"Panting for God"

Do you remember a time, perhaps years ago, or maybe just yesterday, when you were so in love all you could think about was your girlfriend or boyfriend? A time in your life when you didn't eat, drink, walk, drive, or even breathe without thinking about the other person. Well in short the author of Psalm 42 is telling us this is how we should approach God.

Now our psalmist doesn't use the imagery I just offered, but rather offers the image of a deer panting for water. And in many ways this is a much better image of how we ought to feel about God, because the image of a deer panting for water conjures up an image of life or death, not just an image of love. And folks, when it comes to making God the most important part of our life, it is a life or death decision.

Now when you think of panting for water I often times think of a desert. And to many a desert seems like a vast wasteland or a place of death. After all it's dry, hot, seemingly lifeless, and when in the midst of it, it seems like it never ends. As a matter of fact often times we use the image of a desert when we describe a dry spiritual life, or a physical life without meaning or purpose.

But in reality a desert is full of life, some might say a different kind of life. You may have to look carefully for it, but a desert has flowers, plants, birds, rodents, and all kinds of creepy crawly things in the sand.

Now in life we can sometimes find ourselves in a desert. Our spiritual life is dry and seems lifeless. We lack a sense of purpose; we're confused about the meaning of life, or where to turn for help. Have you ever been to a place like this?

Now in a spiritual desert we too find life, a different kind of life; we find those creepy crawly things, I call them temptations. Doubt is also present, crawling around our hearts and minds, as we muddle through the sand of uncertainty. And if you've ever been through a time of spiritual dryness you know it's not a fun place to be, particularly if you're not prepared.

One of the most prized possessions one can have in a dessert is water. Imagine you've been walking in the desert heat for hours you hot and sweaty, you would give anything for a cold glass of water. Your thirst has become unbearable, your lips chapped and cracked from lack of moisture. You're to the point of literally panting; all of your attention and energy is focused on seeking water.

Well your not unlike the deer the psalmist mentions in the first verse of Psalm 42, because like the deer you know if you don't get any water you will die. As the life of a deer depends upon water, so our spiritual lives depend upon the water of our soul, God.

God is the living water that is required to sustain our life, without God we will die, plain and simple. Those who pant for God and long to understand him find everlasting life.

Now I like the word "pant" rather than "seek," because pant conjures up an image of immediate need, and something that is required to sustain life. Seek is also an appropriate word but for me it doesn't connote the same sense of urgency that pant does, and when it comes to wanting God and wanting to know and be like God, we need to have a sense of urgency about ourselves.

And as we live in our world today the need for God in our lives is extremely important. Last night we remembered the attacks of September 11, 2001, last week we heard about the terrorists attack in Russia killing many innocent school children, a few days ago people were killed in Jakarta by terrorists, we continue to be ravaged by hurricanes, and in some places just walking down the street has become extremely risking.

All of this is to say we need God and we prove this time and time again. Now I don't want you to get the idea that God isn't with us all the time, because he is. The issue is, are we aware of his presence and do we acknowledge his presence.

We need to seek God and place him as the priority in our life, as a thirsty deer makes finding water its priority. If we don't, like a deer without water, we will perish. Our lives will have no meaning, we give up, doubt takes over and sin becomes our way to cope, and before you know it, God is the furthest thing from our hearts and minds.

Without God in our lives we are nothing. Have you ever noticed that folks who claim to have no faith in God seem to wonder aimlessly, looking for purpose and meaning. They try to define themselves by what they do and by what others think about them, so they spend there time looking to impress and be known.

I don't know about you but that kind of life seems superficial and unfulfilling to me. I find it refreshing to know God, and to understand his purpose for me, both as a child of God, and as the individual that I was created to be. As I've shared with you before, when I began to understand God's purpose for me and I placed God first in my life, I became happy, content, and empowered.

Throughout the Bible the writers use the image of water in speaking of one thirsting after God as one thirst's after water. God is called the fountain of life (Psalm 36:9) and spring of living water (Jeremiah 17:13) God sent Jesus to be our living water, that cleansing water that gives life to the spiritual thirsty, the water that would quench thirst forever and give eternal life.

The living water is always there, but we have to commit ourselves to receiving it. God doesn't hide himself from us, we ignore him. So to receive the blessing of the fountain of life we need to seek God, like a deer pants for water.

To help us on our quest we need to be part of community that will help keep us focused on God, while at the same time keep us from being distracted by the creepy crawly things of life. And the best place for this to happen is church. God has given us his church to be our guide in finding the life saving water of Jesus Christ.

Now regrettably the church today is coming under some fire. One of the major challenges facing the church today is relevance. Is the church relevant in our "enlightened world?"

Many prominent authors have written books on how the church can and should be more relevant in the lives of people today. And I agree the church needs to respond to the needs of our world in a more relevant way, while caring out its Biblical mandate to make disciples for Christ.

People today need to clearly understand how the Gospel of Jesus Christ will make a difference in their lives, how following a faith that seems counter to today's society can actually bring peace and joy to their lives, and how placing our trust in God is more wise then trusting ourselves.

The church in general needs to do a better job of communicating the Gospel and its relevance, however, and this is a big "however," communication is a two-way street.

In our what-can-you-do-for-me-now society, the onus has been placed on the church to convince society that following Christ is the preferred path for living, and that attending church and getting involved in ministry beyond worship is what we are called to do as children of God. And to an extent the church has this responsibility. But those who hear the Good News also have a responsibility to receive the news, respond to what they hear, and to follow where the Holy Spirit leads. Too often people complain about church because they feel there suppose to get something from church.

But in reality to receive we must be willing to give, and I'm not talking about giving money; I am talking about giving of ones self to wanting to know about God and wanting to truly experience Christ, and wanting to worship and give thanks for all that God does in our life.

If we want to receive the peace, joy, encouragement, and healing offered through Christ we must be willing to seek the living water, not just sit in the pew complaining that church is boring, or that the service is too predictable, and that nothing said or sung applies to my life anyway. We can't grow in faith or grow in Christ by simply being pew potatoes, or by avoiding church all together.

If church is to be relevant than we must be willing to do our part to make it relevant. I encourage you to ask yourself these questions: " How often do I attend a worship service? " How often do I read the Bible, study its contents, or pray? " Do I participate in the ministry of the church beyond one hour of worship per week? " Am I involved with other Christians in fellowship and service? " Am I helping those in church leadership better define what the church ought to be in our community? " Do you expect to encounter God when you worship?

One of the problems we have as Christians is that we expect the church to awaken us, to get us excited about Jesus, and to motivate us to a new way of life, to bring the water to us. Well the truth is our faith doesn't work that way.

Following Jesus requires us to be active participants in our spiritual growth by taking part in the activities of faith I posed in the questions I just asked, and by expecting God to be present and active. When we are active participants in our faith, we begin to see and hear things in a different light, and we grow in grace and knowledge of Jesus. Words we hear on Sunday morning, and receiving the sacraments, begin to take on new meaning, and before you know it we are excited and see the relevance of Jesus in our life. We thirst for more and we go panting after God with our whole selves.

In a few minutes when you come to the Lord's Table, come expecting something to happen. Now stars may not go off in your mind, and some big visible miracle may not happen, but if you come expecting God to do something, I promise something will happen.

If you come anxious, maybe you'll leave the table more at peace. If you come by yourself, maybe you'll leave knowing Christ is with you. Or perhaps, you won't experience anything until you return home. If you come with a heavy burden on your heart, maybe your burden will be lightened.

You see our big problem is we come to church, we even serve God the best we can, but we don't come with expectant hearts. If we expect to see God we will. If we expect to hear God we will. If we expect our spiritual thirst to be quenched it will be.

As we become more aware of God's presence in our lives, as we begin to pant for God with our whole self, our thirst will be quenched with the living water of Jesus Christ.


Read other messages by Pastor Wade