Psalm 42: 1- 2
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?
Psalm 42 has been a favourite for many and in it the psalmist is undoubtedly going through a rough patch in his life, grappling with feelings of depression and feeling down. He is remonstrating with his soul to somewhat wrench herself out of this downward spiral she has got in to. And he is employing some pretty effective tactics we would do well to take lessons from as this forms part of the Holy Scriptures which, the apostle Paul tells us is all “…breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” (2 Timothy 3:16)
It appears that the psalmist is being taunted and ridiculed for his faith and his soul is experiencing a barren moment, a time when God feels distant and far. This barrenness has created a thirst and hunger for God that, in verses 1 and 2 he likens to that of a deer panting for water in a dry land. But this beautiful and poignant poetic language employed by the psalmist belies the deep depression and darkness he’s experiencing that has lead to his acute quest for God.
In response to these depressive thoughts and feelings he’s experiencing the psalmist principally employs three basic but effective tactics. He understands that in order to overcome this heavy onslaught of the enemy he needs to take some practical steps.
1) “My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you” (Vs 5)
First and foremost he finds himself purposefully and actively recalling undeniable moments of sheer joy and spectacular deliverance he has experienced with God to remind himself of the person of God and what He is truly about. The psalmist was taking proactive measures to limit the damage caused by actively recalling the joyful moments, interventions and deliverances he’d experienced with God in the past in order to aid his soul shake off the dark shadow of depression and hopelessness the enemy was at her (vs. 9)
Actively recalling from memory times past during which we have joyfully, wholeheartedly and undoubtedly experienced the Lord – be it in the company of others or in solitude – is an effective means of staying afloat in times of trouble and oppression caused by the enemy that has led to us being downcast and feeling depressive. This was an astute tactic employed by the palmist realising that the downcast state of his soul was not a permanent state of affairs but a temporary one, a transient one that would pass.
Twice in this psalm in which he enquires why his soul is downcast but does not seem to find a satisfying answer, the psalmist brings to remembrance incidences and experiences with God of heightened joy and ecstatic pleasure. The first was during a festive occasion with the rest of the people of God.
Verse 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.
The second, found in verse 6, is a proactive bringing to remembrance and recalling to memory of God in association to specific locations – Jordan, Mount Hermon and Mount Mizar. These are most probably locations associated with experiences of God the psalmist had whether it be personal deliverance from his enemies or national ones wrought for Israel. Whatever these may have been, these were memories the psalmist recalled to remind his soul of God’s faithfulness and capability to deliver and so stem the downward spiral of depression his soul seemed to be taking. At times we too can experience these moments for which reason we should employ this tactic to resist the depressive feelings we can experience within us due to the enemy’s attacks and oppression.
Note that the psalmist was not relying on his past experiences and their strength to pull him out but only using them to remind himself of God’s faithfulness and power to deliver. He was using these memorable occasions as leverage – to recall to himself the character and power of God. And it was not only a nostalgic harking back and reminiscing to the past but one that put hope and faith in God for now, for today. The psalmist repeatedly exhorts his soul to put her hope in God for there shall come a time again when he will praise God. In other words, it will his good times and experiences shall not remain in memory alone but definitely be the continuing story of his life.
The psalmist was able to draw from the well of his memory and remind his soul of God’s goodness, faithfulness and strength to deliver from his own personal experience too. There was something of God that he had experienced himself, that he had direct contact with that was undeniable and, to him, very tangible. It was this he was now looking back to as backup, as evidence of God being on His side. And coupled with the truth of scripture he uses in the third tactic he employs, this forms a powerful and formidable defense against the lies of the enemy he is being bombarded with (verse 3).
A timely reminder for us to cherish and treasure those intimate and real moments we experience with our father as well as those times of His undeniable deliverance in our own lives.
2) “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” (Vss 5 & 11)
The second tactic represents an understanding of a truth that he reminds and reiterates to his soul, i.e. himself. He understands very well and accepts that the current state of his soul is a transient state of affairs and does not lose hope or give in but exhorts his soul to put her hope back in God and twice confidently declares that he will again praise Him! (Verses 5 & 11). The psalmist was not going to give up on God based on his transient feelings of depression caused by the enemy’s manipulative and oppressive tactics (verses 3 and 9) – he understood and stood firm by the fact that they were transient. He understood that there would come a time in which he would be free from being downcast and would again praise the God of His salvation.
For us too, it is not only important to grasp this truth and accept it as we face challenges and dark moments in life (for whatever reason) but to profess and declare it. And as the psalmist repeatedly does, it is to ourselves, our souls we need to declare this first and foremost.
3) By day the LORD commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life. (Vs 8)
The third and final tactic is also characterised by an adoption of a position in that he is holding on to a truth and refusing to budge from it – the truth of God’s unchanging love towards him. Not for one moment does the psalmist doubt nor flinch from the truth of God’s love towards him but declares it boldly even in his darkest hour As we see in the verse above.
Here was a person with whom the issue of God’s love was settled once and for all. God’s love for him is something that is never thrown into doubt nor questioned but simply and boldly declared and stood by no matter how he feels. In fact, not only did he declare that God’s steadfast love was commanded over him by the day but such was his faith, reliance and total dependence on God that he considered God responsible for his life. Cue the final part of verse 8 “…the God of my life.”
What a declaration!
Such was the psalmist’s reckless reliance and hopeless dependence on God!
God was his and he was God’s – there was no changing that nor messing about with it. It was settled. So no matter how he felt at that time or whatever he may have been going through, he knew that the love of his God whom he trusted his life with (vs. 8 “…the God of my life”) would carry him through.
He knew that God would not let go of him. Period.