I was the failure or God remained to be seen. Alas, circumstances out of my control came pounding on my door. The answer was not what I wanted. The feelings were at times almost unbearable. The rescue, it seemed, fell short. Shattered, I looked inside my god-pocket so full of anger, confusion and hurt, but He wasn’t there.

Thank You, God, for loving me enough and being too great and grand to let me reduce You.

Years passed. This same out-of-control houseguest made another appearance at my door.  Again, the answer hurt me. But this time was different. I had begun to learn God could not be managed, but He could absolutely be trusted. I was learning to let God’s Word and promises define me, encapsulate and pocket-place me in the center of this “Have Your own way in me” kind of life.  I was standing, palms open, in His rain.  Sweet desert rain for my deep desert thirst.

What do we do in the middle of the pain, stagnation, depression? What do we do when we’ve done all we know to do?

Let Him out. He’s not in your pocket anyway. He never was. Take a few minutes to hear David’s heart in his encounter with God in the Psalm above. David is asking for what He needs, what He wants. He’s asking for relief and is confident in His God. But his encounter with God goes beyond what David needs and wants and his perception of how God works. David has seen God move, received God’s provision, experienced His miracles and yet His thirst is for God Himself.

Sometimes when knowing God is defined by answers and feelings, He lets us walk a path that leads us to discovering who He is apart from answers and feelings. Although feared and sometimes resented, we have an amazing opportunity to grow on this path. Our parched hearts can learn to hear God say things we would never listen for otherwise. Things that open our eyes and change us forever. We may just come to see our greatest thirst, this desert-thirst, is for His nearness. In our fountain drinking we learn to please Him. Not because we can manage Him, but because we are knowing Him.

Strangely freeing, we may find ourselves deeply satisfied, independent of circumstances, as we stop peering into our pocket and drink deeply from the nearness of a God we could not manage but can trust so completely.

A thirst cultivated in the desert.  Satiated in nearness rain.

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