As the Deer... Despairs?
Do you ever despair? The author of Psalms 42 and 43 could relate. He asked himself three times, “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me?” (42:5, 11; 43:5).
The psalmist was a refugee. He’d been forced to leave Jerusalem and dwell among people who didn’t know the true and living God. “My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’” (42:3). The longer he sojourned, the deeper he despaired. “As a shattering of my bones, my adversaries revile me, while they say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’” (42:10).
Before exile, the psalmist treasured temple worship. “These things I remember and I pour out my soul within me. I used to go along with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God, with the voice of joy and thanksgiving” (42:4). In exile, he was cut off from the house of God and deeply despaired. “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God; when shall I come and appear before God?” (42:1-2). “O send out Your light and Your truth, let them lead me; let them bring me to Your holy hill and to Your dwelling places. Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy” (43:3-4).
The psalmist, however, didn’t remain in deep despair. Instead of continuing to allow his thoughts to push him around he began pushing them around and regained joy. Here’s the good news—so can we! Here’s how he did it.
First, he talked to God about his thoughts and feelings. “I will say to God my rock, ‘Why have You forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?’” (42:9). “You are the God of my strength; why have You rejected me? (43:2). The psalmist wasn’t bitterly venting against God. He was simply expressing how he honestly felt and seeking straight answers to fair questions. When we’re in deep despair, God wants us to do the same. He cares, has the answers, and desperately wants to lift our spirits.
Second, he asked God’s help. “Vindicate me, O God, and plead my case against an ungodly nation; O deliver me from the deceitful and unjust man!” (43:1). In a world where we control so little, we need the God who controls it all.
Third, he expected God’s help. The psalmist told himself three times, “Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him” (42:5, 11; 43:5). Why could he say this? He knew God was present and would help him (42:5). Why did he keep saying this? Because when we have doubts and fears, we must keep resisting them with truth until they’re banished from our brains.
Fourth, he knew God intended it for good. “Deep calls to deep at the sound of Your waterfalls; all Your breakers and Your waves have rolled over me” (42:7). Though in deep despair, the psalmist knew with God there was purpose behind the turbulence. “The LORD will command His loving-kindness in the daytime; and His song will be with me in the night” (42:8). Yes, Satan was trying to crush him with it, but God allowed it to make stronger. Not everything that happens in life is good, but if we love God like the psalmist good can come from anything that happens.
Fifth, he recognized things really weren’t that bad. No, he couldn’t worship as he preferred, but he could still worship. “O my God, my soul is in despair within me; therefore I remember You from the land of the Jordan and the peaks of Hermon, from Mount Mizar” (42:6). The faithful despair because they see their glass as half empty when it actually overflows. How’s this for perspective. I have a friend whose teenage daughter died from a brain tumor. Do I really have any problems? Do you? Neither did the psalmist. He realized it. So should we.
Sixth, he accepted response-ability for his own despair. The psalmist asked himself three times, “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me?” (42:5, 11; 43:5). In other words, “Why am I doing this to myself?” He knew his joy didn’t depend on outward circumstances, but on his inner attitudes towards them. Yes, it’s humbling to admit we make ourselves miserable. But, it’s also liberating to know we can just as easily choose happiness. Our emotions aren’t victims of things beyond our control! The psalmist twice described God as “the help of my countenance” (42:11; 43:5). He learned the following. So must we. “Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, ‘It is well with my soul.’”
As the deer … despairs? No, as the deer pants for the water brooks so our souls should pant for God. If we’ll drink deeply, everything else will fall into place.