Summary: A psalm of despair with an antidote

Psalm 42

This morning’s psalm is Psalm 42, which has been called a psalm of despair. But it is more than that. It does also contains the antidote.

There is a lot in the psalm, but I would like to look at three aspects of it today:

These aspects are:

1. Despair is disabling

2. Despair can lead to irrationality but

3. Despair can be overcome by putting "our hope in God".

1. Despair is disabling

The psalm opens with the psalmist voicing his need for God.

1As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you O God.

2My soul thirsts for God, for the living God, When can I go and meet with God?

My tears have been my food day and night

You can really sense a despair in the psalmist’s soul.

For me, he paints the picture of a deer who has been on the run, running from his enemies. A deer who is on his last legs. A deer who longs for refreshing water.

In the same way, the psalmist feels that he is on his last legs. Whether real or imagined his enemies hound him saying

"Where is your God?"

Have you ever heard that mocking voice in your soul saying:

"Call yourself a Christian, well where is your God for you now?"

Like the deer who longs for water, so the psalmist longs God, his living water.

Despair is very disabling. The only comfort the psalmist finds is his own tears.

My tears have been my food day and night

(Ps 42:3)

Have you ever been in a place like that?

A place where you feel everything is falling down around you.

I certainly have. I don’t think it is an unusual experience at Theological College.

Everything looks bleak and it seems that God doesn’t care for you any more.

You can even get to the point when you wonder if you made the right decision coming here.

You find yourself identifying with the psalmist when he says in verse 10

10My bones suffer mortal agony, as my foes taunt me.."

I am, however, encouraged that I am not alone. Others have gone through the same experiences before me.

Even the great men of God, like the prophet Elijah suffered from despair.

You may recall the incident in 1 Kings 19, when Elijah fled to Mount Horeb, the mountain of God (1 Ki. 19:8).

Elijah had a tremendous victory over the priests of Baal on Mount Carmel. (1 Ki. 18:16-46)

God had shown himself to Elijah and the people of Israel in great power and Elijah had been vindicated. Spiritually he was on cloud nine.

And then we get this curious incident in 1 Kings 19.

Jezebel, the patron of the priests of Baal, sends Elijah a message:

"Sunshine, I am going to kill you".

Very simple and very effective.

What does Elijah do?

Does he turn to the Lord as he did against the priests of Baal. That would have been the logical response.

No, the Scriptures tell us that "Elijah was afraid and ran for his life" (1 Kings 19:3).

Which brings me to me second point

2. Despair is very irrational

Elijah had just had a famous victory at Mount Carmel, yet when his guard was down the enemy snuck in. And he panicked and fled.

You know I am really glad that the compiler of Kings put that story of Elijah in, because it gives me great hope.

It tells me that as Christians, we have permission to fail!

The psalmist was a failure too. He gave in to despondency. We read in verse 9

"9I say to God, my Rock "Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?

God hasn’t forgotten him, but that is how it FEELS like to him

This is not victorious Christian living - but it is REAL

But we do find a ray of light in the dark night of despair and gloom.

3. Despair can be overcome by putting "your hope in God" (Ps. 42:5)

How can I put my trust in God when I am feeling so low, you might ask.

Verse 5 gives us a hint:

and in verse 5 and 11

"Why are you downcast O my soul? Why so disturbed within me

Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.

How can I praise God when I am feeling so low.

I think the key is in the words:

My saviour?

I find it useful to think back to times in my life where God has miraculously intervened in my problems, problems that have brought me to despair.

I tend to be a pessimist. Do you know the difference between the Christian optimist and pessimist?

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Talk about it...

Jerry Bush

commented on Jul 25, 2008

Thanks, it gives me a little insight in what I am looking for!

Revd. Martin Dale

commented on Mar 21, 2014

Jerry Your reply was an encouragement Martin

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