A Brief Update
For those of you who are unable to gather corporately with us this Sunday, you are loved and missed! If this is you, we are providing the songs we are singing together this morning and a devotional based on the sermon being preached.
Songs We are Singing Together
Devotional on Psalm 42-43
Sooner or later, we all have to fight for joy in God. And how godly you are doesn’t seem to matter. You remember a time when God felt near. When you experienced the satisfaction of gathering with the church. When your songs were passionate, and your joy was evident. But now? It’s gone.
You’re unmotivated and have a sense of disconnectedness. You’re familiar with a sinking, dark, hopeless feeling that crowds out your joy and makes God feel very distant.
In moments like this, we can find comfort in the Word of God, especially in the Psalms. The Psalms flesh out our internal struggles to give us hope in the midst of them. David Powlison has written, “The Psalms have always been favorites of God’s people because they express honest human experience and emotion in the context of faith. In the Psalms you meet God where you are.”
Don’t you want to meet God where you are? We aren’t trying to find a way to get to God each morning. Instead, we see again in his Word, that God has come to us.
[Read Psalm 42:1-6a]
First, the psalmist begins by remembering joy. The psalm opens with a longing for God:
“As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.” He’s like a deer desperate for a drink during a drought. “My soul thirsts,” “When shall I come and appear before God?”
The psalmist is longing for God’s presence because he’s currently not experiencing it, just remembering it. He has experienced God, but in this remote and distant place, he isn’t. We don’t know why he’s in this remote place. We just know he feels far from God.
In Psalm 42:4 he remembers specifically what he’s no longer experiencing. It’s a joy that’s connected to the gathering of God’s people. “These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival.”
He used to lead God’s people in praise. He was surrounded by like-minded worshipers at the temple, joyfully shouting and singing, gathered together, celebrating God’s steadfast love and goodness. But now, all of that is gone. He’s alone. He’s discouraged.
His pain is increased by enemies taunting him: “Where is your God?” Look at you! Look at how things aren’t working out, how your “faith” seems to have been futile. God doesn’t care about you! “Where is your God?”
You don’t have to be in a remote place to experience these things. And it doesn’t have to be other people taunting you. It could be tomorrow morning when you wake up in your own bed. Thoughts come at you, “Where is God now? What good is it to believe in him?” The psalmist’s response to those thoughts is one of deep grief. He says in Psalm 42:3, “My tears have been my food.”
Doesn’t that accurately describe what can happen when we lose our joy – we lose our appetite. At these times we’re tempted to look anywhere and listen to anyone for relief. We become susceptible to false solutions, false hopes, & false gods. That’s why what the psalmist does in Psalm 42:5 is so important. He addresses his soul.
“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?”
He’s talking to himself! In his very helpful book, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure, Martyn Lloyd-Jones asks, “Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?”
Lloyd-Jones goes on to say: “You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself. You must say to your soul: ‘Why art thou cast down” — what business have you to be disquieted? You must turn on yourself, upbraid yourself, condemn yourself, exhort yourself, and say to yourself: “Hope thou in God” — instead of muttering in this depressed, unhappy way. And then you must go on to remind yourself of God, Who God is, and what God is and what God has done, and what God has pledged Himself to do.”
That’s what’s happening here. At the very point the psalmist could sink deeper into his depressing thoughts and murmurings, he begins to exhort himself, challenge himself. “Hope in God, for I shall again praise him!
I’m not sure we do this often enough. But this is what begins to turn the psalmist around, and God put it here so we could learn from it.
Now, it would be sweet if at this point the psalm ended and everything was resolved. Hope in God! Yes! That’s what I’ll do! Problem solved! But that’s not what happens. Right after he encourages himself to Hope in God!” he says in vs. 6, “My soul is cast down within me.”
Sounds like we’re right back where we started. But that’s not actually the case. As we read on, we see that the Psalmist progresses from remembering joy to, second, the psalmist pursuing joy.
[Read Psalm 42:6b-11]
He’s remembering not just his responses to the Lord of singing and shouting, but the Lord himself. The word “remember” here is more than simply calling something to mind. It involves acting on what you’re remembering. The psalmist is remembering the Lord as he pursues experiencing joy in God again.
But it becomes clear that pursuit of joy isn’t always easy. In his pursuit of joy, he experiences Turmoil. Verse 7 says, “Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me.”
This is not the quiet flowing stream at the beginning of the psalm but a crashing waterfall, probably somewhere in the vicinity. And he feels like he’s under it. Like he’s being thrown around in white water rapids. It’s wild, confusing, dangerous.
But even in the midst of turmoil, the psalmist is aware of God’s watchful eye and sovereign direction. These are “your breakers and your waves” God is still in control. So, in the midst of the turmoil he’s also experiencing trust in God’s steadfast love.
No matter how far away God feels, he’s involved. Day and night, “the LORD commands his steadfast love.” It’s the steadfast love he shows to thousands. It’s the steadfast love that endures forever. So, the psalmist sings and prays, “His song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.”
Have you ever caught yourself thinking, or even saying, “I don’t feel like praising God?” The good news is, we don’t have to “feel” like praising God to benefit from it. Singing is meant not only to express our emotions for God, but to engage our emotions for God.
Pursuing joy involves not only turmoil and trust, but transparency. In his pursuit of joy, the psalmist isn’t afraid to honestly and transparently ask God questions. “Why have you forgotten me?” “Why do I go mourning?” He’s feeling abandoned, alone, uncared for, oppressed. Does God even know what I’m going through?
Sometimes people question God sinfully out of bitterness, anger, or unbelief. They’re disappointed with God, angry at him, resentful of him. But that’s not what’s happening here. The psalmist is asking questions because what he is experiencing doesn’t line up with who he knows God is – faithful, steadfast, loving, good.
This is a prayer of lament. Laments are a gift from God and can help us not only process our grief, but better understand our own hearts, and discover what we’re trusting in. Humbly asking questions about God can lead to asking questions about our own hearts. Which is what he does again in Psalm 42:11.
“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”
Same words, but more challenging. Here he is asking himself questions, not God!
That’s what progress often looks like. Repeating the same true words to ourselves, over and over. Questioning our perspective, our thoughts, our conclusions. We must speak truth to ourselves again and again and again. When we repeat the truth to ourselves, we eventually find a growing faith, growing confidence, growing trust. This leads to the psalmist’s third pursuit: expecting joy.
[Read Psalm 43:1-5]
In the midst of conflicting thoughts and opposition from others, the psalmist continues to persevere in faith. He realizes there is no silver bullet, no shortcut. There are no quick and easy solutions in our fight for joy. The refrain keeps coming back, the battle continues. This is how God grows our faith.
The good news is, God himself enables us to persevere: He is the God of endurance and encouragement. Sometimes the wisest thing we can do is to take the next step, trusting that God himself will provide the strength.
So, the psalmist declares, “Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling!” (Psalm 43:3)
We often live by OUR light and OUR truth. We believe we know what reality is. And that’s the problem. Only God determines what reality is, and only he can tell us.
One of the paradoxes of dark seasons is that while we claim to feel hopeless, we put ultimate confidence in our own perspective. We’re convinced God has forgotten, cannot help us, doesn’t see us, isn’t aware, and that we are lost. We’re sure no one has been through what we’re experiencing. Nothing can help.
The problem is we’re listening to ourselves, not talking to ourselves. More than that we’re not listening to God. We’re trusting our own light and truth more than God’s. That’s why the way we expect joy is by choosing to find joy in God alone. In verse 4, the psalmist says, “Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God.”
The focus is all on God now. He anticipates once again joining God’s people to worship God, to praise God with the music, to be with God “his exceeding joy.” This is God’s purpose in taking us through every trial, every disappointment, every failure. He wants us to find our joy and hope in him alone.
The psalmist is seeing that in our fight for joy, God himself is our only hope. Lasting hope comes through repenting from our self-sufficiency and turning to God as our exceeding joy. The goal of the battle against emotional turmoil or dryness isn’t simply emotional peace. It’s to know Christ. He is our answer. He is our refuge. He is our joy.
As the psalm concludes, the refrain appears a third time, but there is now hope in these questions, a confidence, and expectation that what he has hoped for will truly come to pass.
I shall praise him, for he is my salvation and my God.
This is the Psalmist’s word to us: HOPE IN GOD. He will not fail, he will not falter, he will not forsake us.
Hope in God. Not in our circumstances, not in the counsel we receive, not in our feelings, not in our intelligence, not ultimately in doctors or science, not in past experiences, not in our promises, not in our discipline – but in God and his steadfast love, revealed to us ultimately and perfectly in Jesus Christ.
Ultimately, hopelessness means that we’re unwilling to wait, that we want something more than Jesus, that we trust ourselves more than God. Hope is an enduring confidence that God will keep his promises, and even now is working them out.
All by his grace. All for his glory. All through Jesus Christ. Amen.
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