There are so many well-known psalms! Just one phrase is enough to set people nodding in recognition. For instance:
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” or “Be still, and know that I am God!” Remember “I lift up my eyes to the hills — from where will my help come?” or “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
March 20, 2022
Dr. Todd R. Wright
There are so many well-known psalms! Just one phrase is enough to set people nodding in recognition.
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” or
“Be still, and know that I am God!”
Remember “I lift up my eyes to the hills — from where will my help come?” or
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
How about “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.” and
“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits.”
But Psalm 63 is worth knowing too, maybe especially if it doesn’t make your top ten list!
Not just because it is ascribed to David while he was in the wilderness of Judah.
Scholars think he wrote it while fleeing King Saul.
In his biography of David, Chuck Swindoll sets the scene this way:
“Though large in stature, Saul was small in character. He couldn’t bear to watch someone who was very much his junior in age and experience [exalted] above him, both in bravery and in popularity. Because of this, David was forced to become a fugitive in the wilderness of Judea … God was preparing David for a new kind of role, but David didn’t know that. All he knew during these years – not months but years – was that King Saul was dogging his steps every day, waiting for him to be vulnerable so he could wipe him off the earth. And it wasn’t just Saul he had to fear; the entire army of Israel was committed to [his] death.”
No wonder David begins this psalm “O God, you are my God. I seek you! My soul thirsts for you … as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”
But the psalm is not primarily a history lesson.
Nor is it significant to us just because it was significant to past generations.
John Chrysostom (347-407), wrote “that it was decreed and ordained by the primitive fathers, that no day should pass without the public singing of Psalm .”
The great English poet John Donne (1572-1631) noted “the spirit and soul of the whole book of Psalms is contracted into (it).”
And our own hymnal contains a hymn (#696), written by the Iona Community, based on it.
But there are many things important to our ancestors that we have discarded – chariots, chain mail, chamber pots, chastity belts, etc.
No, Psalm 63 is worth knowing today because it supplies us with words when we are speechless or, perhaps, gives us permission to find our own voice when we are soul parched.
So, when the psalmist says their soul thirsts for God like a wanderer in the wilderness where there is no water, you know what that means.
You may have longed for a partner when work and distance separated you; or wished to see grandchildren you could not because of COVID worries; or yearned to have one more conversation with a parent after they were long dead.
Yes, you know longing that is as real as thirst, but the psalmist’s is talking about the state of human souls in distress. You know that experience too!
You may have longed for some sign of God when the Lord seemed far away; or wished for a word of divine guidance when making life changing decisions; or yearned for comfort when you were grieving or sick or lonely.
Of course, the psalm doesn’t just voice the problem, it rejoices over the way God responded: with steadfast love, and a spiritual feast, and protective wings like a mother hen.
Aren’t those the basics necessary for life?
Lent gives us time to notice the state of our thirsty souls. And it sits us down in a room with psalms like this one that won’t stop gushing about resonant experiences with God. And it draws us into the ebb and flow of community worship where we can do what the psalmist does: honestly bare our vulnerabilities, plead for help, and give thanks for God’s answers to our prayers!
As Evelyn Underhill once put it, “Worship is never a solitary undertaking. Both on its visible and invisible sides, it has a thoroughly social and organic character. The worshipper, however lonely in appearance, comes before God as a member of a great family; part of the communion of saints, living and dead.”
So this Lent, as we make our way through a world that daily reminds us …
of dangers and threats that spring up out of nowhere;
of hungers and thirsts we are powerless to satisfy; and
of hopes and beliefs that refuse to die,
let us repeat Psalm 63.
Let us finger it like a worry stone that sooths the soul.
Let us drink deeply of the living water that God makes to spring up in this dry and weary land.
And let us share a cup of it with others. Amen
 From Psalms 23, 46. 121, 22, 100, and 103
 From David: a man of passion and destiny, page 82
 Both are from aplainaccount.org, reflections on Psalm 63, 2/22/16
 From Worship, page 81