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  • Writer's pictureTim Hemingway

Waves and Breakers

One of the wonderful things about the Psalms is very similar to what Paul has been pointing out recently about Elijah, they are distinctly human in their character. Like Elijah, the Psalmist is always a follower of God, and like Elijah he is so often beset by trials and tribulations.

If we ever wanted to know whether God intends for us to prosper in earthly wealth and health by the good news of Jesus, a simple survey of the Psalms will put that idea to bed. The Psalmist earthy experience is often bleak.

As we undertook our survey of the Psalms, we would find that often the writer of the Psalm is cast down low by his circumstances and we would find a persistent tension between the glorious reality of God in his life and the challenges of his earthly life. That is a huge encouragement to me.

I go there and find people like me; writing honestly about their experience of living life as followers of God, in a difficult world. That’s me.

The Psalms also then supply valuable insights into how the godly person wrestles with their gloom to restore their hope in God. That means, the Psalms are supremely practical for our Christian lives.

But, the Psalms do not always deliver their helpfulness based on a surface reading. Sometimes you have to dig deep to find out how the poetry is working, in order to see the helpful hints.

The way to do that, is to prayerfully read it, several times perhaps, and start to make the connections that are really there.

Psalm 42 is a Psalm where the writer is deeply troubled by his circumstances.

We can see that in verses 5 and 11:

“Why, my soul, are you downcast?

Why so disturbed within me?”

The very essence of his being – mind and affections – are at a low ebb. His thoughts have turned negative. His heart finds nothing to hope in. The circumstances of his life are like waves from God sweeping over his head every moment (v.7). He’s drowning beneath his troubles.

People look at him and mock him, saying "where is your God now?" (v.3 & 10).

You say your God is your rock (v.9) but your floundering on the shores of disaster.

Tears well up his eyes every minute – night and day. The weight of his troubles mean that he is on the brink of breaking, throughout the watches of the clock. And we see glimpses of his predicament in the words of the Psalm. He seems to have an enemy who is relentlessly oppressing him (v.9) – I think it’s safe to say his life is being pursued to the grave by someone who seeks to kill him. Perhaps he’s sick too – his bones hurt (v10). It just feels like he’s completely on the rack.

Fears without; pains within

Not only all this, but also there’s nothing to console him. He feels like he’s lost his one friend. Companionship seems to be lost.

He used to go to the house of God – that no longer happens (v.4).

He used to have the protection of the mighty one – that escapes him (v.4).

He used to be under the attendant help of his God, now it looks like he’s be forsaken (v.9).

Oppressed by human enemies; laid low by human circumstances on the one hand. And seemingly deserted by his God on the other. The picture this man paints of his life is bitter. And, it’s one that might be our experience in part or in whole, if not right now then at some point in our lives either past or future. So, this is totally relevant and reminds us of the massive benefit of reading the Psalms.

At this point, we need to stop though, and ask ourselves an important question. It’s a question the Psalmist doesn’t address, he assumes we know it and the answer to it.

The question is this: does his perception line up with reality?

Circumstantial difficulties can be very disorientating. They can make us question reality. What is patently false can start to look true and what is evidently true we might start to doubt. We have to ask the question: is the Psalmist’s perception of his relationship to God a true one? That is to say, is his appreciation of God’s relationship to him a true one, or a distorted one? Is there actually a rock-solid, unchangeable reality which he just simply can’t appreciate at this moment because the circumstances of his life are obscuring his vision?

The answer is yes.

He’s the one who’s changed, not God.

He’s the one who’s had their perception altered, not God.

I think we’ll see shortly that he knows that this is the case.

But let’s prove that God does not forget his people. Let’s prove that God does not leave his people.

If the psalmist feels far from God, it’s because his focus has shifted from God, not that God has shifted from him.

Psalm 9 – “God will never forget the needy; the hope of the afflicted will never perish” (v.18).

Psalm 94 – “He will never forsake his inheritance” (v.14).

And Psalm 86 – One of my favourite verses to pray –

You, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (v.15).

God is not unfaithful. When he makes a relationship with a person, he makes a lasting covenant with them – he will not break it. He will never leave or forsake one of his own (Deuteronomy 31:6 & 8).

So, all that is to say, God has not removed himself from the Psalmist, even though his perception of where God is in relation to him, feels distant – the reality is that’s not the case.

Now, what can the Psalmist do?

His circumstances look set to remain unaltered for the foreseeable future. But surely, they would all be bearable if at once he could regain a grip on God. If at once he could revive hope in his soul in God himself. If he could say and believe it:

God is powerful to save.

God is just to vindicate.

God is full to satisfy.

In God alone is the remedy for his soul.

But oh, how to find him?

He’s so far from me.

Where can I go to find him?

There are 5 things he does as he quests to bring his soul back to hope in God. And that’s where I want us to go.

The first of the five is in verse 5 and it’s repeated in verse 11 to underline its significance.

He examines his own soul.

I have a soul that’s downcast and disturbed.


It’s not good to simply accept that we are what we are. It’s good to examine if our hearts are responding in accordance with the truth. Or, as may be the case, they’re going off on a wild tangent.

The heart is deceitful above all things.

It often doesn’t tell the truth.

Therefore, to trust the way we feel alone, is not a good indicator of the truth.

This man has the guts to examine his own heart and to ask some searching questions of it.

Should my heart be downcast?

Should my heart be disturbed?

The human voice speaks like Job’s wife:

Look at the state of you – God has forsaken you, curse him and be done with it.

But the voice of truth says:

My God is powerful to save, just to vindicate and full to satisfy,

soul you are not right! My lot is not hopeless!

So that’s the first step: self-examination.

The second thing he does is remember.

In Verse 4 he remembers the place where the Lord dwells:

These things I remember, how I used to go to the house of God with protection on my side; with shouts of joy in my ears; with praise in my heart; with my brothers and sisters rejoicing together.

And in verse 6, he remembers how God handed over to Joshua an enemy that had amassed against Israel at Mount Hermon which Joshua 11 describes as being more numerous than the sands of the sea shore:

I remember you my God. I remember how you fought for and delivered Joshua from his overwhelming enemies at Hermon.

The third thing he does is thirst for God.

Verse 1 & 2: Like a dear panting for streams of bubbling water after a long chase, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for you.

Thirst is to the body what desire is to the soul.

So, when he says, my soul thirsts,

he’s saying my soul wants;

my soul searches for; my soul desires God.

How can you awaken desire in your heart for God?

Psalm 37 says, Take delight in the Lord (v.3).

But if my soul doesn’t delight in God, then how can you be like the Psalmist and pant for him?

We need to know this: our souls desire what is most valuable to them.

In the case of the Psalmist, God is his supreme treasure and the delight of his heart, but his circumstances have overtaken him. All he can see in the peripheral vision of his soul is the gloom of his situation. How to get God back into the eyes of his heart – that’s the question.

Psalm 119 – My soul faints with longing for your salvation, but I have put my hope in your word (v.81).

Psalm 19 – The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul (v.7).

Get God - with all his awe-inspiring qualities and his perfect character and his abundant glory - back in view and the soul will pant for God again.

And the way you do that, is to read about him. You saturate your soul in the revelation of God about himself. You let the declaration about himself wash over your soul until his worth is utterly tantalising to the taste buds of your soul again. You hang on his every word about himself.

And when you do, nothing else will be more desirous to your soul than God himself.

The Psalmist ignites in his soul a fire for God and he does it by recalling who his God is and what he is like. So, the third thing he does is, he turns to the Word of God.

The fourth thing he does is pray.

Verse 9: I say to God my Rock…

Why lord, does it look like you’ve forgotten me?

Why do I have to go around like this with my heart laid low?

Why does my enemy pursue me?

Why does my foe taunt me?

These are not irreverent prayers.

These are the overflow of the soul in anguish to a God who is faithful; willing to hear prayer and powerful to answer it. These are lamentations to a God who is a heavenly Father and to a Saviour God who is not unable to sympathise with our sufferings because he himself suffered in his own flesh (Hebrews 2:18).

Psalm 4 says, Answer me when I call to you, my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress, have mercy on me and hear my prayer (v.1).

And Psalm 5 says, Listen to my words, Lord, consider my lament (v.1).

And Psalm 3 answers, He answers me from his holy mountain (v.4).

It’s amazing that so often when we are most in need of divine help, we leave off prayer most readily. But the psalmist returns to prayer and God will not disappoint him. He will answer from his holy mountain.

So, he does self-examination,

he remembers the works of the Lord,

he turns to Gods word so that his soul thirsts for God again,

he takes his dependence off himself and puts it on to God in prayer;

and now fifthly, he preaches to himself.

We might say he exhorts himself.

Verses 5 & 11 repeat the content of his self-exhortation:

Soul, you will put your hope in God because a time is coming when you will praise him, both as saviour and God.

He expects - now that he has prayed, now that his confidence is re-centred on God, now that he has recalled that God loves him and has not abandoned him - that he will be found again with the festive throng going up to the house of God with shouts of joy and songs of praise.

This is his firm hope, not because he will deliver himself, but because God will deliver him.

God will be his saviour,

God will be his vindication

and God will be his satisfaction.

The psalmist doesn’t record the outcome of his wrestle, but no doubt the Lord did deliver him from his downcast soul.

The Lord is the delight of those who trust in him.

Just like Peter on the water, the Psalmist had taken his eyes off the Lord and fixed them on the waves around about him. Without God in the boat, those waves have the power to overwhelm us. With God in the boat, our hope is in him who created the waves; who is over and above the waves; who designed the waves for our good.

Now, the word is: fight with all your might for hope in God.

Fight with self-examination.

Fight with recollection.

Fight with the word of desire.

Fight with prayer.

And fight with self-exhortation.

The result will be renewed joy in the Lord, resulting in praise and worship of the one true and living God.

May the Lord equip us for the battles that will rage in our souls in the future, and perhaps even rage now.



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