Psalm 42-43 When Your Heart Feels Heavy: Understanding Sadness and Finding Hope

Psalm Sundays  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  32:04
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I introduced a few weeks back as were were in the book of Luke seeing Jesus confronting the Pharisees and the Lawyers a couple of questions for us.
How is your heart?
What is happening with your soul?
The lawyers and the Pharisees were both following the rules over following God.
They did not recognize the grace of God that was available to them.
They believed they had to work for their salvation.
Psalm 42–43 ESV
To the choirmaster. A Maskil of the Sons of Korah. 1 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 all the day long, “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 all the day long, “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. 1 Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people, from the deceitful and unjust man deliver me! 2 For you are the God in whom I take refuge; why have you rejected me? Why do I go about mourning because of the oppression of the enemy? 3 Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling! 4 Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God. 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 and my God.

Two as one - Psalm Background

SEVERAL FACTORS SUGGEST that these two psalms should be read as a unified composition.
(1) Psalm 43 has no heading to separate it from Psalm 42.
This may indicate that, like Psalms 9 and 10, there was a tradition for reading Psalms 42 and 43 together.
(2) This idea is confirmed by a number of ancient manuscripts of Psalms that do write these two psalms as one.
(3) The two psalms share a repeated verse that appears regularly (42:5, 11; 43:5),
dividing the whole into three segments of relatively equal size.
There are a number of interesting changes at this point in Psalms,
The first is that the compositions shift from being almost exclusively psalms of David to being those of a variety of authors.
In the first section (Psalms 1–41), thirty-seven psalms are ascribed to David.
The first two are introductory, and two others have no opening ascription.
David is the only author identified in the first book.
Here in book two we now see David, Asaph, Solomon, and a few more that do not have a name.
The Korahites were Levites, descended through Kohath, Korah’s father (1 Chron. 6:22–48; 9:17–32; 2 Chron. 20:19).
They were employed in the performance of the temple music.
But the interesting thing is this: When the Israelites were wandering in the desert,
Korah led a rebellion of 250 community leaders against Moses and perished by God’s judgment along with the other leaders and their families (Numbers 16; cf. Jude 11).
For some reason the Sons of Korah were spared, and it seems from their later employment that, in gratitude to God and his mercy,
they must have dedicated themselves to producing and performing the music used to praise God at the wilderness tabernacle and later in the temple in Jerusalem
As we dig in to this psalm, we find a person in an extremely difficult situation.
A person who is struggling.
What the writer of this psalm is struggling with here, I believe we can call spiritual depression.
Depression has been called the common cold of mental illnesses.
That does not mean that it is easy to deal with, but that it is common.
Many people struggle with depression in some varying degree.
Spiritual depression can be understood as a condition in which a believer experiences a deep sense of spiritual desolation, sorrow, or discouragement.
It is a state where one's spiritual vitality and joy seem to be diminished or even extinguished.
While it is a common human experience to go through seasons of sadness or struggle,
spiritual depression particularly pertains to the spiritual aspect of one's life.
It is hard for me to imagine that a book about depression would be very popular, but in 1965 D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, published a book entitled Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure, which became one of the most highly valued and widely circulated books he ever wrote.
The only conceivable reason it has been so popular is not that the subject itself is attractive,
but that so many people, including Christians, are depressed and looking for solutions.
We are all depressed at times.
We get down in the dumps.
We sing the blues.
We feel that God has forgotten us and that we will never be able to get on track with God again.
It is a condition the old mystics accurately labeled “the dark night of the soul.”
It is a puzzling condition too.
We wonder why it is happening, especially if we are Christians.
Psalms 42–43 are clearly a lament of an individual, but the composer expresses longing rather than anger.
God seems absent to him, and his enemies persecute and mock him.
Furthermore, he is disappointed in himself.
Nothing seems to be going right.
Thus, he calls on God for help.
There is an anticipation of hope and joy once God does answer the psalmists prayer.

What are the causes of spiritual depression?

This psalm speaks about things that cause spiritual depression.
There are undoubtedly more than these psalms list, but the place to begin is with the causes they identify.
The first reason that that is given for spiritual depression is absence from the temple of God,
Absence from where God was worshiped (42:1–2).
We do not know from the title of this psalm who the particular person was who composed it.
He is presumably just one of the Sons of Korah.
But whoever he was, we know the chief thing that was bothering him.
He was far from Jerusalem and its temple worship on Mount Zion,
and he therefore felt himself to be cut off from God.
The psalm begins with his panting after God “as the deer pants for streams of water” when he cannot find it.
This psalm begins by expressing a desire to serve God.
A desire though that is not realized as we see the verses continue.
The psalmist is far from home and feels that he is therefore also far from God.
It is not that he does not believe that God is everywhere, or that God is not with him.
He is praying to God in these psalms, after all.
But his being away from home has gotten him down,
and his depressed state has caused him to feel that God is absent.
There is another dimension to this sense of alienation.
We need to remember that the employment of the Sons of Korah was at the temple in the performance of the temple music.
So the author’s absence from Jerusalem was also an absence from his work
and therefore from his sense of being useful.
It reflected on his whole purpose for living.
Perhaps you have felt the force of that in one way or another.
I am sure you have if you have ever lost a job or perhaps feel as though you are stuck in a dead-end job.
An early forced retirement will lead to depression like this for some people.
So will old age, when a person feels that his or her useful days are done.
Reading the first verses in this Psalm, I have felt that way.
Perhaps you have a s well.
A time when you have desire for God, a desire to be with him.
But at the same time where your soul feels dry.
This psalm provides some steps for dealing with depression:

1. When you’re depressed, recognize it and begin to confront yourself as to why you’re depressed.

The first step to conquering depression is to admit it.
The psalmist readily admits, both to himself and to God, that he is in despair (42:5, 6, 11; 43:5).
The Hebrew verb means to be bowed down or prostrated;
we might say, “Laid low,” or “in the pits.”
If you don’t recognize your emotional condition,
either because you don’t know the symptoms or you don’t want to appear unspiritual or whatever,
you can’t deal with it.
Various symptoms in varying degrees point to depression.
Look at how the writer is describing himself.
A depressed person looks sad or down.
A loss of appetite and frequent crying are often present (42:3).
He describes his anguish as “pouring out” his soul (42:4); he felt emotionally drained.
He felt as if he were in the deep, being overwhelmed by the waves (42:7).
Often depressed people feel overwhelmed by circumstances to such an extent that they are immobilized.
They don’t know how to cope or where to begin.
The enemy’s relentless taunts felt like a shattering of the psalmist’s bones (42:10).
Often physical symptoms such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain accompany severe depression.
He repeatedly describes himself as being in despair (hopeless) and disturbed (anxious; 42:5, 6, 11; 43:5).
The psalmist feels abandoned, even rejected by God, and he’s confused by it (42:9; 43:2).
Feelings of guilt and rejection are common symptoms of depressed people.
In addition are often fatigue, a loss of motivation to do anything,
difficulty in concentrating, sleep disturbances (either insomnia or excessive sleep), and thoughts of suicide.
There are a number of causes of depression.
Once you recognize the symptoms, you’ve got to do as the psalmist does here, and begin to confront yourself as to why you’re depressed (42:5, 11; 43:5).
Depression is like the red warning lights on the dashboard of your car.
They tell you that there’s a problem under the hood.
If you keep driving and ignore the warning light, you could cause a lot of damage to your engine.
So you’d better pull over and figure out what’s wrong.
It’s important to know yourself.
If your depression is just a minor mood swing, like a pilot flying in minor turbulence, you make a slight adjustment and don’t get too concerned.
But if you’re in a nosedive, you need to take some drastic action to avoid a crash.
The psalmist is doing that here: He grabs himself by the shoulders,
talks to himself about what he knows to be true in spite of his feelings to the contrary, and eventually pulls himself out of it.
It takes the psalmist a while to get on top of his depression. There are four cycles of lament and hope in these two psalms:
Lament Hope
42:1-4 > 42:5
42:6-7 > 42:8
42:9-10 > 42:11
43:1-2 > 43:3-5
It may take you a few cycles of up and down before you pull out of your nosedive.
But the crucial thing is that you are aggressively dealing with it and not just drifting with the circumstances.
Even if you feel depressed, you are responsible to please the Lord by living in obedience to His Word.
We need to be very careful at this point!
We live in a feeling-oriented culture.
We hear that “feelings aren’t right or wrong, they just are.”
So we need to get in touch with and accept our feelings.
If we defy our feelings or seek to conquer them by going against them, we’re “in denial.”
But we need to develop a biblical theology of emotions and weigh the world’s counsel by the Scriptures.
Many believers are defeated by depression and other negative emotions because they have not sought a biblical approach to dealing with these problems.
The Bible says that we must discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness (1 Tim. 4:7).
Discipline, by definition, means going against my feelings.
I may feel like spending money impulsively,
but if I’m disciplined, I go against my feelings because I have decided to live by a budget.
While even the most mature believers are susceptible to depression
(Elijah, 1 Kings 19:1-4; John the Baptist, Matt. 11:2-3; Peter, Matt. 26:69-75),
the Bible is clear that we should be marked by joy in the Lord, even in some of the most difficult circumstances (John 15:11; Acts 5:41; 16:25; Gal. 5:22; Phil 4:4).
A consistently depressed Christian is a lousy advertisement for the Lord and His salvation.
And so we must confront our depression and bring it under the control of the Holy Spirit.
When we think rightly and act rightly, our depression will be replaced by genuine joy in the Lord.
So the first step when you’re depressed is, recognize it and begin to confront yourself as to the reasons why.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones, wrote in his book, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure ([Eerdmans], pp. 20-21), comments,
Have you not 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 start talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you. Now this man’s treatment was this; instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself....
The main art in the matter of spiritual living is to know how to handle yourself. You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself. You must say to your soul: ‘Why art thou cast down’--what business have you to be disquieted? You must turn on yourself, upbraid yourself, condemn yourself, exhort yourself, and say to yourself: ‘Hope thou in God’--instead of muttering in this depressed, unhappy way. And then you must go on to remind yourself of God, Who God is, and what God is and what God has done, and what God has pledged Himself to do. Then having done that, end on this great note: defy yourself, and defy other people, and defy the devil and the whole world, and say with this man: “I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance, who is also the health of my countenance and my God”.
How is your heart?
What is happening with your soul?
Is God Himself “your exceeding joy” today (43:4)?
If not, don’t rest until it is true.
Your need is not happiness; your need is not relief from your pain; your need is God!
Thirst after God!
Rouse yourself to seek Him as your only source of hope and help, no matter how despairing your circumstances.
Hope in God!
You shall again praise Him, the help of your countenance and your God!
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