Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Devotional for the Twenty-Third Day of Lent

As a deer longs for flowing streams,
 so my soul longs for you, O God. 
My soul thirsts for God,
 for the living God.
 When shall I come and behold 
the face of God? 
My tears have been my food 
day and night,
 while people say to me continually,
 “Where is your God?”

These things I remember,
 as I pour out my soul:
 how I went with the throng,
 and led them in procession to the house of God,
 with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving,
 a multitude keeping festival. 
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
 and why are you disquieted within me?
 Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
 my help and my God. (Psalm 42:1-6a)

So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own, but I speak these things as the Father instructed me. And the one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to him.” As he was saying these things, many believed in him. (John 8:28-30)

The depth of our desires depends on accessibility. My desire for food may be real, but I am not overwhelmed by it when I stand before my full refrigerator. My desire for friendship doesn’t break my heart when I am surrounded by friends. But take away access and the desires peak.

Right after Emily and I were engaged, I was sent across the country for training in the US Navy. When we were together every day in our hometown, I wanted to be with her, but my desire was met because we had access to one another. While I was on the other side of the country, my desire to be with her was overwhelming because I knew it would not be possible to be together again for several months.

The psalmist speaks of a deep longing to be with God—a thirst for God. This is more than the cry of the pious heart; it is the cry of one who has lost everything. This psalm is a lament about the nation of Israel being crushed by foreign invaders and sent into exile. All that was familiar about their shared life of worship (as corrupt as it had become) was inaccessible to them. The people who had turned from God now demanded to know where God could be found in this disaster. The psalmist speaks of hope, but it is a hope experienced in bondage. He would long for God as a deer longs for flowing streams, especially when those streams have dried to dust.

Ten days after hurricane Katrina demolished the Gulf coast, I traveled with some friends to Louisiana to help people who had been dislocated by the storm. I met several people who confessed that they had been disinterested in God until all they had was lost to them. It was an important part of our time there to reach out to these hurting people.

It’s a bit like for all of us, isn’t it? When things are going well, God seems easily accessible and our longing for him can be minimal. Jesus, however, speaks of the Father differently. He refers to God as the one who is with him, who has not left him alone. Jesus seemed deeply connected to his heavenly Father at all times, and not just when things got rough.

Maybe it would be a good thing to stop every so often and reflect on the things that numb us to God’s presence. Mostly they aren’t bad things; they are the things of everyday life that produce a sense of self-sufficiency. If our paychecks stopped, how quickly would we be on the streets? How easily could sickness, accidents, or disasters leave us alone and desperate? This isn’t an exercise in despair, but rather a reflection on reality. All that we have is tentative and fleeting. When we stop to remember that, desire for God might reappear.

When our desire for God has dried up, hope is still accessible. When we remember who we really are, God becomes real to us, and our desire may now spring to life and be satisfied.

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