For as long as I can remember, Psalms 42 and 43 have been a refuge for my soul and the souls of brothers and sisters whom I have helped to work through times of spiritual depression. The honesty of the psalmist is startling to those who have the impression the Bible only speaks in platitudes disconnected from life in the real world. For many, these two Psalms have become personal prayer guides, directing the eyes of their heart to the Lord as their lighthouse in the midst of emotional storms.
In Psalm 42, the man of God longs for God as a deer longs for the fresh water of a flowing stream. “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night…” Repeatedly, he asks himself why his spirit is downcast and then exhorts himself to hope in God who restores his countenance. In Psalm 43, as the man of God pleads for vindication, he repeats the habit of counseling himself with Scriptural truth about the faithfulness of God and, again, ends by telling himself to hope in God.
Last week, while continuing to work through Alec Motyer’s new devotional translation of the book of Psalms, I was blessed by his summary of the application of these two songs (Remember, Psalms is a songbook!). He points out that the psalmist asks God questions nine times. It is good, therefore, “to remind ourselves that questions are not doubts. So often a person can be heard to say, ‘I have so many doubts’ when, in fact, all they have is what we all have—‘so many questions’. And so it will be till we get to heaven…” However, in the asking of these questions of God, Motyer is convinced, lies a double remedy for the downcast spirit.
First, help is found in the honest cries of a soul in anguish. He writes, “Verse 5 [of Psalm 42] surely implies that, with God as our hope, we have no need to be downcast; then verse 6 chips in, ‘My soul is downcast.’ What a frank prayer; I know it’s foolish to be down, but I am! This sort of openness with God runs through the psalm – what 42:8 calls ‘a prayer to the transcendent God of my life’. Just as his love never falters, so his ear is always open (v. 8).”
Transforming the Mind
Second, help is found in the renewal of the mind with the truth of God. When our emotions fight to take over the control of our hearts and the vision of our soul, we must deliberately turn to biblical meditation; that is, rehearse Scriptural truths about God so as to nourish our feeble faith. Motyer writes, “The mind is ‘renewed’ by feeding on new thoughts. If we are only being anxious about our anxieties, worrying over our worries, stewing our problems, we are only nourishing the old mind, the downcast spirit. No, says Psalm 42:4, 6, I will turn from old memories, ‘I keep remembering you.’ The mind feeding itself on diving truth, dwelling on the promises of God, recalling his endless mercies and unchanging love, turning its eyes upon Jesus—that mind is walking the pathway to renewal.”
Is your spirit troubled today? Are you downcast in your soul? Honestly cry out to God in prayer, turning your doubts into questions of faith. Then deliberately turn away from the messages your emotions speak to you and replace them with the unchanging truths of Scripture.
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