Summary: When Hope is all there is, it is all we need.
“When Hope Is All There Is”
Alexander Solzhenitsyn spent part of his life in a Soviet Siberian prison. At one point he was so physically weak and discouraged that he hoped for death. The hard labor, terrible conditions, and inhumane treatment had taken its toll. He knew the guards would beat him severely and probably kill him if he stopped working. So he planned to expedite his death by simply stopping his work and leaning on his shovel. But when he stopped, a fellow Christian reached over with his shovel and quickly drew a cross at the feet of Solzhenitsyn, then erased it before a guard could see it. Solzhenitsyn would later record that his entire being was energized by that little reminder of the hope and courage we find in Christ. He found the strength to continue because a fellow believer cared enough to remind him of our hope. WHEN HOPE IS ALL THERE IS, IT IS ALL WE NEED. The Psalmist, many centuries ago, was left with only hope. So he cried out: “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.” So we turn to PSALM 42 for it tells us what to do when hope is all there is.
We need, first of all, to DIAGNOSE OUR HEARTS OF DOUBT. We’re not sure of the author or the circumstances of this Psalm. But we are certain it was a time of both severe threat from a vicious, persistent enemy and of popularity for misguided religious cults. As a result the Psalmist was heavy in heart, doubtful of conditions improving.
He was doubtful in two distinct ways. HE WAS, first, DOUBTFUL OF GOD. Verses 1 & 2: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” Specifically he DOUBTED THE PRESENCE OF GOD. In verse 4 he painfully remembered when he used to be so very active in leading worship: “These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng.” And then in verse 9 he cried out, “Why have you forgotten me?” The Psalmist was bemoaning the fact that he could not worship in the Temple. But more than that, it represented his doubt in the presence of God. He was longing for a deeper sense of God’s presence in his life, crying out for a faith that was free from fear and doubt.
Have you ever doubted the presence of God? We are not much different from the Psalmist. WE, TOO, LONG FOR GOD. We, too, feel detached from God. At times He just does not answer our questions. How could this tragedy or event happen? Why did it happen? God, why am I afraid? Will I ever feel safe again? Why did God allow me to fail? I stepped out in faith – and everything fell down around me; where was God? My child died – where was God? God is just not responding to our prayers. I prayed – believing - for healing – and what good has it done? I’ve prayed for years for my child – what good has it done? I prayed so hard that I would be accepted by that group – but I’m still an outsider; in fact, they taunt me. I’ve prayed until my strength was gone – but still I can’t kick this habit. We doubt God is anywhere around.
And THAT’S EMBARRASSING. Verse 3: “...men say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’” Verse 10: “…my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’” It’s one thing to feel that God is absent but it’s even worse to know His enemies are alive and well – and they are having a hay day! And it pained the Psalmist to hear God mocked; “My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me…” And, similarly, we know that our non-Christian friends are watching – they’ll take every opportunity they can to remind us that our God doesn’t seem to care. They’re waiting for us to fail – and we feel like we’re not far from doing so. We feel like we’re losing our credibility. If God wants to convert them, why doesn’t He just help me out here! We doubt the presence of God.
Second, the Psalmist was DOUBTFUL OF HIMSELF. Verse 3: “My tears have been my food day and night...” Look at verse 7: “Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.” The Psalmist DOUBTED THE STABILITY OF HIS VERY SOUL. He was completely demoralized by trials. He was trying hard to ride the waves of the storm but he was being overwhelmed; he felt like he was going under for the last time, unsure of how much energy he had left to keep swimming. His energy was depleted, his heart heavy, and his soul burdened. Was it any wonder he was thirsty, that he longed for God? Look at verses 5 & 11: “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?” The word downcast means to be cast down in the pits, to feel low. These are the verses Jesus drew from when He said, “Now my heart is troubled…” (John 12:27) and “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” (Mark 14:34) It is that heaviness of heart and doubt of ability to go on that drags down energy and deadens enthusiasm.