I began re-reading a book that I have not looked at in years: Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. I have realized that over the past seven months I have stopped practicing many (more like most, and possibly all) of my spiritual disciplines. I thought going through his book again might help me to find some direction in that regard. As I read his chapter on meditation, in which he emphasizes among other things the meditation on scripture, I was drawn to his use of Psalm 42. I thought perhaps that Psalm might prove fruitful to begin anew my discipline of meditation on scripture. I was in for a treat.
Each verse of Psalm 42 struck me deeply and cut to the core of so much of what I am experiencing at this point in my life that I was left with the impression that this psalm must have been written just for this situation in my life. I will not go through the entire psalm verse by verse, although that might prove fruitful later. I do, however, want to direct you to one verse that is repeated in the psalm and also appears in Psalm 43 following.
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 and my God. (Psalm 42:5, 11; 43:5)
I was reminded of a sermon I had listened to a while back by John Piper. I am sorry that I do not know the sermon or have a link to it, but at one point he discussed the importance of talking to ourselves. He said it this way (I am paraphrasng from my memory), “The problem many people have is that we listen to ourselves when we ought to be speaking to ourselves.” The act of listening, according to Piper, is passive and we do not control what is being said. But speaking is active and we choose what is said. When we listen to ourselves we often hear messages of depression, fear, doubt, or other negative messages. The solution, he said, is to take the upper hand and to speak to your soul. By speaking truth to the soul, we strengthen our faith and are better prepared to fight depression or other negative emotional states.
We see this very thing at work here in Psalm 42-43. The psalmist says to himself (his soul), “Why are you cast down . . . and why are you in turmoil within me?” Instead of listening to the voices asking about our worth, we take the fight to the enemy soil. “Why are you this way? Why are you feeling so low? What’s wrong?” The psalmist continues by encouraging himself (his soul) with the admonition, “Hope in God.” But why should his soul hope in God? What basis is there for thinking things will get any better? The answer immediately follows, “For I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” The psalmist is able to say to his soul that the future will get brighter because he will again praise his God. Because of this hope in the future restoration with the Lord, the psalmist takes hope, and he tells himself to take hope.
But what is the basis of this hope? Is it based on the resolve of the psalmist to get his act together and begin singing God’s praises again? Is it based on the determination that the psalmist sees in himself to do the right thing? I think the answer lies in the tone of the whole psalm. In Psalm 42 the psalmist is crying out to the Lord because it seems he has been abandoned by God and at the mercy of his enemies. He has been overwhelmed by waves. Voices of doubt come to him asking, “Where is your God?” But it seems that the psalmist never gives in to those questions. Throughout the psalm, despite the various and serious problems he faces, the psalmist never doubts that behind all of his turmoil and problems lies the Lord. Even when he asks the question in verse 9–“Why have you forgotten me?”–he prefaces the question with “I say to God, my rock.” I believe that the reason the psalmist can say to his soul with boldness, “I shall again praise him,” is because of God’s grace in granting faith to this believer.
Last Sunday the pastor at Biltmore Baptist Church spoke to the children of the congregation. On the occasion of lighting the hope candle for that Sunday of Advent, he asked the children if any of them knew what hope was. One of the boys, perhaps a fourth or fifth grader, raised his hand and said, “Hope is depending on something that hasn’t happened yet.” The pastor said, “That is a very good answer. In fact I think it is better than I was going to preach today.”
In times of trouble we have to know the truth. We have to depend on that truth. And then, with the psalmist, we need to speak that truth to ourselves and stop listening to ourselves.