Friday, August 4, 2017

Talk to Yourself

Part 2 of Summer in the Psalms

Text: Psalm 42




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 (v. 11).


Are You Feeling Cast Down?

The book of Psalms is a book of poems that were meant to be sung. “Poetry and singing exist because God made us with emotions, not just thoughts.” [1] Sometimes we feel like the writer of Psalm 42 who twice says that he feels “cast down” (vv. 5, 11). He is “downcast” (NIV), “discouraged” (NLT), “in despair” (NASB). We might even say that he’s depressed.

For a Christian to struggle with depression is not an unusual thing. Charles Spurgeon is known as the “Prince of Preachers,” but many are unaware that he often battled depression. Spurgeon said that during one period of depression, when “my spirits were sunken so low that I could weep by the hour like a child, and yet I knew not what I wept for…a kind friend was telling me of some poor old soul living near, who was suffering very great pain, and yet she was full of joy and rejoicing. I was so distressed by the hearing of that story, and felt so ashamed of myself….” [2]

Are you feeling cast down today? What should we do when we feel discouraged?


Where Are You, God?

Psalm 42 was written by the Sons of Korah. The Sons of Korah were temple singers: “…the Korahites, stood up to praise the Lord, the God of Israel, with a very loud voice” (2 Chron. 20:19). The psalmist is far away from Jerusalem (“I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar,” v. 6), and he longs to be back at the temple where he is most able to feel God’s presence: “When shall I come and appear before God [see the face of God]?” (v. 2b). [3] He remembers how he “would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise” (v. 4).

The psalmist says, “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (v. 1-2a). He compares himself to a deer thirsting for flowing water during a time of drought. “Streams of running water that continue to flow even during the dry seasons are often called ‘living waters’ since they are the source of life.” [4] To the psalmist, not feeling the presence of God (“the God of my life,” v. 8) is like dying of thirst. This is the reason why he’s “cast down.” This is the reason why he’s “in turmoil” inside. [5]

He says, “My tears have been my food day and night [i.e., continually]” (v. 3). He hears the taunting of his enemies: “Where is your God?” (vv. 3, 10). He feels abandoned by God. “Why have you forgotten me?” (v. 9). The psalmist also feels overwhelmed: “Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me” (v. 7). Maybe you feel like the psalmist—overwhelmed and abandoned by God. You say to God, “Where are you?” You don’t feel God’s presence in your life like you once did.


Talk to Yourself

What should we do when we feel discouraged? We should talk to ourselves like the psalmist did: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God.” Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes, “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?” [6] What should we tell ourselves when we feel discouraged? We should tell ourselves to remember that God loves us with a steadfast love. 

Verse 8 says, “By day the LORD commands his steadfast love [hesed], and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life” (v. 8). Psalms 42-83 are known as the “Elohistic Psalter” because in these psalms God is usually referred to as Elohim, whereas the other psalms normally call God Yahweh. But in Psalm 42, when the psalmist mentions God’s “steadfast love,” he refers to God as Yahweh (“LORD”). “It is as if the two belong together; Yahweh and hesed cannot be separated.” [7] In the midst of all of his troubles, the psalmist remembers God’s steadfast love, and he begins to sing.


God's Steadfast Love

Remembering God’s steadfast soul can lift up a soul that is cast down and in turmoil. We can remember three truths about God’s steadfast love. First, because of God’s steadfast love, Jesus died for us. Jesus chose to die for us, but it wasn’t an easy thing for him to do. Before his arrest, he said, “My soul is very sorrowful [overwhelmed with sorrow, NIV], even to death” (Matt. 26:38; cf. John 12:27). On the cross he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). Jesus endured feeling overwhelmed and abandoned by the Father in order to die for our sins on the cross.

Second, because of God’s steadfast love, there is salvation. The psalmist calls God “my salvation” (vv. 5, 11). The psalmist lived on the other side of the cross. When we refer to God as “our salvation,” we normally mean that he has provided deliverance from the punishment that we were due because of our sins. God’s love is seen in the cost of our salvation: Jesus’ life (John 3:16).

Third, because of God’s steadfast love, there is hope. We won’t be disappointed if we put our hope in God. Hope is “a patient but expectant waiting for God to act. Tell yourself that your day of praise will certainly come, though in God’s time, not yours.” [8] “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16). Our hope causes our soul (“our inner self”) to be lifted up rather than cast down. “We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18).

Though Spurgeon did struggle with depression, he never stopped believing in God’s steadfast love for him (which I’m sure kept him going through his most difficult times). On June 7, 1891, in extreme physical pain from his illnesses, Spurgeon preached what, unknown to him, proved to be his last sermon. Here are his last words in the pulpit:
[Jesus] is the most magnanimous of captains. There never was his like among the choicest of princes. He is always to be found in the thickest part of the battle. When the wind blows cold he always takes the bleak side of the hill. The heaviest end of the cross lies ever on his shoulders. If he bids us carry a burden, he carries it also. If there is anything that is gracious, generous, kind, and tender, yea lavish and superabundant in love, you always find it in him. These forty years and more have I served him, blessed be his name! and I have had nothing but love from him. I would be glad to continue yet another forty years in the same dear service here below if so it pleased him. His service is life, peace, joy. Oh, that you would enter in it at once! God help you to enlist under the banner of Jesus even this day! Amen. [9]
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[1] John Piper, “Spiritual Depression in the Psalms” (sermon).
[2] http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/issues/issue-29/anguish-and-agonies-of-charles-spurgeon.html
[3] One interpretation is that the psalmist is not actually far away from the temple but is expressing how he feels (i.e., far away from God).
[4] Gerald H. Wilson, Psalms Volume 1, 671.
[5] Sadly, most Christians don’t long for God’s presence like the Psalmist does. We long more for the absence of problems than the presence of God.
[6] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression, 20-21.
[7] Wilson, 673. Michael Wilcock, The Message of Psalms 1-72, 157.
[8] http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/issues/issue-29/anguish-and-agonies-of-charles-spurgeon.html