Thirsting For God | Psalm 34
Three weeks ago, we commenced a new series, looking at 10 Psalms that we have grown to love. Google lists the Psalms that we will be looking at up till and including Father’s Day, as the most popular psalms that people look for. Two weeks ago, we looked at what the Book of Psalms are about and we also looked at perhaps the most popular Psalm – Psalm 23 – The Lord Is My Shepherd. Last Sunday we looked at Psalm 34 where verse 8 many have love – “Taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalms 34:8 NIV).
Today we are looking at Psalm 42. It’s a well-known Psalm that was popularized by the Maranatha Singers in 1981. But I’m guessing that we have grown to like it as many can relate with the psalmist’s spiritual dryness.
The heading of Psalm 42 says, “To the choirmaster. A Maskil of the sons of Korah”. The sons of Korah were a group of priests who were charged with the ministry of singing. 2 Chronicles 20:19 describes them in action: “…the Korahites stood up and praised the LORD, the God of Israel, with a very loud voice” (2 Chronicles 20:19 NIV).
So, the heading implies that this psalm was probably used in public worship and was sung. As I said a few weeks ago, the psalms are songs and poems. They are written to awaken and express and shape the emotional life of God’s people. Poetry and singing exist because God made us with emotions, not just thoughts. Our emotions are extremely important.
The second thing to notice in the heading is that the psalm is called a Maskil. It’s not clear what the word means. That’s why most versions don’t translate it. It comes from a Hebrew verb that means to make someone wise, or to instruct. So when applied to psalms, it may mean a song that instructs, or a song that is wisely crafted.
So “To the choirmaster. A Maskil of the Sons of Korah” indicate that the psalms are instruction, and the psalms are songs. And Jesus taught that they were inspired by God. They intend to shape what the mind thinks, and they intend to shape what the heart feels. When we immerse ourselves in them, we are “thinking and feeling with God.”
As we come to Psalm 42, we see a person in some kind of spiritual depression. I’ll be surprised if out of those here today who have been a Christian for many years, hasn’t experience some kind of spiritual depression in their life.
What do I mean by spiritual depression? Look at verse 1, “As the deer pants for streams of water…” (Psalms 42:1 NIV). A deer panting for water might sound kind of gentle, like Bambi lapping water at a side of a beautiful river while a song plays, but Psalm 42 is actually about thirst. The kind when your tongue feels swollen and your muscles cramp, when you get a headache and your lips crack, and you suck on your cheeks to try to get any kind of moisture in your mouth. The kind of thirst where you feel panicked, because you really are thirsty, but you don’t know where to find water.
That’s the way the Psalmist’s soul pants for God. He cries out, “Where can I go to meet with God?” (Psalms 42:2b NIV).
It’s that feeling of standing in church and seeing people with their arms up in their air and wondering, why don't I feel like that? It’s opening up your Bible, but it seems like nonsense. It’s trying to pray, but really, you are feeling what’s the use? It’s longing for a solution to feeling spiritually dry, but God just doesn’t show up. This is what spiritual depression is like, and many of us have experience it. Perhaps you are experiencing it now? If you are, good on you for being here today, you probably didn’t feel like coming, but good on you for coming.
Let’s look at this psalmist and his circumstance. Externally his circumstances are oppressing. Verse 3 says that “people say to me all day long, "Where is your God?” (Psalms 42:3 NIV). And verse 10 says the same thing, only it describes the effect as a deadly wound: “My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’” (Psalms 42:10 NIV)” And the taunt “Where is your God?” implies that something else has gone wrong too, or they wouldn’t be saying, “Where is your God?” It looks to them like he has been abandoned.
Internally, the emotional condition of the psalmist is depressed and full of turmoil. In verses 5 and 11, he describes himself as “downcast” and “disturbed”. In verse 3 he says, “My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, "Where is your God?” (Psalms 42:3 NIV). So he is discouraged to the point of crying day and night. In verse 7 he says that it feels like drowning: “Your waves and surging tides sweep over me” (Psalms 42:7 NLT). Some of us may say “well that’s all a bit dramatic” but when you feel abandon, you do feel isolated and drowning.
Often, we feel ashamed of being spiritually dry. We hide it from others, and keep up appearances, perhaps fearing that this dryness says something bad about us. But this Psalmist pours out his soul: the fear, the loneliness, even a sense of betrayal that God has abandoned him in verse 9. If you feel spiritually dry, not only are you in good company with the Psalmist, but it’s OK to admit it.
Fight For Hope in God
A few weeks ago, I was traveling by car to Melbourne Airport after a day of meetings down there. I was in a car with four others, all older than me, and we drove passed a huge billboard advertising the movie “Antman and the Wasp”. And thinking that everyone would agree with me I said, “who in the world would see a daggy movie called Antman and the Wasp. There was a brief silence in response to my statement but to my utter surprise, one of the pastors said to me, “well actually the first movie in the series “Antman” was really good? I was stunned. Anyway, this Antman movie was on TV recently, and so I thought that I’ll watch it. Actually, it wasn’t too bad, but in the movie, towards the end, when Antman (who is the size of an ant) was fighting with any kinda bugman, something bad happened to Antman and it was like he was fading away to death – in a drawn out scene – Antman was fading and fading when something happened like a light went on for him giving him some strength to fight to return to life again, which he did!
Now, we have all seen movies like this, Superman who was nearly gone when gribanight was placed around his neck when he gain some fight within to take of the gribtanight, or Luke Skywalker was about to succumb to the darkside when he regain light and strength and fought all Darth Vader’s temptation.
In our reading, we see that in all that the Psalmist is experiencing, he finds deep with himself a sense of fight. He fights for hope. Look at verse 5 which is repeated again in verse 11, “Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise Him again--my Savior and my God!” (Psalms 42:5,11 NLT). The Psalmist is not surrendering to the emotions of discouragement. He is fighting back.
Personally, I have a strong theology of hope. It’s so biblical and so needed. The number of times in ministry and life that I feel so discouragement. Most of you know this feeling of strong discouragement. At work, in relationships, at church. For me, the number of times I have fought back the heaviness of discouragement with these very words: “Hope in God, David. Hope in God. You will again praise him. This This season will pass. Look to Jesus. The light will dawn”. And it did. And it will.
The Psalmist external circumstances were oppressing. His internal emotional condition was depressed and full of turmoil. But he fought for hope. And the thing is, is that at the end of the psalm, he is still fighting but not yet where he wants to be. The last words of the Psalm 42— and the last words of the next Psalm (43) — are “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God”
(Psalms 42:11; 43:5 NIV). He leaves us still fighting for the joyful experience of hope and freedom from turmoil. He is not yet praising the way he wants to.
John Piper in his sermon on Psalm 42 asks if this psalm has a happy ending? He answers by saying that like almost everything else in this life, it’s mixed. His faith really is amazing, and his fight is valiant. But he is not where he wants to be in hope and peace and praise. And so, Piper says, “So I assume this psalm is in the Bible by God’s design and that if we listen carefully, if we watch this psalmist struggle, if we meditate on this instruction day and night, our thoughts about God and life, on the one hand, and our emotions, on the other hand, will be shaped by God. And we will become like a tree that bears fruit and whose leaves don’t wither when the drought of oppression and discouragement and turmoil comes”.
How To Respond When You Are Spiritually Dry
When you go through those spiritual droughts, how can you respond? When you feel like you are in the spiritual wasteland and God is nowhere to be seen, there are disciplines you should engage in which will help you to remember God: pray, read your bible, cry out to Him, meet with encouraging Christians, remember what he has done. But even when you don’t do these things, God is still for you. When your faith is at an end, Jesus’ keeps going. When you can't do anything, when you have nothing to bring to the table, no way of maintaining your relationship with God, then Jesus, your great high priest, sits at the father's right hand and intercedes for you. Pastor Andrew preached a great message back in April of when life throws you a curve ball. One of the lines that he shared I really liked. Andrew said, “And we know that in those times when we don’t have the strength to hold onto anything, we know that He is holding onto us”. How true is this? This is the grace of God – not that we do anything to maintain our relationship with God but that he does it. This is why the Psalmists calls God His savior twice in verses 5 and 11.
However, if that spark within you isn’t totally extinguished, if you managed to find just a portion of strength, then there are two further ways you can respond.
First, notice that the psalmist speaks intentionally to his own soul. Verse 5: “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (Psalms 42:5 NIV). This is so important in the fight of faith. We must learn to speak the truth to ourselves.
David Martyn Lloyd-Jones was a Welsh minister and medical doctor who was for almost 30 years, the minister of Westminster Chapel in London. He wrote a brilliant book called Spiritual Depression. This is his take on this verse:
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? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them, but they are talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Yourself is talking to you. Now this man’s treatment [in Psalm 42] was this: instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself. “Why, my soul, are you downcast?” he asks. His soul had been depressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says: “Self, listen for moment, I will speak to you.”
(Spiritual Depression, 20–21)
On this side of the cross, we know the greatest ground for our hope: Jesus Christ crucified for our sins and triumphant over death. So, the main thing we must learn is to speak the gospel to ourselves:
Listen, self: If God is for you, who can be against you? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for you, how will he not also with him graciously give you all things? Who shall bring any charge against you as God’s child? It is God who justifies. Christ Jesus is the one who died and who was raised — who is now at the right hand of God, who is interceding for you. Who shall separate you from the love of Christ? (Romans 8:31–35 paraphrased - John Piper)
Learn to speak the gospel to yourself.
Second, thirst for God. Look carefully at verses 1 and 2 again: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” (Psalms 42:1-2 NIV). Now, look what it isn’t saying. The psalmist isn’t thirsting for relief from his threatening situation. He isn’t thirsting for an escape from his enemies.
Now understand that it isn’t wrong to want help and pray for it. I do.
Look again at what the psalmist is saying. He is thirsting for God. It’s like Jesus teaching us to “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33 NIV). On another occasion Jesus also taught us, and I’m quoting from the New Living Translation as it puts it in its “continual sense”: “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7 NLT). Here is something to learn and practice. If you are going through a tough situation and God seems silent, how about thirsting for God by seeking Him and then you will find satisfaction and peace.
I’m blessed to be in a Men’s Triplet. We meet most weeks before work. Four 30 to 45 minutes we share how we are going, share a passage from the bible and then pray for each other. Sometimes through the week we will send to each other texts of either encouragement or a bible verse. I find it helpful. If you would like to be a part of a triplet, please let me know. Anyway, we have been thinking about some praying into some things that we desire for God to breakthrough. I knew of a good friend who in recent years had desired something similar and did something about it. I invited him to come and share with my triplet. We were blessed and challenged by what we heard – how he deliberately sought the Lord through confession and adoration for God’s holiness and significant breakthrough happened.
And sometimes, in our busy lives, we just have to make it a priority to allocate time, perhaps a day or two, just to seek God. Yes, you may have a list of prayer requests, but maybe you need to first seek God and His kingdom until God breaks through. It seems that the psalmist, despite his situation started to experience something of God. He said in verse 8, “But each day the LORD pours His unfailing love upon me” (Psalms 42:8 NLT). Breakthrough was happening.
May the Lord increase your thirst for Jesus and His kingdom.
Spiritual dryness, or even spiritual depression is real and it hits many. Externally there may be people or situations that aren’t helping us at all which means internally, will feel spiritually low as it appears that God has forgotten us. Hope in God is worth fighting for. If you don’t have any energy left, nothing to cling onto, remember that God is holding onto you. If you do though have a spark still glowing or some form of energy left, then practice some of the disciplines of faith that includes reading the Bible and praying and meeting with encouraging Christians. But also consider talking positively back into your life and thirsting by seek God first.
One day you will be able to praise him again. No guarantees when. But total guarantee that Jesus is there. Remember with the Psalmist, God has done great things. He is our Rock and Saviour.