Let’s talk about two kinds of thirst.
The first is physical. If we are deprived of liquid for a period of time, our body will send out faint signals that it needs replenishment. If nothing happens, the signals will become more urgent until our entire being becomes frantic for something to sustain it. And it will not let up until the thirst is satisfied.
About twenty years ago, while hiking with a group of teenagers in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness in Montana and Idaho, we turned off the main path onto a trail that seemed to provide a shortcut to our destination for that night.
The new trail was easy at first, nothing special. We began to climb and as we moved higher the land grew dryer. Trees and vegetation gave way to dust and unrelenting heat; even the trail seemed to merge into the surrounding land before vanishing altogether into the shimmering furnace-like air.
What had seemed like a plentiful supply of water at the trail intersection now became inadequate. We tried to preserve what we had left, but the climbing in the heat and dust demanded we drink, causing our water supply to deplete rapidly.
Finally we gained a wide ridge and proceeded to follow its contour toward what looked like a body of water on our map. But the ridge kept unfolding and obtaining water remained only a hope that began taking on the characteristics of urgent need and finally near panic. At one point, it felt like we were crawling. We looked out over the unrelenting landscape of forests and mountains but saw nothing resembling bodies of water or even life except for the hawks and buzzards floating patiently above.
Since I am telling this story, it is clear that we survived. We found a small pond of still water and drank. We recovered quickly and then descended a rockslide to find a place to tent for the night. We had experienced physical deprivation; we thirsted and we yearned to quench that thirst obsessively until water was found and consumed.
The second thirst can be found in our need for something that transcends the appetites of this life to a higher need that may counterfeit earthly desires, but can only be truly satisfied through inviting the Holy Spirit of God into our hearts. Here are a few confirming biblical verses:
“O God, you are my God. Urgently I seek you. My soul thirsts for you in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” (Psalm 63:1)
“My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” (Psalm 42:2)
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”(Matthew 5:6)
After forty days of fasting in the wilderness, Satan tempted Jesus with sustenance to feed his physical hunger and thirst. But listen to what Jesus says to the Tempter: “It is written, ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”(Deuteronomy 8:3)
The Devil wanted to reveal that man is no more than a bundle of physical appetites. Jesus shows that men and women have the potential to become so much more than just creatures of the earth. We are made in the image of God, which means that while we may often live in an alienated state from God, Jesus promises, “whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of living water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14)