MANY PEOPLE WEAR THEIR FAITH LIGHTLY. They may wear their religion loudly, but in their inner lives, they touch God lightly. Or their brushes with the divine are fleeting and superficial, accidental and incidental.
Not so the psalmist who declared to God from his inmost being: “My soul clings to you” (Ps. 63:8). This statement is thick with intensity and personal experience. Here there is no light and cursory touching of God. Instead there is an earnest and wholehearted hanging on to God, and it was with soul-felt and soul-led intentionality.
Why do some people have this deep and intense experience of wanting to cling to God? There are at least two reasons we should examine.Firstly, people cling to God when they are desperately in need of help, when they have run out of rope and hope.
When everything is going well, and you seem to be in control of your life, and you think you are managing fine, you tend to neglect or forget that without God you cannot do anything, and that without His mercy, we all are but clay exposed to the sun’s scorching rays – our lives will harden and become brittle and will eventually crack. Comfortable people seldom seek God. Self-sufficient and self-confident people don’t need God – but they live in an illusion.
When trouble strikes, then we realise we need shelter and shade. And when our own self-survival strategies start failing and our lives begin to unravel, we then tend to turn to God more desperately. We cry out to God with loud voices hoping to be heard in heaven. We want God to drop everything and come to our rescue.
The psalmist was no stranger to such moments. He lived in a dangerous world filled with enemies. Sharp weapons and words were directed against him, and circumstances often turned sour for him, and he cried out for God’s intervention. “Hasten, O God, to save me; O Lord, come quickly to help me”, he desperately prayed to God. He urged God, “O Lord, do not delay” (Ps. 70:1, 5). The self-sufficient man whose world starts crumbling discovers that he needs God who is our shelter and shade, our Rock and stronghold.
Many people are like the holiday-maker who lazily floats near the beach, holding a drink in his hand and lightly touching a projecting rock to keep him in position. But then a tsunami strikes, and all hell breaks loose. He forgets the drink and desperately clings to the rock, his grasp of the rock becoming more urgent and resolute.
Could it be possible that God does allow disaster to strike us so that we can learn what it means for our souls to cling to Him? Does He send us nightmares to disrupt our pointless and dangerous daydreams so that our souls can be awakened to reality?
Those who have gone through very difficult circumstances when kith and kin, experts and friends, were not of much help, when they had only God to whom to turn, often come out transformed by their experience. Somehow clinging to God is a life-changing experience. It changes the way we look at God and ourselves, at life and death.But there is also another sense in which our souls cling to God, and we find this in Psalm 63. We can cling to God out of desperate need, but we can also cling to Him out of the deep desire of holy love for God.
This is portrayed in many ways. For example, the psalmist expresses his intense desire for God’s presence and fellowship. “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Ps. 63:1).
THE PSALMIST IS AWARE that the things of this world cannot satisfy the deep hungers of his soul. Neither fame nor fortune, awards nor applause, could satisfy his soul’s desire for companionship and love, for meaning and affirmation, for eternity and fellowship. As a hungry soul he clings to God knowing that only God can truly satisfy him. Therefore he clings to God, not because he wants to be rescued from unfavourable circumstances but because he desires true friendship and love.
And in God’s presence his clinging soul is satisfied and breaks into joyful song (Ps. 63:5). He becomes one happy soul, contented in the presence of God. And having experienced such wonderful moments in God’s holy and loving presence, his soul clings on to God, never wanting to depart from that presence. It is like what we see at airports, when mothers cling tightly to their departing daughters, not wishing to let go of them, their hearts and eyes stung by tears of separation.
The psalmist clings to God in this way when he writes: “On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night … I sing in the shadow of your wings” (Ps. 63:6-7). The soul clings to God even in the drowsy hours of deep night, singing and enjoying being enthralled by God’s sweet and refreshing presence.
The psalmist knew what it meant to have his soul cling to God both for urgent help and deep fellowship. We ought to be challenged by his experience.
Our world has become superficial, filled with meaningless pursuits and activities, a restlessness that hides our desperate needs. In trouble we often run to anything and anyone other than God. In our lonely moments of existential despair, we turn to entertaining toys, meaningless chatter, and fleeting and noisy experiences. How wise are those who learn to turn to God, who train their souls to cling to God, the Source of life and true joy. As Dt. 30:19-20 (NKJV) reminds us, clinging to God is a choice each of us must make, with love for God and obedience to Him. For God is our life and the length of our days – more than we realise.
Bishop Dr Robert Solomon is the bishop of The Methodist Church in Singapore. This article originally appeared in the November 2009 issue of Methodist Message and is reproduced here with permission.