I’ve been going through a bit of a rough road for a while now. I trust the LORD to lead me out of it. He always does. It’s just taking longer than usual.
I found comfort today in the words of this sermon that I preached in 2009. If you are going through tough times, I hope this helps you as much.
Psalm 42:1-11 (ESV)
TO THE CHOIRMASTER. A MASKIL OF THE SONS OF KORAH.
As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. 2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? 3 My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me continually, “Where is your God?” 4 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. 5 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 6 and my God. My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar. 7 Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me. 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. 9 I say to God, my rock: “Why have you forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” 10 As with a deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me continually, “Where is your God?” 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.
If you want to know what a person is thinking, listen to his conversations. If you want to know what he is feeling, listen to his songs. That’s why the psalms are so important to Christians. We get to go deeper into the inner feelings of people as they wrestled with life and God and the devil. As we do that, we realize something really important: they felt like us. They got mad at the same things that we do. They felt glad at the same kinds of things that make us glad. The same sorts of things embarrassed them, and the same conditions that tend to depress us, made them depressed as well.
This psalm bares a soul who is in the depths of an ugly depression. For that reason alone it deserves a place in the scriptures because God’s people need to know that it’s OK to feel that way some time. If you wake up feeling depressed, it doesn’t mean that you have somehow failed God. We are commanded to rejoice in the LORD:
Psalm 64:10 “Let the righteous one rejoice in the LORD”
Philippians 4:4 “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”
So, what do we do when we don’t feel like obeying those commands? This psalm is written for just such times as that. It’s like a blues song. It’s a song you can sing when you don’t feel like singing. It’s a song about hard times, disappointment, distress. It digs deep into the pits -the bad times, but it doesn’t leave us there. In fact, within this psalm are some of the tools that we can use to pull ourselves out of depression. Do you want to know what those tools are? Well, listen up.
1)Tool #1: Realize that depression is a natural consequence to living in a fallen world.
This psalm was written by a believer who suffered from depression (5-6,11).
We do not know whether one of the descendants of Korah was the author, or whether they were just a group of collectors. But whoever the original author of this psalm was, two things are sure about it: it bears the mark of the Holy Spirit, and it reflects the feelings of a person who is battling with depression.
“Why are you cast down, O my soul?”
“Why are you in turmoil within me?”
“My soul is cast down within me”
Many of the psalms were written by those who had deep bouts of depression.
There is, in fact, a whole category of psalms that reflect the believer’s inner conflict when times are bad. They are called psalms of Lament. Jeremiah’s book Lamentations was a Lament.
Many of the heroes of the faith suffered from depression.
John Calvin was of the opinion that Psalm 42 was actually written by David, and that is possible, considering all the psalms that are ascribed to David which struggled with this same harsh reality. We know, for example that David wrote:
Psalm 22:1-2 “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.”
Jesus himself quoted that psalm when he was in agony on the cross. Why would he do that? It is a psalm that reflected such disappointment, such despair, that the Holy Spirit used it to predict Christ’s ordeal on the cross!
Psalm 22:6-8 “But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; `He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!'”
Psalm 22:14-18 “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death. For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet – I can count all my bones – they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.”
Feelings of depression can be the Holy Spirit yearning for what’s next (2,5-6,11).
In psalm 42, the psalmist forced himself to look beyond the present problems and envision a triumphant future.
Psalm 42:2 “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?”
Psalm 42:5-6,11 “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”
This is the Holy Spirit’s way of reminding us that the last line of the song has not yet been written. The troubles we face are real. They reflect the fact that we live in a fallen world where the good guys don’t always win, and evil sometimes triumphs, but that is only temporary. When the last line of the song is written, God is the winner, and things are set right. Remember psalm 22? Here’s how it ends:
Psalm 22:27-31 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. For kingship belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations. All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, even the one who could not keep himself alive. Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it.
That explains why Jesus could be quoting such a sad song as he hung on the cross. He was reminding himself of the bad predicament he was in – true. But the Holy Spirit was reminding him of the eternal result of his suffering. All the ends of the earth will remember his day on the cross. Posterity shall serve him!
2)Tool #2: Recognize that the circumstances of your life are not accidental.
The psalmist finds himself not where he wants to be (6).
Psalm 42:6 “I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.”
I think that the psalmist of Psalm 42 was not David, but was one of the descendants of Korah. He was a Levite, and his life revolved around the annual worship celebrations at the temple of God in Jerusalem. But here’s the problem: he cannot go to Jerusalem. He is held captive in a Gentile land far north of Jerusalem.
He is haunted by the inability to return to the glory days of the past (4).
Psalm 42:4 “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.”
When I pastored in a small church many years ago, I had a couple in my church who had been members in a large, energetic church. They were a great couple, and I thank the Lord for their contribution to our church, but they complained a lot. When I visited them, they would constantly compare their present church experience to that church in their glorious past. Their present circumstances were unbearable for them, not because I was a bad pastor, and not because we had bad programs or people, but because they were living in the past. Depression does that to you.
The Korahite is lost in his memories of a better day – a day when he could function in his God-given role as a leader in a worship procession like no other. Vast crowds would laugh and sing, chant scriptures and hug each other as they marched into the Holy City itself… and he would be among the Levites leading them.
Perhaps you have had a great experience in your past. Hang on to those memories and rejoice in them, but don’t get stuck there. God has a future for you too. Don’t allow your past to keep you from experiencing the new blessings God has in store for you today and tomorrow. Rejoice over yesterday, and then let it go. The same Holy Spirit who gave you a good yesterday has a great tomorrow for you. Expect it.
He is hounded by constant reminders that his witness is inadequate. They ask “where is your God?” (3,10).
To add insult to injury, the Korahite appears to have lived in a pagan land with relative prosperity. He was a poor believing stranger living among rich unbelievers. His neighbors noticed that his tent was a little shabby compared to theirs. He had fewer animals, or maybe none at all. His crops didn’t gleam in the sun as brightly as theirs did. They would pass by him and deliver one of the most crushing rhetorical questions ever.
Psalm 42:3 “My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me continually, `Where is your God?'”
Psalm 42:10 “As with a deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me continually, `Where is your God?'”
Those pagan Gentiles had only one way of looking at things: the religious way. If a man is poor, or unhealthy, or lives in unsanitary conditions, it’s a reflection on the god he serves. He’s poor because his god is weak.
Now, how is a person supposed to witness in a situation like that? You see, being a witness is not just a New Testament thing. It didn’t begin with the Great Commission. God wanted the nation of Israel to be witnesses to his greatness, “that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God; there is no other” (1 Kings 8:60). But things are so bad for this Korahite that he is witnessing in reverse – he seems to be driving people away from God.
He asks “why?” (5,9,11).
He asks himself why he feels so bad. He knows he should not feel that way. He hasn’t forgotten his theology. He knows who God is, and he knows God is still on his throne. But he feels bowed down, humiliated inside. His anger is turned inward, and it is eating him up.
Psalm 42:5,11 “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?”
Then he turns his questioning to God, and asks him “why?”
Psalm 42:9 “Why have you forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy”
If you ever get to that point in your life where you want to ask God “why?” then go ahead and do it. I’m not going to stop you. If you are counseling with someone who keeps asking God “why?” then let them go ahead and do it. Do not stop them. Don’t give them the idea that God does not want them to ask “why?” I say this for several reasons:
First, asking “why?” is part of a normal grieving process. We were built to look for answers to the mysteries in our lives.
Second, asking “why?” is a form of prayer, and prayer gets the depressed person closer to God, which is just what he needs.
Third, don’t think that asking God “why?” is a challenge or an insult to God. He’s a big God, he can take it.
We can ask God “why?” because he knows the answer. The circumstances of your life are not accidental. They are all part of his plan. He may give you an answer as you ask him to explain what you are going through. But even if he doesn’t give you an answer right now, he will help you to see that there is an answer. He has a plan, and he is working out that plan.
When you get to that point, you can say with Joseph:
Genesis 50:20 “As for you (my brothers who sold me as a slave), you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.”
When you get to that point, you can say with the Apostle Paul:
Romans 8:28 “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good.”
And what did Paul mean by “all things”?
2 Corinthians 11:23-28 “with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.”
Paul was probably well acquainted with Psalm 42. He was no stranger to difficult times, but he knew that God was behind the scenes in every one of those times causing things to work together for his good. He knew that the circumstances of his life were not accidental, and neither are the circumstances of our lives.
3)Tool #3: Retrain your feelings by centering on God himself.
He pants for God like a thirsty deer (1-2).
Psalm 42:1-2 “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?”
Those words seem strange today because our society has developed a thirst for everything but God. When times are bad we cry after the government to fix it. Well, I have no problem with the government trying to fix my problems, but I suspect that some of them are beyond the government’s ability to fix. The psalmist here was wise enough to understand that his problem was not really the circumstances of his life. His problem was that he had developed a God-shaped hole in his life. Brothers and sisters, there’s a hole in us that only God can fill.
He encourages himself to hope in God (5,11).
Psalm 42:5-6,11 “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”
In other words, the song is not over yet. The psalmist keeps reminding himself that the Sovereign God is still working, and he will write the last verse.
He remembers past experiences with God (6).
Psalm 42:6 “I remember you”
One of the best cures for depression is a scrapbook or photo album. Just bring it out and start remembering all the good times you have had in God’s presence with godly friends. If you don’t have something like that – get it. If you can’t remember any experiences like that – that’s what church membership is for.
He keeps his relationship with God strong (7-8).
Psalm 42:7-8 “Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me. By day the LORD commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.”
Nothing is more powerful to conquer depression than a regular devotional life. The psalmist would apparently go for regular walks in the woods, and every time he came upon a stream or waterfall he would hear God talking. Every day he would reflect on how God loves him, and he would spend time singing and praying every night.
I don’t know what kind of week you are having, but if you are struggling with depression, you’ve come to the right place. God is here, and he wants to help you overcome that depression.