In the Bible, thirst is often used as a metaphor to describe a longing for God.
As Psalm 63:1 says,
O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you.
The trouble is sometimes I don’t feel thirsty.
For my own good physical health, I know I should drink about 8 glasses of water a day. But I often don’t feel like it. Or sometimes when I am thirsty I want something other than water to drink — tea, juice, pop, even coffee now that I’ve learned to like it. I want to drink something more interesting than water — even if I don’t need the extra sugar and calories, even if the caffeine keeps me up at night, even if it’s not as healthy for me.
It’s like that spiritually sometimes too. Sometimes I just don’t feel thirsty for God, I don’t hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matthew 5:6), I fill myself up with scrolling Twitter or watching tv, the way I might fill myself with Pepsi or coffee, instead of drinking water.
Some of these other things are not exactly bad — some may even be worthwhile — but ultimately they are not enough. Because underneath everything else, I’m thirsty — the human spirit is thirsty — not for more things, not for more physical pleasures, not even for more good works — but thirsty for God.
C.S. Lewis writes in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses:
Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition, when infinite joy is offered to us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in the slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
In contrast, Psalm 63 is a witness to the psalmist’s thirst for God.
You, God, are my God,
earnestly I seek you (verse 1)
The King James version translates this as “early will I seek thee,” in keeping with the underlying Hebrew expression that originally meant looking for the dawn. For the psalmist out in the desert, that may have literally meant watching for daybreak. But it isn’t the time of day that is the most important here. It’s really a question of priority — whatever time of the day or night, the psalmist sought God “early” in priority — “earnestly” as the New International Version has it.
I will praise you as long as I live,
and in your name I will lift up my hands. (verse 4)
The psalmist includes several references to worship:
I have seen you in the sanctuary
and beheld your power and your glory. (verse 2)
Because your love is better than life,
my lips will glorify you. (verse 3)
Then comes verse 4: “I will praise you as long as I live” — not as long as I feel like it, not as long as it suits me, not as long as I don’t have other plans. I will praise you — as long as I live.
On my bed I remember you;
I think of you through the watches of the night.
Because you are my help,
I sing in the shadow of your wings. (verses 6-7)
In the long watches of the night, while being alert for wild animals, bandits, storms, and enemies, the psalmist kept remembering God’s help. He doesn’t give details here, and the lack of detail invites me to remember how God has helped me in the past. As I reflect on God’s blessings and mercy in my own life, it makes me thirsty for more.
I cling to you;
your right hand upholds me. (verse 8)
On a physical level, I’m told that if I FEEL thirsty, my body is already starting to be dehydrated. I need water even before I start feeling thirsty. On a spiritual level, it’s also true that I need God even when I don’t feel thirsty for God — maybe especially when I don’t feel that spiritual thirst, especially if it’s because I’ve been filling myself up with other things. Yet even in those spiritually dry times, the psalmist reminds me that I can still hold on to God, and God will hold on to me.
Writing/Reflection Prompt: Seeking God through prayer, regular worship, remembering how God has helped me in the past, and other spiritual practices can help re-awaken my thirst for God, even while I realize that faith is a gift (Ephesians 2:8), and it’s God who draws me into closer relationship. What do you suggest for times of spiritual dryness?
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