Last weekend, I found myself on a rather uncomfortable, yet exciting hiking trip for a round-trip total of 7 miles along the trails of the Davis Mountains of West Texas (see my Instagram for pics). A relentless “edgy” feeling pervaded my thoughts for most of the trip. And for good reason:
- This was my first hiking-to-camp experience
- The temperatures dropped below freezing
- When “nature called” you literally answered in nature (no public restroom; just wide open trail)
- I failed to bring a cup
- We carried our food, shelter & water on our backs. If you did not bring it, you did not have it.
- It was the last point that cemented the reality of the situation for me and the sole reason I gladly carried 8 pounds of water on my back for the duration of the trip. As you might well imagine, water is an incredibly valuable resource on the trail.
It is with this backdrop in mind that I re-read the picture that David painted for us in Psalm 42:1:
As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?
It was this exact same passage that inspired Martin J. Nystrom to penn his famous praise hymn in 1981, As The Deer Panteth for the Water. While I have heard it a thousand times during my High School & College Days, the weight of what David & Martin captured never hit home until that hiking trip.
A deer has a certain level of discontentment for the reality of his situation, which serves as a basis for survival in the wild. He could give up searching for a stream and be content to draw water from berries, leaves, etc., but at some point those too depend on water, and most likely do not thrive in a dry season. And how much more satisfying is a stream!
David understands this and writes with angst. Forget the fact that God hand picked him as the King over Israel. Forget that he single-handily took down the Philistines. Forget the many battles he victoriously won. David had a holy discontentment — a drive that was not satisfied with his own accomplishments, but continually sought the presence of God.
That same concept is the backdrop for Paul’s challenge in Philippians 3:
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Upon first reading this passage, my reaction was “Well, yeah.” — a bit of agreement, with a heavy dose of apathy. I’ve heard this passage before; it serves as fodder for many a sermon. But I’ve never compared it to the Psalms. At some point in my spiritual walk, I became complacent.
I don’t think I’m alone either. Current Christian culture makes complacency readily available through a checklist of spiritual deeds:
- Attend Sunday School, Wed. Night prayer meeting, & small group regulary
- Have a daily quiet time
- Say Grace before every meal
- Keep up with moral obligations (i.e. no cussing, no rated “R” movies, & certainly no club hopping!)
- Be an active member of a phone prayer chain
- Tithe your 10%
While these reap good things, they make it far to easy to give up on true spiritual growth and graze upon berries, when there is a stream to be had! A spiritual checklist should never be the end goal. Rather, it should be a relentless & desperate pursuit of Christ, who is infinite & upon finding will without fail open a new dimension to our relationship with the Father.
There is a certain disillusionment about Christmas time that ties into holy discontentment as well. Our culture sells a facade, the city brings out decorations, the trees are trimmed, lights are hung, Christmas music takes over the air waves, holiday shows pervade the TV, and Starbucks offers coffee connoisseurs peppermint mochas all in hopes of making it the “most wonderful time of the year.”
I’ll be the first to admit that I love this season, fully participating until the very last moment. Actually, at our house we even go so far as to leave the tree up through January, because we like it so much. Yet, I’ve observed that all the seasonal crescendo leads to discontentment after the presents have been opened, the parties are over, & family returns their respective homes. All the enjoyment of the season dissipates as we head back to work on December 26th.
If we could some how bottle that discontent feeling and apply it to our pursuit of Christ, to never be satisfied on this side of heaven. Consider all time spent with God as “not enough”. I believe this is the key to spiritual maturity.