A longing for the presence of God is a distinctive mark of His people. There is nothing better than the experience of being with God. The riches of earth cannot compare to it. The glories of nature can only point to it. The intimacy of fellow humans is a mere shadow of it.
In Psalm 42 the psalmist finds himself panting for the presence of God like a deer who pants for the fresh, cool, flowing streams of water with which it can quench its thirst (v1). His primary desire is the presence of God and his soul thirsts to be with God (v2).
This famous image from the Psalms has stirred many to pursue the reality of God’s presence with fresh vigour. But the cry of desire actually comes from someone who is in a place of weeping and desperation (v3). As you read the whole Psalm the sense of abandonment, confusion and questioning is palpable. Memories of a bright past when worship with God’s people had been so easy and natural, so full of joy and gladness, have now receded into the distance. The throng surrounding the author as they gathered to praise God (v4) is now replaced by enemies questioning, ‘Where is your God’ (vv3,10). Upbeat praise has been exchanged for a downcast soul.
In life there will be times when your soul is downcast, when God feels remote, when wounds pierce your heart, and when sorrow and tears overtake you. There will be times when questions assail your mind and all you can utter is a cry of, ‘Why have You forgotten me?’ (v9). There will be times when the intimate presence of God is but a distant memory of a lifetime ago. There will be times when you wonder whether you will ever ‘come and appear before God’ again (v2). There will be times when tears are more plentiful than food and you find yourself weeping through the day and then through the night (v3). There will be times when you feel empty or in turmoil or desperate or abandoned. There will be times when your overriding emotions are the pain of grief and loss. There will be times when all you can do is ‘pour out your soul’ (v4) with loud groans and heart-wrenching cries.
And it is in those times when our soul needs to hear, ‘Hope in God’ (vv5,11). It is in those times of tears when we need to drag our thoughts to ‘remember God’ (v6) once again. It is in those songless, wordless, barren moments when we need to try to claim that we shall, once again, some day, ‘praise Him’ (vv5,11). For the truth is, that even when the breakers and waves go over our head He does command His steadfast love to be present in the day, and His song to be with us in the night (vv7,8).
For He is our Rock. He is our Hope. He is our Salvation. He is our God.
And, however dark the current night, one day we shall again praise Him!
‘Why are you cast down, O my soul,
And why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.’ (vv5,11)