Psalm 63: Thirsting for God

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Berry Kercheville

“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. 2 So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. 3 Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. 4 So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands. 5 My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips 6 when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; 7 for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. 8 My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.” (Psalm 63:1–8 ESV)

A number of years ago I baptized a woman who had been in evangelical churches most of her life. She was a terrific student of the scriptures and passionate about her pursuit of God. However, after attending worship and classes for a number of months, she was discouraged with what she was seeing in many Christians. Her words to me were basically this: “I readily admit that evangelical churches have missed many of the details about how we are to serve and worship God and especially about baptism. But in my limited experience in churches of Christ, I find that though the culture is careful obedience, passion for God and who he is, is lacking.” I agreed that her perception was true of many, but it wasn’t true of all churches or all Christians.

Psalm 63 addresses this failure as David describes his relationship with God. It should cause us to pause and consider our own approach before God.

Twice in the psalm David speaks of his lips uttering joyful praise. But when is praise truly praise? Is it praise simply because we say the words? Is praise when we sing an upbeat song that chants, “God is great?” Everything David says in the psalm explains the foundation for praise. David clarifies when praise is truly praise, and by implication, when praise is the song of a hypocrite.

In verses 1-2, David expresses strong desire for God. This should challenge us. Do we earnestly seek God. Does our soul thirst for God. Does our flesh faint for God in the same way we would for water in a dry and weary land? These inner spirit emotions are a fair test of our spirituality and our pursuit of God. Notice carefully, it is not simply God’s word for which David is earnestly seeking or thirsting, it is God himself. The word of God certainly is the means by which we learn and know God, but study of the word can be mechanical – simply discovering the right side of morality, behavior, and hot-button issues – but not truly developing a passion for God himself (Cf. John 5:39). It is the failure to know God in an experiential way.

Verses 2-3 explain why David has a deep desire for God. First he has “looked upon” God “in the sanctuary” and beheld “his power and glory.” We should ask ourselves whether we have looked upon God? Have we beheld his power and glory? I remember when I would have answered that question with, “Huh?” In the Prophets (especially Isaiah), God offers us beautiful descriptions of himself that cause us to long for him and thirst for him. As John records in his gospel (12:38-41), “Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him.” Isaiah saw the glory of God (John’s context, Jesus), and then revealed that glory to us in his prophecy. When we study to see God, we respond as David responded.

David also thirsted for God because his “steadfast love is better than life.” Abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness is how God described and revealed himself to Moses (Ex. 34:5-6). It was that steadfast love to which Moses repeatedly appealed when he would intercede for the people. Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment, “and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). To appreciate God for his steadfast love requires us to be in touch with our sin and deeply moved by our failure. Ezekiel said we would “loathe ourselves for our iniquities and abominations” (36:31). The sinful woman of Luke 7:36-51 loved much because she was forgiven much. That cannot happen until we look on God and behold his power and glory.

Verses 5-8 give us David’s contrast between one’s soul in a dry and weary land and being filled and satisfied with God. When God is our desire and our soul thirsts for him, we will be satisfied “as with fat and rich food.” Physical food is frustrating. Regardless of how good and filling it can be, in a few hours the emptiness returns. But when we hunger for God, he is the all-satisfying object; nothing else comes close. We look in vain to be filled elsewhere but we always end up in that “dry and weary land where there is no water.”

Again, David offers the mechanism by which one is satisfied by fat and rich food. He looked back and “remembered” God. On his bed at night he rehearsed God’s presence and work in his life. He replayed how God had always been his help and protection. He saw himself “under the shadow of your wings” and as a result would “sing for joy.” Oh what a song to sing! David wrote this psalm while living in the wilderness as he escaped Saul. He was able to meditate on how God had rescued him and sustained him. David had truly experienced God’s presence, which drove him to say, “My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.”

There are two primary lessons that are sorely needed by every Christian.

  1. God is our ultimate goal and pursuit. To speak of the Christian life without the knowledge and experience of the ever-present and all-satisfying God is to miss what it means to “know what is the breadth and length and height and depth and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” (Eph. 3:18-19).
  2. Praise is a result of God being our all-satisfying joy. Praise happens when we taste the fat and rich food, tasting “the pure spiritual milk…that the Lord is good” (1 Pet. 2:2-3). Why is praise such a prominent part of the Psalms? It is because all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise. We praise what we love. We praise that which fills us. John Piper says it this way: “God is not worshiped where he is not treasured and enjoyed…Not to enjoy God is to dishonor him. To say to him that something else satisfies you more is the opposite of worship. It is sacrilege.” Indeed, to go further, to assemble and “sing songs of praise” when we have never been filled with fat and rich food is like praising a restaurant we have never visited or a person we have never known.