Summer Psalms – Psalm 63: Prayer for the thirsty

Psalm 63:1-11

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.

But those who seek to destroy my life shall go down into the depths of the earth; 10 they shall be given over to the power of the sword; they shall be a portion for jackals. 11 But the king shall rejoice in God; all who swear by him shall exult, for the mouths of liars will be stopped.

Let me start with a disclaimer. I am highly indebted to Timothy Keller for this sermon. Most of you know that Keller is my gospel Yoda. I read all his works and listen to all his sermons. So, you can smell Keller in most of my sermons. But in today’s sermon, I am even more indebted to him than other sermons. A few years ago, I listened to his sermon on facing the dark night of the soul, or what commonly known as spiritual depression, and he gave few principles that stuck with me ever since. And tonight, I’ll share with you what those principles are because that is the focus of our text. These are the questions that our text is answering. How do we praise God when we are in the wilderness? How do we treasure God in our deepest valley? What do we do when we feel like God is absent from our lives? What do we do when we find ourselves extremely thirsty for God? This text is dealing with spiritual depression. Let me be clear. Mental depression and spiritual depression are different. They are not the same. But they are more connected with each other than we might think. And I believe that curing spiritual depression will go a long way in helping us deal with mental depression.

Let me share with you my personal story. It was the third night I was in the hospital because of leukemia. And I was told that I had to go through chemotherapy with no certainty that I would be cured. That night I was angry with God. I knew my theology. I knew that God is sovereign, and nothing happened without his permission. But I could not believe that he would allow me to go through what I had to go through. I mean, I just finished five years of Bible college. I graduated with a good grade and I dedicated my life to serve God. And after all that, I asked him, “Is this how you are going to treat me? Leukemia? Chemotherapy? With no certainty that I will be cured? Are you kidding?” And I spent the whole night complaining to God. But that was not the only thing I did. I also reminded myself of who God is. So yes, in one sense I was angry at God, but in another sense, I also had an inner dialogue with my soul on who God is. I did not know what to call it back then but what I did was I preached the gospel to myself. A few hours later, I fell asleep. And the weirdest thing happened in the morning when I woke up. I was no longer angry. I was at peace. I had this confidence that God is absolutely good and in control at the same time. I was no longer afraid of leukemia, chemotherapy nor death. I tasted the goodness of God and that was enough. I knew I would be okay no matter what. The dark night of the soul had turned into the bright morning of confidence. What happened? Psalm 63 happened.

Let me give you the context of Psalm 63. This Psalm is written by King David when he was in the wilderness of Judah. David was on the run from Absalom who wanted to kill him. Absalom was David’s favourite son. He loved Absalom. But one day, Absalom committed coup d’état and David had to escape Jerusalem and hide in the wilderness. And in the wilderness, David experienced the dark night of the soul. He was in the deepest valley. He might lose everything he treasured in his life. He might lose his kingship, his reputation, and his life. And what made matter worse, it was his own favourite son that caused all these sorrows. And amid all this, David cried out to God. His soul thirsted for God. It means that he longed for God, but God seemed absent from him. Have you ever experienced that? Where you were desperate for God, but you could not feel his presence? This is a common experience for all Christians. So, what do we do when we experience the dark night of the soul? David will tell us the answer. This is very crucial. In his deepest valley, David did not hide from God but turned to God. And it turned the dark night of the soul into the bright morning of confidence.

I separated Psalm 63 into three different parts. Why do we thirst? How to deal with thirst? The answer to thirst.

Why do we thirst?

Psalm 63:1 – O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

There are two reasons why we thirst. First, we are thirsty because we have a God-shaped hole in our lives. Let me explain. One of the assumptions of modern society is with the advancement of science and technology, we won’t need God anymore. They say that the reason the idea of God was prevalent was due to the fact that there were many unexplainable mysteries in the universe. But as we got smarter and know how to explain the unexplainable, it won’t be long before we remove God out of the picture. But is it true? I don’t think so. What is interesting is that today we have many more different religions than we do a hundred years ago. Why? Because there is a thirst for God in the human heart that cannot be denied. David uses the expression, “my soul thirsts for God, my flesh faints for God…” What he is saying is that his entire being longs for God. His soul needs God his like body needs water in a desert.

Have you been in a situation where your body desperately longs for water but cannot find some? I haven’t but I watched movies where it happened to the characters. It looked like a very painful experience. What happened? Their body went crazy. They started hallucinating. They started to see water everywhere. Their body went nuts when it got near even a little moisture. They stuck their tongue out everywhere for the hope of tasting just a tiny drop of water. And David is telling us that the thirst for God is as elemental as the body’s need for water in a desert. Why? The Bible tells us that we are made by God, for God. And until we have God, there will always be a God-shaped hole in our lives. And it doesn’t matter how hard we try to fill that hole with other things but God, it is never enough. We are still thirsty. The life of King Solomon is the perfect example of it.

Let’s look at what Solomon had in his life. Everything in his house was made of gold, including his toilet seat. He was extremely talented. He wrote thousands of songs and poems. He was extremely wise. He wrote the book of Proverb. He was romantic. He wrote the songs of Solomon, the most romantic book in the Bible. And he was good looking. How many of you know that this is not fair? A guy is either smart and romantic or good looking. But he cannot be all of the above. Solomon was all plus others. So, he was rich, wise, talented, romantic, and good looking. He had everything going for him. He had 1000 girlfriends at the same time. He built the most impressive temple in the history of Israel. And he led Israel in a national revival. Can we agree that this man had everything? If anyone can ever experience fulfilment in life, it is Solomon. Agree? But Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes that all his accomplishment was like striving after wind. Have you ever tried to catch wind? You can feel it and you can try to catch it, but you can never grasp it. This is how he felt about life. Everything was meaningless. Or in the words of Linkin Park, “I tried so hard and got so far. But in the end, it does not even matter.” Do you know that suicide and depression rates are highest among rich, powerful, and successful people? Isn’t that strange? They seem to have everything that we desire and yet those who already have it know that it is like striving after wind. We can feel it, but we can never take hold of it. It cannot satisfy our thirst. No matter what we do, we will always be thirsty without God. So, if you are not a Christian, you will never get rid of that thirst unless you come to God. And today, there is an invitation from God for you to come to him. He is the only one who can satisfy your thirst. That’s the first one. But that is not David’s experience.

Second, we are thirsty because we long for God. If in the first reason we are thirsty because we have a deep need for God, in the second reason, we know we need God, we have tasted God, but because of many different reasons, we are at a point where we feel isolated from God and we long for God. It might be because of sickness, breakup, unmet expectation, betrayal, new stage of life, death of a loved one, etc. But something happened and it make us feel like God is far from us. Do you see the difference? This is a deep crisis of someone who knows God and longs for God. So, while David is in the wilderness, he is thirsty for God. Because of what he is going through, he experiences the dark night of the soul. He cannot feel God’s presence and he is thirsty for it. And this is amazing. Usually, when we are in a desperate situation, we ask God to intervene in our difficulties. We ask God for help. And that is the reason why many people come to church. They come to church because they want something from God. Their lives are falling apart, and they ask God for help. And there is nothing wrong with that. But that’s not enough. Look at David. He does not say, “God, I need strength to overcome my problem. God, look at what I have done for you. I’ve been faithful to you as your chosen king over Israel. The least you can do is to save me from this pit.” He doesn’t. Do you know what he says? He says, “God, I want you. I am thirsty for you. I need you like a body needs waters in a desert.” David does not lament the fact that his life is in danger, but he laments the fact that he cannot feel God’s presence. He is longing for God. Just like water in the desert is a matter of life and death, so is God for David.

Here is a question for us. What do we do in our wilderness? Do we run from God or do we run to God? Look at verse 3. Psalm 63:3 – Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. Do you know what David is saying? David says that knowing God and his love is more satisfying than life itself. I know we can quickly say amen to it, but let’s think about it a little more. Can we agree that life is precious? Every sane people believe that life is precious. For example, let’s say you get mugged. The robber is holding a knife in front of you and say, “Give me your wallet or you die.” What are you going to do? Anyone going to say, “Over my dead body”? No. It does not matter what brand of wallet you use. You might have a lot of cash in your wallet. You might have a blank cheque. You might even have a black diamond credit card with no spending limit. You are still going to say, “Please take my wallet. Take my watch. Take everything you want. Just spare my life.” Why? Because you value your life. Your life is more precious to you than all your possessions. Everyone loves life. But David is different. He says that the love of God is better than life. It means that David treasures God more than he treasures life and all that goes with it. He loves God more than his dream, hobby, family, wealth, health, dog, cat, music, games, homes, holidays etc. And they are not bad things. They are God’s good gifts. But David doesn’t love God for the good gifts; he loves God for God. And that is why David longs for God in the wilderness. God is his highest good. If God is our highest good, we don’t run from God, but we run to God in our wilderness. If we are running from God when life turns sour, it means that something else is better than the steadfast love of God.

Let me give you an example. Let’s say that your parents always wanted you to do A, but you are not doing it. You are doing B. And you know that your parents are disappointed in you. You can sense it in the way they talk to you. It feels distance and remote. And parents being parents, they always bring up that subject at every opportunity they can. They are not happy with you and it is painful. You are grieved by it. And that is very hard. Especially if you grow up in the Eastern culture where parents’ approval is extremely important. You might cry about it for some time. It hurts. That’s normal. But if you can’t get over the fact that you have disappointed your parents, if you continue to remember the hurtful words that was said, if you think that you are worthless because of it, let me tell you why. It is because your parents’ approval is better than the love of God. You might say with your words that the love of God is better than life but in reality, something else is better than the love of God. And that very thing grips your heart. The ultimate reason we don’t run to God when life turns sour is because we love something else more than God. And this is what wilderness does to us. Wilderness shows us what we truly love. We need to experience wilderness for God to calibrate our hearts to long for him.

How to deal with thirst?

Psalm 63:2-8 – So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.

This is the part where I am highly indebted to Keller. He put in words what I did subconsciously on the dark night of my soul. We can see it in these verses. David does four things simultaneously. They are scattered on these verses. I will put it in a logical order for you. Essentially, what David does is he meditates on God’s truths. I love the way Keller describes meditation. “Meditation is taking the truths of the Bible, thinking about them, valuing them, insisting that you think and live and feel through those truths.” In other words, meditation means we realize we love something else more than God. Our ultimate affection is on something else. We acknowledge that and we take the truths of God’s love. We think about it and hammer it into our minds and souls until the other things that have gripped our affection begin to fade, and the love of God begin to shine. That’s what it means to meditate. This is preaching the gospel to ourselves. How do we do it? Four ways.

First, recall. David reminds himself of who God is for him. But pay attention to the way he does it. He does not simply say, “God is great,” but he gives reason to why God is great. David goes into details. He doesn’t just say, “I love God,” but he reminds himself why he loves God. He analyzes it. He breaks it down. This is crucial. Imagine a conversation between a husband and his wife. And the husband says to his wife, “Babe, I love you.” And woman being woman, his wife replies, “Why?” She wants an explanation. So, the husband says, “I love you because you are amazing.” And do you know what she will say? “Why? Why am I amazing? What do you mean when you say that? In what ways am I amazing?” I mean, it is awesome to know that someone loves you and think that you are amazing, but it is better to find out why. Am I right ladies? So, ladies, next time your husband or boyfriend tells you that he loves you, ask him why. Make him think. It is good to get him to think it out. Because when he starts to think it out and tells you, “I have ten things I love about you,” do you know what it does? It expands his heart and your heart at the same time. So, when we recall who God is for us, be specific. Break it down. Don’t just say that God is loving. List out the 10 reasons why he is loving toward us. “God, your love is sovereign. You loved me before I even know you. Your love is costly. Your love is undeserved.” When we get to the specific, it helps us to see God clearer.

Second, valuation. After we list out the truths about God, we need to think out the implications of those truths. This step requires us to think and compare. When we make a valuation of a house, we compare it to other houses. This is what David does. Let me show you. Psalm 63:2-3 – So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. Remember the context. David is on the run for his life. He is betrayed by his own favourite son. And he does a valuation. He reminds himself of God’s power and glory that he has seen in the temple. He reminds himself of God’s steadfast love toward him. And he compares it to his current situation. And he concludes that God’s steadfast love is better than life. David is thinking out the implication of the truths about God. He is not simply saying, “God loves me,” but he takes it another step further. “If God is so great in power and glory, and I have seen it for myself, and this great God loves me with steadfast love, then why am I afraid? Why do I worry about my life? To have the love of this glorious God is far better than life. Why should I be afraid of losing my life?” This is not something new. We do this all the time in life. But we hardly take the time to do the same with God.

Let me give you an example. Let’s say that my dad gave me a watch. The brand starts with R, end with X, and have OLE written in between. Apparently, my dad inherited this watch from his dad, and my dad’s dad from his dad. And the watch is now in my possession. The watch is okay, but it looks very old. So, I never wear it and keep it on my shelves. Then one day, you come to my house, see the watch and go crazy. You start yelling and screaming like a mad man and you rush to me and ask, “Yos, do you know what this is?” To my eyes, it’s just an ordinary out of fashion old watch. But for someone who loves watches, this watch holds tremendous value. You then begin to tell me the value of the watch. The watch that I inherited is no ordinary Rolex. It is the very first Rolex watch invented, and it has the serial number 1. And I’m still clueless. You then continue and say that this watch worth at least a few million dollars. Now I go crazy. Talk watch, I don’t understand. Talk money, I understand. What do you think happen next? I put my watch back in the shelves and act like nothing happened? No. I begin to think of what it means to have this watch in my possession. I begin to think that my life is completely different now. This watch changes my life. I am now a rich man. I do not need to worry about how to pay my mortgage. I do need to worry about a recession. I have a few million dollars watch. Do you see what happened?

So, it is not enough for us to know the truths about God. We need to think out the implications of those truths. Don’t just say that God loves you. But think, “If God loves me, why am I afraid?” Don’t just say that God is wise. But think, “If God is wise, then why am I frustrated about things not working out according to my expectation? He knows better than me.” Don’t just say that God forgives you. But think, “If God has forgiven me, why do I still feel guilty of what I did in the past? Why do I think lowly of myself when it costs God everything to forgive me?” This is what it means to do a valuation. And when we do this, we begin to see things in the right perspective. We are not as upset anymore about our relationship. We are not as upset anymore about our career. We are not as upset about losing many things because we already have the most important thing. Do you see how life-changing this is?

Third, praise. David does it all the time. He says, “My lips will praise you. In your name, I will lift up my hands. My mouth will praise you with joyful lips. I will sing for joy.” This might sound very straightforward, but it is extremely important. When C.S. Lewis was a new Christian, he had a little problem with the fact that God constantly commands us to praise him. It embarrassed him as a young Christian. Why was God always asking for compliments? Was God that conceited? And throughout the book of Psalm, God continues to seek our praise. Imagine a husband goes to his wife saying, “Hey babe, I have written something for you for our anniversary. I have written 150 songs that talk about how awesome I am. I want to give them to you as a gift so that you can pull them out and read them to me every night before you go to bed and every morning when you wake up. And doing this will make you realize how great I am, and it will bring such delight to you.” Do you know what his wife will say? “Are you crazy?” No sane husband will give that kind of book to his wife. Why? Because no one is worthy of it. But that’s what the book of Psalm is. We have an entire book written by God to be used to praise God. Why?

Here is what Lewis come to understand eventually. He writes, “I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed.” Do you hear that? It means that when God commands us to praise him, it is an invitation for us to complete our joy. We know this. When we enjoy something, it is not enough for us to enjoy it on our own. We have to tell others about it. When we find a new delicious restaurant, it is not enough for us to enjoy the food on our own. We have to post it on Instagram and praise it to our followers. Why do we need to do that? Because praise is not only an expression of joy but a completion of joy. The joy is not complete until we praise it.

This is the reason why I listen to lots of sermons. If you know me, you know that I am a sermon junkie. I listen to gospel-centred sermons all the time. And I listen to how preachers from different races preach the gospel. Why? It is not because I always learn something new from the sermons. I think I only learn something new in one out of ten sermons. So why do I listen to the other nine? Let me tell you why. Because I love to hear different preachers express the gospel in different ways. I especially love how my African American brothers preach and express the gospel that I already know in a way that I cannot. I praise God for them. But I am not African American, and I am not even going to try to sound like them. If I do, this church will be empty next week. But when I hear them express the gospel, I enjoy it. My enjoyment of the gospel is not only in knowing the gospel but also hear the gospel being expressed. This is what Lewis is getting at. We cannot enjoy God by simply feeling good about God on the inside. We must express it. We must praise God to complete our joy in God. So, the third thing we must do is praise God.

Fourth, behold. Now, this is an archaic language that we no longer use but a very important one. The word behold does not mean only seeing. It is more than seeing. It is more than looking. It is savouring. It is a sensory language. It’s like this. We look at a lightbulb. But we do not look at a sunset. We behold a sunset. Beholding is the kind of looking that changes us. David uses these words in this psalm. “I behold your power and glory. My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food.” In other words, David is saying, “I not only know your love, but I have also tasted your love. Your love is like fat and rich food. And my soul will be satisfied. I don’t just know your power and glory; I have beheld it.” This is where a concept turns into an experience. We not only know that God is good, but we taste that God is good. There is a big difference between knowing that God is good and tasting that God is good. If you’ve been in RSI for a while, I am sure you have heard me speak of Iluh’s fried rice. It is legendary. You know of it. You have heard of how delicious it is. But all those knowing cannot compare to the moment you take a spoonful of her fried rice and have a glimpse of heaven invades your mouth. It is one thing to know the truth of God, it is another thing to experience the truth of God. It is one thing to have an opinion that God is loving, it is another thing to taste his love for us in our hearts.

My friends, this is what differentiate religious Christians and gospel Christians. Gospel Christians have tasted the sweetness of God and they want more of it. They desire it more than life. They love God for God. That’s why David says in Psalm 63:8 – My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me. David clings to God. He will never let him go. He sticks close to God because he knows that only God can deeply satisfy him. That is why in the wilderness, he is desperate for God. He is thirsty for God. But David does not make the mistake of thinking that it is all up to his effort to cling to God. When David clings to God, he finds out that God’s right hand has been upholding him all the time. It is God himself who makes it possible for David to cling to him. But let me be straight with you. Recall, valuation and praise, those are under our control. We can do it. But to behold, to taste the sweetness of God, is out of our control. It is the works of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the only one who can turn knowledge into experience. What we can do is to position ourselves under the tap of the gospel. We do that by recalling, valuating and praising. And as we do that, we position ourselves to be washed by the gospel when God turns on the tap. And we can have the confidence that God will turn on the tap. How?

The answer to thirst

Psalm 63:9-11 – But those who seek to destroy my life shall go down into the depths of the earth; 10 they shall be given over to the power of the sword; they shall be a portion for jackals. 11 But the king shall rejoice in God; all who swear by him shall exult, for the mouths of liars will be stopped.

David closes the psalm with confidence that God will vindicate him. He is confident that God will turn things around and defeat his enemies decisively and he will rejoice in God with all God’s people. It means that God will not only satisfy our souls, but he will also not fail to take care of us. It does not mean that we will have smooth roads in the future, but it means that God will safeguard us from the assault of the enemy, and he will bring us safely to our glorious future with him. But the question is, how? How does David have the confidence that God will vindicate him? How can we have the confidence that God is for us and he will not fail to satisfy us? There is something we must have that makes it all possible. Without it, it is meaningless. The key is in verse 3.

Psalm 63:3 – Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. The key is in these two words: steadfast love. We have encountered these two words in many other Psalms. But what is it? It comes from the Hebrew word, chesed. You have to emphasis the “ch” otherwise it means something totally different if you are Indonesian. It is a word that is used to describe God’s love for his people. It means the loyal, unmoveable, unconditional, unchangeable, perfect love of God. It is the love that remains unshaken when everything else is shaken. Or if I can sum it up in two words, it is a covenant love. Here is why this is important. There is a piece of background information that I intentionally left out at the beginning of this sermon. And it is this. When Absalom rebelled against David, David was not surprised. He knew it all along. He had it coming for him. What happened? Many years earlier, when the prophet Nathan rebuked David for his sin of adultery and murder, David repented, and God forgave him of his sins. But Nathan also told him that even though God had forgiven him, the sword would not depart from his family. David still had to pay the consequences of his sins. So, when his favourite son took the throne from him, David knew he was at fault. David had sown the seed of bitterness and distrust on his family. David failed as a king. He failed as a father. He failed in every way. And yet despite all that, David has the confidence that God is with him. That God will satisfy him with his love. How? Because God’s love for David is a steadfast love. It is a covenant love.

Now listen. If this is true for David, if David can look at God’s steadfast love and have confidence in God in spite of his sin, how much more is this true for you and me? Today we can know that God’s steadfast love is for us in spite of our sins. How? Because we have another king who was driven out into the wilderness. But he was not driven out for his sin but our sins. We have another king who rejoiced in God, loved God, praised God with all of his beings. But instead of receiving the kindness of God, he received the wrath of God. He was abandoned by God at the cross. Jesus was crucified as a criminal. Why? Because Jesus was getting the abandonment that we deserve so that God will never abandon us. Jesus took the penalty of our sins so that we can have confidence in God’s steadfast love. Get this. It is when we see God’s love manifested for us at the cross of Jesus, that we are drenched in the waterfall of the gospel. This is what turns knowledge into experience. This is what makes God not only useful but beautiful to us. This is what melts our hearts and satisfy our thirsts. The steadfast love of God becomes personal in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Let me close with this. Are you thirsty for God? Do you find yourselves in a spiritual desert right now? Don’t despise it. It is in the desert that we understand the preciousness of water. It is in the desert that we find God’s steadfast love to be richly satisfying. Take some time to meditate on God’s truths. Recall, valuate and praise. And as you do, trust that God will open your eyes to behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Let’s pray.

Discussion questions:

  1. List out some reasons why Christians might experience the dark night of the soul. Do you agree that this is a common issue for Christians? Explain.
  2. How do we know if God’s steadfast love is better than life? Give specific examples.
  3. Look at the first three steps of preaching the gospel to ourselves (Recall, Valuation, Praise). Which one is the hardest for you and why?
  4. Read Psalm 63:8. Explain the relationship between our role and God’s role in our wilderness.
  5. How can we have the confidence that we have God’s chesed? How does it empower us to preach the gospel to ourselves?
  6. Spend some time praying with another that the Holy Spirit may help us to behold the gospel.

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