This October marked my 40th anniversary of pursuing white-tailed deer with the bow and arrow. I didn’t grow up in a hunting family, so archery and archery hunting were two sciences I had to learn completely on my own. Because I grew up in the city, I had to turn sixteen and get a driver’s license before I could get to the woods. Let me tell you; the last forty years have been quite an adventure.
Every archery hunter has to determine their own preferred shooting distance. Early on, I chose twenty yards. I can shoot accurately much farther than that, but for me, the challenge of getting very close to deer is what makes archery hunting fascinating. Other archers are fascinated by modern innovations that allow them to shoot fast, flat, and far. To each his own. There is no right or wrong archery distance, as long as the end result is humane. Every deer I have harvested with the bow has been within my twenty-yard limit.
Because my goal has always been getting close, I have had the privilege of experiencing hundreds of up close and personal encounters with deer.
In Psalm 42, we read, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?”
I have seen deer panting on many occasions — but not always for the same reasons. As I read Psalm 42, I realize that the “sons of Korah” must have had similar experiences. Let me share a few of those encounters with you as we consider what it means to thirst for God as the deer.
First, we pant and thirst because we need to drink water. I have harvested deer in eight counties in Pennsylvania and one county in New York. To do so, I have had to scout a lot of new hunting territory. One of the first things I look for is a water source. Why? Because deer need water, just like us.
Did you know that our bodies are made up of 60% water? Our blood is 92% water, and our brains are 75% water. We can’t live without water, so God designed us to thirst. We are also spiritual beings. God designed spiritual thirst so that we would drink deeply of Him. The woman at the well in John 19 was spiritually thirsty, but she was trying to quench her thirst with physical relationships. Her efforts failed again and again because nothing but God can quench the thirst we have for Him. Are you trying to quench your thirst for God with something other than God? How is that working out for you?
Second, we pant and thirst because we are pursuing our God-designed purpose. My favorite time to hunt is during the rut. Oh, the stories I could tell of bucks battling over does, and chasing does, and mating with does. God designed deer to reproduce, and while doing exactly what God designed them to do, they pant and thirst.
And so will you. God has designed you for holy purposes, and as you pursue them, you will become weary and parched. Faithful and hard-working Christian, be careful. King David was thirsty after a long season of military campaigns, but instead of quenching his thirst with God, he went after Bath-Sheba. Read II Samuel 11. The story is awful. Serving God is not a guarantee of protection against temptation. To guard ourselves, we must drink deeply of God’s grace. If not, we will fall into a trap. Christian leaders know that their most vulnerable moments come after being drained by faithful service. That may sound counterintuitive, but it is what it is. There are a lot of poisoned wells out there. Wise is the worn-out Christian who guards their downtime by drinking deeply of God’s grace.
Third, we pant and thirst while being pursued by the enemy. I have had several close encounters with deer who were being chased by dogs or coyotes. I have watched their chests heave in and out as they tried to catch their breath while literally running for their lives.
Enemies come in all shapes and sizes. For David, they were King Saul and his eldest son, Absalom. It is no wonder that David cries out in Psalm 63, “Earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”
What enemies are you facing today? Sickness? Disease? Financial stress? Broken relationships? Regret? Whatever they may be, drink deeply of God. It is only in the Living Water that you will find hope and strength. Listen, you are never alone. God’s Spirit is with you right now – talk with Him. His Word is available – read it. His Body is near – so reach out to a believing friend. The enemy wants to isolate and defeat you. Don’t let him succeed. Drink deeply of the grace that God has provided. You need it now more than ever.
Finally, we pant and thirst to be immersed in the waters of immortality. Rarely do deer drop dead immediately when shot. For that reason, blood-trailing is often a big part of archery hunting. Sometimes, because a shot was way-ward, tracking can take hours or even an overnight. When I help someone track a wounded deer, one of the first questions I ask is about water. A mortally wounded deer will sometimes seek out water, not to drink, but to immerse itself in. I have helped recover several deer found lying in water with only their head remaining above the waterline.
As Jesus was dying on the cross, He said, “I thirst,” just before declaring, “It is finished.” The work of redemption and reconciliation required of Jesus the last full measure of devotion. His thirst was not for water or wine-vinegar; rather, it was to be fully immersed in the presence of His heavenly Father.
Someday you and I will become tired of this old world. We won’t want a drink of God; instead, we’ll long to be fully immersed in the presence of God. I can’t tell you how many suffering or elderly Christians have said to me, “Pastor Tim, I just want God to take me home.” For them, a drink of God is no longer enough; they long to be immersed in Him.
Friend, you are thirsty. If you don’t know God, then you are thirsty for Him. And if you know God, then you are thirsty for more of Him. To you, I offer the same invitation that Jesus offered to the woman at the well, “Everyone who drinks of this (well) water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water I give him will become in him a spring of living water welling up to eternal life.”