Why, My Soul, Are You Downcast?

Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

Psalm 42:1-11

The words of this poet, this Psalmist, pose the eternal question of balance in one’s life and faith. How do we balance hope, on one hand……  with despair, on the other? How do we balance our faith in God (which is real), with our present anxiety and worry (which is also real)? How do we find balance between a strong sense of confidence in a joyful future…. and a sinking feeling of dark foreboding?

Have you ever had this kind of fight within your own soul? Have you ever struggled with your moods?Have you ever tried to talk yourself out of a bad mood?

I love the Psalms for this very reason. I can usually relate to the emotions expressed by the Psalmist. Here, the writer is brutally honest. He doesn’t beat around the bush. She says what she means.

What is this poet experiencing?

  • People are taunting him – “Where is your God?”
  • This assumes something else has gone wrong….. it appears to them that he has experienced some kind of trial and tragedy….. and has been abandoned.
  • Internally he is depressed and anxious. In verse 5 and 11 he speaks of being downcast. In verse 3 he is pushed to constant tears. In verse 7 he feels like drowning….. “all your waves and breakers have gone over me”

When you read verse 11, the end of the Psalm, is it a happy ending? Is the issue resolved?  In some sense there is a continuing struggle. The poet knows that real joy and hope will come from God….. but he is still not quite there yet.

What does this Psalmist DO during these times of depression and lack of peace? How does he attempt to regain a sense of balance? Some have counted 5 or 6 actions taken by this Psalmist to deal with his depression. I choose 3 to offer as suggestions for ourselves this morning:

1.   He asks God “WHY?”  – He shares his feelings with God honestly

verse 9: “I say to God, my rock, why have you forgotten me?

He’s not afraid to be honest with God…. to shout out his feelings. He knows that God has NOT really forgotten him. Just in verse 8 he has said that by night and day, God’s love and presence is with him. But in this present crisis….he FEELS like God has forgotten about him and shares that. You cannot share these kinds of feelings and thoughts with strangers. It’s only with intimate friends that we can open up like this. Is our relationship with God intimate?

2.  He remembers past experiences

Verse 4: he thinks back on the powerful experiences he has had in corporate worship…. At the temple…..singing and praising God with others.

Do you believe that our worship times together on Sunday are supernatural events? That they have the power to sustain our faith…. to keep us going? To grow us closer to God? If not, then our worship is a supreme waste of time. Yes, God meets us here. The poet remembers this and it causes encouragement in the midst of his depression. No doubt there are other past experiences which he can call to mind –  to remind him that God has brought him through dark valleys many times before.

3. He preaches to himself

He states what he knows to be true, whether he feels it at the moment or not.

Verse 5 and 11:

Why, my soul, are you downcast and disturbed? Why are you anxious? Hope in God, yes, Hope in God…..for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God!”

In this walk of faith….in this fight for faith…. it’s often good to preach to yourself. To speak truths. Have you ever done this? We’ve all had various mantras over the years. Sometimes it’s as simple as “I am truly loved by God.”

“Jesus loves me”  – you’d be surprised how few Christians really believe that! I don’t mean non-believers who don’t believe in God at all. I mean Christians…..surprisingly few truly deeply believe that God LOVES them. If we took this truth more seriously, our daily lives would be different!

During the summer after my third year of college, I answered an ad in the paper and became a “summer Kirby vacuum cleaner salesperson”.  Every morning the sales people would gather for mutual encouragement and SINGING. Yes, they actually had a KIRBY songbook! I was surprised and can remember thinking….. “singing together about Kirby vacuum cleaners is not very cool.” (Some of the songs were pretty silly – like this one, sung to the tune of Yankee Doodle Dandy – “Kirby, Kirby really sucks….. but things are picking up….” – you get the picture.) But amazingly, the singing of songs and laughing together in this fashion actually fired up the team to get out there and sell vacuum cleaners. I didn’t get very rich that summer, but I learned a TON about direct sales and motivation. Talking to yourselves….using positive scripts…. is important for sales.

If sales people find it important to “preach to themselves” to “speak truth” to themselves…. how much more important is it for people of faith to repeat those sacred truths upon which our faith stands?

This Psalmist does that. He tells himself where hope is grounded…. where his hope will come from…. even if he’s not quite there yet…..

Hope in God! Hope in God!

(the above is a summary of the message shared during our worship on June 19, 2022.)