SCRIPTURE: Psalm 63:1 (CEB)
God! My God! It's you— I search for you! My whole being thirsts for you! My body desires you in a dry and tired land, no water anywhere.
From an account of the British liberation of Palestine by Major V. Gilbert: Driving up from Beersheba, a combined force of British, Australians and New Zealanders were pressing on the rear of the Turkish retreat over arid desert. The attack outdistanced its water carrying camel train. Water bottles were empty. The sun blazed pitilessly out of a sky where the vultures wheeled expectantly.
"Our heads ached," writes Gilbert, "and our eyes became bloodshot and dim in the blinding glare...Our tongues began to swell...Our lips turned a purplish black and burst." Those who dropped out of the column were never seen again, but the desperate force battled on to Sheria. There were wells at Sheria, and had they been unable to take the place by nightfall, thousands were doomed to die of thirst. "We fought that day," writes Gilbert, "as men fight for their lives... We entered Sheria station on the heels of the retreating Turks. The first objects which met our view were the great stone cisterns full of cold, clear, drinking water. In the still night air the sound of water running into the tanks could be distinctly heard, maddening in its nearness; yet not a man murmured when orders were given for the battalions to fall in, two deep, facing the cisterns."
He then describes the stern priorities: the wounded, those on guard duty, then company by company. It took four hours before the last man had his drink of water, and in all that time they had been standing twenty feet from a low stone wall on the other side of which were thousands of gallons of water.
Few of us have ever really known the desperate state of thirst, especially like the one described by Major Gilbert. How about the thirst of the soul … a thirst so deep that it hurts?
We live in a land of abundance. While there are individuals who go to bed hungry in this country we call home, seldom is that an experience for those who read these words. But the hunger of the heart could be a different matter entirely.
In spiritual matters we too live in a land of abundance. Our houses of worship are open weekly, if not more often. They stand ready to receive us when we decide to show up. A program is planned and we can sit in the comfort of air-conditioned surroundings to hear and participate in the experience. Freedom of religious expression is a luxury, a luxury that is made abundantly available… free for the taking… free to all who would choose to be there.
Words from a Chinese Christian who spoke at a gathering in Nashville many years ago still ring in my ears. He said, “It is too easy to be a Christian in America. It doesn’t cost you anything. You take it all for granted and fail to appreciate what you have.” And then he went on to describe how the desire, thirst grew within his own soul when the Communist marched in and took away all those privileges.
When water is abundant we do not know thirst until water is taken away. When religious expression is abundant we do not know desire until we enter a point of great need. The thirst of the soul can be so deep that it hurts. May our desire for God be so strong that we never let our soul go thirsty.
We desire you more than the breath we take or the life we live. Help us never to take your presence for granted nor the privilege to worship you casually.