Metaphors have long been a standard in writing for expressing emotions that one cannot seem to find just the right word for. Though technically a simile (because I am a word nerd and had to mention it), “As the Deer” captures in figurative language the desperation the author of Psalm 42 felt in their soul when longing for the refuge found in the presence of the Lord in a time of trouble.
“As the Deer” was written by Martin J. Nystrom in 1982. The hymn is based on Psalm 42:1, which states, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.” A relatively recent hymn when you consider how long ago some of the most popular hymns were written, it has risen in prominence to stand alongside the well-beloved classics we still know and sing today.
Nystrom, who is a musician and songwriter, was born in 1957 in Seattle, Washington – and he is one of the very few that I have written about who is still alive today. He wrote the hymn while he was taking part in a fast where he was focusing intently on his time with the Lord. On day 19 of his fast, he sat down at a piano and started playing chords in no specific order – just whatever his heart felt as he turned it intentionally towards his Savior. It was then that he noticed a Bible nearby that was opened to Psalm 42. Without much thought, he sang the first words of the Psalm to the melody he was playing. Soon after, he had written the first verse and the chorus. Within minutes, the song was complete. Originally, he had intended to keep the song to himself – but after showing a friend and then giving that friend permission to play it for others, it quickly spread like wildfire.
Since its release, “As the Deer” has become a beloved hymn in Christian worship. It is often sung in churches and other religious gatherings and has been recorded by many artists. The hymn has been translated into multiple languages and is enjoyed worldwide. The hymn’s melody and lyrics are simple, yet powerful. The lyrics express the longing and yearning of the soul for God, and the melody is gentle and soothing. This simplicity of the hymn makes it easy for congregations to sing along and participate in worship.
If the message of Psalm 42 resonates with you (and my heart is with you if it does), another more recent hymn might interest you as well – “Lord From Sorrows Deep I Call (Psalm 42)” by Matt Boswell and Matt Papa. Carrying the same tone of solemn desperation as “As the Deer,” this song captures in tandem the tone that Nystrom translated from Psalm 42 where one still seeks the joy of worship even in the midst of suffering.
Finding joy in suffering – what a concept. In truth, I never quite understood it myself until relatively recently. Indescribably, there is something about seeking the presence of the Lord in true desperation that affords us a chance to see a side of Him that we otherwise would not have access to. Only in our darkest moments are we truly able to cling to the truth of the Light of the World. Our God is not described as a Light for nothing – because when we cannot see even our next step forward, turning our hearts to Him in praise in the midst of it all, especially when we do not know what else to pray, this act alone will often illuminate our next step. And it is in this act of being surrounded by suffering but choosing to turn our hearts towards the goodness of God, standing on the firm foundation of that truth in the midst of uncertainty, that we can truly taste and see for ourselves the undeniable sweetness of our Savior.
“As the deer panteth for the water,” may our souls continue to long after the only One who can miraculously afford us peace and rest, even in the middle of the darkest storm.
Do you have a hymn or song you would like to know more about? Feel free to send in a request at firstname.lastname@example.org or by giving me a call at 205-926-9769. I would love to hear from you!