Psalm 42 – Sadness and Hope

As a deer gets thirsty 
    for streams of water, 
    I truly am thirsty 
    for you, my God. 
In my heart, I am thirsty 
for you, the living God. 
    When will I see your face? 
Day and night my tears 
    are my only food, 
    as everyone keeps asking, 
    “Where is your God?” 

Sorrow floods my heart, 
    when I remember 
leading the worshipers 
    to your house.  
    I can still hear them shout 
    their joyful praises. 
Why am I discouraged? 
Why am I restless? 
    I trust you! 
And I will praise you again 
    because you help me, 
    and you are my God. 

I am deeply discouraged 
    as I think about you 
from where the Jordan begins 
at Mount Hermon 
    and from Mount Mizar.  
Your vicious waves 
    have swept over me 
    like an angry ocean 
    or a roaring waterfall. 

Every day, you are kind, 
    and at night 
you give me a song 
    as my prayer to you, 
    the living Lord God. 

You are my mighty rock.  
    Why have you forgotten me? 
    Why must enemies mistreat me 
    and make me sad? 
Even my bones are in pain, 
    while all day long 
my enemies sneer and ask, 
    “Where is your God?” 

Why am I discouraged? 
Why am I restless? 
    I trust you! 
And I will praise you again 
    because you help me, 
    and you are my God. (CEV) 

Sadness. Every human on planet earth knows the feeling. Since we are emotional creatures, profound sadness even to the point of depression and/or despondency will happen. Yet, despite the universal nature of discouragement and tears, many Christians buck the sadness.

Far too many believers focus so exclusively on victory in Jesus through his resurrection, ascension, and glorification that they use religion as their denial when unwanted emotions like sadness come banging at the doorstep of their soul. 

So, I most emphatically say: Depression is not sin. To be discouraged is not the Enemy. Experiencing sadness is neither wrong nor selfish. Quite the opposite, in fact. It is necessary to sit with our emotions and feel the breadth and depth of them. Both our spiritual and emotional health come through an awareness and robust engagement with our feelings. To refuse to feel is to put the stiff arm to God.  

The psalmist does anything but deny his feelings. He brings them before the Lord and spreads them out before the Divine. Why am I discouraged? Why am I restless? Why the sadness? Could it be that God has forgotten me? Where is the Lord? Is God angry with me? Are my troubles the result of divine wrath? 

To blandly say we have never uttered or thought such questions is a telltale sign of denial. The bottom line for many folks is that they do not want to feel because such emotions complicate their lives. Besides, discouragement and sadness hurt. “Why feel,” we reason, “when it only brings pain?” 

Ah, yes, the avoidance of pain. And there is no pain quite like emotional and spiritual pain. Much like an open wound which needs a liberal application of painful peroxide, so our spiritual wounds must sting with the salve of emotional feeling. Healing is neither cheap, easy, nor painless. It typically hurts like hell. 

The psalmist’s own pain revolved around feelings of alienation from God, being cut off from fellow worshipers, and harassed by others around him. Understandably, he experienced despondency and loneliness. The psalmist wondered if anyone, including God, even cared what he was going through. In other words, he is desperate for God to show up. 

I am going to make a simple observation about this psalm: The psalmist did not get any answers to the several questions he posed. He even repeated them, to no avail. The only form of comfort the psalmist received was to remember what God had done in the past. Somehow, someway, this will help with the difficulties of the present. 

There are times in life when we must recall what we know about God, ourselves, and others. If the Lord has delivered in the past, God can do it again. If others helped before, perhaps they will be present in the here and now. And just maybe, even likely, you and I will discover a resilient spirit within. We already possess everything we need to not only survive but to grow and thrive in life. 

Hope arises from holding the big picture of the past, present, and future together at the same time. When present circumstances are difficult, and it appears we are about to swallowed up into the now, we must hold the past and future along with it, in careful tension. Then, we shall find the ennoblement to keep going. 

Trust in the future, a confident expectation of hope, is born from the trustworthiness of the past. A prayerful song in our heart will carry us through till our hope is realized. 

Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16 – Remember and Learn

My friends, I beg you
    to listen as I teach.
I will give instruction
    and explain the mystery
    of what happened long ago.
These are things we learned
    from our ancestors,
    and we will tell them
    to the next generation.
We won’t keep secret
    the glorious deeds
    and the mighty miracles
    of the Lord….

God made a path in the sea
    and piled up the water
    as he led them across.
He guided them during the day
    with a cloud,
    and each night he led them
    with a flaming fire.
God made water flow
from rocks
he split open
    in the desert,
    and his people drank freely,
    as though from a lake.
He made streams gush out
    like rivers from rocks. (CEV)

This is a psalm designed to recall historical events for the theological education of ourselves and the next generation. Through passing on eventful stories from the past to future generations, God’s people continue to remember and realize robust divine action in the world. In recalling stories of care and deliverance, God’s commandments are kept. Putting trust in a powerful and benevolent deity brings assurance and encouragement.

Using the psalter as a means of recollecting past events is a sage way of edifying God’s people and living into the command of the Law, according to Moses:

These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. Hear, Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. (Deuteronomy 6:1-12, NIV)

Since psalms are meant to be recited repeatedly throughout one’s spiritual life, doing so inoculates the worshiper from faithless rebellion and counteracts temptations toward trusting in idols. It is a preservative, giving life, purpose, and wholeness. Regular spiritual consumption of the psalms provides a pattern of instruction which molds and maintains the soul so that, when hard situations arise, the supports are there to hold up under the adversity.

The life that is truly life, and life for those who come after us, comes through intentional remembrance and learning. Today’s psalm is a fitting invitation to set our hope in God, remember God’s wonderful works, and keep God’s commands.

Psalm 119:97-104 – God the Teacher

I deeply love your Law!
    I think about it all day.
Your laws never leave my mind,
    and they make me much wiser
    than my enemies.
Thinking about your teachings
    gives me better understanding
    than my teachers,
and obeying your laws
makes me wiser
    than those
    who have lived a long time.
I obey your word
    instead of following a way
    that leads to trouble.
You have been my teacher,
    and I won’t reject
    your instructions.
Your teachings are sweeter
    than honey.
    They give me understanding
    and make me hate all lies. (CEV)

We live in a wonderful, complex, beautiful, broken, and upside-down world. The information we access, the choices we make, and the networking we engage in all require a great deal of wisdom.  Throw into the mix the reality that most things rarely go as we plan, and you have a recipe for disappointment and/or frustrating anger.  So, is there a path, a way of approaching this world that can help us navigate all its twists and trials?  Yes, there is a light through it all. Today’s psalm informs us how to proceed.

Wisdom in the Old Testament is the ability to take revealed truth and put it into concrete daily practice. So then, a life marked by the love and study of God’s Word brings both right living and enjoyment. God is our teacher and faithfully guides us into grateful living through his promises and commands. We can put ourselves in a position to sit at the master’s feet and receive gracious instruction for life.

Lectio Divina is one way of doing just that: allowing God to teach us through his Holy Word. Lectio Divina is an ancient Latin term which means “spiritual reading.”  It means to read Holy Scripture not just to know its contents, but to experience its power to restore, heal, transform, provide wisdom, and draw close to God. 

Lectio Divina is a simple way to prayerfully read the Bible, meditate on its message, and listen for what God may be saying for us to do.  It can be done privately, or with a small group of people.  The goal for the Christian is to become more Christ-like.

Lectio Divina is based upon reading a selected text of Scripture three times. Each reading is followed by a period of silence after which each person is given the opportunity to briefly share what they are hearing as they listen to God (if done in a group).

First Reading

During the first reading, read the text aloud twice. Read slowly and carefully. The purpose of the first reading is for each person to hear the text and to listen for a word, phrase or idea that captures their attention. As group members recognize a word, phrase, or idea, they are to focus their attention on it, repeating it within their minds several times.

Second Reading

During the second reading, read the text again. This time, listeners are to focus their attention on how the selected word, phrase or idea speaks to their life that day. What does it mean for you today? How is Christ, the Word, speaking to you about your life through this word, phrase, or idea? What is Christ, the Word, speaking to you about your life through this word, phrase, or idea? After the reading, a brief period of silence is observed and then group members share briefly what they have heard.

Third Reading

Read the text again. This time, listeners are to focus on what God is calling them to do or to become. Experiencing God’s presence changes us. It calls us to something. During this final reading, focus on what God is calling you to do or to be.  After the third reading, there is a period of silence, then group members share what they are being called to do or to be.

The psalms, especially Psalm 119, are meant to be read over-and-over again, to be used for prayer, worship, and study. Devoting ourselves to the psalms and grafting them into our lives is one of the best practices we can do to live a healthy and happy spiritual life.

Almighty God extend your goodness to me according to your Holy Word. Teach me knowledge and good judgment because I trust your commands. I seek to obey your wondrous Word. You are good, and what you do is always good. Teach me your decrees through Jesus Christ my Lord in the wisdom of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45 – Remember the Wonderful

O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name,
    make known his deeds among the peoples.
Sing to him, sing praises to him;
    tell of all his wonderful works.
Glory in his holy name;
    let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
Seek the Lord and his strength;
    seek his presence continually.
Remember the wonderful works he has done,
    his miracles, and the judgments he has uttered,
O offspring of his servant Abraham,
    children of Jacob, his chosen ones….

Then he brought Israel out with silver and gold,
    and there was no one among their tribes who stumbled.
Egypt was glad when they departed,
    for dread of them had fallen upon it.
He spread a cloud for a covering,
    and fire to give light by night.
They asked, and he brought quails,
    and gave them food from heaven in abundance.
He opened the rock, and water gushed out;
    it flowed through the desert like a river.
For he remembered his holy promise,
    and Abraham, his servant.

So he brought his people out with joy,
    his chosen ones with singing.
He gave them the lands of the nations,
    and they took possession of the wealth of the peoples,
that they might keep his statutes
    and observe his laws.
Praise the Lord! (NRSV)

Every day I read in the psalms. There are two reasons I do this. First, the psalms are the church’s prayer book.  They are more than reading material; the psalms are meant and designed to be owned for us as prayers. And second, I need their reminders – a lot!

Remembering is a major theme throughout the entirety of Holy Scripture. It is just part of the human condition, fallen and forgetful as we are, to lose sight of what has taken place in the past. Today’s psalm invites us to seek the Lord through remembering all the good and wonderful works he has done.

For Israel, remembering meant continually having Passover in front of them. God redeemed his people out of Egyptian slavery and into a good Promised Land. They were to never forget God’s miracle through the Red Sea, his protection over them from other nations, and his provision of food and necessities in the desert.

We are to remember because we are made in God’s image and likeness. God remembers. God has an ongoing reminder in his divine day timer: fulfill the promises I made; keep the covenant I initiated with the people, even when they’re stinkers and forget who I am.

God does not forget. God always keeps his promises. For the Christian, all God’s promises are remembered and fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Deliverance from sin, death, and hell; the gift of the Holy Spirit; and ongoing presence and provision are given to us graciously and freely by the God who loves and cares for his people. For us, remembering means coming to the Lord’s Table, entering the once for all loving sacrifice of Christ on our behalf.

One of the reasons I write and journal about my life and Scripture is to remember. Sometimes I forget. There are times when I am overwhelmed with life and it feels as if God has forgotten me. In such times, I look back into my journal and see what God has done. And I also peer into the psalms and see that God is active in his big world, always attentive to working what is just, right, and good in his people.

May your daily spiritual journey cause you to remember the Lord Jesus, to have him always before you.

“Now We Remain” by David Haas

We hold the death of the Lord deep in our hearts.

Living, now we remain with Jesus, the Christ.

Once we were people afraid, lost in the night.

Then, by your cross, we were saved;

dead became living, life from your giving.

Something which we have known, something we’ve touched,

what we have seen with our eyes;

this we have heard; life-giving Word.

He chose to give of himself, become our bread.

Broken that we might live.

Love beyond love, pain for our pain.

We are the presence of God; this is our call.

Now to become bread and wine; food for the hungry, life for the weary,

for to live with the Lord, we must die with the Lord.

Amen.