How much do you think about water when you’re not thirsty? If you’re like the average person, not very much. If you’re health conscious, perhaps you think of water regularly as part of your overall wellness regimen — a disciplined hydration.
But how much do you think of water when you’re thirsty? A lot. You can’t help it. It’s near the forefront of your mind. The thirstier you feel, the more water dominates your thoughts. You begin to notice everything that has water connotations: cups, fountains, rain, pictures of water. The greater the thirst, the more earnest the search.
And the thirstier you are, the less you desire other liquids. Soda, for example, is most appealing as a form of liquid entertainment or distraction, and you might crave it if you feel a low-grade thirst. But when you feel parched, you don’t want soda — in fact, you don’t want any other liquid. You want the one thing that will most quench your thirst: water.
Water is really only experienced as satisfying when our real need for it makes us really want it. Likewise, God is only experienced as satisfying when our real need for him makes us really want him.
Earnestly I Seek You
Trudging through arid Judean wilderness, fleeing yet another assassination scheme, David pours out his craving before God,
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. (Psalm 63:1)
“The barren places teach us both to want most and to seek most what we need most.”
Note carefully: what made David so earnest in his search for God? His thirst for God. And what made him so thirsty? No water — his experienced lack of God.
This is crucial to our understanding God’s ways and why he allows us to experience dry, barren, dark, oppressive seasons: our experienced lack of what we really need makes us really desire what we really need. This is the blessedness of the barren places: they teach us both to want most and to seek most what we need most. This is a painful gift of priceless worth, because it drives us like nothing else to the only fountain that will quench our soul-thirst, which is why David went on to say,
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. (Psalm 63:2)
David’s soul-thirst drove him to seek his satisfaction in God. And that’s the purpose of your soul-thirst.
The Ill of All Ills
But David didn’t always feel this way. When he was at the height of his success, when he was wealthy, sated, and secure in his reign, his soul lost its desperate thirst for God. And what happened? Bathsheba became an enticing and intoxicating soul-beverage. He did something in his prosperity he never would have done while wandering the weary, waterless wilderness: he drank from the broken cistern of sexual immorality.
It is a great and sad irony of the fallen human heart: the very thing that makes the barren places blessed — the rousing of a desperate thirst for God — is too often and too easily doused by the very things we consider the blessings of abundance. When we don’t thirst for God, we suffer from a soul-sickness, and it is a serious disease. The hymnist, Frederick William Faber, described it like this:
For the lack of desire is the ill of all ills;
Many thousands through it the dark pathways have trod,
The balsam, the wine of predestinate wills
Is a jubilant pining and longing for God. (“The Desire of God”)
Is Faber overstating the case? I do not think so, for I believe with all my heart that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. And we only seek our satisfaction most in God when God is what we desire most.
Better Than Life
“We wander into sin when we are prospering in ways we never would when we are suffering.”
A great desire can be — and in most cases should be — pursued through some regimen of discipline. And a regimen of discipline can stoke the fire of a waning desire. But discipline is no substitute for desire.
No act of great faith, no possessing of a great spiritual gift, no great sacrifice of goods, kindred, or this mortal life can take the place of love (1 Corinthians 13:1–3). No outward act of the worship of God can ever replace the inward wanting of God.
When David, pining with a thirst for God, earnestly sought him and looked on his power and glory, he said and wrote the equivalent of a thirsty man’s satisfied ahhh after a long draught of cool water,
Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands. (Psalm 63:3–4)
There is no greater earthly experience than to drink of God and taste something that is better than staying alive on earth. Have you tasted that? Too few Christians have, I fear. At least in America it seems we are too easily content to talk about the truth that to live is Christ and to die is gain, without really tasting the truth for ourselves (Philippians 1:21). But once we taste it, we’ll never be content with mere talk.
Let Such Life Be Thine
Do not be content till you taste. Do not be content with a mere theological conviction that it is good to desire God. Do not be content with merely desiring to desire God. And for God’s sake (and yours), do not be content with merely having a reputation with others as someone who desires God. Do not be content till you taste and see that the Lord is good — so good that you realize he not only is the best thing in this life, he is better than this life (Psalm 34:8).
“No outward act of the worship of God can ever replace the inward wanting of God.”
We will only taste of his goodness when we really thirst for him. We will not think much of God if we aren’t thirsty for him. But if our souls are parched for God, and we feel like we’ll faint unless we drink of him, we will seek him earnestly. Intense desire cuts through a thousand distractions and focuses us like nothing else.
So plead with God to receive the blessings of the barren places:
Yes, pine for thy God, fainting soul! ever pine;
Oh, languish mid all that life brings thee of mirth;
Famished, thirsty, and restless — let such life be thine —
For what sight is to heaven, desire is to earth. (Faber, “The Desire of God”)