Sixth Sunday after Pentecost July 16 and 17, 2022
“The Prayer of the Discouraged” Psalm 42
Rev. John R. Larson Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Why am I sad? Why doesn’t my life have any joy? What can’t I be happy? Today millions of people are asking those questions. Maybe I took those words about sadness and the missing of joy right from your lips. Spiritual depression and daily discouragement is the daily bread of many people, maybe you.
With a deep pain our author says, “My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’” He then asks, “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?” He insists that God would no longer be silent but would open His mouth and speak, “I say to God my Rock, ‘Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?’ My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’” (See Psalm 42:3,5, 9-10) Why has this happened to me, Lord? Lord, where are You? Where did You go? Why do I have to suffer this unbearable burden by myself?
Today, in our study of the psalms, the very words from God, we read a psalm of the discouraged. This is a hymn, a dirge, that gives a complaint to God for the depression and the discouragement that this person had. What lands you in the pit? What robs you of your smile?
Sometimes our past will be our greatest burden. But I’m not talking about the past with the wrong choices and the dumb decisions and sinful rebellion, I’m talking about the great days that we no longer have. This writer says, “These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go with the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng.” (Psalm 42:4) Those that write about this psalm think that the writer had been exiled from Jerusalem and they could no longer go to the Temple. No longer could they go and make their sacrifices and be in fellowship with other worshippers. They could only remember the “good old days”, the best days, the joyful and pure days – but those days were gone. “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?”
When my dad was diagnosed with cancer last August, I went out to Phoenix to see him and get some ideas about his funeral service. I interviewed him and asked about his life – his joys and his sorrows. Some of his sorrows were when he looked back at how life once was. He has lost so many friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, and fellow church members. He is 96 and so many of his buddies are dead. Looking back brought him some loneliness and sadness.
Spiritual depression, the sadness of the soul, also comes because we live with folks who oppose the faith that we hold. The psalmist, who wanted to hold to his faith, was mocked for his faith by others. “My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’” Later in this psalm, “My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’” Did you catch it? His foes didn’t let up. Their abuse was all day long. “If your God is so big and so great, why doesn’t He answer your prayers?” “If your God is so loving and generous, why can’t you pay your bills and make ends meet?” “If your God is the only God, why doesn’t He make himself more visible?”
Last week I preached on Psalm 19, the psalm that tells us how God reveals Himself so clearly. Remember? “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands…There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.” (Psalm 19:1, 3) And then God shows Himself, so that no one can miss Him, in His word, “The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.” (Psalm 19:8) But now – in this word from God – the accusation against God is that He is silent. “I say to God my Rock, ‘Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?” (Psalm 42:9)
You’ve been there. Why, Lord? Where are you, Lord? At times you have the same prayer – the prayer of the discouraged. Jesus had that prayer as well. Within just hours of His payment for our debt for sin on the cross, Jesus is praying and says, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” (Matthew 26:38) On the cross Jesus mutters the words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:45)
But that is not the final prayer of Jesus. That is not the final word from our psalmist. I hope that is not the final word from us, either. I find it remarkable that with all the tears and the questions about God’s silence, come a trust and hope, a true faith, in the strength and mercy of God. Here are some words from this psalm:
- 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.
- 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.
- By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me – a prayer to the God of my life.
He wasn’t done with God and God wasn’t done with him. When you suffer spiritual depression, when your faith is about gone, when you look at life and are just dismayed by its problems, I want you to find God there. Jesus did, He ended His life with the words, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23:46) The psalmist did. We must.
This word from this overwhelmed individual also says that God is his Rock and Savior. A rock is a picture of strength. A Savior is a Redeemer, a rescuer, one who liberates. Psalm 18 begins with some of those same names for God that this psalm uses. “I love you, Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I am saved from my enemies.” (Verses 1-3)
In the prayer of the discouraged we find ourselves empty in finding the deep answers to life alone, but we seek a deep faith in this living God. Over the last few weeks in the Lutheran Hour message, Pastor Michael Ziegler, has been preaching on Ecclesiastes, one of the most depressing and discouraging books in the Bible. The author, who calls himself the Teacher, who we think is Solomon, calls everything that we chase after a vapor – empty, meaningless, vanity. He shouts, “Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly Meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” (1:2) In the next chapter, as he looks at all that he owns, he summarizes his life, “I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.” (2:10-11) Life built on self, simply trying to find purpose in our pleasure, is empty and meaningless and leads to a discouraged and depressing life. John Stott writes, “The cure for depression is neither to look in at our grief, nor back to our past, nor round at our problems, but away and up to the living God.” (Favorite Psalms, Page 57)
Our looking away and up isn’t just a look to the heavens, but it is a focus on Jesus. In John 4, Jesus met a woman who had come to draw water at a well. He used that opportunity to give her something greater than mere water. Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14) Jesus wanted to give her more than she asked for, and He did. Later, in the Revelation of St. John we read, “To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life.” (21:6b) Jesus gives living water for our souls which can be depressed, discouraged, filled with sin or lack meaning in life.
Later in John 6, using bread instead of water, Jesus speaking to a crowd that wanted another miracle like the feeding of the 5,000 with just a couple of fish and a few loaves of bread said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35) He would tell them a few verses later, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:54)
Why am I sad? Why doesn’t my life have joy? Why can’t I be happy? God gave a word to us in Psalm 42 which affirms that such questions and struggles are real, even for a believer. But His word doesn’t end in hopelessness but with the conviction, “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” Amen!!