By Ben W. Curtis
Pastor, First Baptist Church, Tracy City
In II Corinthians 1:4, Paul writes that God “comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort” others. Long before this was written, the psalmist used a painful time of discouragement to instruct us in how we should hope in God when it feels like we have lost Him. He was in a place of spiritual dryness (Psalm 42:1-2). Like a deer frantically panting for water in a dried-up river bed, he was thirsting to be in the presence of the living God. He had lost his appetite and was suffering from insomnia (v. 3). Spiritual discouragement causes us to feel that God is absent and is no longer actively working in our lives. Though He has promised to never leave us, He may occasionally withdraw His “felt” presence from our lives (Hebrews 13:5).
To compound his sense of desperation, the psalmist suffers from a lack of fellowship with other believers. In Psalm 42:4, he recalls times of joy in worship, but he is now far to the north of Jerusalem on Mount Herman (v. 6). Isolation from other believers can be especially devastating when overwhelming burdens flood into our lives (v. 7). Just as you come up for air, another breaker washes over you. Can you identify? And then, there’s the issue of delayed justice. His enemies have taunted him with “Where is your God?” enough that he is starting to ask the same question. “God, why have you forgotten me? Why are my oppressors and enemies getting away with saying these sorts of things? Why are you delaying in coming to me?”
How do we maintain hope in the presence of spiritual discouragement? The psalmist remembers God’s faithfulness to him in times past, but remembering is not enough (vv. 4, 6). He also diagnoses his condition and preaches to himself (vv. 5, 11). The psalmist interrogates his soul with a question, “Why are you cast down?” To overcome discouragement, you must become a student of your own heart (Proverbs 50:5) and use the arsenal of Scripture to speak truth to yourself (like Romans 15:13). Though the psalmist may be isolated from God’s people and the place of worship, notice that he has not stopped singing (Psalm 42:8). He observes God’s goodness and love by day, and he turns his observations into songs at night. So, sing the truth of God’s Word if you feel like it — and if you don’t feel like it, sing until you do!
The psalmist’s strategies take on a whole new meaning when we remember that our greatest source of hope is found in the person and work of Jesus Christ. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus alluded to Psalm 42:5 when He experienced a deep, distressing sorrow of the soul on our behalf (Matthew 26:38). He was mocked by his captors on our behalf (Matthew 26:3, 10; Matthew 27:42). And just as the writer of Psalm 42 spoke of his “dryness,” Jesus experienced an insatiable thirst while hanging on the cross (John 19:28). He was separated from God so that we would never have to be (2 Corinthians 5:21). The next time you find yourself in a desert place, cling to the one who promises “whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). When it feels like hope is lost, remember, preach, and sing the gospel to yourself, because you have been “born again to a living hope” (I Peter 1:3).