Wednesday, September 24, 2008

psalm 42-43 and the fight for joy

As 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?
My tears have been my food day and night,
while men say to me all day long,
"Where is your God?"

You may remember I suggested you read Psalms 42-43 in my post how to fight for joy. If you haven't already, why not read it before you read this, and write your own list of the ways the deeply sorrowing psalmist fights for joy.

Here's the list I came up with:

- he thirsts deeply for God, and doesn't give up seeking him (42:1-2)
- he cries many tears (he doesn't try to deny or escape from his sorrow - 42:3)
- he tells God about his suffering with great honesty (42:1-3, 10)
- he's not afraid to ask God "Why?", without apology (42:9; 43:2)
- he remembers past blessings and God's saving acts (42:4, 6)
- he affirms that the suffering he experiences is from God's hand (42:7)
- he trusts, sings, and prays to God his "Rock" and "Stronghold" (42:8-9; 43:2)
- he asks God for vindication and rescue (43:1-3)
- he looks forward expectantly to God's rescue and the restoration of his joy (43:3-4)
- everything is not all right at the end, but he goes on fighting for joy (43:5)
- he preaches to his soul again and again (Ps. 42:5, 11; 43:5)

The psalmist feels abandoned by God, but he never stops thirsting for God. He tells God exactly how he feels! His anguished question, "Why?", is an expression of faith in God, for he knows that God is sovereign over his suffering, that God has promised and acted to bless his people, and that God can restore his joy. God is still his strength and song.

And even when his prayers remain unanswered, he goes on striving against his despondancy, and pleads with himself to trust in God. Like the psalmist, we will need to do this again and again, as we struggle against anxious, doubting, despairing thoughts, and strive to hope in God, who we can trust to do only good toward us.

Neil Chambers, in his wonderful talk Lamentation: God's Gift, an Expression of Faith, reminds us how much we need Psalms 42-43:

Lament, giving voice to suffering before God, is not popular in contemporary Christian life. Genuine lament is hard. To give voice to suffering, you have to own, as part of yourself, the failure, the loss, the grief. The lament is a prayer of faith from start to finish. I think Christians who cannot, where appropriate, lament, are ill-equipped to live the life of faith in this world.

Can I encourage you to learn this Psalm, for the day of suffering when you need words to cry out to God, and fight for joy. There's a version you can sing here and here.

And here's some excellent sermons on Psalm 42-43. I'd love to encourage you to listen to them all, each one is different, and will give you useful weapons in your fight for joy!

Neil Chambers, on the importance of lament: Lamentation: God's Gift, an Expression of Faith
John Piper, on the psalmist's fight for joy: Spiritual Depression in the Psalms
C.J.Mahaney, on learning to talk to yourself: The Troubled Soul: God's Word and our Feelings
Bob Kauflin, on his experience of depression: The Depressed

images are from stock.xchng

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