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?
For more on Scripture, prayer, and other acts of faith,
sign up here for free email updates and receive
a copy of How to Pray When Prayer Seems Impossible
13 thoughts on “Thirsty for More: Notes from Psalm 63”
The Psalms are always so wonderful to reflect on real life. Rather than abstract theology, they bring it down home. Thank you for this reflection.
Yes! I love the Psalms for all that and more. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.
April, I am struck by your pointed comment that by the time we _feel_ thirsty, our bodies are already starting to become dehydrated. Yes, I’ve known this for some time. However–I have never connected it with _spiritual thirst_ before. (Amazing–a d’oh! moment for me . . . ) Thank you for this gentle caution. I need it today.
I once read that whenever we write or preach, we’re always writing and preaching to ourselves, and I definitely feel that way about spiritual thirst. I need it too.
Thank you for this, April. Encouraging and challenging.
I’m encouraged by your stopping by and commenting. This piece was part of my initial draft of Sacred Pauses, but didn’t quite fit. Instead of discarding it though, I moved it to my “later” file, and it seemed just right to re-work it for today.
I LOVE that CS Lewis quote…I’ve heard it sometime ago but need to remember it more often…he puts it so very well. Golden.
For me I find I get thirsty a lot for the companionship of God, and for some reason He seems to often want that to happen through relationships for me. There have even been many times where I’ve chatted over deep thoughts with strangers because it’s just too dry to do my spirituality alone so much.
This has been a struggle for me because with the woman at the well, Jesus talks as if maybe she doesnt need a person in her life. It would seem a good scripture passage for reluctant singles, in a way. I can for sure see the deeper spiritual truth of no-one possibly being able to fill our heart like Jesus can. But at the same time I struggle with why my times of constantly seeking God alone earnestly, they dont seem all that fulfilling.
Looking back on this past 2 years, for the first time in my adult life I have been having my own place for the long term. Before that it was mostly community living and I had always longed for more time alone with God. Now I have plenty of it, and yet my spiritual life feels much drier. In fact, I’ve observed that my concept of ‘God’s voice’ has been warped in some ways by perceiving Him mostly through my own lens, even when laboring on my knees before Him, straining hard to seek Him.
Unfortunately I’m a verbal processor and my thoughts here are not that tidy and brief, but just an honest processing, and a way of doing community online 🙂 . Anyhow yes, it would seem that for me God wants me to find much of His water through candid relating with some of His people. In such a way it seems I can better find the purer waters of more objective truth. Otherwise on my own too much, I often seem to dump way too much sugar into the water He does offer me!! 🙂
The Psalms seem to speak of spirituality both alone with God and in community with others in worship, and I/we need both today too. That’s not to say that either will feel entirely fulfilling–the very lack of that is meant to turn us toward God again and again I think. For now we see only in part, but then we shall see face to face (1 Cor 13). I’m glad that you can find some online community here and face-to-face community offline as well.
Thanks April 🙂
April, I love that you as a pastor can confess your own lack of thirst for more from scripture or meditation or whatever. Thank you. But as I’m working my way through Psalms right now, I’ve been thinking that I want to argue with or talk back to some of them–and the spirit of revenge on enemies that comes through so strongly. So I’ve been mulling that and wonder if you have thoughts on that.
In my role, there are so many opportunities to pray, engage Scripture, worship, and pay attention to God’s presence–such an abundance, that really, I should never be thirsty! But one of the biggest challenges is to receive these as great gifts and not to take all of that for granted, not to treat them as merely functional. And yes! with the Psalms and the rest of Scripture, we are invited into a dialogue that includes arguing/talking back too. I might need to write more about that some time….
I’ll be anxious to see what you have to say. I don’t know if it is my age or what but this time reading through the Bible I have a lot more internal arguing going on …. and I know God is comfortable with that (I think and hope) but not sure I am!
I don’t know about being “comfortable” but I do know that God is greater than our arguments and questions, and I’m thankful for that!