Psalm 42:1-2 – “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?”
We have a deer that is thirsty – maybe because of drought or famine or simple exhaustion. This deer is in a place where there is no water. And it is not just looking for it; this deer “pants” for it. The Hebrew word means “to desperately long for.”
In describing the desolation of the land following God’s judgment, Joel writes, “Even the beasts of the field pant for You because the water brooks are dried up, and fire has devoured the pastures of the wilderness” (Joel 1:20). Zoologists tell us deer can be so intense in their thirst that they will not even be startled by someone rushing them! Few things distract them when their thirst is that intense!
The psalmist likens himself to a thirsty deer. The psalmist senses separation from God and doesn’t want that to be any longer.
Ever get that feeling, where you feel God’s distance? Charles Spurgeon gives this description:
“Ease he did not seek, honour he did not covet, but the enjoyment of communion with God was an urgent need of his soul; he viewed it not merely as the sweetest of all luxuries, but as an absolute necessity … Like the parched traveler in the wilderness, whose skin bottle is empty, and who finds the wells dry, he must drink or die – he must have his God or faint. His soul, his very self, his deepest life, was insatiable for a sense of the divine presence.”
That is what we all long for. Sure we would like to have painless lives, but ultimately we would just like the sense that God is with us all the time.
There is a definite longing after God that the psalmist is not experiencing at this moment. And he asks, “When” should he appear. The psalmist is thinking about a location to appear before God. He is saying that His longing for God will only be met when he is in the place where he goes to meet God. For the O.T. saint, it was the sanctuary (or Temple). So to feel closer to God, he feels he needs to get to the place of corporate worship.
His panting for His Creator will only be met when he is with the community of saints gathered to worship God. The psalmist is thinking about the sanctuary. He knows there is a special presence of God in the sanctuary with the community of believers that he cannot feel alone.
If the world has beat you down that week, one of the worst things you can do is wake on a Sunday morning and say, “I am so wiped out from the week. I am beat up. What I need is a day at home or by myself to recuperate and rejuvenate myself so I am ready for Monday morning.”
That is not the response that is captivated by the psalmist. He could not relate to such a disconnected idea. What is the godly response? You need water? You need encouragement? Had a tough week? Here’s the prescription: go to God’s house! The psalmist wanted the closeness and the fellowship and the worship in the house of God.
Happy Christians are Christians who assemble with other Christians every chance they get (Heb 10:24-25) and pant after communing with Him like a thirsty deer.
 O.T. Word Studies, pg. 302.
 The Treasury of David, pgs. 270-271.