This is part of our summer Psalms series in 2009, where we are preaching through some of Pastor Duane’s favorites Psalms. This week is an exegetical sermon on Psalm 42 titled Thirsting for God. This sermon looks at the place of feelings in the Christian faith and what thirsting for God looks like when in isolation, defeat, the night and death. This sermon was originally preached July 19th, 2009 at The Resolved Church in San Diego, CA.
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The Resolved Church
Pastor Duane Smets
July 19th, 2009
Psalm 42 – “Thirsting for God”
I. Thirsting in Isolation (v1-4)
II. Thirsting in Defeat (v5-7)
III. Thirsting at Night (v8)
IV. Thirsting in Death (v9-11)
Good morning. It’s hot. Summer is in full force.
Well this morning we’re in Psalm 42 in our summer Psalms series. Psalm 42 is pretty amazing. It is perhaps one of the most emotion filled chapters in the whole Bible. All the sad emo kids got nothin’ on Psalm 42…David outdoes ‘em all. It’s got dark, deep, heartpain, poetry filled, gut wrenching soul turmoil. I thought about titling my sermon “Melancholoy and the Infinite Sadness.”
I didn’t title it that though because sadness is not mainly what this Psalm is about…it’s mainly about God and having a thirst for him. Though there is a lot of sadness in this Psalm, it’s main point is to teach, to teach how to deal with what Saint John of the Cross called, “The Dark Night of the Soul.”
There is so much we can and need to learn from this Psalm. It is so relevant. In my experience it seems that my generation, the people 10-15 years older and younger than me are perhaps more fixiated upon their feelings than ever before. I’m not ready to make a sweeping historical argument but so many people are so caught up in how they are feeling all the time and analyzing how they are feeling.
It seems that in some ways we are living in one of the most narcisstic ages and cultures ever. Narcissus was a greek mythologial character who was said to have been so in love with his own beauty that he got eternally stuck in a trance looking at his own reflection in a pool of water.
If you listen to the popular songs, movies, and books of our culture…everyone everywhere is asphixiated with themselves and how they are feeling. I can’t tell you how many times I have met with people as a pastor and the thing people are struggling with most is how they don’t feel God and they think that is grounds for them not following him.
We had a couple living with us once a little over four years ago and the husband left his wife and his faith because he said he didn’t “feel love” for her anymore. I have had some close friends and people I’ve partnered with in ministry completely quit on God and everything else because they said they just don’t “feel it anymore.”
To be honest when I hear stuff like that it just makes me mad. “So what you don’t feel like it! Go cry yourself a river! Man up! You know?” But as we see here in this Psalm, God is much more compassionate. He inspired a Psalm to be written and put in the Bible to show us that he knows very well the deepest and hardest feeling a human being can feel. It’s all here, and the truth is we all experience it. If you haven’t you probably will eventually. As Charles Spurgeon says, “most have sailed the sea of this Psalm.” I know I have and that’s why it’s one of my favorites…it’s got me through a lot of dark hours.
So let’s read it and get into it (read text and pray).
I. Thirsting in Isolation (v1-5a)
Alright. Well, first off this Psalm was a song meant to be sung, probably with Psalm 43 which appears to be basically an extra verse in the hymn of this Psalm. But we’re just going to do Psalm 42 today. There’s some debate about it, but most likely it was written by David. So I’m just going to assume it was, it just smells like him.
The Psalm starts off by immediately introducing us to a picture…that of a deer. “As the deer pants, so my soul pants…my soul thirsts for God.” So we got a deer…get Bambi in your head or something. Now, it doesn’t say anything about the deer running or being lost, just that the deer is parched. So take you Bambi and put him in the middle of the desert somewhere in the middle east and that’s the idea.
Thirsting for God with an animal thirst. Dry mouthed, hot, sweaty, horrible taste, foamy saliva, must drink or die kind of thirst. That’s the picture here. And David says, I thirst like that…for God. This Psalm is about thirsting for the being of God.
In the first section we begin to learn what is giving rise to this thirst. In verse 2 he asks the first of five questions and wants to know when he will be able to appear before God. Most likely this means, when he will be able to be with God’s people and worship God with them again because in verse 4 he remembers when he would sing with a bunch of people in the house of God.
So this tells us David is isolated and alone and he is torn up inside. In verse 3 he says, “tears have been my food day and night.” So, he is so depressed he doesn’t even feel like eating. He just spending a lot of time thinking and his eyes well up with tears often.
If it is David it most likely may be the time when he is on the run from his own son Absalom who turned the people against him and wanted to take over his dad’s throne by killing him. I tell you what, if I had a son who did not love follow Jesus and on top of that wanted to kill me, chasing after me in the wilderness…I don’t think I’d feel like eating and I’d probably shed a lot of tears.
Have any of you ever experienced isolation? Where you get detached from Jesus’ church which has a natural love and support system built into it? Maybe you’re even isolated right now…detached, and your going through stuff and you feel like you’re all alone and God is nowhere to be found?
Have you guys ever been so broken that you just don’t feel like eating and you just cry a lot? I have. If you’ve ever experienced that then you’re right in the middle of this Psalm.
That’s the place that David is at in his life here. But look how David deals with it. Let’s learn from him. In verse 4, it tells us how he responds to what he is going through. First, he begins to remember things…”These things I remember.”
When you are down, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to begin to call to mind past times when God was good to you…past times when you experienced his love and his grace. You bring up those mental movies and you start playing them in your head.
Have you any of you ever read through Genesis and noticed how they are always building these memorials? It seems like when half the time anyone ever talks to God in that book that they go gather a bunch of rocks and build a memorial.
Some of you need to do that. I’ve got a couple ways I do this. I’ve got two journals. One on my computer and the other one is this hand held journal. In each of them I’ve got recorded specific times when I was really wrestling through something, or time when Amy and I were really facing a big challenge or times when God really answered a prayer, or thank you notes from people who have really been ministered to.
So sometimes when things get rough I go back and I just read through some of them. Here’s what happens. You start remembering how you felt then but how you don’t feel like that anymore. And then you start to get encouraged and hopeful about the current situation you’re in.
And that’s what we see happen with David here. Check it out what he remembers. Verse 4, “I remember…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.”
He might be remembering the time when they brought the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem. 2 Samuel 6 tells the story. The ark of the covenant was basically this gold box with some angel figures on top of it and in the box they kept the first Bible and some other holy things. During one of the battles with the Philistines, they stole the ark. But when they got the ark back to their place and put it in their temple next to their other holy things and gods, the statues of other gods would fall down and bow before it and then the ark kept killing people who would come in contact with it.
So basically they call up the Israelites and say come get this thing. David is so stoked that makes calls for this big festival with sacrifices and everything and 2 Samuel 6:1-15 says, “David danced before the Lord with all his might.. and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting and with the sound of the horn.”
He remembers a great time of worship with God’s people. You know you can sing songs and worship by yourself but there is something so unique and special about worshipping God with his people. It’s truly one of the great pleasures of being the church.
In our family would look forward to Sunday with such an expectancy because we love to appear before our God with his people. As a people we are by nature social people and we get a lot of spiritual help by uniting together in worship.
Now check this out. David’s down. So he calls to memory a past time when God was good to him. Then what is his response? Verse 5, “Why are you cast down O my soul, and why are you in turmoil withing me? Hope in God; for I shall yet praise him, my salvation and my God.”
He’s encouraged. Playing the movie of the past in his mind enouraged him that it could and would happen again. He would see and be with God’s people and he would experience God’s presence again.
II. Thirsting in Defeat (v5b-7)
Now in case we get the wrong idea and think that if we ever hit a rough patch all we got to do is remember the good God times of the past and then all will be well…the Psalm goes on. When you’re in the thick of it, sometimes it just comes in waves and you have to persist in the fight for joy in God. So in the second part of verse 5 (we’ve got a bad verse break here) through verse 7 he dives back in and battles.
So second point, “Thristing in Defeat.” Let’s start with verse 7. “Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me.”
A couple of things here. First, notice the personal pronoun “your.” These are “your” waterfall and “your” breakers and “your waves.” Who is the your? The your is God. First he recognizes that the trouble and trial he is facing is ultimately from God. He knows God is sovereign and is the one who causes and allows all things to happen.
Sometimes when people are hurting and having a hard time I have heard other Christians and pastors attempt to comfort people by saying things like…”Oh I’m so sorry. This isn’t from God. He woud stop it if he could.” That’s not true and that does not help. God is not impotent. It is of no comfort to anyone to say God can’t doesn’t have anything to do with suffering and that he cannot do anything about it. That is discouraging and death not life and peace…and that is not the God we serve.
It is much more true and assuring to see things as they really are and say, “God this is from YOU…it is your water that is falling on me and crushing me so I turn to you in my hour of need because YOU are the only one who can do anything about it. So help me Lord. I thirst for you. You are my only hope.”
Now, I know it says waterfalls, so I don’t know if he is imaging falling off the edge and going over the falls. To me that sounds fun. But I’m a surfer and I know the feeling of breakers and waves going over me…I have been so tossed a couple times I thought I might drown.
One time a number of years ago now, I was in Mexico with some friends at this surf spot between Rosarito and Ensenada. The surf was big. Easily bigger than double-overhead. We’re talking like 15-18 foot faces. Some of the biggest waves I’d ever surfed. And it was good. The surf was firing. We had been surfing for awhile and this big set came in.
I remember I paddled out and caught it on the outside and I remember dropping in and seeing two of my buddies just barely make it over the top of the wave. I remember I bottom turned and cut up the face of the wave and by the time I hit the crest of the wave I was too late…it just took me and tossed me.
I remember being underwater all twisted up being thrown about, not know which way was up or down and then I remember hitting my head on something hard, the reef or something. Then, the next thing I remember is my friends shaking me and I’m on the shore and there is blood all over the side of my head. To this day me and my friends still call that spot “lucky’s” even though I don’t really believe in luck.
Now, I tell that story just to say, I really identify with this, “your breakers and your waves have gone over me.” I think what David is getting at is the feeling when life just feels like you’ve been put through the washing machine and you don’t know which way is up or down anymore. You don’t know what to think or feel about anything anymore. You’re just beat up and you’re drowning.
So what’s he do? How do you deal with that? It’s in verse 6. “My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you…from Jordan, Hermon, and Mount Mizar.” Most likely these were all places where David had won military battles before. So he remembers the victories.
David follows the same pattern as before in the first part of the Psalm. When cast down and in defeat. He calls to mind the memories of times past when God had been good to him and delivered him. So what do you do when you don’t know which way is up? You remember how God has delivered you in the past.
III. Thirsting at Night (v8)
Okay. So onto verse 8, and “Thristing at Night.” There isn’t really anything textual to set this verse apart…I just think there is something really signficant about the night and how God often chooses to work in the night.
A pastor named Ron Mehl was once very kind to me and helped put me through college before he died of Leukemia. While he was dying he wrote a book called “God Works the Night Shift.” To answer the question of what to do when I don’t feel? He writes this, “When you find yourself groping around in the dark, you’re going to need a few things nailed down in your soul…(one of them is that) despite the way things sometimes appear, God is continually at work in your life. In fact he often does his best work in the darkness.”
Verse 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.”
I find that pretty regularly, maybe once every couple of weeks or once a month…I wake up in the middle of the night restless. Usually it’s one of you and something going on in your life and I am troubled by it…sometimes it’s a concern with the church as a whole. But I wake up and I am just worried and can’t stop thinking. I try to go back to sleep and I can’t…so after about 30 minutes of that nonsense…I figure the hell with it and I just get up.
It happened to me once this week. I was up at 3:30. So this is what I did. I went out to my office, opened up my Bible and just began to read. I can’t quite explain the experience of reading the Bible in the middle of the night. It is special. It’s all quiet, you’re tired and so it’s sort of surreal.
The other night after reading my Bible for awhile I found that I just wanted to get down on my knees. So I knelt there in my office with the small light by my desk on and just started to pray…and then I started to sing…and then…I felt better. “The LORD commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me…(and I pray) to the God of my life.”
I’m going to use some Spurgeon here. He wrote a book called, “Lectures to My Students” which has become a sort of manual for me as a pastor. He has a chapter titled, “The Minister’s Fainting Fits” where he talks all about dealing with depression. Spurgeon had chronic gout and suffered and battled depression a lot…so he’s not speaking from some high and lofty tower of joy when he writes this. Here’s what he says.
“Any simpleton can follow the narrow path in the light: faith’s rare wisdom enables us to march on in the dark with infallible accuracy since she places her hand in that of her Great Guide…let us not be turned aside from the path which the divine call has urged us to pursue. Come fair or come foul…be it ours, when we cannot see the face of our God, to trust under the shadow of his wings.”
Guys don’t write too much like that these days. Spurgeon wrote with God in his bones. I’m on a mission to build up a church that loves and follows God like that. One full of people who will follow God even in the night of their darkest hour…that such a night will be the hour of prayer and song to our God.
IV. Thirsting in Death (v9-11)
Well the darkest part of the Psalm is here in some of the last couple verses…so let’s follow them and go even deeper yet with this. “Thirsting in Death” in verses 9-11. Here we get David’s last three questions.
In one he addresses God as his rock and says, “Why have you forgotten me?” In one he addresses his soul again, “Why are you cast down, O my soul?” And in one he’s either addressing himself or God, I’m not sure. He asks, “Why do I go mourning because of the opression of the enemy?”
The context here is clearly death. Someone is after him, probably his son Absolam, and it’s a real possibilty he might die. There’s the physical oppressoin for sure. But it almost what his enemies are saying that really gets to him. In verse 10 David says his adversaries taunt him. They mock him and God repeatedly. And these words cut deep.
At the beginning of verse 10 he says the words are like “a deadly wound in my bones.” You could translate the Hebrew literally as “murder in my bones.” This is deep and dark when you feel like despairing even to the point where you feel dead or feel like dying. David is really down here.
So what’s he do? Pop some pills? Hook up a bottle of Vodka? Have some girls over to numb the pain? No. He continues to do what he has been doing this whole Psalm: pouring out his heart to God. Remember earlier back up in verse 4 when he says “I pour out my soul” to God.
Have you ever done this? Just laid it all out on the table before God? I think that’s really what’s going on with these questions here. I saved talking about it until now because these questions are so pointed. Many of us have probably asked God this question or at least a form of it, “Why have you forgotten me?” “Where are you God?” “Why don’t you care?” “What are you doing LORD?”
Ever asked that question? Here’s the thing. I think sometimes we get the idea that we got to have it all together to come to God…so we go to him trying to put on our best face and look all good so he’ll be impressed, when really we’re falling apart.
The thing is…God is big enough for our questions. He’s not going to get all offended when we come to him openly and honestly. Sometimes you just have to lay one the table where you at spiritually with God before you can actually really start to pray and have a real conversation with him.
All throughout Scripture we see Godly men asking God questions. David here asks. Moses questioned God a bunch. Job got ridiculous and said he wanted to take God to court. Habakkuk laid out questions before God and then said he would climb up in a tower and wait to hear God’s answer. I think it’s okay to express our frustration to God. I mean you don’t want to start callling God names and cursing at him but I think it is okay to say, “Where are you God?” Anyone remember Jesus’ words on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
David’s other form of questions are interesting because they are in the form of this self-communicating dialogue. He talks to himself as if he is two people and wrestles and fights with himself. And then he even preaches to himself. We all know we have an ability to do this. All of us are talking to ourselves all the time. There is an internal conversation going on in our heads much of the time.
That’s probably where that crazy idea of the little devil angel sitting on one should and the little heaven angel on the other came from. In the New Testament we’re told that the desires of the flesh are against the spirit and they are opposed to each other. There is a war for our soul.
So David recognizes this and does what he does well. He’s a warrior and so he battles. He questions and challenges his soul. Why are you thinking and feeling that way? Stop it. Turn to God. Put your hope in him. Some of you may never have done this and you have to learn how to do it. You have to learn how to fight with yourself.
D. Martin Lloyd Jones, was a pastor in London in the last century. He wrote a great book titled “Spiritual Depression: It’s Causes and Cures.” In it he writes, “You have to speak to yourself…the Scriptures teach us how to speak to ourselves…remind yourself of certain things. Remind yourself of who you are and what you are. You must talk to yourself and say: ‘I am not going to be dominated by you, these moods shall not control me. I am going out, I am breaking through.’ So get up and walk and do something…Say ‘no, I do not feel anything, but whether I feel or not, I believe the Scriptures. I believe God’s Word is true and I will stay my soul on it, I will believe come what may.” That’s good.
What has to happen is that we have to get our eyes off ourselves and how we are feeling onto God and his word. You have to become a preacher and preach God’s word to yourself. And when you do that…the darkness will eventually lift.
So when we feel as if there is a knife in our bones, David’s answer here is for us to pour our heart out to God and then preach to our soul and command it to put hope in God. Like in verse 8, “the LORD commands his steadfast love.”
Okay, let me try and pull this altogether for us. What I want to do is step back for a second and look at all the human feelings together that get brought up in this Psalm and then look at the faith in God this Psalm expresses as the answer to those feelings.
In one of my discipleship meetings this week I asked a dude how well he was able to do soul analysis. Are you able to discern your heart, do some heart exegesis, and get a sense of what is going on inside you?
David did. Altogether here is what he expresses:
- There is the feeling of deep longing: a panting and a thirsting.
- There is the feeling of bitter sadness: a lot of tears and no eating for days.
- There is the feeling of nostalgia: the good days of God are long gone.
- There is the feeling of difficult inner conflict: the soul is in turmoil within.
- There is the feeling of being overtaken: the waters of life are drowning.
- There is the feeling of being alone: totally forgotten.
- There is the feeling of being rejected: taunted and oppressed by others.
- There is the feeling of dying: murder in the bones.
Longing, sadness, nostalgia, turmoil, overtaken, alone, rejected, and death. Some intense emotions. Probably too familiar for some of you.
Now lets look at the response to those feelings…how David deals with ‘em in faith. Sometimes your faith will be directly opposite to your feelings. Check it out.
First, the feeling of deep longing and bitter sadness. In response to that feeling faith says, God is still real. The answer to that soul thirst is the living God. I love how he clarifies who God is in the second verse. He says my soul thirsts for God, for the living God. Just getting religious or spiritual is not the answer. The only thing which can meet the need of the soul is the real and true God, the one who is an actual person and who actually lives.
For some of you God may just be an out there idea but he is not a living person to you. Hear today, he’s a living God.
Second, the feeling of nostalgia from the past. In response faith says, I will worship God in his house again…I shall again praise him. I love how he is looking backward remembering times of worship and it then it turns into a confidence looking forward to future worship. Just a change in feelings is not the answer. David realizes he needs an entire change of circumstance and needs to be with God’s people worshipping in God’s house.
For some of you, you may have never experienced really being part of a church or it’s been a long time. Hear today, this is a house of God, a house of worship and we invite you in.
Third, the feeling of inner turmoil and being overtake. In response faith says, God is my God, the God of my life. I love that in response to the expression of turmoil David gets really personal. It not just God, he’s my God. And when he prays to him, he addresses God as “the God of my life.” Just solving the problem in your head that’s causing turmoil and making you feel overtaken is not the answer. What we need is a sense of the personal presence of God…he’s my God, the God of my life…even when I’m in conflict and drowning.
For some of you, you may not have ever experience that close personal sense of having a real relationship with God and you don’t see him as the God of your life. Hear today, God allows himself to be yours if you will have him.
Lastly, the feeling of being alone, rejected and like dying. In response faith says, God is my rock. When all have left and all is gone God is there, he is immovalbe like a rock. God is someone you can always count on and plant your feet upon, he is a rock. Just having people like you, having a lot of friends is not the answer. What we need is God as our rock.
For some of you, life may just seem like it is so up and down for you all the time and there doesn’t seem to be anything constant or assuring in the midst of it all. Hear today, God is a rock and you can count on him in the middle of a storm.
Feelings versus faith. It probably doesn’t get more gut-wrenching and raw than this Psalm but at the same time some astounding affirmation of faith in response to those feelings. God is a living God, has a house of worship, is my God, the God of my life and is my rock.
In conclusion, let me ask the question, what does this Psalm have to do with the gospel? How does it point to the person and work of Jesus?
Here how I think it may. This Psalm is about thirsting for God. That we as humans in this life and in this world will experience thirst like what described here. Jesus knew this and this is the reason he came into the world.
Early on in his ministry he met a woman at a well. She went there to draw up water and take it home. Jesus was hanging out at the well and when she came up to it he asked her for a drink. She’s totally taken back by it. First because she’s woman and second because she’s a Samaratin and he a Jew…sort of like Bloods and Crips, they don’t get a long.
So the woman says to Jesus, how can you ask me for a drink?! In response Jesus says to her, if you knew who I am, you would have asked me for a drink and I would have given you living water. Listen to his words from John 4:13-14. “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
How could Jesus say such a thing? Easy. Jesus is the living God in the flesh. Jesus came to give his life so that we might have eternal life and might call God my God. So that he might be the rock in our life in our hour of need.
Just a couple chapters after Jesus talks to the woman at the well he’s teaching and preaching and he says these fairly odd words, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me (Jn 6:54-57).”
The point is this. Jesus came into the world to deal with the turmoil of our souls. Where we have sinned and failed he succeeded and gave up his life on the cross so that there might a once and for all provision for our thirst and live. That is the gospel my friends.
David’s ultimate longing was for the closeness and provision that comes only through Christ.
So as we go to the table today, let’s drink and be satisfied in Jesus for all that he is. There is no feeling or hardship we may face that the cross of Christ does not apply to.
For the kids and bigger kids in us, here’s your take home… Sometimes we may not always feel right about things, we will thirst, but Jesus died so that whatever we are going through he might be present for us to drink from and be satisfied, forever. He is our rock, our salvation and our God.