Bear Grylls is a British adventurer, inspirational speaker, writer, and entertainer. He is among the youngest to climb to the top of Mount Everest. As a former 21 SAS trooper trained in unarmed combat and survival in harsh territories, he employed these skills on TV shows Man vs. Wild and Running Wild. On these shows, he demonstrates how to build shelters, start fires, gather wild food, hunt and trap animals, and gather drinkable water from the unlikeliest sources. When no water is available, Bear is not above drinking his own, shall we say, waste products. I know that’s disgusting, but Grylls and medical experts insist that it’s safe to do, to gain an extra day or two of survival.[i]
The author of Psalm 42[ii] talks about recycled water, too. “My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God (v. 3)?’” Now, you might think that it’s vulgar, comparing Bear Grylls’ disgusting survival tactics to David[iii] drinking his own tears. But I’m trying to communicate to you just how desperate the situation is. Of course, it’s poetry, but David is expressing how very thirsty his spirit is. I want you to hear the desperation in this question, “Where is your God?” You see, David has been trying to nourish himself on himself—something which, even if he drank all his body fluids, would only sustain him in the short term. People see how his spirit is dying of thirst, wasting away, and mockingly they ask, “Where is your God?”
Have you ever felt your soul so desperately thirsty that you felt like a deer panting after water (v. 1)? Like a deer that’s hunted, running through the forest, chased by dogs and desperate for life, run down and afraid and panting for something to nourish you, just so you can keep on running some more? Have you tried to sustain yourself on yourself, but failed, and suddenly you realize that what you’re thirsty for is something greater than you can offer yourself? Listen to the words of David: “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me (v. 5)?” It’s because you’re hungry and you’ve been trying to eat your own tongue. You’re thirsty and you’ve been trying to drink your own tears! You can’t sustain yourself on yourself, David! (And neither can you, reader.)
How does a person try to sustain himself on himself? Remember when you were in school, studying for exams? You knew that you had to get good grades, so you stayed up all night, cramming. You thought you could help yourself by depriving yourself—and how did that work? The next day, you didn’t remember the material because you memorized it when your brain was sleep-starved. You tried to sustain yourself on yourself, and it didn’t work. You were drinking your own tears.
Or, have you ever been driving, and you look down at the gas gauge and realize you’re almost out of fuel? You know you need to make it to the gas station before the needle hits empty. Then you notice that, in an effort to get there faster, you’ve been pressing down harder on the pedal because somehow in your mind, if you speed, that’ll help. You’re just drinking your own tears.
David is trying to sustain himself by himself, then realizes what he needs and says, “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God (v. 5).” You see, David realizes what he’s really thirsty for—and that nothing else can satisfy. In verses 1 and 2, he says, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” He knows the solution lies outside himself, with the One who made him and the only One who can sustain him.
But there’s a problem. David is full of himself. Throughout the stories of David, he’s full of pride, confidence, and ego. In verse 4, David says, “These things I remember…how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng.” On the surface, these simply seem like reminiscences of happiness. But imagine how David’s leadership position as king often got to his head. In this verse, his recollection might puff up his pride, but then he adds a phrase (which I omitted as I quoted earlier): “These things I remember, as I pour out my soul.”
And when I read that, I realized that this is what I need—to pour out my soul. Like David, I can also be full of myself. If I’m going to fill up on God, first I’ve got to empty myself of me. My pride, confidence, and ego have got to go. If I’ve been nourishing myself on myself, then I’m full of myself—so I have to uncork the bottle and pour out my soul. This is what happens when a person invites Jesus into their life—they die to the old life so He can live in them. The result is rivers of living water. On the day you quit drinking your own tears, trying to nourish yourself, wallowing in your own misery, and empty yourself to receive Jesus, verse 7 says, “Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.”
Jesus puts it this way: “Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them (John 7:38).” You don’t have to try to sustain yourself anymore—God will be your nourishment forever. Like streams in the desert, God will fill you to overflowing. Sometimes, like Bear Grylls, we get into survival mode. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, if you need to survive. But God wants you to do more than survive—God wants you to thrive. To do that, you’ve got to quit being like a snake eating your own tail. You’ve got to quit drinking your tears—and let Jesus fill you with his living water.
[i] “A healthy person's urine is about 95 percent water and sterile, so in the short term it's safe to drink and does replenish lost water. But the other 5 percent of urine comprises a diverse collection of waste products, including nitrogen, potassium, and calcium—and too much of these can cause problems.” Wilson, Chris. The Yellow Liquid Diet: Is it a good idea to drink urine when water is scarce? MAY 21 2008.
June 4, 2018..
[ii] Scripture quotations taken from the NIV.
[iii] While Psalm 42 does not specifically claim David as its author, many reputable Bible scholars believe David to have written this poem.