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  • Writer's pictureMarco Inniss

How 'Deep Calls to Deep' Reminds Us of Our Desperate Need for God

Updated: Feb 12

Have you ever felt circumstances nipping at your feet, threatening to tug you into an ocean of despair? You lose your job, receive an alarming health report, or suffer the loss of a loved one—and no matter how hard you try to kick your way to the surface of hope, the undertow of fear leaves you thrashing about, trying to keep your head above water. In moments when all our physical strength is exhausted, there’s a place within every believer where deep calls to deep.

What Does 'Deep Calls to Deep' Mean?

When writing Psalm 42, the Psalmist coined the phrase “deep calls to deep” to describe the place where our deep need meets God’s all-sufficient presence. Matthew Henry Commentary explains it this way:  "He was overpowered and overwhelmed with a deluge of grief, like that of the old world, when the windows of heaven were opened and the fountains of the great deep were broken up. Or it is an allusion to a ship at sea in a great storm, tossed by the roaring waves, which go over it (Psalm 107:25). Whatever waves and billows of affliction go over us at any time we must call them God’s waves and his billows, that we may humble ourselves under his mighty hand, and may encourage ourselves to hope that though we be threatened we shall not be ruined; for the waves and billows are under a divine check. The Lord on high is mightier than the noise of these many waters... After the storm there will come a calm, and the prospect of this supported him when deep called unto deep."

It’s long been said that there’s a God-shaped hole inside of every human. When we accept Christ as our Savior that metaphorical cavern of emptiness is filled with the Holy Spirit, makes us alive in Christ, and becomes our connection to the Almighty.

Through that connection, we can experience a deep communion with God as we pursue a relationship with Him. In How to Have a Deeper Relationship with God, Whiney Hopler explains how the Psalms can help in that pursuit. “When you want to deepen your relationship with God, you need to move beyond simply knowing about Him and seek personal encounters with Him. The Bible’s Psalms can help you do that. The Psalms are full of honest expressions of what it means to relate to God. They describe faith in action while dealing with the tension between this fallen world’s realities and the hope God offers you.

What is Happening in Psalm 42?

In Psalm 42 we’re given a poetic description of a man who is suffering unbearable circumstances. His world has been thrown into such intense turmoil that his enemies taunt him continuously and ask, “Where is your God?” (Psalm 42:3).

The man cries out in desperation for God to reveal Himself—to quench his soul’s thirst. “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?” (Psalm 42:1-2).

But despite his depression and the despair closing in around him, the man knows where hope is found. Even though he laments the apparent absence of God’s presence, he never doubts God’s faithfulness. Why? How is this man so sure that God hasn’t forsaken him? Is the man delusional, operating out of blind faith, or grasping at straws? No. His hope lies in the deep.

“Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar. Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me” (Psalm 42:5-7).

This man has intimately experienced God’s love in the past. He personally knows the richness of God’s grace and has seen God’s goodness in action. He’s learned God’s ways and has hidden God’s truths in his heart. The sweet, life-giving communion he’s shared with God has filled a well of living hope deep inside the man.

At some time during the man’s trial, his sense of God’s presence disappears. He longs for that connection again. But rather than becoming bitter and angry toward God for not coming to his rescue, he seeks God with all his heart. Where does he look? He returns to the well. And there, he remembers. He remembers the joy of God’s presence, the security of His protection, and the faithfulness of His provision.

From deep within that well—the place where faith meets truth—the man is honest with God about his anxiety. In vivid terms, he describes the conflict raging within him and pours out his grieving heart to a God that he knows will never leave nor forsake him.

From the depth of God’s mercy, God hears the man’s pleas and answers—not by might, power, or immediate deliverance, but by filling the well to overflowing.

“Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me” (Psalm 42:7).

Within the “roar of the waterfalls” God’s might rings clear. And as the violent “waves and breakers” of trouble continue to sweep over the man, God strengthens him and saturates his parched soul. God doesn’t remove the storm of suffering. He shows Himself mighty in the midst of it.

“The seas have lifted up, LORD, the seas have lifted up their voice; the seas have lifted up their pounding waves. Mightier than the thunder of the great waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea—the LORD on high is mighty” (Psalm 93:4).

How Can We Quench Our Thirst for God?

Just like our physical bodies require a constant supply of water to function properly, our spiritual wellbeing depends on our free-flowing connection with God (John 4:14). That’s why our inherent need for God can be equated to thirst. Jesus told the woman at the well that whoever drinks of the water He gives will never be thirsty again. Yet, like the man from Psalm 42, we often find ourselves thirsting for more of Him.

In Deep Calls Out to Deep, but I Long to Stay Shallow Amy Julia Becker explains one of the reasons we can feel so parched—especially during troubling times. “To stay in God’s presence is like swimming in the ocean. Immense. Frightening. Powerful. Beautiful. Where deep calls to deep. Where answers don’t come easily. Where pain is exposed rather than covered over. Where healing requires transformation.”

Times of trial tend to expose our desperate need for God, but they can also reveal God’s boundless love in ways we couldn’t otherwise experience.

Psalm 42 offers sound guidance on how to stay spiritually hydrated during dry or stormy seasons. Here are 5 practical tips gleaned from Psalm 42—plus New Testament scriptures to support and enrich.

(Psalm 42:1) Let God know you’re thirsty “On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink” (John 7:37).

(Psalm 42:3) Be honest with God about your feelings and doubts “About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" (which means "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).

(Psalm 42:4) Verbally praise God for who He is “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise--the fruit of lips that openly profess his name” (Hebrews 13:15).

(Psalm 42:5) Instruct your soul. Don’t let circumstances dictate your thoughts. “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).

(Psalm 42:6) Remember God’s goodness by remembering past victories. “You know how much persecution and suffering I have endured. You know all about how I was persecuted in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra—but the Lord rescued me from all of it”(2 Timothy 3:11 NLT).

As we call out to God from our deep need—He answers back from the depth of His all-sufficient power. Deep calls to Deep.

A Prayer for When Deep Calls to Deep

Dear Lord, I'm so thankful that when it feels like no one else understands, You do. You understand about being disappointed in people but You loved them in the midst of that. Lord, I want to follow Your example. I'm thankful You know this sadness is a part of healing from the pain of disappointment. Give me guidance in handling this - I trust that You can bring good out of this. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Annette Griffin Contributing Writer

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