Longing For the Lord

Psalm 42

August 1, 2015 | Brian Bill

I received a Facebook message last Sunday after the sermon.  This is what the message said: “The next time you pause for us to confess our sins to God, please wait longer.  I need more time.”  I responded by saying, “Me too.”  Aren’t you thankful that God is rich in love and slow to anger?  Indeed, His name is great and His heart is kind.

Let’s pause right now and confess any sins that have piled up this week.

I don’t know about you but I get tired of sinning and having to ask for forgiveness.  I also just plain get tired of myself.  And sometimes I just feel down for no reason at all.  Do you ever experience that?  While it’s certainly true that sin can mess up our bodies, there are times when we just feel blue.  

We focused our attention last weekend on Psalm 32, and discovered that our unconfessed sins can cause us physical problems.  When we don’t confess we can experience distress.  What we’ll learn today from Psalm 42 is that discouragement and depression are not always a direct result of sin.

The lowest I’ve ever been was when we served as missionaries in Mexico because I really struggled to learn Spanish.  I felt alone and walked around in a fog of disillusionment and depression, hoping no one would ask me a question in Spanish.  We were supposed to be church planters, focusing on building relationships with Mexicans so we could share Christ with them, and I could barely ask where the bathroom was.

My guess is that you have encountered some discouragement as well.  Most of us go through dry times and low seasons of life.  Many years ago a young midwestern lawyer suffered from such deep depression that his friends kept all knives and razors out of his reach.  He questioned his life’s calling and just wanted to give up.  This is what he wrote in his journal: “I am now the most miserable man living.  Whether I shall ever be better, I cannot tell…to remain as I am is impossible.”  Do you know who wrote those words?  Abraham Lincoln.

Charles Spurgeon, one of my favorite preachers from a previous century, shocked his listeners when he said this in a sermon: “I am the subject of depressions of spirit so fearful that I hope none of you ever get to such extremes of wretchedness as I go to.”

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression strikes about 15 million adults in the U.S. each year – more than cancer, AIDS, or heart disease.  Half of all Americans say they, or one of their family members, have suffered from depression.  The Journal of the American Medical Association has stated, “More suffering has resulted from depression than from any other single disease affecting mankind.” (N. Kline, 190:732-40).  

Clinical depression is a very complex condition that can be rooted in spiritual, emotional, mental, biological, or physiological causes, or a combination thereof.  If you struggle with depression, I hope you are seeking professional help from a Christian counselor or therapist.  There is no shame in admitting that you need some assistance.

Having said that, let’s dive into Psalm 42 in order to better understand the kind of depression that can hit us in the spiritual solar plexus.  We can glean some background information from the heading: To the choirmaster.  A Maskil of the Sons of Korah.”

  1. To the choirmaster.  This psalm is intended to be sung.
  2. A maskil.  Similar to Psalm 32, this is a preaching psalm, intended to help us learn how to handle the spiritual blahs.  
  3. The sons of Korah.  This was a group of priests charged with the ministry of music and of leading others in corporate worship.  Pastor Tim led us in proclaiming praise for 26 years!  And that’s what Pastor Chad is now doing.  We’ll have a welcome reception for the Doran’s on Saturday, August 22nd after the evening service and on Sunday, August 23rd during the ABF hour.  We’re encouraging everyone to bring gift cards.

The setting in which David wrote this psalm was when he was forced to flee into the wilderness because his son Absalom led a rebellion against him in 2 Samuel 15-16.  He had been removed from the throne, his life was threatened, his friends had bailed on him, he was ridiculed and mocked, and he was living in exile miles away from the temple where he loved to worship.

Let’s listen in as he longs for the Lord in the midst of his troubles.

[Read Psalm 42]

Let’s look at four ways that we can beat the blues.  

1 – Seek God With Everything You’ve Got

David begins by stating how much he longs for God in verse 1: “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.”  Deer are fun to watch.  There’s something about them that makes us stop what we’re doing and just stare.  Just a week ago I saw a doe and her fawns walk across the church parking lot.  Last Sunday morning when I went for a run I saw two bucks crossing Kennedy Drive in Moline in search of water.

Though I’m certainly not an expert on deer, I learned a lot about their habits and behavior from my dad.  He has an uncanny ability to spot a deer.  When he’s driving his truck he’s constantly scanning the horizon with his eyes.  When he sees one, he just lifts his finger off the steering wheel and points in the deer’s direction.  He doesn’t even have to say anything.  I know exactly what he’s doing.  It’s an unspoken ritual between father and son. 

There are at least three reasons that deer are drawn to water.

  • Satisfaction.  When a deer is thirsty, he will run full speed until he finds some water and then he’ll plunge his face into the cool stream, forgetting everything else around him.  This is unusual for deer because they are normally very alert and cautious.  But they’ll do almost anything to quench their thirst.  During a time of drought deer will alter their daily routine to make sure they can find water.  
  • Soothing.  Deer also love water because it’s very soothing to them.  With limited sweat glands water provides a way for them to cool off quickly.  An injured deer also uses water to cleanse his wounds.
  • Safety.  Deer don’t like to leave their territory but when trouble comes they wade into water to trick their pursuer.  Though they’re good swimmers, they don’t really like going into the water and coming out in unfamiliar territory.  Like us, they don’t always like coming out in places they’ve never been before.  But they know that it’s ultimately good for them because sometimes it’s the only way to survive.
Does your soul pant for God?

Verse 2 tells us that David is like a dehyradated deer: “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.”   In a similar way we’re to go to God for satisfaction, for soothing and for safety.  Thirst must be satisfied or we’ll die.  Have you ever been that thirsty spiritually?  Does your soul pant for God?  Just as a deer knows instinctively where to find water when it’s thirsty, so too, we must seek Him with everything we’ve got.  

Psalm 119:131: “I open my mouth and pant, because I long for your commandments.” Isaiah 26:9: “My soul yearns for you in the night; my spirit within me earnestly seeks you.”  Jesus put it this way in John 7:37: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” 

While we’ve been made to thirst for God, not everyone comes to Him to have that thirst quenched.  Many times we look to other things to satisfy us.  Jeremiah 2:13: “For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”  

2 – Be Honest When You Can’t

The first step in beating the blues is to seek God with everything you’ve got.  The second step is to be honest when you can’t.  As we learned in our study of Psalm 10, the spiritual life is not always smooth sailing.  There are seasons in life when we’re hurting.  There are times when we wonder why God seems so far away.  

A deer loves to find water and quench its thirst but sometimes it gets into some trouble as well.  Some have been infected with Chronic Wasting Disease.  Symptoms include tremors, stumbling, and difficulty swallowing.

Do you feel like you’re stumbling spiritually?  Any tremors rocking your life?  Do you have a hard time swallowing the things that have come your way?  David can relate.  Look at verse 3: “My tears have been my food day and night, [he’s filled with internal anxiety] while they say to me all the day long, ‘Where is your God? [he’s also dealing with external attacks]’”  His appetite has vanished because of all his afflictions.  His only source of nutrition is the salt from his own tears.  

Drop down to verse 7: “Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me.”  He feels like he’s drowning.  BTW, Jonah quotes this very verse when he’s in the belly of the great fish.

In verses 9-10, he wonders if God has somehow misplaced him.  He’s so down that he feels like he’s dying: “Why have you forgotten me?  Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?  As with a deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me all the day long, ‘Where is your God?’”  Do you ever feel abandoned or discouraged?

A key part of the process of defeating depression is to be honest when you’re hurting.  You can be real before God and you can be yourself in this church.  You don’t have to fake it here.  

3 – Tell Yourself Truth

Seek God with everything you’ve got and be honest when you can’t.  The third part of the process is to tell yourself truth.  Look at verse 4: “These things I remember as I pour out my soul…” and verse 6: “My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you…” The Hebrew here conveys a strong expression of determination: “I will remember.”  When you’re in the pits and you feel like there’s no way out, then resolve to remember what is true.  

Jeremiah went through this cycle in the Book of Lamentations.  He was filled with “why” questions as he listed his grievances to God but when he’s finished, he told himself the truth.  Listen to what he wrote in Lamentations 3:19-23: “Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall!  My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me.  But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

David forces himself to remember four truths.

  • The fellowship he used to have. We see this in verse 4: “How I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God…”  David is alone and probably afraid.  As he thinks back to the times of sweet fellowship he had with other believers, a smile begins to form on his face.  He can’t wait to reconnect with God’s people again.

Friend, one of the best things you can do when you’re down is to GATHER with the people of God.  I know this is difficult because when we feel low we often want to be alone.  But God has put within each of us the need and desire for community.  We’re not meant to function alone.  We need one another.  If you’ve been disengaging from people, if you’ve been pulling back, then determine to get back in touch with God’s people because if you unplug you will unravel.  Hebrews 10:25: “Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

About 12 years ago, nine miners in Pennsylvania were trapped underground for three days.  Do you know what kept them going?  They tied themselves together so they would “live or die as a group.”  They huddled closely so they could stay warm and they also worked at keeping each other encouraged.  Reflecting on the harrowing experience, one of the miners said this: “Everybody had strong moments.  At any certain time maybe one guy got down, and then the rest pulled together and then that guy would get back up and maybe somebody else would feel a little weaker.  But it was a team effort.  That’s the only way it could have been done.” 

The only way to do the Christian life is to live it in community with others.  We’re a team.  Turn to the person next to you and picture yourself tied to him or her.  When you’re down, ask for help.  When you’re up, encourage those who are feeling feeble.

  • David next forces himself to remember the sweetness of corporate worship: “…and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival.”  While it’s important for us to be with each other, we must never forget that we’re together in order to give glad shouts of joy and songs of praise to God.  We gather together so that we can give God glory together.
  • David knows He serves a “living God” in verse 2.  God is not dead.  I really like the words to the song, “God’s Not Dead.” – “My God’s not dead; He’s surely alive.  He’s living on the inside, roaring like a lion.”  He’s alive and at work, even when we can’t sense Him or when we feel dead inside.  We could say it this way: “He’s God and we’re not.”
  • David remembers that God loves Him.  Look at verse 8: “By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.” The expectation of the psalmist was that a time of goodness would return and the loving-kindness of God would again be manifested to him.

The Hebrew here is very interesting in verse 4.  The tense is not only referring to the past: “I would go,” it also can refer to the future: “I will go.”  He’s making up his mind to trust God and to do what is right, even when he doesn’t feel like it.  That leads to the final step: Decide to trust God.

4 – Decide to Trust God

Do you ever talk to yourself?  Sometimes it’s the only way to have an intelligent conversation, right?  David talks to God and he talks to himself.  In his book based on Psalm 42 called, “Spiritual Depression,” Martin Lloyd Jones says this: “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?  The main art in the matter of spiritual living is to know how to handle yourself.  You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself, and question yourself.  You must say to yourself, ‘Why are you cast down?  What business have you to be disquieted?’”

Paul Tripp puts it this way: “No one is more influential in your life than you are.  Because no one talks to you more than you do.”  In verse 5 and then again in verse 11, David says to himself, “Self, even though you’re depressed it’s time to trust God.”  “Why are you cast down, O my soul?”  As we learned during the sermon on Psalm 23, a cast sheep was a sheep that was flat on its back and couldn’t get up without help from the shepherd: “And why are you in turmoil [to growl or roar] within me?  Hope in God, for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”  

I like how one preacher puts it: “He argues with himself as though he were two men.  His faith reasons with his fears, his hope argues with his sorrows.”  David is fighting for his faith even though his feelings don’t want to follow.

David makes the decision to put his hope in God even though he can barely eke out the words.  This is a courageous step to take.  Are you willing to wait for God to do His work even when you wonder if you’ll make it through the day?   Can you choose to praise him even when your problems are piling up?  David says, “Listen, self.  I’m going to praise God even though I don’t feel like it.  I’m going to trust His character.  He’s God and I’m not.  Since God is for me, who can be against me?  He loves me and therefore I can trust Him to do what is right.”

We don’t have to wait until everything is perfectly figured out before moving forward in faith

Ray Pritchard has helped me understand the importance of trusting God.  Here’s one of his unforgettable axioms: “Faith is belief, coupled with some unbelief, and then acting on the belief part.”  We don’t have to wait until everything is perfectly figured out before moving forward in faith.  With faith there is usually some fear.  When it’s hard to know what to do, act on what you know to be true.

  • Seek Him with everything you’ve got
  • Be honest when you can’t 
  • Tell yourself the truth
  • Decide to trust God

It’s our privilege now to live this psalm out.  We’ve talked through it, now it’s time to walk through it; we’ve heard some preaching and now it’s time for God to hear us praying.

  • Seek him with everything you’ve got
  • Be honest when you can’t 
  • Tell yourself the truth
  • Decide to trust God

Praying the Psalm

Closing Song: “Lord, I Need You”

Lord I need You, oh I need You

Ev’ry hour I need You

My one defense my righteousness

Oh God how I need You

And when I cannot stand I’ll fall on You

Jesus You’re my hope and stay

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?