ďWhy Are You Downcast, O My Soul?Ē†††† Psalm 42 & 43†††††† March 27, 2011

 

SI:Please open your Bibles to Psalm 42.

Psalm 42 and 43 were originally one Psalm.

†† For some reason this Psalm was divided in some OT manuscripts.

 

One reason we know this was originally one Psalm is that all the Psalms

†† in this section, whatís called Book 2, have titles.

Psalm 43 doesnít have a title, thatís because its title is at the top of Psalm 42.

†† This was written by the Sons of Korah, a branch of Levites, musicians.

†† A ďmaskil.ĒA musical term.Donít know what it meant.

 

The main reason we know these two Psalms go together is they have the same

†† theme, they flow right into one another and have the same refrain.

Youíll hear that as we read.Youíll say:Yes, they go together.

†† Listen to Godís word.

 

 


 

INTRO:About six or seven years ago I hurt my back.

I moved in an awkward way and I got a sharp pain between shoulder blades,

†† on right side.Over the next few days it got worse.

Eventually it was so painful and stiff that I had a hard time turning my head and

†† sitting up in bed.It felt like if I could pull my elbows back far enough and pinch

†† my shoulder blades together that something would give and I would get relief.

†† But nothing I did made it better.

Finally, after about three months it eased off, but I could still feel it.

†† Something wasnít right.

 

Then, about a year later, I hurt it again.It was that same burning pain.

†† It was worse than the first time.I tried some of the same thingsó

†† I took pills, I lay on a heating pad, but no relief.

And once again, it finally eased off after a few months.

 

Then, I did it a third time.And I thought, I canít put up with this.

So I went to see Carey Bennett.

†† He took an X-ray and showed me what was wrong.

†† One of the vertebrae is slightly twisted.Nothing to be done about that.

So the muscle attached to it on one side could be easily pulledó

†† then it would get irritated and inflamed.

I told him:It feels like I need to do this, pinch shoulder blades together.

†† He said:No, you need to do the opposite.

†† That muscle needs to be gently stretched and that will give you relief.

Take your right elbow, and push your arm like this.Do you feel it stretching.

†† Sure enough, with his therapy and those exercises, I felt better in three weeks.

 

And ever since, when I feel a twinge of that old problem,

†† I go through the motions he taught me, and I head it off at the pass.

Now, Iíve told you about my back, let me tell you about my gall bladder.

†† No.Iím just kidding.I may be getting older, but Iím not going to do that!

 

Hereís the point of my story.

Think how valuable the study of anatomy is.

†† When a doctor understands anatomy, when he knows what it looks like in your

†† body, and how itís all connected and how it all works, he knows the problem.

And he knows what you need and heís able to explain it to youó

†† and heís able to prescribe treatment.

 

John Calvin called the Psalms ďan anatomy of the soul.Ē

He said that in the Psalms . . .

ďthe Holy Spirit has drawn all the griefs, sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cares, perplexities, in

†† short, all the distracting emotions with which the minds of men are wont to be agitated . . . all

†† lurking places are discovered, and the heart is brought into the light.Ē

 

In the Christian life, there are times you get injured spiritually speaking.

†† You are in pain, you might not know exactly what is wrong.

†† Months and maybe years go by, and you try different things, but you still hurt.

You need someone to tell you whatís wrong.

†† You need to know what has caused your injury.

†† You need to know why your soul feels the way it does.

†† And you need treatment.You need a cure.

 

Psalm 42 is about a particular problem many Christians suffer.

†† Itís a very specific, detailed, first-person account of an injured, hurting believer.

†† Itís a manís private struggle with God as he deals with a particular pain.

Some Christians suffer a mild case of this,

†† for others itís a life-long, recurring struggle.

You might not face this, but you may have Christian friends who do.

 

So what is it?What is this painful problem?

Well, I donít want to tell you right away.

†† Letís pretend like you are going to the doctor.

†† But not just any doctor.

 

You have an appointment with Great Physician, Jesus Christ.

†† He knows the anatomy of your soul perfectly, because he made you.

†† Because his Holy Spirit lives inside of you.

And because when he became a man, he received a human soul.

†† And he experienced the physical and spiritual pains of life in a fallen world.

 

So youíve come to the Lord and said:Iím in pain, Lord.

†† He gets out his book says:Itís here in Psalm 42, letís study it together.

†† He shows you three things:

1.The condition you are suffering

2.The causes of your condition

3.The cure the Lord prescribes


 

MP#1The condition you are suffering

Whatís wrong with the Psalm writer?

†† In the first two verses he describes his condition this way:††

ďAs the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.When can I go and meet with God?Ē

†† A deer knows by instinct where the stream is.It has gone there many times.

†† But this time it comes to the stream panting with thirst, and there is no water.

†† The river bed is dry.And the deer has nowhere else to go.

 

Psalmist says:Thatís me.Iím the deer.

†† Iím panting after God, Iíve come to find God, my soul thirsts for God.

†† But heís not there for me.I know heís there.I know he exists.

But I canít find him.I canít sense his presence.

†† And Iím longing for some refreshment and assurance, but I canít get it.

 

His relational experience of Godís presence is gone.

The thoughts about God that used to ring through his mind and comfort him

†† are not there any more.Heís lost a sense of personal relationship.

Heís overwhelmed with a sense of loneliness and desolation.

†† Iím downcast.Iím distressed in my soul.

 

There are other Psalms that describe dryness and distance from God as something

†† that happens when a believer has committed a sinóand hasnít confessed.

Like Psalm 32, which we studied several weeks ago.

†† When I sinned and refused to confess, my moisture dried away, bones ached.

We understand that.When a believer is living in sin.When he digs in heels

†† and refuses to repent, of course there is spiritual dryness and distance from God.

 

But thatís not whatís going on in this Psalm.

†† This man had not sinned.Thereís no confession of sin in Psalm 42.

This man had a lively faith and a strong relationship with the Lord.

†† But even so, he had this sense that the Lord had abandoned him.

†† When he prays for relief, he gets nothing.

 

What is this condition?

The wisest Christians through the ages have called it by different names.

Some of the great Catholic mystics like St. John of the Cross called it

†† ďThe dark night of the soul.ĒInstead of thirst, they described it as darkness.

†† I feel like Iím in a black pit.

The Puritans called it ďdivine desertion.Ē

†† They didnít mean that God had actually deserted one of his children.

†† But as one of his children, it sure feel that way.

Samuel Rutherford spoke frequently in his letters and sermons about that he called

ďthe desertions and withdrawals of Christ.Ē

Once again, good Scottish Presbyterian that he was, he knew that Christ

†† doesnít desert us or withdraw from usóbut he was describing his experience.

He said that some Christians go through life

†† as if they are already in the suburbs of heaven.They never have a dark day.

†† You know Christians like that.You may be like that.Mostly sunshine.

But, he says, there are other people who are:

†† ďchildren of the same heavenly Father, passengers on the same journey, who wade through

†† hell, darkness of fears, thorns of doubts, and have few love-tokens till the marriage day.Ē

 

Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote a very significant book in the 60s called:

Spiritual Depression:Its Causes and Cures.

The very first chapter of that book is an exposition of Psalm 42.

†† Thatís what Dr. Lloyd-Jones called itóspiritual depression.

†† He traces it throughout Scripture and church history.Example after example.

Dryness, loneliness, downcast and disturbed in soul, the dark night of the soul,

†† divine desertion, withdrawal of Christ, spiritual depression.

All of those are different ways of describing this condition.

†† I havenít abandoned God.But God has abandoned me.Where is he?

 

Have you ever felt that?Itís hard to talk about, isnít it?

Because seems like if you are feeling bad about the Lord, doing something wrong.

One preacher put it this way:

†† ďItís tough for Christians to admit to their Christian friends just how deeply dry they are.Because their Christian friends might say:What?You donít have the reality of God in your life?Youíre experiencing spiritual dryness?Well, have you prayed in faith?Have you confessed all known sin?Have you claimed the promises?Have you rebuked the Devil?Have you pleaded the blood?Have you thanked God for your many blessings?Surely there would be nothing wrong if you were doing your daily Christian to-do list.Obviously, you are doing something wrong.Ē

†† But this man was not doing anything wrong.And yet here he was.

 

There is a condition that Christians sometimes experience, good Christians.

†† Itís documented in the Bible and throughout church history.

Itís called by many namesóBut at heart, itís a despondency and loneliness

†† and depression that comes from feeling that God is not there for you.

So if sin doesnít cause it, what does?Brings us to second point.

MP#2The causes of this condition

The Psalmist mentions several.There may be more, but weíll focus on these.

1.Disruption of Christian fellowship.

Vs. 4ďThese things I remember as I pour out my soulóhow I used to go with the multitude,

†† leading the procession to the house of God with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the

†† festive throng.Ē

He remembers how he used to be heavily involved in church and worship

†† every Lordís Day.How he got spiritually charged going to the Temple

†† with all his fellow believers.How the great truths about the Lordís love and

†† salvation were brought home to him week after week through singing.

But thatís not an option for him anymore.

 

Vs. 6ďMy soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you from the land of the

†† Jordan, the heights of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.Ē

What does that mean?These are all references to places in the north of Israel.

†† For some reason he had to move far away from Jerusalem.We donít know why.

Itís poetry so itís impossible to speculate.But some circumstances in his life

†† took him away from regular worship and fellowship in the Temple.

†† And that disruption contributed to his spiritual crash and dryness.

 

This sometimes happens:Believers get separated from the church.

It might be because of job demands, or health, or a move, or having to care

†† for aging parents or a sick spouse, might be marital problems, family busyness.

Your regular connection to the church is disrupted and that leads to this condition.

 

This is something that many American Christians donít want to believe.

We donít want to believe the importance and stress the Bible places

†† on the corporate nature of the Christian life.

We like to think we can be good Christians all by ourselves,

†† without regular participation in worship and the corporate life of the church.

But if you are separated, by circumstances beyond control, or by your choiceó

†† it can lead to spiritual breakdown.

 

2.Losses and hard times

Vs. 3His enemies are saying to him:ďWhere is your God?Ē

†† Taunting him because bad things have happened to him.

†† Whatever these bad things are, they have made him feel like God has abandoned.

Vs. 9ďWhy have you forgotten me?ĒVs. 2 of 43ďWhy have you abandoned me?Ē

We love testimonies where Christians go through hard times and say:

†† Never once did I doubt that the Lord was with me.

†† Even in the darkest time I always knew Jesus was there and he upheld me.

But sometimes believers get disillusioned.They feel God has abandoned them.

†† This can happen to immature Christians and strong believers.

 

A few years ago I read Gracia Burnhamís book In The Presence of My Enemies.

About how she and her husband, who were American missionaries in Philippines

†† were kidnapped by Islamic terrorists.She survived, her husband Martin did not.

The thing that makes the book so good is the complete honesty with which

†† Gracia tells the story.She had high points and some Psalm 42 moments.

One time she was so discouraged and certain God had forgotten them

†† that she decided to quit praying they would be rescued.

 

So she prayed:God, if youíre not going to rescue us, just give me a hamburger.

†† They were in the jungle, always hungry, living on meager diet, emaciated.

That very day one of the terrorists said he was going into a nearby town.

†† He asked Gracia if she wanted anything.She thought he was joking.

She said, Yeah, bring me a hamburger.Was stunned when he did.

†† As she ate it she knew it was a token from Godó

†† Was saying, keep waiting, Iím here, I know what Iím doing.

Thatís a pretty dramatic storyóbeing kidnapped by Islamic terroristsó

†† but losses and hard times can discourage the best Christians.

 

3.Physical illness and emotional strain

Look at verse 3.ďMy tears have been my food day and night.Ē

†† Heís not eating.Has no appetite.Heís not sleeping.

†† We would say he has clinical depression.

†† His physical and emotional condition was affecting him spiritually.

 

I mentioned Martyn Lloyd-Jonesí book Spiritual Depression.

†† Dr. Lloyd-Jones was a physician and surgeon before he became a minister.

He says in this book:

ďDoes anyone hold the view that as long as you are a Christian, it does not matter what the condition of your body is?Well, you will soon be disillusioned if you believe that.Ē

He goes on to give case after case, some quite famous, where a Christianís

†† physical condition negatively affected his or her experience of the Christian life.

One famous case he mentions is Charles Spurgeon.††

†† Spurgeon had gout.Gout often causes depression.

Listen to Spurgeonís own words:

†† ďFits of depression come over the most of us. Cheerful as we may be, we must at intervals be

†† cast down. The strong are not always vigorous, the wise not always ready, the brave not

†† always courageous, and the joyous not always happy.

 

†† There may be here and there men of iron to whom wear and tear work no perceptible

†† detriment, but surely the rust frets even these; and as for ordinary men, the Lord knows and

†† makes them to know that they are but dust.

Once again:Thatís Charles Spurgeon.

†† The man who was a legend in his time and is known as the Prince of Preachers!

 

Christians should never say:That personís problem is just medical, just chemical,

†† just psychological, or just moral, or just spiritual.

World always looks for silver bullet.It looks for simple explanations.

†† We recognize that there are many facets.

†† There is at least a physical and spiritual component.

 

Disruption of Christian fellowship, losses and hard times, physical illness,

†† emotional strain.These donít always cause spiritual depression.But they can.Whatís encouraging here is to know itís not an issue of your failure as a Christian.

†† You donít have to load guilt on top of everything else.

†† This gives you a perspective.And lays groundwork for you to take the cure.

 


MP#3The cure the Lord prescribes

The cure has two parts:Pray to God and talk to yourself.

 

First, pray to God.

He says it in verse 4:I pour out my soul.But itís not just verse 4, whole Psalm

†† Heís saying:I donít feel God.Iím not getting anywhere with him.

†† Iím dry.Iím abandoned.And yet what is he doing the whole time?

Heís talking to God.

†† He keeps pouring out his soul to this God he doesnít feel.

†† He keeps praying.He keeps seeking and wresting.

Whatís his prayer:Why have you forgotten me?

 

Iíll get more specific here.

If you arenít getting anything out of worship and prayeródonít miss it.

†† If you donít want to read your Bible because it does nothing for youódo it.

†† If you want to stay away from church and fellowshipócome anyway.

You need to be more diligent in your spiritual exercises, not lessó

†† because through those things you are pour out your soul to God.

Why has the Lord established the rhythms and ordinances of the Christian life?

†† Itís to give us regular times and places to pour out our souls.

†† Itís absolutely essential part of the cure.

 

Second, talk to yourself.

There is this refrain thatís repeated three timesóvs. 5, 11, 5 of 43.

†† ďWhy are you downcast, O my soul?Why so disturbed within me?

†† Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him my Savior and my God.Ē

Whatís he doing there?Itís not a prayer.Heís not talking to God.

†† He talking to himself.

 

He asks himself:Why do I feel this way?Heís looking for information.

†† What are the hard, painful things that have pulled me down?

†† What are the things I have put my hopes in that Iíve lost?

And then he tells himself:Self, soul, put your hope in God.

†† Self, you will praise him.Self, you donít feel like it now but you must.

†† Because heís my Savior and my God.

 

Itís an absolutely unique view of the self.

There are two selves within youóthe old self and the new self.

†† The real you, the authentic you, is the new self.

You are a believing man or woman, a follower of Christ.

†† The real you knows the truth.

Your old self has been put to death and is dying.

†† You have to stand up and tell yourself what you must believe.

 

Martyn Lloyd-Jones said:

†† ďHave 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 whole art of Christian living is to

†† know how to talk to yourself.Ē

You have to take all the great things you know are trueó

†† about Jesus Christ and his death on the cross for you,

†† and the forgiveness of your sins, and eternal life,

†† and your adoption as a son of God, and your identity in Christ,

†† and Godís providence and promise to work all to the good.

You have to take those things and talk to yourself.

 

John Chrysostom was the greatest preacher in the 4th Century.

†† He was a leading bishop in a time church under attack.

There was a woman named Olympias, a member of his church in Constantinople.

†† She was very, very wealthy and socially connected, very beautiful.

†† She was married in late teens but her husband died two years later.

†† She had numerous suitors and emperor pressured to marry friend, she renounced.

Church law in those days allowed a woman to become a deaconess

†† if she renounced marriage and was over the age of 60.

Olympias was such a strong, gifted Christian that she became a deaconess at 30.

†† She founded a monastery for women next to Chrysostomís church,

†† and she became his closest friend and confidante.

She provided meals for him, she used her fortune to support his work and ministry.

†† She was intelligent, independent, fiercely loyal to him.

 

If they had lived in another time, a great romance might have blossomed.

But they lived in an era of church history when singleness and celibacy were

†† the ideal and expectation for all church leaders.

Even so, there was a strong attraction between the two of them.

†† They kept it at armís length by rigid self-discipline, elaborate formal courtesies.

 

Chrysostom was arrested and exiled.The loss crushed her.They wrote each other.

†† We donít have her letters to him.But 17 surviving letters from him to her.

Can tell from what he wrote, that she was suffering a Psalm 42 experience.

He was very sympathetic.You can tell he loved her.

Basically says same thing in all his letters:

†† Olympias, you know what is true.Tell yourself Lord loves you.

†† Tell yourself heís in control.

†† Argue that with yourself, preach that to yourself.

Listen to this letter, maybe it will speak to you.

 

The most reverend and divinely favored deaconess Olympias,

I John, Bishop, send greeting in the Lord.

†† (Thatís an example of how formal they were with each other

†† as a way of keeping their sexual attraction at arms length).

 

Come now, let me relieve the wound of your despondency, and disperse the thoughts which gather this cloud of care around you. For what is it which upsets your mind, and why are you sorrowful and dejected? Is it because of the fierce black storm which has overtaken the Church, enveloping all things in darkness as of a night without a moon, and is growing to a head every day, travailing to bring forth disastrous shipwrecks, and increasing the ruin of the world? I know all this as well as you; none shall deny it, and if you like I will form an image of the things now taking place so as to present the tragedy yet more distinctly to you.

 

He says yes, we are living in terrible times for the church and each other.

†† I donít deny it.He doesnít downplay at all her suffering and fears.

†† He describes it as a storm and a coming shipwreck.

But then he reminds her of the time Jesus calmed the storm on Sea of Galilee.

 

Do you see the abundance of resource belonging to God? His wisdom, His extraordinary power, His loving-kindness and care? Be not therefore dismayed or troubled but continue to give thanks to God for all things, praising, and invoking Him; beseeching and supplicating; even if countless tumults and troubles come upon you, even if tempests are stirred up before your eyes let none of these things disturb you. For our Master is not baffled by the difficulty, even if all things are reduced to the extremity of ruin.

 

That may be your role with a Christian friend.

Even someone in Christ Covenant now.Sympathize and listen, but donít just listen.

†† Challenge them to preach the truth to themselves.

†† Say:Quit listening to yourself and start talking to yourself.

You know the truth.You know that Jesus was truly abandoned by the Father

†† on the cross when he cried out:My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.

But because he was forsaken in those hours of darknessóYou will never be.

†† You might feel that now.But in reality, your Lord is here.

†† Call to him.In time, he will answer and lift you up.