Sunday, July 08, 2018

Sermon: Psalms 42 & 43 Thirsty for God

When was the last time you were thirsty? With all this good weather we’ve been having, you’ve probably felt thirsty at some point recently. You didn’t even need to be doing anything energetic! Even just sitting brought the drouth on you.

When I sat down to write this sermon, and thinking about thirst, I suddenly felt thirsty. So I had to go and get a big glass of water. (Could it be that when you think of being thirsty, and then you are thirsty - in the same way that when you think of yawning, and then all you can do is yawn, even if you aren’t tired? Hopefully you all won’t start yawning now! I’ll be watching!)

So, at the risk of making you all feel dehydrated, think about the last time you were thirsty. Maybe it was after a hard day’s work; or after some gardening; or playing; or shopping. Whatever it was, your thirst told you that you needed some water. You were thirsty for it; desperately needing it.

That’s the picture in verse 1 of Psalm 42. ‘As the deer pants for streams of water...’ The deer is panting for water, needing a drink (maybe it’s being chased, as one of the hymn versions put it). And that picture of the deer panting for water, is like the writer of the Psalm. Except, he’s not thirsty for water. He is thirsty for God. ‘As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.’ (1-2)

I’m sure you’ve been thirsty for water. Have you ever been thirsty for God?

If thirst for water is because you’re dry and you don’t have it, then thirst for God is because we don’t have him, we aren’t experiencing him. Have you ever had dry times in your faith? have you ever felt that longing for God?

Now, maybe you’re thinking to yourself - this being thirsty for God must only be for people who aren’t Christians. Only non-Christians would have this thirst, because they don’t know God, and so they’re searching, depserate, like a man lost in a desert searching for water.

But Psalms 42 & 43 are the experience of a believer. And even if you can’t get your head around that, even if you think that couldn’t be you - your Christian life is always abounding, everything is always wonderful, you’re always joyful, then listen up! You never know when you might need this word from the Lord. You need know when your circumstances might change and you do feel this way.

Now, if you do feel this way, if you find yourself in this situation, you’re longing, thirsty for God, feeling far from him, then let’s see how we can hold on in hope.

In these opening verses, the thirst is great. ‘When can I go and meet with God?’ (2) He’s thirsty for God, but all he’s drinking are his tears. ‘My tears have been my food day and night.’ It’s as if he sits down for breakfast, and he swallows his tears. What’s on the menu for lunch? More tears. Dinner time? Tears. Supper time? More tears. And it’s made worse as people around him say: ‘Where is your God?’ (3) It’s not once or twice, but all the time.

Now, if that wasn’t bad enough, he remembers when things were different in verse 4: ‘These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to lead the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng.’

He looks back and remembers how things used to be. You see, back at the top of the Psalm, the little tiny writing (superscription) tells us this is a maskil (a Psalm) of the Sons of Korah. They were the Levites who had charge of leading worship in the temple. He was a musician, a singer, in the thick of it, leading God’s people in praise. But now, now he’s far away, thirsty, longing for God.

Often, this is how the housebound can feel. They used to be here, part of the services, but now they’re stuck at home or in a nursing home. They wish they could get along to church, but they can’t make it any more.

Perhaps you feel this way too. Maybe you look back to when things were different. You remember a time when you were involved in lots of things, but now you’re on the fringes, or even further away. You felt so near to God, but now, so distant. And you think, where is God? When can I meet with him?

Up to this point, the writer has been speaking to God. But now, he speaks to someone else. Not, to anyone around him... himself. I wonder, do you talk to yourself? Don’t be afraid to say yes, because, whether you realise it or not, we’re always talking to ourselves. There’s always some sort of conversation going on.

It might be worries that are being recycled and repeated on and on; or you’re wondering how you’re feeling; or processing what someone said to you or about you; or what you said to someone else; or psyching yourself up to get out of bed, or make that awkward phonecall.

So here, the writer talks to himself, and asks himself; ‘Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?’ He already knows the reason - he’s mentioned it in the opening verses of the Psalm. But do you see the answer? He gives himself a good talking to:

‘Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.’

He turns the focus from himself and his own problems, and instead turns his focus on God. He’s preaching to himself, reminding himself of the gospel, encouraging himself based on God’s promises. He looks forward to the time when he will again praise God, because he is my Saviour and my God.

Sometimes we might think that if we pray about something once, then it’ll be all sorted and solved instantly. But the Psalm continues. And in this second section, the pain almost seems to get worse.

His soul is downcast within him (6). ‘Therefore I will remember you from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon - from Mount Mizar.’ Hermon is the mountain where the river Jordan begins - it’s about 120 miles away from Jerusalem. He’s separated from the temple, and from God.

God seems to have forgotten him. His enemies keep oppressing him, taunting him, asking, again, ‘Where is your God?’ You keep talking about him, but where is he? He doesn’t seem to be much use to you. Where is he?

What the writer experiences physically, being so far from Jerusalem, we can also experience spiritually. It seems as if God is distant. And it’s even more painful because of how he describes God. He’s the capital letters LORD, who directs his love by day, the God of his life, whose song is with him at night. (8) God is his Rock. (9), But even these great and glorious things about God can seem like a burden, when God is silent and distant.

So once again, the writer talks to himself. Again he repeats the chorus - asking why he’s downcast; again preaching to gospel to himself - to hope in God, that one day he will praise him, because he is ‘my Saviour and my God.’ (11) Don’t give up, even when prayers seem to go unanswered. Keep talking to yourself. Hold in there!

When we get to the third section, to Psalm 43, the cry becomes even more desperate. Here, the call is for vindication - for God to act and defend his cause. If you were accused of doing something wrong, then someone came forward and showed that you hadn’t done anything wrong, then you would be vindicated. You would be in the clear.

That’s what he wants God to do - to intervene, to show his power. You see, even in his darkest moments, the writer never loses his trust. Even when things are going against him, and God seems distant, he still continues to call out to God.

In verses 3&4, the writer calls for resolution. ‘Send forth your light and your truth, let them guide me; let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell. Then will I go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight. I will praise you with the harp, O God, my God.’

He recognises that God must act; that only God can bring him back and satisfy his thirst. He asks for God’s light and truth to guide him, and bring him to praise. It’s precisely what he needs - light for the path, being so far away; and truth, surrounded by the enemy’s lies.

It’s what we need as well - whether we’re far from God because we’ve never really known him, and we’re still far from him; or whether we’ve been a Christian for a long time, but things have slipped, we’ve found ourselves far away, lost our joy. What we need is for God to send his light and truth - or rather, the one who is the light of the world; the one who is the way, the truth and the life - the Lord Jesus, the one who brings us near to God, brings us into his family and causes us to worship, the one who takes away our thirst by giving us the water of life.

And as these Psalms finish, there comes the chorus again. As he continues to pray, so he continues to talk to himself as well. He repeats the exact same words, but sometimes that’s exactly what we need - we hold on to a promise, to a commitment, like a dog with a bone, not letting go, holding on for dear life.

If you had a friend who was discouraged, you would hopefully draw alongside them and gently remind them of the hope of the gospel in Jesus. So why not do it to yourself? Talk to yourself in the best possible way. Remind yourself of the gospel as you preach to yourself. Encourage yourself to put your hope in God (not in anyone or anything else); because it’s only as we do that that we will praise him, our Saviour and our God.

Our thirst for God is only satisfied when we come to the one who says in John 7 ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.’

Jesus gives us the living water to satisfy our thirst for God - he gives us the Holy Spirit, who flows within, and flows out, so that others can share in this life-giving, thirst-quenching water.

Are you thirsty today? Come to Jesus. Drink deeply, and live.

This sermon was preached in St Matthew's Church, Richhill on Sunday morning 8th July 2018.

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