I once made a dumb mistake (So who's counting?): In Israel, we were planning a day in an arid area. Our guide reminded us to fill our canteens with cold water. In a lapse of common sense, I filled mine with my favorite beverage: Orange juice. Cheap canteens quickly succumb to the desert heat. If you've never drunk hot orange juice, don't! It is bitter and caustic.
Time in the desert makes you thirsty. The craving for water is one of our strongest desires. I watched a war movie where the soldiers were trapped in a burning hot wasteland. The heroes, searching for water while being pursued by the enemy, took refuge in a deserted fort as their foes approached. Knowing that both sides had gone without water for days, the heroes pretended to bathe themselves in the open and splash around like ducks in a pond. The enemy soldiers were so parched and desperate, they surrendered just to get something to satisfy their thirst.
The writer of Psalm 42, familiar with desert life, made a striking analogy: "As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?" (vv. 1, 2). He compares the panting of the deer for liquid to the pining of the devoted for the Lord. He was in a desert place - a place of tears and trauma, prayer and past pleasantries, depression and deep despair. In this arid land, not of sand and sun but of sorrow and suffering, the writer's greatest yearning was not for water but for God. As the body needs water, the soul needs the Lord. No worldly substitutes will do - they turn bitter and caustic in the end.
Are you in a desert place? Do you slog through life with a joyless job or dreaded disease? Are the days dry due to false friends or corrupt colleagues? You get weaker as the weeks go by, futile and fruitless. Like the Israelites wandering in the desert, you may be on the Mosaic travel plan, taking forever to get to your Promised Land, if you even know where that is.
The psalmist was downcast and disturbed (v. 5). The sound of his despair almost drowned out the voice of God's love (vv. 7, 8). When his memories broke through his distress, he realized there were "streams in the desert" (Isaiah 35:6). There is a savior who quenches the soul's thirst: "Jesus said to her, 'Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again'" (John 4:13, 14). God's last words to man are an invitation: "And the Spirit and the bride say, 'Come!' And let him who hears say, 'Come!' And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely" (Revelation 22:17).
When trials and tribulations come, we ask, "Why me?", as if there is someone else you'd wish this upon. Sometimes, we ask, "Why do I deserve this?" as if we only deserve the best. Questions are fine as long as they are the right questions. Psalm 42 has the best question suggestions (and answers!): "Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me?" (vv. 5, 11).
You may feel like Job: "You lift me up on the wind; you make me ride on it, and you toss me about in the roar of the storm" (30:22). However, you can have faith like Hosea: "Let us press on to know the LORD; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth" (Hosea 6:3).
When you're in the desert storm, look for the dear Savior - he will satisfy!