One of the striking messages of the Psalms is that God’s faithful people, real believers in him, experience deep longings that seem to be unmet.
Take, for instance, Psalm 119:81-82, “My soul longs for your salvation; I hope in your word. My eyes long for your promise; I ask, ‘When will you comfort me?’”
We know this longing is not the delightful sense of anticipation we get just before it is met. This longing is not like the taste of good food that we imagine just seconds before we actually put the food in our mouth. This longing is more like the desire for food that we believe we will eat, but that is not in the cabinet or the refrigerator, not in our sight, yet. This psalmist longs for salvation, the promise of God, but can’t yet see it and so asks God when it will be.
Another example of longing is in Psalm 42-43. “As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God. I thirst for God, the living God. When can I go and stand before him?”
Often these verses are taken out of their context and then used to describe the peaceful state of a soul drinking deeply from God’s love and care, being satisfied in him. But, reading the rest of the psalm we hear a description not of a satisfied longing, but of a deprived one that continues on and prompts the question, “When will I be with you?”
This kind of longing challenges our faith in Jesus Christ. We are impatient people, even as Christians. If our spiritual longings are not satisfied immediately, or at least soon, we grow doubtful that they ever will be, and are tempted to move on to something else. The combination of our human nature and bad theology leads us to believe that we should experience complete slaking of spiritual thirst, now. If not, something is wrong. We have no room for longing.
But this is not the experience of the psalmist, nor of God’s people throughout history. They lived with longing, even as they walked by faith (Hebrews 11:10, 13-16; Philippians 1:21-25). In fact, it was their longing that kept them looking forward in faithfulness and hope. Again, Psalm 119:81, “My soul longs for your salvation, I hope in your word.”
In this COVID-19 pandemic season, do we have room for spiritual longing in our lives?
One deprivation that we are experiencing is our physical gathering for corporate worship. We can’t sing and pray together, in-person. The computer screen just isn’t the same as a real face a few feet away. We can’t hear the word of God read, preached, and taught in-person. Looking into a camera doesn’t match up to seeing eyes looking back at us. We aren’t sharing the Lord’s Supper or holding baptisms. We aren’t shaking hands and circling up to pray for one another.
What do we do with this desire for in-person connection with other believers and the physical gathering for worship? We long for it with hope. We wait for it in faith.
Don’t let your longing lie to you, telling you that you will never stand before the Lord in the company of his people again. Let it lead you to the Lord, his word, in prayer, anticipating the fulfillment of every promise he has made.
Don’t try to satisfy spiritual longings with substitutes of your own making. Leave room for longing and wait for the real thing.
Remember, even when we gather again and participate in congregational life as we have in the past, this too, is a reminder of what is to come. Someday we will see Christ face to face, and we will be like him. We will take in his glory and confess him as Lord with glad and willing hearts made complete in his image. We will do this together.
In this life, the longing will never be fully satisfied. That’s because this life will never be fully right. But, there’s a Day coming. Then the longing will forever be being met in Christ.
Until then, wait with faith, hope, and love.