Spiritual Depression? Preach to Yourself

Psalm 42:1-6

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?

3 My tears have been my food
   day and night,
while they say to me all the day long,
   “Where is your God?”
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.
5 Why are you cast down, O my soul,
   and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
   my salvation 6 and my God.
My soul is cast down within me;
   therefore I remember you
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
   from Mount Mizar.

It is not un-Christian to suffer. In fact, the Bible is full of warnings about suffering and even promises that God’s faithful will suffer. While God has saved us from eternal suffering, he will not keep us from all seasons of current suffering.  The promise of Christianity is not that you will never again suffer. The promise of Christianity is that your present suffering will pale in comparison to your future glory. Consider Jesus himself who wept over the death of his dear friend Lazarus even though he knew he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead. The Savior of the world grieves over the weight of the present heartache in this broken world even though he knew that one day he was going to totally restore this broken world.

Suffering and grief, therefore, are a part of human existence and it is for this reason we long for the coming of a new world where God will wipe away every tear.

In the case of the Psalmist in Psalm 42, however, his sorrow has taken a turn from mere grief, to what seems to be a spiritual depression. The Psalmist says, “they say to me all the day long, ‘Where is your God?’

Who is the “they?”

He has introduced no new character, no enemy, no other voice but his own. But, none-the-less this voice is a voice he hears while he is crying day and night. It’s almost as if the tears of his grief are speaking to him, “where is your God?” This may seem strange to us, but it’s perhaps one of the most normal realities in your daily life.

You are in constant conversation with yourself.

In fact, you listen to yourself more than you listen to anyone else in the world.

no one is more influential in your life more than you are, because no one talks to you more than you do. You are in an unending conversation with yourself. You are talking to yourself all the time, interpreting, organizing and analyzing what is going on inside of you and around you.

      Paul Tripp

In Psalm 42, we walk into the middle of a discussion that a spiritually depressed man is having with himself. In this season of suffering, he hears these doubts creeping in as he weeps day and night. He questions where God is in all of this and he remembers when he used to sense God’s presence in the temple.

Have you ever laid awake at night in the agony of your own spiritual depression because of your current circumstances?

Have you ever tortured yourself by recalling how good it used to be before this or that?

Have you ever made your present miserable with the constant meditation on what could have been, should have been, or could be in the future?

As the Psalmist is “pouring out his soul” to God, he is remembering something that he does not currently have. For some reason or another, he no longer leads worship in the house of God like he once did. For some reason or another, he is not letting out glad shouts and songs of praise. And in all of it, he wonders, “Where is my God?”

Until verse 5.

In verse 5, the Psalmist does one of the most profound things that one can do when in the depths of spiritual depression – he interrupts himself.

Psalm 42:5-6a

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
   and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
   my salvation 6 and my God.

This is the moment where the instructive aspect of this Psalm comes into play. This is exactly what the Psalmist wants us to see. The goal of this Psalm is not to condemn you for feeling spiritual depression. The goal of this Psalm is to show you how to respond to spiritual depression.

Preach to Yourself

Listen to Martyn Lloyd Jones as he comments on this Psalm,

Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them but they are talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you…… David, in effect says, “self, listen for a moment to what I have to say – why are you so cast down?” the main art in the matter of spiritual living is to know how to handle yourself, question yourself, and preach to yourself – you must remind yourself who God is, and what God has done, and what God has promised to do – …. this other man within us has got to be handled; do not listen to him! Turn to him! Speak to him! Remind him of what you know! …..

-Martyn Lloyd Jones, Spiritual Depression

This is precisely what the Psalmist is doing. The Psalmist interrupts the echo-chamber of a conversation going on in his own head with a rhetorical question, “Why are you cast down?” This question is designed, to question the validity of the reasons why the soul is cast down. The question is designed, to essentially communicate… “Soul… you do not have adequate reason to be so cast down in comparison to the reason that you have to be lifted up.” And then he follows that question with an imperative. He commands his own soul to “Hope in God.”

In the midst of soul turmoil, the author commanded himself to redirect his eyes to an unchangeable reality. No matter what the current circumstances looked like he had this confidence, this hope, this unchanging assurance, that the God of the Universe was “His God” and that his end would inevitably be the joyful praise of that God in the salvation that God had provided.

Hope is one of the most unique gifts of God to the Christian. Hope drives us, motivates us,  comforts us, and stabilizes us. We are a people who have this hope in eternity which cannot be overcome in the present. This is what sets us apart from the world. This is what makes us overcomers of the world. There is nothing that can happen to us in this world that will change the coming reality that we will one day praise him, our salvation, and our God!

The problem is, however, that we sometimes forget this hope in all our discussions with ourself and we have to interrupt our self to remind our self that our only hope is in this God being who he is!

Psalm 42:6

My soul is cast down within me;
   therefore I remember you
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
   from Mount Mizar.

What does he do when his soul is cast down within him? He remembers God. He confronts the forgetfulness of his own heart with thoughts about the very character of God.  He sets his eyes, his affections, his thoughts on the God who stands above all of his circumstances.

Preach to Yourself. Hope in God.

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