My Dear Shepherds,
Conflicts and threats drive our hearts into arid places. It is good and pleasant when brothers and sisters dwell together in unity, but it is terribly dry and dreary when they don’t. I spoke with pastor friend recently who was at his wit’s end over immoveable leaders and he was ready to move from push to shove. You know the feeling, I’m sure. But what I heard gasping beneath his frustration was his thirsty heart.
King David prayed Psalm 63 “when he was in the Desert of Judah,” fleeing from his rebellious son Absalom and company. Trauma and turmoil had drained the shepherd of Israel just as they drain so many shepherds today. Out of that terrible desert he gave us this prayer like a holy canteen for our hearts.
You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land where there is no water. (Psalm 63:1)
Another friend, a pastor’s wife, hard-pressed by conflict and criticism, tries to hold back bitterness. Her heart, too, is parched. What’s so easy to miss when the Absalomites are hard upon us is how thirsty we’ve become for God himself. The drier the landscape the more we need the Living Water.
I imagine David sitting on some sun-blasted rock, head down, lost in thirsty prayer. I suppose he lamented this terrible turn of events. I suppose he cried out for God’s protection and vindication. But then he entered into a kind of Tent of Meeting. “I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and glory,” he whispered. For our part, we look upon the Cross, the empty tomb, and our Intercessor at the right hand of God.
David in that hour did not know what would become of him. So many pastors know that feeling, too. But whether his life would be cut short or stretch on, he prayed as we can,
Because your love is better than life
my lips will glorify you.
I will praise you as long as I live,
and in your name I will lift up my hands. (vv. 3-4)
I imagine it took David some praying to get those words, “your love is better than life,” from head to lips. So plan to take your time. Whatever songs David sang, I suspect he had to sing them a few times before they took hold. But sing he did. And so must we. No, really; you have to sing. Not just read lyrics. Not just review your theology. Not just listen to a playlist. We have to sing.
I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods;
With singing lips my mouth will praise you.
On my bed I remember you;
I think of you through the watches of the night.
Because you are my help,
I sing in the shadow of your wings. (vv. 5-7)
That psalm is a prescription for gripping God in the fierce storms of shepherding. Verse 8 says, “I cling to you; your right hand upholds me.” David’s confidence in God’s sure defense grew till with a face uplifted, he sang, “But the king will rejoice in God.”
Long ago I came to love the old hymn, “Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart.” I have the lyrics taped in the back of my Bible. Each verse is rich, but I have often prayed this one in the dry times.
I ask no dream, no prophet ecstasies,
No sudden rending of the veil of clay,
No angel visitant, no opening skies;
But take the dimness of my soul away.
And with that …
Be ye glad!