When the sons of Korah speak these words

As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God. (Psalm 42:1)

we read them as their longing for a mystical emotional experience of the presence of God. Perhaps that is right. Certainly I speak with lots of people who are longing for a more concrete and less purely intellectual experience of God. This could be what these men longed for as well.

But if we read the whole psalm, we realize that what they longed for was something they once had but which was not simply lost but had been stripped from them. And what had been stripped from them was the opportunity to “come and appear before God” (verse 2). What they longed for was not simply the experience of God, but the experience as it was mediated through the place where they would meet with God.

These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throng
and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise,
a multitude keeping festival. (Psalm 42:4)

To be blunt, and anachronistic, but still on point, they had been denied the opportunity to go to church. And they missed that, grieved for that, lamented that, because ‘church’ was where they could come and appear before God and have their desperate soul thirst assuaged.

They had been denied and longed for what we have and take for granted.

May today our glad shouts and songs of praise return, from our hearts, as we come and appear before God and have our thirst sated.