When our soul is troubled, our hope is in God.
I would like to read through the first five verses of Psalm 42. I’m not going to spend too much time discussing them. We did that last week. We engaged and tried to put them into context. These are the words of a man who’s hurting. We’ll talk about why he’s hurting in a moment. “As a deer pants for flowing streams.” This is poetic and beautiful. “My soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirst for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night while they say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’ 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. So why are you cast down, O my soul, why are you in turmoil within me? Come on. Hope in God; for I shall again, praise Him, my salvation.”
In verse six, “And my soul though is cast down within me.” Again, the psalmist is hurting, we talked about why. He’s in the wilderness, figuratively and literally. They’ve seemed to have been chased out. He’s hiding out, separated from the place he loves. From the geographical description, he’s somewhere on the Eastern Shore of the dead sea. Alone, it seems, with his thoughts. He feels the pangs of separation from the house of the Lord in Jerusalem. Which for him, he associates with God’s presence. The presence he longs for as he opens the Psalm up. He longs for it like a deer pants for the water brook. Evidently, they had been banished. He can’t go back.
Some dangerous regime has taken over. As he remembers his times of rejoicing, laughter, walking with his friends to the house of the Lord, and times of festival, all those memories start to creep in on him. Those memories of happier times begin to overwhelm him as he starts to think about those happier times. They begin to overwhelm him in grief and sadness with such force, they sweep over him, that he starts to feel embarrassed by it. You could tell he was embarrassed by the gloom he can’t seem to shake. He starts talking to himself like a coach would. He starts talking to his soul. It’s one of the rare places in all the scripture where someone is looking at themself and trying to remind that self, “What’s wrong with you, my soul? Come on. Why are you so locked down in your despair? Don’t you trust God? Come on, trust God. Why are you so cast down? Why are you so in turmoil within me? You’re so unsettled, so disturbed, trust in God. You know better.”
In the sixth verse he says, “Therefore, I remember you, from the land of the Jordan and of Hermon and from Mount Mizar. From the wilderness place, from the land of my hurt, I cast my gaze upon you. From the place of my hurt, I remember you, Lord.” I’m going to suggest that in times of upheaval, we are loved by God. In times of upheaval, turn towards Him, not away, which will always be a temptation. When things aren’t going well and seem to be melting down, turn to Him, not away. That’s what he keeps doing, three times in these two Psalms. Once in verse five, once in 11, and then a final time in verse five of Psalm 43. These are anchoring points. He presses forward poetically. Verse seven says, “Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves. They’ve just gone over me.” In the past, I’ve thought of this verse like many have as an invitation to the deeper life in God, deep calls to deep. When I was growing up, I first heard this verse and was taught it as an early young Christian. It was like deep calls to deep, God calls us into the deeper places. I still love that.
As a stand-alone, it makes total sense to me. The deep things of God call us into the depths, not the surface, but into the depths. Yet, if you really look at the context of this verse, it’s a description of something that he’s feeling overwhelmed by. He’s describing churning, roaring, deep, swelling waters. Water breaking like waves off of an angry ocean or lake. One after another. The psalmist says, “They are falling on me.” In other words, I am immersed in a sea of trouble, in my fears, and in my tears, I feel overwhelmed by them. The water in my eyes, the sadness I cannot control. The waves are powerful. They can knock us down, waves of emotion can do that as well. That’s why we often say and quote Pascal, “The heart has reasons, that reason often knows nothing of.”
That doesn’t make sense, I know, but it’s how I feel. I know why I feel this way. But then you watch what he’s doing, he’s so much like us. He sincerely loves God. Remember what’s going on. He sincerely loves God, but he’s hurting and things are going against him. He’s wrestling with it. He’s tacking back and forth like a man who’s trying to balance himself on a high wire. He’s trying to compensate for one direction, “I can’t fall off.” He’s wrestling with his own mind. He’s wrestling with God. Like we often do in his situation, with the unfairness of it. Yet he’s refusing to let go of God, the God he loves, and the one he knows loves him, but it’s hard. He’s wondering, “Why are you letting this happen to me? It’s not fair. I don’t like it. It’s awful.” This is such an honest Psalm.
Then look at verse eight, “By day, the Lord commands His steadfast love, and at night His song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.” It’s what I do. It’s who I am. I say to God, “You are my rock.” But then I say, “Why have you forgotten me?” He feels forgotten. “Why do I go mourning because of the oppression?” That means the idea of being under pressure. The literal word means the idea of being squeezed by something. You’re feeling squeezed by it and are pressured tight. You’re under the grip of it. I’m oppressed by this enemy. He’s feeling oppressed by his enemies and critics who are rejoicing over his plight, laughing at him, happy at his non-blessing. Good. It is great.
Verse 10, look at these words, “As with a deadly wound in my bones,” which speaks of great pain, think about the language at an emotional level. “They smash me with a mortal blow, shattering my bones.” He’s using descriptive language of someone smashing his bone. But he’s saying, “That’s what they’re doing to me at an emotional level. My adversary is there. They taunt me. They say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” Again, I can’t help but think of Jesus hanging helplessly on the cross. His enemies wagging their fingers saying, “You said you were God, you said you were the promised one. Get yourself off that cross.” Jesus hangs there, utterly helpless, feeling forsaken. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” But also enough in Him to model what seems incredible to me. He begins with, “Father, forgive them.” Jesus prays for his enemy. It is stunning to me.
But this is what the psalmist says. “Lord, they question the value and the validity of my faith. They question my faith in you. They demean you by saying to me, “Hey, this God you’re so committed to, He’s of no tangible help to you. Look at your life. Either because He’s worthless or l because you are worthless to Him.” That bites him. That’s like the enemy’s knife. The lying thrust of the evil one, right in there. He’s struggling and goes back again to the familiar theme. The second time he drops is in verse 11. “Why are you cast down?” He drops back right there. “Why are you cast down, O my soul? Why are you in turmoil?” What’s going on inside of you? Why are you struggling so much on the inside? Now, if you look closely, there are three reasons why he’s struggling so much. They were all alluded to. I want to quickly identify them and make a connection for each of us. The first reason he’s struggling is that he literally feels separated from the sanctuary that he loves.
He’s alienated from the place he has come to love, the place where the Lord’s presence dwells. He longs for it, yearns for it, aches for it, and feels the loss. Some of us think, “Oh, okay. That’s why.” No, have you ever felt loss? The loss of something you loved or someone you loved. There are certain seasons where you’re going to be hit with multiple losses. You’re not even finished grieving and you’re already in it again. Sometimes it’s a loss of a person we love that means so much to us or a relationship we value. I was talking to someone and they were struggling physically because of some of the things they had always been able to do but couldn’t do anymore. The physical had changed. They were lost. There was a loss. He feels the loss.
The second is his memory. You hear it in his words. He’s thinking back to these better times, brighter and better days. For him, the contrast is overwhelming. That’s real-life for us. There might be times in our lives where we’re sitting in a situation feeling like this is so bad. We’re thinking, “I remember how it used to be. I love that. But look at me now. That’s what’s going on with him.” He is thinking, “I missed those days. I missed that time. I want to go back to that time.” Sometimes it has to do with a wound that is connected to a memory of something we squandered. It might be something we did, or in his case, something that was literally taken from us so unfairly. Either way, we feel it. We have a memory of it.
Third, the scrutiny and tongues of his enemies and critics are adding to it. He has the loss itself. He has the people part of it, where people are mis-assessing things, judging and criticizing him. He feels that sting on top of it all. He feels the compounding effect of being judged, having to defend himself and his relationship with God. His condition exposes him and makes him vulnerable to the painful assessments of others. He almost feels helpless. What am I supposed to say? Look at my life. It’s awful. How am I doing? How do I even defend you, Lord? My situation makes me completely vulnerable to their unfair words. How do I respond to this? I can’t say anything. I say I love you. You love me. But look at me, this is what’s going on here. You could feel the angst in him. He’s in this place where he feels like his confidence is waning. He feels stigmatized. Some of us may find ourselves at some point where we feel ashamed or diminished.
We might feel like we’re damaged goods. That can lead you into despair. The Psalmist feels this. He senses himself dropping into that place. He fights that and tries to refocus himself. Look at this. “He fights in faith.” Look what he does at the end of that 11th verse. “Hope in God. Come on now, O my soul. Why are you so beaten down? Come on. Hope in God for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God.” Here’s a principle that sounds simple. Again, another anchoring point in times of personal upheaval is it is good to acknowledge the struggle of our soul. That’s true. It’s okay and better, to be honest.
If the Psalms teach us anything, it’s God’s okay with honesty. In fact, He invites us into it. He would rather have an honest prayer that flows out of a true heart than a very flowery disconnected one that has nothing to do with what we really believe. It’s just going through the motions. The Lord taught us that countless times, “Don’t call me, Lord, and then don’t do anything that I say.” Jesus would always talk about it. Don’t say you love me, and then totally disconnect from your life. I think there’s something about it. The Lord would always say, it doesn’t matter how eloquent the prayer is. He said, “Do you mean it?” What I love about it is he’s being very honest. As good as honesty is, it’s even better to steady ourselves in the savior of our soul.
Before I was a teenager, my family blew apart. My mom and dad melted down. I’ve talked about this before. I know we have had other experiences. Basically, when my mom and dad divorced or started that separation, ultimately led there. What happened was, my only brother and myself, basically grew up with my mom into our teen years. One of the things I remember besides the anger that the Lord had to get out of me was my dad was nowhere to be found. He would just go AWOL. I think I still, to this day, have memories of playing games in high school and my dad never showed up. Never showed up once, not once. Even though I ended up having a good relationship with my grandfather, who was the founding pastor here at Cornerstone when I was just a lad. It wasn’t until years later that I had a decent relationship with my grandfather. He was from an entirely different generation, that world war II generation. They didn’t know how to show a lot of love and affection, to be honest. If you’ve got a tap on your head, that was I love you. That’s how I interpreted it. I said, “Wow. You just told me, you love me.” But I knew he did. I could tell by his glances. That was more from the school of, I love you and if I ever stop loving you, I’ll let you know kind of thing.
My grandfather did not really know how to show love. It was okay because he taught me how to love God. How do I pay that back? A real man with flaws who love God. What do you do with that? I say, thank you. Having said that, I didn’t have my father. There were times in my life I remember I would not know what to do. I didn’t feel comfortable talking to my mother about it. I remember, even as I got older and became a husband and a young father there was still a sense of not really having anywhere to go. I felt like there were times when I didn’t have anybody to say the words I felt the Lord spoke to me.
I never had a father say to me, “Hey, steady son. It’s okay.” But there were times where I felt the Lord say that to me, “Steady son.” I think He says that to you, too. “Steady, my daughter, steady. Steady, my son steady. Come on now, steady.” “Steady. Stay with me.” I felt those words in my life. “Steady.” I never got them from my earthly father but I got them from the Lord. “Steady son.” That’s what the psalmist is trying to do. He’s trying to steady himself. He’s saying, “Lord, I need to be honest about my struggle, but I also want to be confident in your faithfulness. How do I reconcile these two things? I need them to mesh together for me right now. This is awful. How I feel is bad. Here are all the reasons why I feel it. But at the same time, I know who you are. You are with me and you are faithful.”
He’s trying to hold those two things together. In fact, in chapters five, 11, and five, every one of those verses is the meshing of those two things. Think about it. “Why are you so downcast? Why are you in such despair? Why are you in so much turmoil? Hope in God, my salvation.” It’s right there. It’s both. It’s real. It’s trusted. Watch him turn his focus back. Now we shift to Psalm 43, just five verses. Watch him turn his focus back on God. In my mind’s eye, he does what I’ve done a few times in my life too. He shouts to the Lord, “Vindicate me, defend me.” More than a few times and some of my lowest places in my life with God was life, period.
Not too long ago, I was alone somewhere and had all this stuff in me. I started shouting to the Lord where I could be alone. “Lord, I need you right now.” I vocalized it. “Lord help me, help me to think right. Help me to act in this situation. I need your strength to do it, O God.” Letting Him know my heart. I think there’s power in it. Sometimes we have to get it out there to Him. I know I get the logic. I get the principles. We’ve got to “think this.” I’m totally in on cognitive thinking, how we think affects us. I get it. But I’m going to also say there’s something about expressing our emotions before the Lord that is powerful. The Psalms teach that it has power in it. When you look at that 43:1, read it through. “Vindicate me, O God, please defend my cause against an ungodly people; from the deceitful and the unjust man, would you please deliver me?” It wasn’t, “Vindicate me, O God, defend my cause. Help me, Lord. I have nothing and no one. I need you right now. Vindicate me, O God. O God, I ask you, defend my cause.” That is where he is at. “I have people coming against me. Deceitful. I need your deliverance. I need it now. Vindicate me, O God.” For me, he’s had real enemies that he’s dealing with. Sometimes we have people who are opposing us in our lives. When I read the Psalms, so much of it has to do with enemies. In their case, there were real ones.
In his case, it was real people. There might be times where we have that in our lives. I’m going to tell you how I interpret the Psalms through the lens of my own life with God. I think about the things that are coming against me to undermine my faith in Him and the commitments I have made to not only the Lord, but to the people I love, to the church I love. I remind myself of these things. Some of them are spiritual and I feel them coming against me. They’re joining in with other things that oppose me, my way of thinking, which is not necessarily in line with what God is saying, and a fear that’s trying to grip my mind. I know this is not an old habit that wants to lay hold of me.
No, that’s not of you, Lord. These enemies that come against me, this resentment that I’m giving a place to. No. I come against this feeling of whatever it is, hitting. These are my enemies. O God, this struggle that I find myself in, is a mortal death battle. There’s something trying to grip my soul. O God, deliver me from this enemy, this lie, and this deceit that’s trying to take hold and link itself into me. I come against this in the name of the Lord, through my God. It is He who will tread down the enemy by His strength and His strength alone. I can bend a bow bronze, Psalm 18. I can run through a troop. Through my God, I shall do valiantly. He’ll make my feet as nimble as the feet of a deer. You are quoting the Psalms. I come up against this problem in my life. I come against this attitude of you trying to lodge yourself in my life. I come against that, in the name of the Lord. You start to see the power of what He’s trying to do. He says in verse two, “For you are the God in whom I take refuge. Lord, I’ve come to depend on you. I look to you for my protection and safety. But come on, why have you rejected me? Turned away from me.” In the original Hebrew, the word rejected me literally means cast away and reject.
It can also mean stink or stench. Something putrid that’s rotting. Something discarded, thrown out into the compost pile, the green bin. He’s saying, “That’s how I feel. I feel like you don’t want me. You’re not helping me.” It’s real. He’s upset. He’s pressing. He’s exaggerating. He’s raw. He says, “Why do I go about mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” He’s working himself back into a frenzy. We know what that’s like. We start working ourselves back into a frenzy of why God isn’t being forthcoming. What’s wrong here? Everything’s bad. Then he catches himself in verse three, “Send out your light and your truth, Lord. Please Lord, let them lead me. Let them bring me to your holy hill to your dwelling quickly. Do you see it; send out your truth.
“Let me link into your truth. What I’m thinking right now. Not how I’m feeling right now, into your truth. Send your light, send your truth.” In times of upheaval in our lives, especially emotionally, it could be anything. It’s wise to distrust ourselves or at least suspect ourselves, our judgments, and our assessments and ask the Lord to lead and guide us on the way through on the basis of His truth. Sit with that for a moment. He says, “Lord, I know this stuff is trying to define my mindset right now. So I am asking you right now to send out your light and your truth. I am asking you to help me live, not by how I’m feeling, which is real, but by the truth of who you say you are and what you have promised. I ask that you will let your light and your truth lead me right now.
Lead me to where you want me to go.” I think that it’s easy when we’re hurting to lose our perspective. Our lens gets blurred. We lose track of what’s true. We exaggerate our problems. They become exaggerated. We begin to yield to the dominance in our lives. We begin to let them dominate us all of a sudden. All of a sudden we’re catastrophizing and creating stuff that isn’t even true. We start to believe the untruth. We create it. We believe it. Then we start believing the untruth about ourselves, about others, and even God. I was watching this really amazing documentary on Nikola Tesla. Now Tesla was an amazing inventor. A master in electricity discovery.
He is the one whom the Tesla car company’s named after. Now, Tesla ran experiments. He was an inventor. He masked things like a remote control. AC is all because of Tesla, as well as the electric engine and radiofrequency. He was involved in all these things that we are, in our day in life, still connected to. The guy was a genius. If you do a Google search on Tesla, you’ll be amazed. One of the things they said about him was he had this mind. He lived in the last part of the 19th century, the early part of the 20th century. He had such an imagination. He could think in detail of things that weren’t even invented. He could take his mind’s ideas and in one scoop, put them down. He had this incredible imagination, but what caught me was not the genius of his imagination, but that he got into trouble in his life.
I was thinking, “Oh my goodness, this guy’s off the chart.” What caught me was when they said, “The only problem Tesla had though, was he had bouts in his life where he would get in real trouble.” There were some points where he couldn’t differentiate between his imagination and reality.” He was so caught up in things that you and I couldn’t even concede in detail, but then something happened. He couldn’t click all the way back into reality. All of a sudden, he’s in a meltdown mode. I was thinking, “Oh wow. That’s an incident.” I was thinking about this Psalm. I don’t have a problem with that level of genius, but I do have a small capacity to imagine myself into unreality. When I’m under extreme emotional duress, I am capable of inventing something that doesn’t even really exist. At least not at the level I’m imagining it. Now, you know what I’m talking about. We have to watch our emotions because when they get going, they can take us into places that aren’t even real. The next thing you know, we’re operating off of unreality.
Send your light and your truth, Lord. I anchor myself in your light, in your truth. Not in my mind, because my mind will betray me. My emotions will betray me. This psalmist is intrinsically understanding that he can feel it. He can feel himself going off. He pulls some five, 11, five. He pulls himself back into the place where he anchors himself in what he knows to be true. He clicks back in. Tesla couldn’t click back in. He clicks himself back into his God-reality. Boom, link it back in. The last thing I’ll say, and we’ll leave it with this because he goes on and I’ll just read it through. “Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy. I will praise you with the lyre,” this ancient instrument. “O God, my God.”
One last time, confronting his despairing heart where the Psalm closes. “Why are you cast down, O my soul? Why are you in turmoil within me? Why are you cast down, O my soul? Hope in God for I shall again, praise Him.” That’s how he ends. “For I shall again, praise Him, my salvation and my God.” We’ll leave it here. In times of great upheaval, exhort yourself to put your hope in God and lean positive. We need to urge ourselves to apply our confidence optimistically in His direction. That’s how he ends. He holds himself right here. There is bad stuff everywhere. I will hope in God. I will again, praise Him, my salvation, and my God. When we have a speaker who’s a part of our church, Alex. She’s amazing. Some of you have heard her speak. Given her limitations, it’s stunning. She’s blind and has gone through a number of cancers. She’s an amazing inspiration to so many of us in our church. She’ll be sharing again this fall. One of the things she says is such a simple phrase. When I hear it from her, it means even more. She says, “It’s okay. And even if it’s not okay, with God, it’s okay.”
It’s okay. And even if it’s not okay, it’s okay, God is with us. I will hope in Him. I’m with Him, this life deliverance or the next, I’m hoping for both. That’d be great but if I have to choose, I’ll always take the latter, that’s me.I’ll tell you this, we can trust Him. We have to fasten and anchor ourselves to the Psalm wall we created. You see these in the back of the seats there. We did this because we were saying, “Hey, you know what? Let’s interact sometimes with what we sense God is saying to us.” You don’t have to do this, but I would encourage you between now and when we end after the final song, just kind of our benediction if you will. Our good word to end with, think about maybe a sentence or two of how God spoke to you.
Maybe in your heart, something you feel you anchor yourself in. It could be part of the verse or something that really hit home. The very act of writing has power when we write our thoughts down. I believe in journaling our prayers as well. Think about the possibility of just saying, “Hey, I’m going to plant this on the wall before we’re done.” It’s interesting because the song that we’re closing with after our giving time is written by one of our own, Chan. She wrote that song just for this message because it’s built around Psalms 43. So enjoy it with that in mind. Also let the truth of what we’ve just shared sit with us. Let me close in prayer and then we’ll move on.
Lord, I thank you for the time that we’ve been able to share together. I ask that these words would help be an anchor for us, true and strong. Keep working in our lives, help us not to be afraid of anything. When we struggle, let’s find our way back to you and have these anchor points in our lives that keep us from drifting out into places. Lord, that starts to define us in our wounds, in our hurts, in our pains, and in our losses, be our strength. Give us great courage, help us to be blessors. Steady son, steady daughter, in Jesus’ name. Amen.