YouTube video sermon
Pablo Valencia was a prospector in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. He’s remembered primarily for his extraordinarily close encounter with death in August 1905. See, Valencia, and his friend, Jesús Rios, were in search of an Arizona claim when they realized a little too late that they hadn’t brought enough water to sustain themselves. Valencia sent Jesús to find more water, which he did, but afterwards Jesús couldn’t find Pablo even though they agreed upon a specific meeting place.
As a result, Pablo Valencia found himself alone and waterless in the middle of the Sonoran Desert. In this state, he wandered for more than six days with nothing but his own urine and what moisture he could coax from a single scorpion to drink. More dead than alive, he eventually reached the only source of water for miles – the Tinajas Altas Mountains. There he was nursed back to health by Dr. W. J. McGee, who wrote of this ordeal in a paper called, “Desert Thirst as Disease.” Listen to how Dr. McGee described his encounter with Pablo:
“Pablo was stark naked; his formerly full-muscled legs and arms were shrunken and scrawny; his ribs ridged out like those of a starving horse; his habitually plethoric [full] abdomen was drawn in almost against his vertebral column; his lips had disappeared as if amputated, leaving low edges of blackened tissue; his teeth and gums projected like those of a skinned animal, but the flesh was black and dry as a hank of jerky; his nose was withered and shrunken to half its length; the nostril-lining showing black; his eyes were set in a winkless stare, with surrounding skin so contracted as to expose the conjunctiva, itself black as the gums; his face was dark as a Negro, and his skin generally turned a ghastly purplish yet ashen gray, with great livid blotches and streaks… His extremities were cold as the surrounding air; no pulsation could be detected at wrists, and there was apparently little if any circulation beyond the knees and elbows; the heartbeat was slow, irregular, fluttering, and almost ceasing in the longer intervals between the stertorous [heavy] breathings.”
Thankfully, the story ends well. Under the careful nurturing of Dr. McGee, who administered a series of home remedies, Pablo recovered. “…in a week he was well and cheerful,” said McGee, “weighing 135 pounds or more – though his stiff and bristly hair, which had hardly a streak of gray a fortnight before, had lost half its mass and turned iron gray.”
Similar conditions – though not quite as severe – faced David as he wrote Psalm 63. He was in the dry and barren wilderness of Judea without water. His body ached for water. Yet the deepest thirst of his life was for living water. David’s soul yearned for God! He wanted God for who God was. With all the passion of his soul, he thirsted to know and experience the greatness of God.
The historical circumstances of this psalm are revealed in the title, “When he was in the Desert of Judah” likely fleeing his son Absalom. You might recall (from 2 Samuel 15-19) that Absalom was estranged from his father because he felt mistreated. Absalom spent four years winning over the hearts of the people, making himself conveniently available to the complaints of the people. When he thought he had a majority support, he was ready to set up a rival kingship in the nearby city of Hebron.
David was caught off guard by all of this and feared an attack on Jerusalem, so he fled from the city with several loyal soldiers and headed east. He left weeping and crying in the night as Absalom moved into Jerusalem, and David crossed the Jordan River and hid in the Judean wilderness. Listen as we hear David’s heart-cry:
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.
9 But those who seek to destroy my life
shall go down into the depths of the earth;
10 they shall be given over to the power of the sword;
they shall be a portion for jackals.
11 But the king shall rejoice in God;
all who swear by him shall exult,
for the mouths of liars will be stopped.
This morning, as we begin the first day of Holy Week, I want to encourage us now – more than ever before – to pursue one holy passion, to have only one thing on our minds, to seek God’s face. That’s what David teaches us here in Psalm 63.
The first thing we see is that David affirms his soul’s consuming passion to behold God.
David’s Passion for God
Look at that opening phrase again, “O God, you are my God…” As I was contemplating that this week, I was reminded of a devotional technique that’s often taught to students of the Bible who are learning how to meditate upon the Scriptures. I’m not talking about near-Eastern meditation or yoga, I’m referring to what the Bible calls reflective meditation. (In fact, the Hebrew word haga or “meditate” is used in verse 6.) It’s the same word that’s used in Psalm 1 when we read, “But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night.”
Anyway, in this devotional technique what’s suggested is that the student read a verse or a phrase multiple times and each time they’re encouraged to emphasize or stress one word. For example, O… God, you are my God… The next time it would be, O GOD… you are my God. Then it would be O God, YOU are my God. And so forth until you had emphasized each word. Do you hear how slowly reading and re-reading and emphasizing each word gives you a different nuance?
David identified God as “my God.” This was an intimate relationship. It was more than just believing in the existence of God, and also more than having factual knowledge about God, David actually knew God personally. Do you? Are you like David this morning? When you are driven into the wilderness by tragic and painful circumstances and you begin to suck for air in the quicksand of your own emotions, can you cry out among the jackals and the snakes, “O God, you are my God!”?
Are you able to affirmatively claim that the God of all creation is known to you personally? In times like these, there’s nothing more calming and assuring than to know deep in your soul that you have a personal relationship with your Creator.
But David doesn’t end there. He considered his present physical condition and turned that into a metaphor for his spiritual longing: My soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you. That’s where that opening picture of Pablo Valencia comes to mind. What David is trying to say is this: I could no more live without God than my body could live without water. Get that picture of Pablo in your head…about to die…emaciated…lips cracked and bleeding…eyes hollow and lifeless… David says that’s what my spiritual life is like when I’m not in fellowship with my heavenly Father.
The reason I dwell so long on this first section this morning is because the rest of the psalm is built on this foundation. Without this rock beneath us there’s no true worship of God. Once again, I want to encourage us all, as we enter this final week leading to Easter – this most holy week on the Church calendar – to pursue one holy passion, to have only one thing on our minds, and that’s to see God’s face.
All of this moves David to declare his commitment to praise God in whom his soul delights.
David’s Praise for God
Look at verses 3. Knowing God as he did and longing for Him as he did, David was moved to praise. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will ever praise you. God’s steadfast love, His hesed, His covenantal, faithful, never-ending love was more valuable to David than life itself. That’s hard for a lot of people to believe (even Christians).
Listen to me, there are people who love their health and families and jobs and hobbies, and thank God for them often, but they don’t love God. They don’t savor Him. They don’t thirst for Him. And when God is not savored for the sweetness and excellence of who He is, He’s not worshiped.
David wanted God more than he wanted life. And if you want God more than you want life, then you want God more than you want all the joys of this life – family, health, food, friendship, sexual relations, job-satisfaction, books, cars, smartphones, music, homes, sunsets, spring colors… Listen, when David says that the love of God is better than life, he’s not denying that all these good things come from the love of God. He’s warning us that if our hearts settle (even gratefully!) on the beauty of the gift and do not yearn for the infinitely greater beauty of the Giver, then we are idolaters and not worshipers of God. (repeat)
That’s convicting. Think about it. How many times do we thank God for our families? In the past week, how many times did you thank God for your health? How frequently do we thank God for a sunrise over a cup of coffee or a sunset over a glass of wine, and yet in that very moment how many of us find within our hearts and souls a greater desire for the Giver of those blessings?
I sometimes wonder if this isn’t why we have those wilderness experiences in life. If all of life was a paradise, as so many people think it should be and as so many try to make it, then wouldn’t we more often become addicted to savoring the gifts of God rather than God? If all we got was blessing and favor and the desires of our heart, would we ever desire the Giver over the gift? Surely that’s why God takes His loved ones again and again through the desert fires – to remind us that there’s something infinitely more valuable than this life.
David said, “I will praise you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips.” May we pursue one holy passion… May we have only one thing on our minds this week – to see God’s face.
The final movement of this psalm is David’s recognition that God was the one who would protect him from his enemies.
David’s Protection from God
I don’t know of a single Christian, or even a single pastor that hasn’t struggled spiritually with this pandemic. I know that I’ve shared my own angst with many of you. For example, on the one hand, this is a real virus that can sometimes bring real and deadly consequences to those that get it. One of my Citadel classmates is an ER doctor in Columbia, SC and he stays in touch with us on a regular basis. On Thursday he just wanted to remind us that not only was the virus impacting older individuals with underlying health issues, but they were also seeing young, otherwise healthy people get really sick. Therefore, we all have a responsibility to do our very best to self-distance for the sake of one another. We all know this.
But here’s the struggle for me. Here’s the other side of that argument. The Bible is also clear that nothing will happen to me without it going through the providential hand of God. Job 14:5 says, “A man’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed.” Psalm 139:16 says, “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” Jesus speaks about God knowing when every sparrow falls and that He knows the number of hairs on our heads.
I know that my coming and going is in God’s hands. Am I saying that I’ll never get COVID-19? No. That’s why I’m doing my part and taking precautions. But this I do know: if it’s not in God’s providential will for me to get it, then I can touch and breath and minister and love on people that do have it and it won’t bother me. And with that kind of assurance, I join my voice with David’s and rejoice in God
As we move forward from this day in great anticipation of the week to come, may we pursue one holy passion, and may we have only one thing on our minds this week – to see God’s face.
Our God and our Father, you alone quench our thirsty souls. As we live in this dry and weary land, we will continually seek your face. We long to see your power and glory in our lives because your lovingkindness is better than life. Therefore, we will praise you with our lips as our thoughts are saturated with you. Lord, please continue to uphold us; be our help from those people and those diseases that seek to destroy our lives. For the glory of your name we pray. Amen.