Teach Us To Pray – Study #4: Running on Empty


Jesus taught his disciples to pray. But there’s a very real sense in which the psalms taught Jesus to pray. In this series, we’re going to sit with Jesus at the feet of the Bible’s lament psalms to see what they can teach us about prayer.

Why the laments? One of my students once observed that reading the laments made her feel like the Holy Spirit had been reading her diary. Generations of the faithful have testified to these psalms’ peculiar ability to help us express our most private and sometimes painful thoughts. Yet, the laments also teach us that, even when our prayers are full of anger or anguish, they are still “praise in a minor key.”

Study #4: Running on Empty

Read: Psalm 42

As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. (v. 1, NRSV)

Earthquake survivor, Evan Muncie, could be considered the world’s foremost authority on thirst. Rescuers pulled Muncie from the rubble in Haiti almost four weeks after the earthquake of 2010. He was suffering from severe malnutrition and dehydration. He told his mystified doctors that someone had visited him under the rubble and given him water. Authorities concluded he was hallucinating.

“I’m thirsty.” These are words that we’ve all said. Thirst is a basic, powerful sensation that can drive us to acts of utter desperation. It is also a built-in alarm bell. With bodies that are roughly 60% water, there’s no such thing as “running on empty.”

When the psalmist compares himself to a thirsty deer, he is admitting that to a certain level of desperation. This is a matter of spiritual life and death, not just, “Gee, I think I’d like something to drink.”

If you’ve ever felt like the author of this psalm, you know the pain that gave birth to this ancient prayer. But there is comfort here, too. The thing that keeps this psalmist alive “under the rubble” is the memory of God’s steadfast love, which rushes over him like a waterfall (v. 7). Like that thirsty dear, he lifts his head at the scent of water and finds the strength to live another day.

What memories of God’s steadfast love give your thirsty soul the scent of water?

Prayer: Our hope is in you, O God, even when we’re running on empty.