Whether it’s because we’re down, depressed, dry or feeling distant with God, here is a Psalm that we can all connect with. Along the way the Psalmist gives us three very practical lessons we can all learn from.
On Monday this week, our family remembered that 2 years ago on the 24th August, our daughter, our little sister, Evie beat the rest of our family to the grave. We want to thank a number of you who messaged and sent flowers. One, in particular, helped us put our grief in context. “As hard as anniversaries are, that Evie hasn’t been with you for 2 years. Take comfort that she’s been with Jesus for 2 years”
24 August 2018 is one of those days that’s just etched in my memory. Teresa & I rushed to Mount Druitt Hospital in the wee hours of the morning. Evie’s breathing had become very faint, our hearts were fearing the worst. Shortly after, with all 5 of us around her bed, we said goodbye as she breathed her last.
Then tears, lots of them from all of us. Hugs, tight hugs, hugs with each other, hugs with Evie. In God’s kindness, we were able to take Evie with us to Bear Cottage, a children’s hospice. We got to spend more time with her saying our goodbyes in such a supportive environment. I still remember the drive there, Evie was in her car seat and apart from the sound of tears and sniffles God would have it that the CD that was playing in the background was a song from our very own MBM album. “Father’s Hands”
For each of the 77 days Evie was alive, we read a Psalm to her and with her. On Day 42 we would have read the Psalm we’re looking at today, verse 3 of this psalm pretty much described those next few days.
My tears have been my food day and night, ~Psalm 42:3 (NIV)
The day after Evie died, I remember from the moment I woke up just bawling my eyes out.
Now maybe it’s because of this pandemic, but is it just me? Or have these Psalms ministered to me, in a fresh way. As it effortlessly puts the full range of human emotions and feelings into words for me. Psalm 42 has connected with me off the back of major grief. But for you, it doesn’t have to be major grief.
Psalm 42 is that go-to Psalm when you’re feeling lonely. When you’re under pressure. This week alone, I’ve heard how Psalm 42 comforts a parent whose adult child has turned their back on God. I’ve heard how Psalm 42 got someone through their battle with cancer. I’ve suggested it to someone picking up the pieces from a toxic relationship. I’ve shared it with someone who’s marriage has gotten stagnant.
Now what we’re going to do today is first look at the situation our writer finds themselves in. Then we’re going to see 3 lessons the Psalmist teaches us. These are super helpful for not just what we’re all going through now. But for all of life.
As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. ~Psalm 42:1 (NIV)
Picture a deer. What pops into your mind? This is my picture - there they are prancing around, frolicking with not a worry in the world. Now I didn’t know this about deer but they drink constantly, that’s because they’re creatures of instinct, see water, drink water. Well, not this deer, this deer, he’s not just thirsty, he’s beyond thirsty, he’s panting, he’s parched. Notice what he thirsts for.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? ~Psalm 42.2 (NIV)
He wants not water but God. He wants his entire being, his whole person, to taste and to see, to think and to feel, to enjoy and experience… God.
ALL of him wants ALL of God. I’ll say that again. All of him wants ALL of God. And yet, our writer is a long way from that. Three times we see the word “downcast” that’s what’s going on deep down inside of him. Verse 3 gives us more of a window into his situation.
My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” ~Psalm 42:3 (NIV)
It’s there again in verse 10
My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, “Where is your God?” ~Psalm 42:10 (NIV)
Our writer is sick of being on the back foot with his back against the wall. It’s no different to our post-Christian world today, many of us have been ridiculed, by the workmate, at school, on campus, on social media, sometimes by another family member, all because we side with Jesus.
In my experience as a pastor, the number one question I get asked is this and maybe it’s your question too if you’re someone who’s still checking out Jesus: “Where is God when there’s suffering? Why doesn’t God stop COVID? Because if there really is a God who’s powerful, a God who’s loving then he’d put an end to all that. I mean that’s what I’d do if I were God. But you and I, we’re not God, my ways are not his ways. He knows what’s best.
To make matters worse, our writer’s not just feeling spiritually distant he’s physically distant too!
These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One
with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng. ~Psalm 42:4 (NIV)
The psalmist longs for the good old days when he used to enter the temple. From what we know about the writer, he most likely had a key role in temple life, leading the music and singing. Yet, here he is yearning to be back in Jerusalem praising God with others.
Do you notice the similarities with our Psalm here and our current situation? Sure, the writer may not have a pandemic on his hands but still, he’s unable to gather. That’s why, if you’re not meaningfully gathering with your church family, maybe now’s the time to do that. Why not have someone over? Why not reach out and call someone?
It’s been beautiful to see some of you out there in Youtube land, back in the flesh again! One person, when they came for a live service recently got emotional. They didn’t realise just how much they missed seeing brothers and sisters. How much being here felt like home.
Now, of course, you may not be up for meeting in person either with your small group or here at church. But can I say, if you ARE in a position to do so, I beg you, don’t let excuses get in the way. Yes, I know a good number of you are doing the Christian thing and allowing others who need or want to gather go first. I admire that, but the rest of your church family want to see you too! Here’s a suggestion - why not book in every second or third week? And yes, there’ll be a re-adjustment. There’ll be new habits to form, rather than just rolling out of bed and flicking on the TV, you’ll need to get changed and drive the 10, 20, 30 minutes, but boy is it worth it.
There are really good reasons NOT to come back. I remember when I was starting out as a Christian it would often get to Sunday night where I didn’t FEEL like going to church, a finale of a TV show was on, I needed to finish off that assignment or a family dinner. But I tell you what, the times I was there I remember walking back to the car thinking: “So glad I was at church tonight” Whether it was because I was ministered to by a song, whether it was an encouraging conversation or whether it was being able to Amen to a prayer that was prayed.
Our writer’s not done yet, he’s not going to let his feelings or his emotions get the better of him, no way. I love how this guy, we can tell God’s personal for him, calls God “My God, my Saviour, my Rock, my living God” right throughout the Psalm.
That’s why these next three lessons are so, so helpful.
LESSON 1: POUR OUT YOUR SOUL
These things I remember as I pour out my soul: ~Psalm 42:4a (NIV)
Pouring out your soul, that’s like the ancient version of what today we’d call: ‘getting in touch with your feelings’. This was his way of paying attention to what’s going on. Whereas at the start of the Psalm he was dry. Now, he’s drowning.
Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me. ~Psalm 42:7 (NIV)
Picture two waterfalls plunging into a valley with you at the bottom. Can you imagine that roar, the noise would be off the charts. Now picture you out in the ocean being pummelled by wave after wave. I’ve had that feeling before and I nearly drowned. That’s what our writer is feeling here. It’s just relentless, it’s all around him.
…why God have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning?... ~Psalm 42:9 (NIV)
I mean it’s not as if there’s a sin that’s weighing him down. He doesn’t feel the need to come clean. He doesn’t feel burdened by guilt. No heavy conscience. He just feels God’s left him in the dark. If this were you and I, we’d run away from these feelings. Instead, we might be tempted to indulge in a bit of escapism. Maybe raid the pantry, binge some screentime or social media. But not our guy. No - He runs head-on into the issue. Or maybe we’d numb these feelings. Maybe self-medicate by hitting the bottle, watching porn. Not this guy - instead of numbing, he NAMES those feelings.
And look to be honest, in times of spiritual dryness when we feel forgotten by God we can feel like talking to anyone BUT God. But not this guy. Talk about putting it ALL out on the table. Our writer is not afraid one bit to take those real questions, those real hurts and to present them to God who’s REAL to him.
2. TALK TO YOURSELF
Not only does our writer talk to God, the second thing he does is this: he talks to himself.
Why, my soul, are you downcast? ~Psalm 42:5 (NIV)
Why so disturbed within me? ~Psalm 42:11 (NIV)
Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who wrote a book called Spiritual Depression, explains this idea of self-talk better than I can:
The first thing we have to learn is what the Psalmist learned — we must learn to take ourselves in hand. ...He is talking to himself, he is addressing himself…. [In] spiritual depression... we allow our self to talk to us… instead of talking to our self.
Listen to what he says next: “Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?
Wow! What a profound statement.
Lloyd Jones goes on to say: [The Psalmist has realised his] soul had been depressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says: “Self, listen for a moment.”
There’s been plenty of talk about self-care during this pandemic, about exercise, eating well, managing screentime, giving yourself permission to feel all the feels. Well, I want to say that self-talk is a key part of self-care! See when we listen to our heart, that’s when the anxiety sky-rockets. “Oh no, what if this happens. This might happen. You better not do that.”
We end up being controlled by lies. “Dan - What will people think of you if you preach a dud sermon. Dan - you can’t do that task, you failed the last time you tried it”
But when we talk to our self like the Psalmist does here. When I reflect on who God is and what he’s done. When I say to myself: This is the sort of God I’m dealing with here. A God who’s slow to anger. A God who is all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful.
As I speak back to myself about what God’s done in the past. He’s a faithful God who’s kept every single one of his promises. He’s never let me down. He’s only inclination is to do good to me. He’s chosen me before the beginning of time.
This idea of self-talk - it’s the key to unlocking the whole Psalm!
Over the last two years, a good portion of my self-talk has revolved around the fact that God is good even though I might not feel it, even though I might not see it. Plenty of us have, or will face times where we’ll question God’s goodness, where we’ll doubt God’s goodness, but it doesn’t mean that God is NOT good.
As a dad, I’ve been doing self-talk about God’s goodness with my kids too with the help of a book called THE MOON IS ALWAYS ROUND. Together, we’ve been reading it a lot this week so I thought I might read a bit of it to you too. Just like the moon is always round, God indeed is good.
3: RE-DIRECT YOUR HOPE
Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. Psalm 42:5b (NIV)
Our writer has had a lightbulb moment. One minute he asks “Soul - why are you downcast?” In the next sentence. “Put your hope in God” In the same verse, he’s answered his own question. His hope was in the wrong object, the wrong person. It was in something OTHER than God, something SMALLER than God.
It’s as if he’s realised that in the process of talking to himself, he says: “Hang on a sec, the only thing that’ll satisfy my soul is God himself! Notice how it’s personal for him. He calls God MY saviour, MY God. For this is the God who’s been with him through thick and thin.
By day the LORD directs his love, at night his song is with me—a prayer to the God of my life. ~Psalm 42:8 (NIV)
Through morning, noon and night, 24/7, round the clock, day in day out. Like the sun shining on his back, he feels the Lord’s love is with him every step he takes. God’s never failed him, no wonder he can talk to the God of HIS life.
Is it just me, or has the word “hope” been thrown around plenty of times in this pandemic. Hope for a vaccine. Hope for the depression, the anxiety, the loneliness, the social distancing, the fear will come to an end. Hope we’ll be able to travel again.
Hope we still have jobs. I even came across this headline in the newspaper this week. It was in relation to those finishing school this year. It read: “Give students hope amid coronavirus mental health crisis, experts urge”
Well, the writer of our Psalm would say this in response. Hope isn’t an object you just dish out. No, Hope is someone you turn to. And in this case, notice who the Psalmist places his hope in:
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. ~Psalm 42:2 (NIV)
He has a living hope because he has a living God. This is a hope that is more than wishful thinking its a hope that will be there post-COVID and on and on into eternity!
Now of course, we can only re-direct our hope because Jesus himself walked in the same shoes of our writer. Think about it. Jesus himself said similar words when troubled by anxious thoughts when having a downcast spirit.
The night before Jesus was nailed to that cross, Jesus says:
My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. ~Matthew 26:38 (NIV)
“Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. ~John 12:27 (NIV)
Now THAT is self-talk.
If anyone felt abandoned, forgotten, crushed or downcast, in the Lord Jesus, surely we have one who has tasted it on our behalf.
Jesus has walked in our pain. He has felt the feelings and emotions we have gone through.
I love the way Hebrews puts it better than I can. It's a version of redirecting our hope in the midst of deep darkness is this:
For the joy set before him what did Jesus do? He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. ~Hebrews 12:2-3 (NIV)
Now that's what it means to put your hope in God. Fix our eyes on Jesus who willingly got up on that cross. Who fully and finally paid the price and is now sitting down at God’s right hand. That’s what gives us every reason to NOT grow weary and to not lose heart.
This past week, someone suggested that I go away and spend some time, just me and Psalm 42. Initially, I thought, that’ll take 10 minutes tops, I’ll run of out things to do. But how wrong was I, I had to stop after 2 hours but could have easily gone for more! I didn’t intend on doing this, but one of the things I ended up doing was to re-write Psalm 42 in my own words. I effectively poured out my soul as I made this Psalm my own.
Let me share some of what I wrote:
“Like one thirsty deer aching for a tonne of water
Same too with my entire being.
I, Dan - every part of me, wants you, every part of you God.
My entire being is thirsty for God. The God who’s alive.
God - when can we see each other? When can we do business God?
I’m living on a diet of tears around the clock.
Meanwhile people all day long are having a go at me saying: Dan - so much for this God you’ve been telling me about? He seems pretty powerless.
As I’m doing this detox of my soul, here’s some things I remember:
The good ol’ days of meeting in the church building.
Where I could gather with brothers and sisters.
With plenty of singing. Plenty of people. Plenty of testimonies about your goodness.
Now that was a spiritual high!
But why Dan? Why do I feel down in the dumps? What’s troubling me?
God is object and source of my delight. Of goodness.
For yes - I will tell God how good he is. And how he continues to be to me.
You God are my rescuer. My God”
Let me encourage you to find time this coming week to pour out your to a God who is more than ready to listen. To talk the truths of the gospel to yourself and to not grow weary or lose heart as you redirect your hope towards the risen, the resurrected, the ruling and the returning Jesus.