As the Deer Pants for Flowing Streams…

Written By: Chris Mace

Maine White Tail Deer

There is a uniqueness about the Psalms. They are emotionally raw, wonderfully poetic, spiritually deep, and personally applicable. Around 1984, Martin Nystrom wrote “As the Deer Pants,” a song inspired by Psalm 42. I first heard this hymn while riding rather uncomfortably in the bed of an old pick up truck along a rutted, dusty road in Thailand. Our small medical team was returning from several Laotian villages situated beside the Mekong River. As we bumped along in a beautiful, fading but glorious sunset mixed with warm tropical air, lovely Thai/Lao voices began singing in a language I neither spoke nor understood, but the music was deeply touching.

“As the deer panteth for the water so my soul longs for you”

As one reads this Psalm, one can almost hear the Psalmist’s sweet tenor voice: “As a deer pants for flowing streams, 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?”…“My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you…”…“By day the LORD commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me…”…“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.”  ( Excerpts from Psalm 42:1-11) 

 When our personal worlds are challenging or deeply painful, our tendency is to seek immediate relief. We want today’s pain, fear and anxiety to go away, to have resolution of our situations, to refrain from borrowing tomorrow’s troubles, and to be assured that all this matters in some grander scheme.

Matt Boswell and Matt Papa also wrote a beautiful song inspired by Psalm 42. Its phrases resonate with sorrow, doubt and longing : “Lord, from sorrows deep I call/ When my hope is shaken/… Hear my desperation/…Storms within my troubled soul/Questions without answers…”  However, neither Psalm 42 nor these songs leave us in despair. There is hope. “When all I possess is grief/God, be then my treasure/Be my vision in the night/Be my hope and refuge/.” (Lord, from Sorrows, Deep I Call)

Our spiritual yearnings are deep and often unfulfilled. We long for love, for forgiveness, for comfort, peace, and joy in mind and heart. Happily, Scripture attests that we have been made by God, for God, to be like God, and to live with God. He is the reality of life, the sustainer of our universe. He loves humanity and is an ever- present, behind the scenes helper. He is the God of peace, comfort and hope.

We should treasure Him. The Psalmist did.

  God is not the Psalmist’s idol or some abstract force or designer but is his personal, “living God.” He is confident that God has his back. When distracted from his God-thoughts, when “cast down,” when worried, sad, afraid, depressed, and anxious, his spirit is revived by consciously remembering who God is and what He has done. In that darkness, God soothes him with a lullaby. (“at night his song is with me”)

One of Christ’s great promises is that he will satisfy the thirsting soul. He said that whoever seeks first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness will have his/her needs met and that whoever is “thirsty,” that whoever believes in him and desires what he offers, will receive “living water.” (Matthew 6:33)(John 4:10; 7:37-39) The pure, unconditional, redemptive work of Christ is an enduring, life-giving gift of love for all people. It is a powerful thought that he gave up heaven to shepherd humanity through the valleys, through the days and nights of suffering, grief and adversity.

He is not just on call. He is present.

Remembering God enabled the Psalmist to face life from a position of strength. Remembering God kept him grateful and focused and confident that God was his “salvation,” the redeemer of his spirit, and a faithful presence. Some of us may never have had any teaching about or remembrances of Jesus or may not have a mindset to consider him. If not, journeying with him through the Gospels can be life changing. Listen to him speak and teach and mentor; hear his prayers, declarative statements and promises;  sense his deep compassion;  watch him heal and forgive as he walked and ministered for three exhausting years which led him to a cruel, unjust death and then to a glorious resurrection in order to quench our thirst, in order to meet our desperate spiritual need for reconciliation with God.

In his humanity, Jesus bravely travelled through human trials, temptations and horrors because he relied upon the empowerment of His Father’s presence and promises and divine purposes as he survived deprivation, suffering, neglect, rejection, humiliation, sadness and sorrow and grief, injustice and persecution. He is familiar with  weakness, pain, and injustice and touches the bodies, souls, and circumstances of disheartened, hopeless, lost people with resurrecting power which transforms the repentant, salvages circumstance, and reconciles the trusting to God for eternity.

 A contemplative journey with Christ is worth it! He has experienced and conquered it all, even death, and he lives for us. His open invitation is to the living water which quenches our spiritual thirst forever because he promises to never leave or forsake those who trust him. (Matthew 28:20, Deuteronomy 31:8).

“ Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:28-29


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