Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Apr 14 2019 - Psalm 42-43 – As the deer pants

Psalms 42 and 43 really constitute a single psalm as is indicated by the refrain in 42:5, 11 and 43:5.

We take clean drinkable water for granted; we just have to turn on the tap and it gushes out. But in Israel the rains only came at certain times of year and many rivers would dry up at other times. As the sun beat down upon the dry land plants would wither and die. Animals such as deer would become desperate to find food and water – if they did not manage to do so they would die.

This is the picture used by the author of this psalm to express the intensity of his longing for God:

As the deer pants for streams of water,
    so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
    When can I go and meet with God?

The psalm is a lament written by someone who seems to have found himself cut off from the people of God and, he feels, cut off from God himself. He longs for a real sense of God's presence and the joy of experiencing God's love. If he cannot find God he will die.

God made us for fellowship with him; without such fellowship we feel that we are lacking some essential part of our life. But we have been locked out of Paradise to be alone in the world.

This surely is the experience of many in our world. They may gleefully deny the existence of God and declare that mankind has come of age but they cannot totally erase that longing for something more – for a sense that life means something and for a glimpse of some transcendent reality.

God sent his Son into the world to reveal his love for us and to call us back into fellowship with him. Jesus, through his death and resurrection, has torn the curtain that separates God from humankind. He is the one who speaks of himself as the source of living water, the one who can supply the refreshment of God's gracious presence to the dry and thirsty soul.

Yet even we who have come to know the living God through the Lord Jesus Christ have to confess that there are times when he seems far off from us. In such times we long for the sense of God's nearness that we have enjoyed in the past (42:4). The hymn writer William Cowper often suffered from spiritual depression and went through periods when God seemed absent from his experience. In one of his hymns he writes:

Where is the blessedness I knew, when first I saw the Lord?
Where is the soul refreshing view of Jesus, and His Word?
What peaceful hours I once enjoyed! How sweet their memory still!
But they have left an aching void the world can never fill.

At such times it is God's Spirit within us who stirs up a longing for God that no one and nothing else can satisfy – the longing expressed in this psalm; "deep calls to deep…" (42:7). Then we also need to counsel ourselves. We need to remember God's love for us in the Lord Jesus and his promise that he will never leave us or forsake us. We need to rebuke our own despair and to place our hope afresh in the God who has saved us through his Son and will yet save us (42:5, 11 and 43:5).

Lord, increase my longing for communion with you and then in your goodness respond to my cry by making me to know your presence and your love. Give me then a spirit of praise and enable me to testify to others that you are the one who satisfies the thirsty soul.

Apr 14 2013 - Luke 16:19-17:10 – Uncomfortable words

The parable of the rich man and Lazarus makes for uncomfortable reading. It affirms that there are rewards and punishments in the life to come and a clear separation between those who suffer punishment and those who receive blessing. However, it scarcely fits the simplistic presentation of the gospel – trust in Jesus and you have a guaranteed place with Abraham. Rather its focus is upon the conduct and lifestyle of the rich man. He used what he had been given to ensure that he lived a comfortable life while others starved at his gate. This is why he finds himself now in torment.

Jesus' teaching is designed to disturb the comfortable – those who are at ease in Zion. Jesus came not simply to give a free ticket to heaven; he came to transform a world gone wrong, a world marked by greed, injustice, oppression and self-worship. He calls for us not only to believe in him but to follow him into the life of the kingdom, a life that turns this world's values upside down. He calls us to follow him in the way of the cross, giving ourselves to the service of others.

This parable is an uncomfortable one for Western Christians, for we have made ourselves comfortable in a world of need.

I am not suggesting that we need to beat ourselves up or go on some sort of guilt trip, nor that we should give away all that we possess and make ourselves beggars in following Jesus. Our ability to give to others depends upon us having something to give. Rather, I am issuing the challenge to myself and to you; we need to listen to what Jesus is saying and to hear it afresh for ourselves. We need honestly to ask how this parable addresses us and not to assume that is has nothing more to say to us because we are trusting in Jesus.

In particular, we need to ask what we are doing with all that God has given us. Are we using it to make ourselves comfortable or are we using it also for the help and comfort of others. We need to hear afresh what the Lord requires of us.

Jesus came to transform the world, but many of those who followed him were looking only for a free lunch – or perhaps a more impressive sign. Jesus said, "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead" (Luke 16:31). Believing in his resurrection requires us to live towards the world to come – a world from which greed and injustice shall be banished for ever.

The kingdom is displayed in the way we live towards others – it’s about living well together and being a blessing to one another. And it’s not just about our use of possessions; it’s also about attitudes of the heart. Jesus calls us to forgive one another and to go on forgiving – though this does not mean being blind to another’s faults (17:3-4). But above all, Jesus tells us to be careful never to discourage someone else in their following of Christ. He warns those who lead others away from him that they will face the severest judgment (17:1-3). We need to treat his words seriously, take them to heart and ensure that his words shape our thoughts and our conduct.

Lord Jesus, help me not to be conformed to the pattern of this world but to be transformed in every aspect of my life by the help and power of your Spirit. Out of personal transformation, enable me to have a transforming influence upon the world around me, that I may bring into it something of the life of the age to come. Help me to hear your voice and follow you, and so to be an encouragement and blessing to others.

Peter Misselbrook