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desertIt’s Ash Wednesday — a perfect time to begin in earnest to seek God, especially in the desert times.

We’re going to look at a psalm that I know can really help those of you in pain, those of you who are not sensing the presence of God, or those of you who long to be a comfort to others. It’s Psalm 42 and there are four vivid water pictures in it that can soothe and heal. The first is really a picture of no water — it’s a picture of the psalmist who identifies with a thirsty deer who has come all the way down the mountain, absolutely panting for water, but the river bed is dry!

He longs to sense the presence of God like that dying deer longs for water, but WHERE IS GOD???? Isn’t it comforting that God knows we will feel like this at times and gives us this picture? The psalmist says, in effect, “My only water is my tears, day and night.” (verse 3) That’s where some of you are, right now. God sees you, He understands, and He cares.

My prayer is that you will not give up. When I was preparing to write this chapter, “Deep Calls to Deep” I had an experience that was one of those rare moments when I absolutely knew the God who made the universe was speaking to me, and to you, my friends. Here it is, from The God of All Comfort:


I was at my cabin in Wisconsin, almost three years after Steve’s death. Here, I do not pull my shades at night for I love seeing the sun sink into the waves of Green Bay as I go to sleep. Sometimes I wake just before the dawn—and a very few blessed times I have opened my eyes to see the vague shapes of a doe and her fawn drinking deep draughts from the bay. They come silently, before the world awakens, hoping they are safe.

In the dawn’s dim light, I have tried, unsuccessfully, to photograph them. Even my best photo is simply shadowy shapes, which my dad claimed were just stumps in the water that my fertile imagination desired to be deer.

I have never seen them brave the open water when the sun is up.

Until the day I began researching the word pictures of Psalm 42—beginning with the image of the deer panting for living water. Though I am often suspicious of people who have constant God sightings, I must admit, this was a God sighting.

Sunday, July 22

Two years and nine months after Steve’s death

Thank You, Lord. I am amazed at what You just did for me, for the readers of the book I am planning to write. I want to record it now, lest I forget.

When I saw what a beautiful morning it was, with the lake like rose-colored glass, I decided to have my time with You on the dock. I was immersing myself in Psalm 42. I sang “As the Deer” and “All Who Are Thirsty.” I began reading various translations of verses 1-2 of the psalm, turning the phrases over in my mind, asking You to “quicken” me and help me see, when suddenly, I was startled by a large shape moving on my right, below me, on the beach.

The timing was so uncanny I thought at first I was imagining it. But no. There she was. A graceful doe, and right behind her, her fawn. Gentle steps clicking softly over the rocks, beside the dock, and into the water. Then they stood like statues, except I was so close I could see them breathing.

The doe was alert, her nose quivering. I feared she would smell me, prayed she wouldn’t. All was still, and I was frozen in my deck chair, holding my breath.

I was so aware that this was a gift from You. The overwhelming thought of Your mindfulness of me. Of this book and its readers. I knew there was something You wanted me to see—so I was as alert as the doe. I knew better than to try to get my camera. I stayed motionless, praying I would see, really see—through the living picture to the meaning.

She walked gently, her fawn followed—just barely into the water, ready, if necessary, to bolt. Then—the picture that will forever linger in my memory: she spread her long legs so as to reach the water, her long neck reaching down. Her fawn did the same. They drank and drank. Deep draughts.

A seagull cried and her head came up, ears taut. Then, soft head down again.

I shifted just a bit to see them better. My book, Derek Kidner’s commentary on the psalms, open to Psalm 42, fell from my deck chair. Her head came swiftly up and she bolted, her fawn scrambling after mother over the rocks.

I stood to watch them go—white tails disappearing into the woods. Gone. As if it never happened. Yet it did, and the picture lingers in my memory, this gift from You.

What did I see that I believe God meant for you and for me? I saw a deer so thirsty that she braved the danger of daylight and humans to come. I saw a deer in a position of prostrate piety—the same position that God is pleased to see in us in body, but certainly in heart, as we show how earnest we are to hear from Him.

Suffering is like salt, increasing our thirstiness. In grief, we can recognize that our thirst is for God and press harder into Him, still believing that He is sovereign, caring, and our only hope. Or we can look to quench our thirst through drugs, constant sleep, destructive relationships, or work. We can abuse our bodies through cutting, or overeating or undereating—hoping to make atonement or to gain control of lives out of control. But those “sources of water” are mirages that can neither quench our thirst nor soothe grieving souls.

Only God can do that. And God longs for us to thirst for Him as the deer thirsts for streams of water. The word pictures in the psalms ultimately point us, in a kaleidoscope of ways, to Jesus. But we will not see Him unless we come in prostrate piety, earnestly desiring the Spirit to open our eyes.

Come, like a thirsty deer.


Here’s your homework.  I promise you this will minister to you if you come like a thirsty deer.

1. Read Psalm 42 in its entirety as an overview

A.  What question does the psalmist keep asking of his soul? What does he tell his soul to do?

B. Find the four water pictures in the psalm. We’ll be looking at them in depth, for each is filled with meaning, but for now, simply find them and identify the verses they are in.

2. I’m hoping that many of you will download and listen to Tim Keller’s sermon on Psalm 42. It’s 2.50 so I realize some of you won’t be able to do it. But it is 2.50 well spent. Paste this into your browser and listen to it and give us your comments.


3. Some of the songs that might minister to you with this are:

As The Deer (but does this post shed new light on that) (Any fresh renditions you know of?)

All Who Are Thirsty (Kutlas and other groups do this beautifully)

Why Are You Downcast? (a group from India: Abney, Swapna… does it with wonderful water sounds)

The Deep Deep Love of Jesus (Many groups, and Amy Shreve’s is beautiful)

Give us your recommendations and thoughts.

4. If you are one who simply is not sensing the presence of God — tell us and we’ll pray for you.

5. If a verse pops out at you from Psalm 42, comment on it.

6. We talked about this psalm yesterday on Midday Connection — and also had a great interview with Elisa Stanford, on her feelings when her first child was born with Down’s Syndrome. If any of you listened and have a comment on that or anything in the interview, would love to hear it. (You can listen to past programs online.)

Praying for each of you!

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  1. 1. Read Psalm 42 in its entirety as an overview

    A. What question does the psalmist keep asking of his soul? What does he tell his soul to do?

    The psalmist keeps asking his soul why it is so downcast and then tells his soul to put hope in God.

    B. Find the four water pictures in the psalm. We’ll be looking at them in depth, for each is filled with meaning, but for now, simply find them and identify the verses they are in.

    Lack of water (verse 1)
    Thirsty soul (verse 2)
    Constant presence of tears (verse 3) tears are “food”
    Deep calls to deep, waves, breakers, even waterfalls!! (verse 7)

    5. If a verse pops out at you from Psalm 42, comment on it.

    This entire Psalm has always been a favorite of mine because through it I see how God understands the way I long for Him. Verse 2 “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” stands out to me because of the raw emotion of thirst and the longing to meet with God… not just think about Him, but *meet* with Him. Spend time in absolute honesty, no facade, no pretending. Bringing what is me before all that is Him. Thirst is such a great metaphor because when we are thirsty to that level, all we can concentrate on is quenching that thirst. All the world offers is saltwater that will lead us to a deadly thirst, but He is our Water of Life. I also find it significant that this verse describes God as “the living God” — living and real in our presence, not just some idea or picture in our minds, but Someone Who is eternally alive and real.

    When I read the sentence about meeting with God, I identify the whole soul longing that I often feel for God. I am aware of His Presence and feel Him with me each day, but so many times I yearn for this to be more. I want to meet with Him. I want to share my hours more intimately with Him. I want it so badly it hurts. Nothing else can satisfy and I wonder why I sometimes imagine that anything else can fill that need. This is why I love the imagery of this Psalm.

  2. FYI all,
    I just went to the url for Tim Keller’s sermon. Cost for mp3 version was $0.00 (and I downloaded it, no credit card required, but I did have to create an account). Will wait until tomorrow to listen to it!

  3. I listened to Dee on Moody press tues. I loved the sharing that Elisa gave about their daughter born with down syndrome 5 years ago. I too had a daughter born with Cerebral Palsy with seizures 23 years ago Valentines day. My husband left me & our three small children right after she was born. My world was shaken also & I grieved the lost of my “perfect” baby & my husband & father to my three children. Dee was there to help me through it & got me a job working at the same clinic her husband Steve was a Doctor. Dee brought gifts for the kids for christmas & money for bills & showered us with love. Dee’s only request was that I help someone else someday that was in need,also. That was how I could pay her back. My faith has grown because of the pain I faced then & I am so in love with Jesus & walk with him everyday & Dee doesn’t know it but she is still helping me through her books & studies. Kendra is a grown girl now & even though she is mentally a child she loves God & we pray together every evening. Her future is a worry for my husband (of 20 years now) & I because we are in our 60’s. I will take care of Kendra as long as I am able to & the Lord allows us to. She gives us so much joy & happiness. I’ve grown in the Lord so much because of the trials I’ve gone through in my life & I praise him so much. I give over all my worries to him daily & I am so very blessed. Praying for you! Joyce

    1. Wow Joyce…all I can say is God is so amazing!!! Thank you.

    2. Joyce, thank you so very much for sharing. I just wanted to say that I, too, had the same prayer for my son. He was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic (mentally ill) when he was 19. I was his primary care giver for many years, and I worried what would happen to him when God would take me from this earth.

      I wanted to share that God answered my prayers “above and beyond what I could think or ask!” He is now 42 years old, extremely high-functioning (through his walk with the Lord), and has been married to a wonderful Christian woman for 10 years. She is now his main support with me as backup. God is so good!

      I know our situations are different, your daughter’s life will “play out” differently than my son’s, but God has a plan for your precious one, too. I’m praying for you.

  4. Good Morning…I am just beginning this lesson, but last night I downloaded Tim Keller’s sermon and good news…it is free!!!

  5. 1. What question does the psalmist keep asking of his soul? What does he tell his soul to do?

    Why are you downcast???? Such a good question for me. It corrects the directions of my thoughts that are on the worry path, the why path, the what is going to happen path, the how can I make it path, etc. He says to his own soul…Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God. He is looking long…past this trial to the day when the trial is over, perhaps not until eternity. I often wonder and think, when we get to the other side and look back, we will be amazed at the shortness of our time here…but a breath, but a moment, but during the “now”, it feels so long. Just the statement that the Most High is his/my Savior and his/my God…there is my hope!!! Amazing love, how can it be that Thou my God shouldst die for me!

    2. Find the four water pictures in the psalm. We’ll be looking at them in depth, for each is filled with meaning, but for now, simply find them and identify the verses they are in.

    a. (1) streams of water b. (2) my soul thirsts(lack of water)?? c. (7) deep calls to deep in the roar of Your waterfalls d, all Your waves have swept over me. I am noticing the pronoun…Your waterfall, Your waves…He is saying he is in this torrent and it is God’s torrent…Lord, if it is Your torrent, then You have a purpose for me…may I learn all you have for me…in this deep, deep circumstance.

  6. 1.A. Psalmist asks himself (some version of) “Where is God?” (vs 2,3,9,10) and tells himself to “Hope in God.”

    1.B. Another “spin” on the water pictures (but I can’t slice this spin into 4 🙁 — maybe 5 or 6 or 7!! )

    Water pics internal to the psalmist:
    -thirst v. 2
    -tears v. 3
    -“pour out” v. 4 (at least pouring refers to liquid, if not water!)
    -(maybe: deep calls to deep, though this kinda fits the “external” category)

    Water pics external to the psalmist:
    -streams of water v. 1 (psalmist longs for this)
    -waterfalls v. 7
    -waves and breakers v.7 (swept over psalmist, doesn’t sound desirable)

    Will get back to 2 & 3

    4. Sometimes I sense God’s presence, but many times I don’t. THat might be because I don’t have the sense (or automatic reaction) to go to seek Him and wait.

    5. Several verses jump out at me, including:
    -deep calls to deep (v 7) jumps out at me because of the poetry, but also because I long for depth and seem to settle for superficiality in many areas.
    -bones suffer mortal agony (v.10). Grief and other forms of emotional distress often bring physical pain.
    -v. 4 When the psalmist is remembering being active, involved with, leading other followers of God. It’s easy for me to feel judged when I am less active or not participating in church activities. But Christian activity or even leadership is not the same as spiritual depth. i.e., just because someone is on the sidelines does not mean he or she is not seeking God. Indeed, the sidelines may be where some of us are most likely to seek God.

    1. 2. Just listened to Tim Keller’s sermon & (aaaggghhh!) I’ve been identified as one of the reductionistic Americans who thinks that if something is wrong (e.g., spiritual dryness), I must have done something wrong to cause it (as I posted above in #4, I may not be experiencing God’s presence because I’m not seeking Him “enough”), and should be able to fix it.

      Keller described some possible “causal factors” from the psalm that might (but don’t always) contribute to not sensing God’s presence. Physical factors most likely are a major contributor to my not sensing God’s presence.

      He indicated (if I remember right) that the psalmist wasn’t focusing on repenting or what he did wrong to get him into the mess (so he probably didn’t do anything wrong), but rather on his hope in God and how he was talking to himself to draw closer to God. I particularly appreciated that he said that when we miss God, we should talk to God about how much we miss Him and “talk to the absent God about his absence.” Keller noted a progression during the chapter so by the end of the chapter, the psalmist was beginning to hope in God once again.

  7. 3. Steve Bell, Deep Calls to Deep. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=onQtAJMub2g&NR=1
    I heard it for the first time tonight and it’s growing on me — I like it in the background (based in part on Psalm 42).

  8. This is one of my favorite songs…blessings, dear Sisters…

    1. Beautiful…Thank you Lynn

  9. Read Psalm 42. What question does the psalmist keep asking of his soul?
    He asks, “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?” (verses 5 and 11)
    I looked back into the book of Genesis, where God asked Cain, “Why is your face downcast?” (Gen 4:6) The Bible says that Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.
    Our faces often show the outward sign of very deep inner turmoil.
    I like how the psalmist gets right to the point of looking inward to his soul and asking that question.

    What does he tell his soul to do? He tell his soul to “Put your hope in God”.

    The four water pictures I found were:

    v.1 streams of water
    v.3 tears
    v.7 roaring waterfalls
    v.7 waves and breakers

    I liked Renee’s noting of the imagery of the psalmist pouring out his soul, which also makes one think of liquid. I think he was really dry! Verse 4 tells how he looks back with longing to happier times, how he led the procession to the house of God, shouting with joy and thanksgiving.

  10. I listened to Midday Connection this week with Dee, and I identified with the discussion about our “default setting”; when trouble comes, where do we go running, or to what or to whom do we run? I know for me I can substitute other things for God.
    Sometimes I just don’t really want to get to the bottom of the problem, ask that probing question the psalmist asked of his soul. Why ARE you downcast oh my soul, why ARE you so disturbed?

    I’m great at avoiding the question. But as the psalmist says that he will yet praise Him, I know we’ve talked about this before, how making that decision to praise God even when we don’t feel like it often opens us up to receive something fresh from the Lord, as I feel He did for me when we studied Psalm 30, and it also helps us speak truth, out loud, to our own souls. We’ve talked about how we need to quiet and calm our souls, and sometimes we also need to talk encouragement and hope to our souls.

  11. Even though I have not been able to do the study, I have read over the questions and comments that everyone has posted. I have been very blessed and yesterday experienced part of what I think Dee is teaching us about Psalms. I came home from work tired and was overwhelmed with worry about some things going on a home. I felt like my chest was in a knot that was being pulled and loosened repeatedly. I started my reading which was in Leviticus and I could not tell you what I read. Even as I read, fears would come up and recede as I remembered God’s promises. I realized that the enemy was at the end of his chain, roaring at me but I just could not calm myself. When I finished in Leviticus I went to Psalm 37 which was next in my daily reading. Even though the words did not seem to speak specifically to my fears-I calmed almost instantly. God was there with me, a lover speaking to me, walking next to me. It was wonderful. Nothing has changed since yesterday except that my love for Him is stronger.

    Also my son for whom I have been praying earnestly has had what I would call a revelation that has changed his life direction. While he has not rededicated his life to Christ, this has been a great encouragement to me. I’m not sure why except that my husband and I both have peace about it. Instead of going to grad school he has decided to apply to officer candidate school. This is what he wanted all through middle school and in high school he wanted to go to the Naval academy, that is until he fell away from the Lord. And he told me that this all came to him at 5 in the morning, which is when I have covenanted to pray. Now whether I was actually praying at the time or dozing in the chair, I’m not sure but I am so thrilled with God’s faithfulness.

    1. Thanks for sharing your good news with us, Anne! Thanking God with you.

    1. ‘Since I am a child of God-why am I upset?’

      Why do I get upset if my God is all-knowing and nothing can outwit Him,is all-powerful and nothing can defeat Him, and is all-present and nothing can outlast Him? (Dr. Lutzer) For me, personally, I think it goes back to control issues. I want all the answers at one time. I want explanations. Sometimes I get an answer and other times I accept the reality I will not receive an explanation on this side of heaven. I know, spiritually, I have grown more in the past 2 yrs since I have learned through Dee’s studies to run to God. He hears me I know. A question will run through my mind and will be answered through a scripture I’ve read not long after asking the question. I know I can trust Him. He has proven it over and over. But yet there is deep within the wondering of how long before I see the promises He has promised me? Everything I have heard lately is keep focus on God and think only about God. When I practice that my soul is calm. I am finding when I stop dwelling on God my soul gets ‘up in arms’.
      When I read Ps 42 I remembered the time I got caught in the waters of a flash flood. I did not listen to the weather report that morning because I could see it was raining. I did not hear the warnings. I took my usual route to work and drove through water not knowing how deep it was. I drove a small car at the time and the water was deep enough to flood my engine. I was stranded and had to call my boss for a ride to work. Isn’t that like us at times? We don’t listen to the warnings and end up getting in deeper than want to.
      Here in Ps 42 the water progresses from not having a drop of water to water coursing down the face to having more water than you want/need sweep you off your feet.

  12. The change I notice in the water pictures is how the situation moves from not enough water, tears for food to waterfalls, even waves and breakers. What the Psalmist is longing for at the beginning grows and becomes more than was ever expected.

    It reminds me a bit of another of my favorite Psalms, Psalm 13, where the beginning is very downcast but by the end, the narrator is giving praise to God and has renewed his hope.

    This is what I am sensing as the answer to “Why are you downcast, o my soul?” Hope in God is possible even when He feels absent from us.

    Psalm 13

    For the director of music. A psalm of David.

    1 How long, O LORD ? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?

    2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and every day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?

    3 Look on me and answer, O LORD my God.
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death;

    4 my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

    5 But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.

    6 I will sing to the LORD,
    for he has been good to me.

  13. In Psalm 42, the water descriptions move from no water to very powerful pictures of water. Yet the psalmist still doesn’t seem to have a clear sense of God’s presence. At the beginning, the psalmist is thirsty, longing for God, and later (deep calls to deep), the psalmist still seems to be longing for God.

    In vs 2-3, the psalmist asks where he can meet God, and others taunt him, saying “where is your God?” Similarly, in vs 9-10 (after the pictures of an abundance of water), the psalmist is asking why God has forgotten him, and he is still claiming that his enemies are asking “Where is your God?”

    It strikes me that a person can become dehydrated not only because no water is available, but also because the available water is not drinkable (e.g., saltwater). But Jesus is the living water who does fulfill our thirst. So, the saltwater theory doesn’t work! But I’ve seen and heard powerful waterfalls — and it would be almost as hard to drink from a waterfall (or waves and breakers) as it would be from a dry river bed (although we could get some spray just by standing at a distance and opening our mouths). I wonder if the psalmist is going from too little water to drink to so much water that he can’t drink it as the waves “swept over” him –v. 7 (probably a stretch of the psalm, but it reminds me that we can’t handle actually seeing God). Since the psalmist was thirsty for God at the beginning, the abundance of water indicates that God is present (even if the psalmist can’t sense His presence).

    Even by the end of the psalm, the psalmist still isn’t “rescued” (he’s still downcast and disturbed) but he is focusing on when he will be able to praise Him in the future (both in the middle and the end of the psalm). The psalmist had “cognitive therapy” by remembering God’s faithfulness in the past and looking forwardto the future, rather than only focusing on how horrible he felt at the time. This applies to me, in that I don’t have to wait until I feel okay to remember God’s faithfulness, to KNOW that my hope is in God, and that I will “yet” praise Him.

  14. 5.I watched my dog drink in water this morning, after a long night’s thirst. He is old, 15 now, and his thirst is great. As I grow older, my thirst for lapping up great draughts of God’s water, the living water of Jesus, increases. I thirst, I long for that sign, that feeling, that knowing of God’s presence – as Dee experienced in her morning reflection. Sometimes it comes, but not as often as I would like nor for as long as I would have it last. And I wonder, as the psalmist, “Will I ever make it – arrive and drink in God’s presence?” (The Message)

    That is one of the phrases that stands out for me “drink in God’s presence”. When I first read it I read it as drinking, in the presence of God – standing before God and drinking. But, on reflection, what I am longing for is to drink in God’s presence, be immersed in the presence of God, be filled/wrapped/embraced by the presence of God.

    The Message goes on to say, “I am on a diet of tears – tears for breakfast, tears for supper. All day long people knock at my door, pestering, “Where is this God of yours?” Sometimes those people are all inside me: the cynic, the doubter, the betrayed, the betrayor.

    It continues, “These are the things I go over and over, emptying out the pockets of my life. I was always at the head of the worshiping crowd, right out in front, leading them all, eager to arrive and worship…” What happened? When did I go from this to tears for breakfast and dinner? Down in the bottom of one of those pockets of my life is the answer, the key: what happened is I tried to fix everything by myself. And that affected everything – my worship, my praise, my leadership, my eagerness.

    The Message continues, “Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul? Why are you crying the blues?” Indeed, dear soul, why? I know better than this. I know that when I “fix my eyes on God – soon I’ll be praising again. He puts a smile on my face. He’s my God.” Yes, dear soul, I know that is true. HE PUTS A SMILE ON MY FACE!!!

    The other phrase that stood out for me from The Message is the end of verse 8: “My life is God’s prayer.” The NIV says, “a prayer to the God of my life.” I like The Message version because it says to me that my life, filled with God’s promise to love me all day and sing songs to me all night, is a reflection of God’s will(God’s prayer) for me. That gives me pause to think about how I am reflecting God’s love to others – and how I am accepting God’s love for each of those people inside me, even the cynic, the doubter, the betrayed and the betrayor. Yes, HE IS MY GOD! 🙂

  15. I don’t know much about a Psalmist, but I do know I love both of my moms, who my God gave me. Only He and I know the timing was perfect. God uses precious people like all you wonderful women to reach his lost sheep. What you do on this website found me. Thank you God for Your Grace and Mercy. Thanks Ladies, God Bless

  16. I was so aware that this was a gift from You. The overwhelming thought of Your mindfulness of me.

    The above words were posted in the atricle about the Doe and her fawn, however, as I read and got to this part the “love, grace and presence of OUR God simply moved my heart into a filling of compassionate and warm tears. I knew it was HIM I was feeling and I began to see again, and see more of how much HE desires and waits for us to earnestly desire HIM. Prostrate piety… yes and then HIS Touch, His Love from His voice is truly and lovingly overwhelming.
    Thank you for the excerpt fromyour book and I plan on doing the homework assignment today. 9.3.12 God bless you, I love you.