Psalm 42: 1-5
Thirsting and Hungering for God

July 2, 2000

I am interested in this theme of hungering and thirsting for God. In Psalm 42 it is "thirsting for God," but in some of the other passages "hungering". It is essential to consider that the Bible speaks of hungering and thirsting for other worthy objects of hunger and thirst in addition to God himself: God's Word is one of them: "O how sweet are thy statutes; sweeter than honey and the honeycomb" in Psalm 119; and God's worship in the community of the saints: "How lovely are they dwelling places O Lord of Hosts. My soul longs, yea faints for the courts of the Lord;" and God's righteousness: "Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness." 

But here we have the expression of hungering and thirsting for God. What is this hungering and thirsting and what does it mean when it is focused upon God? And is it characteristic of your experience? Do you have anything in your experience that might be described as hungering and thirsting for God? 


    1. Often good hearted people have pushed the metaphor to the extent of an extreme mysticism that imagines itself united to God in some physical sense. 

    2. Such an extreme position may be held by very earnest Christians isolated from the caution of good theology and ending up with a heresy that tends to degrade the God whom they love and actually minimize their own human individuality. Another form of the mystical understanding is an insistence that the experience is ineffable, unable to be described or even understood. 

    A correct understanding of what it means, I think, is quite different from mysticism.

    1. The physical sensation of hungering and thirsting is clearly a metaphor. This can be seen in my earlier remarks that the Bible speaks of hungering and thirsting for the Word of God, the public worship of God and the righteousness of God. It is using the familiar experience of hunger and thirst in the physical realm to describe something in the spiritual. 

    2. I suggest several meanings of the metaphor. The first of them is a longing for greater assurance of God's grace. It is a major aspect our Christian lives. It is the conviction that God does indeed exist and that he has saved me through the saving work of Christ and that I now stand in a blessed relationship to God. Some teachers make the matter of our assurance of grace an easy accomplishment as if it were like looking at your credit card statement to see how much credit you have. But others, make it almost non-existent. I think that the truth lies in between. It is spiritual, and so is verifiable only by spiritual means. And it tends to be stronger or weaker according to your use of the means of grace at the particular moment. 

    It is not based upon some past experience you once had, but upon your trust in the Lord right now. And that trust is defined by his Word. At the moment you are using the communion you are giving yourself afresh to the Lord and you should have a strong sense of his grace in your life. If at some particular time in your life you were temporarily turning your back on the Lord, it is unlikely that you had much assurance. If you go though your week or your month or the year without meeting with the Lord's people and turning your heart to him every day in prayer and every week in public worship you will not have a very strong sense of assurance. But when you are using all the means of grace whenever possible you are likely to have a strong sense of assurance. 

    Your own mindset of assurance about spiritual things and the theology you hold in the matter will affect it. But to whatever degree we have assurance, the normal Christian desire is to hunger and thirst for God, to have this assurance in greater and greater abundance: "42: 1-2a" 

    Do you long after -- thirst after a greater and greater sense of knowing God? It is not unbelief! It is normal and it should lead you into a better and more perfect use of the means of grace. May you find satisfaction and never give up the quest. 

    3. Secondly is something very similar. I suggest that hungering and thirsting represents longing for a greater degree of intimacy with God on the part of the believer: to love him more, to be comfortable in his presence; with ease to step into presence through a prayer of praise or of thanksgiving or of petition without the need for forms or ceremonies or religious places. It is one of the things that is seen in the godly people of every age going from the time of these Psalms even up to our own time; It is represented in the hymnody of the church. It was seen in the prayer of one of the puritans that Dennis led us in last week as he presided over worship. It is strongly based upon good theology about how the individual is saved -- God imputing the sins of the individual to Christ and the personal righteousness of Christ to the individual and treating him as accepted as Christ is accepted. 

    Are you intimate with God? Notice that I did not say "presumptuous" or "irreverent", ignoring his majesty and his holiness. But do you bask into his presence as a true child of the Father should when he knows that the Father has extended his infinite love to him. Often you see this illustrated in pictures of a very mighty and totally unapproachable man in the social realm holding a small child, upon whom he is obviously showering great love and receiving the same in return. 

    4. And this hungering and thirsting for God is a picture of longing for a better intellectual / theological understanding of God. All of these things are dependent to some extent upon growing in one's understanding of the doctrine about God: his attributes as they are revealed in the Word and defined as they are systematized in theology. And the ways in which God works is revealed in the Word and in the lives of his saints in our generation. We grow in this grace under the tutelage of his church and always long to know him better. "42: 1-2a" 

    I urge you to give attention to good theology. The old expression of the puritans was "Truth is in order to godliness." The God whom you seek is defined by theology. Even as you are reading, listening to theological formulations about God your prayer should be "(42: 1-2a"). 

    5. And then it seems to me that this hunger and thirst for God is a longing for a growing understanding of God as the ultimate person and fact in our life; that all of our responsibilities, all of our successes pale in terms of this overriding truth and are real but are subordinate to this truth. Psalm 73 says "Whom have I in heaven but there; and there is none other on earth that I desire besides thee. Thou wilt guide me with thy counsel and afterward thou wilt receive me to glory. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." 

    6. Notice that in all of these aspects of what it means to hunger and thirst after God, it is not a boast that it is indeed true absolute and completed sense but it is a recognition that it is so while being a longing that it might be true more and more in continual increase. It is an admission of whatever is our progress in grace, we thirst for more. 

    The Christian life -- if it is properly understood, is always in process. At some times the progress is more obvious on the outside. On other times it is more subtle but still progressing. May we all find this kind of growth in our individual Christian lives.

    1. let us remember that this communion is a vehicle for our expression of our need for God. It is a part of our confession that we need and are hungering for him in the sense that I have suggested 

    2. It is significant that the communion is a symbolic eating on the part of the individual Christian longing to know God thorough the Lord Jesus more and more; of confessing the Savior through whom we know the Father. 

    3. And it is an assurance to us by God that he accepts us and gives us this token of his acceptance of us. It is symbolically God giving us his grace as I said we long for in my first point of what hungering and thirsting mean. It is symbolically God feeding us with the symbols of his grace. The cup, the atonement of Christ for our sins; the bread the person of he Son of God our dear Savior by whom God reconciled us to himself. 

    4. It is a symbol of our acceptance into his presence as my second point said. God serves us at his table. We call it communion because it is "having things in common" with God. 

    5. It is a symbol of the centrality of God in Christ in our lives. This is the center of Christianity. And time after time this same sacrament is presented to us as a representation of the whole religion of the Bible. The center and substance of our lives is not what we have, what successes we attain, what good things God does for us but it is God and his glory. He is our all in all. Let our response be to say "My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. As the heart longs for flowing streams, so longs my soul after thee O God."

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