As the hart, about to falter, In its trembling agony, Longs for flowing streams of water, So, O God, I long for Thee. Yes, athirst for Thee I cry; God of life, O when shall I Come again to stand before Thee In Thy temple, and adore Thee?
Bitter tears of lamentation Are my food by night and day. In my deep humiliation “Where is now your God?” they say. Oh, my soul’s poured out in me, When I bring to memory How the throngs I would assemble, Shouting praises in Thy temple.
O my soul, why are you grieving, Why disquieted in me? Hope in God, your faith retrieving: He will still your refuge be. I again shall laud His grace For the comfort of His face: He will show His help and favour, For He is my God and Saviour.
From the land beyond the Jordan, With my soul cast down in me, From Mount Mizar and Mount Hermon I will yet remember Thee. As the waters plunge and leap Deep reechoes unto deep; All Thy waves and billows roaring O’er my troubled soul are pouring.
But the LORD will send salvation, .And by day His love provide. He shall be my exultation, And my song at eventide. On His praise e’en in the night I will ponder with delight, And in prayer, transcending distance Seek the God of my existence.
I will say to God, my fortress, “Why hast Thou forgotten me? Why must I proceed in sadness, Hounded by the enemy?” Their rebukes and scoffing words Pierce my bones like pointed swords, As they say with proud defiance, “Where is God, your firm reliance?”
O my soul, why are you grieving; Why disquieted in me? Hope in God, your faith retrieving; He will still your refuge be. I shall yet through all my days Give to Him my thankful praise; God, who will from shame deliver, Is my God, my rock, forever.
This heartfelt Psalm comes in two very similar halves. Verses 1-5 of the Bible text are set to metre in the first three stanzas above, and verses 6-11 in the final four stanzas. Notice the chorus – how the entire third stanza repeats in the seventh (verses 5 and 11 of the Bible text). The sixth stanza too recalls briefly a line in the second: the taunt of neighbours who say, ‘Where is your God?’
And that is the problem. God seems absent – or at least very distant. For our Psalmist this experience is intensely painful. It has brought tears, insomnia, a dry, desperate longing, and a constant sense of being laid low. To all this the Psalm gives no easy answer. But it does create a conversation between faith and fear, and invite us to listen in.
For things had once been very different. This Psalmist had been a temple singer, enjoying the crowds, calendar, music and majesty of Israel’s praise. And the Psalm starts to retrieve those memories, and to lay hold of the God who once seemed so near. ‘Bitter tears by night and day’ are not the whole story. God’s ‘love by day and song at night’ can be heard too. And while hope may not take disquiet and difficulty away, it will speak with a clear, persistent and gentle voice: ‘I shall continue to praise.’
There will be seasons when you and I need scripture of this kind – when life is sore, and hope is slow, and faith is stretched. At such times it may help us to know that a faithful poet travelled this way before us. In this psalm are words that echo still, and a testimony to the God who has not abandoned us.
God, when I thirst for you, come and moisten my tongue. When I weep before you, deal tenderly with my troubles and tiredness. When I pour out my soul in pain, fill me again with your gentle love. When the torrents and floods break over me, keep me safe till the storms are past. In the name of Jesus, who thirsted in dying that we might drink deep of your love. Amen.
The Revd John Proctor, retired minister, member of Downing Place URC, Cambridge