Psalm 42:1-7; 43:3-5.
When You Need Encouragement

American Journal of Biblical Theology, www.biblicaltheology.com
Copyright © 2017, Dr. John W. (Jack) Carter     Scripture quotes from KJV


 

When have been some of the times in your life when you needed encouragement?  What sort of circumstances place us in need of encouragement?  Life is often full of the dynamics of mountain top experiences that are punctuated by times we find ourselves mired in the valleys.  If we are living our faith as the LORD would intend, we will certainly find ourselves praising the LORD when we are experiencing those times of great gain and success.  However, it is probably harder to praise the LORD when we find ourselves knocked down by the stressors of this life.  There are time when we do need encouragement, times when our courage needs to be strengthened, and our hearts and minds need to be refocused on that which the LORD intends to bless. 

 

It is thought by many that Psalm 42 was written by King David as he is remembering one of the more difficult times in his life.  Because of the context and use of this passage, many believe that his words are informed by his experiences while he was running from King Saul who sought to end his life.[1]  After Saul nearly caught him, he fled to the back of a cave in the En Gedi desert.  It is from this cave that David had time to think about his situation.  His situation had changed dramatically in a very short time.

 

Prior to his exile, hiding in a desert cave, David had been selected as the youngest son of Jesse and anointed by Samuel to succeed King Saul.  He had experienced victory over Goliath and won all of the spoils that the victory brought him, including the hand of Saul’s daughter, Michal in marriage.  He became an honored member of the King's court, serving as the King's aid and personal minister.  Given leadership over Saul’s army, David had experienced “ten times” the success that Saul had ever realized.[2]  He had found in Jonathan, the son of King Saul, a dearest and trusted friend.  David had the world in his hands, living on an emotional and spiritual mountaintop with greatest hope for the future.  

 

However, his successes had a powerful effect on the King.  Saul recognized David’s righteousness, learned of David's successes, and became jealous to the point of wanting to kill him.  Knowing of his own inadequacies, Saul believed that David was a threat to his throne, that those who follow David would lead a successful rebellion against him.   David had to flee from Saul and found himself in a back of a cave in the desert of En Gedi, having seemingly lost all he had ever attained.

 

Visualize En Gedi for a moment:  It is a rocky, very hot, dry, and hilly area so devoid of water that only a few small desert plants survive.  However, there are a few deer and ibex that manage to survive by taking part in a life-and-death struggle to find the few springs of water that are in the region and the plants that surround those springs.  David had fallen from a position of influence and comfort to living like a rat in the desert, running for his life.  It is neither surprising or unreasonable that David became depressed. 

Psalm 42:1-2.  As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. 2My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?

 

Finding himself in a remote cave, far from Jerusalem, David felt like he was far from God.  There was a firm cultural belief that gods were territorial.  Since pagan gods were fictional “super-heroes” that were created in the imagination of geographically separated communities, they were certainly geographically defined.  Though God is omnipresent, fully abiding in every place at all times, it was reasonable that David, separated from the Temple, would think that he was far from God. 

 

This “separation” from God’s presence was difficult for David to endure.  He was accustomed to a continual relationship of praise and worship while he was in the Palace and in the Temple.  Now, in the cold, dark, and damp recesses of a cave, he found himself separated from all of that, and yearned to experience again the joy and celebration of his faith that he was accustomed to. 

 

There are many sources of discouragement in our world today.  What are some of them?  What causes depression?  Some depression is clinical and some is situational.  David describes three sources of discouragement in these verses.  The first of these is indicated in verses 1-2.  He felt separated from God. He had been confident in all of his undertakings, as he felt close to God, and was (at least to his understanding) following God’s will in his life.  This brought him great success.  However, we tend to consider lack of success, in some way apart from God.   He found himself separated from friends, family, home, and God.  He yearned for a return to the way things were; he yearned for the same type of closeness to God.  In this yearning for what he had lost, he learned the value of the blessings that he had previously known.  He compared the deer in the En Gedi desert in their pursuit of water with its life-giving refreshment to his own thirst for God.  Back in the rear of the cave, in the bleakness of the remote desert, David felt as though God is not there.

 

Are there ever times in your life that you feel like God is not there?  What are those times like?  Are there ever times when you feel like your prayers are not getting through, like God has turned his back on you?  Are there times that you feel as though you cannot pray at all?  At times like these we may feel like David did: separated from God.  However, the truth is that we are never separated from God:

Romans 8:38-39.  For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, 39Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

What is there that can separate us from God?  This list is rather conclusive: virtually everything that exists in heaven and earth is listed in this verse.  There is nothing that can separate those who have placed their faith in God from Him.  Paul was convinced, persuaded, of this fact.  If we feel like the communication between us and God has broken down, the problem is at our end; there is something in our own lives that is interfering with our communication with God. 

 

At one time in my own life when I felt like David, separated from God, He revealed Himself to me with a simple vision and a message that stated that I had constructed a wall of sin that left me unable to see or hear the one and Holy God who was always speaking to me.  I had to recognize the sin[3] and turn from it by giving it to Jesus, the One who had already paid the price for that sin.  Upon that decision to do so, my relationship with God was fully and immediately restored, and I had learned a lesson that made the whole experience profitable for God's kingdom.  Though later suffered similar betrayals, I was never again tempted to fall into the valley of depression by harboring the anger that would again separate me from my relationship with God.   There are many examples of how sin separates us from fellowship with God.[4]  Often spiritual indifference accompanies sin, and we withdraw from God.[5]

 

What can we do when we feel separated from God?  Rather than focusing on our circumstances, we can focus on God and ask what it is that God is teaching us through this because we know with confidence that:

Romans 8:28. …all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

Many Christians are familiar with this verse, but ignorant of the verse that follows.  This verse identifies the reason why God allows “all things” to happen in our lives.

Romans 8:29.  For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.

God has a purpose in all of our valley experiences, that through them we would come to depend upon Him, and through them we could become strengthened, better prepared for future experiences, and also become closer to Him.  Such experiences can serve to help us become “conformed to the image” of Jesus.

 

In the next two verses, David describes another characteristic of his depression:

Psalm 42:3-4.  My tears have been my meat day and night, while they continually say unto me, Where is thy God? 4 When I remember these things, I pour out my soul in me: for I had gone with the multitude, I went with them to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holyday.

 

David’s feelings of separation from God are sincere and difficult for him as he recounts his prolonged periods of crying.  We see a demonstration of sincere grief and overwhelming frustration.  Living in distress, experiencing the throes of depression, can be like living with a pair of permanent dark glasses.  Though you see the world around you quite clearly, everything you see is affected by the filter of those glasses.  That which was light and bright becomes tempered with a form of darkness.  One may feel like they are overtaken by shadows that simply do not exist when the light of previous joy is shining. 

 

Have there been times in your life when you felt that kind of sadness?  I can remember the duration of about a year when I joked to myself that I could immediately become a tragic actor because any time I focused my thoughts on the sequences of loss that were taking place around us I would have to fight back the tears.

 

Note that we are not alone at these times.  David states in verse three that as he was struggling to find God, his friends and supporters were both watching him, and discouraging him.  We have a testimony that shows through our grief.  How we respond to the inevitable experience of grief reveals a lot of how committed we are to the Lord.  Our response to grief and depression indicates where we draw our strength from.   It is evident when we crumble under depression that we are not successfully drawing strength from God.  We may even be “shaking our fists” at Him.  We may be blaming Him for our tribulation.  Such a response is seen by others and is a testimony to who we are.  When we stand strong under stress, giving God the credit for our strength, we communicate a far different message.

 

How can we be a testimony for the Kingdom in these circumstances?   One thing we can do is avoid the trap of anger and bitterness and the downward spiral it encourages.   David recalls one of the spiritual highlights of his life.  Instead of dwelling on the negative circumstances, he used the memory of a time he was close to God to affirm to himself the truth of how close he really is to God; or how close God really is to him.

Psalm 42:5-7.  Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance. 6O my God, my soul is cast down within me: therefore will I remember thee from the land of Jordan, and of the Hermonites, from the hill Mizar. 7Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of thy waterspouts: all thy waves and thy billows are gone over me.

 

David, though testifying to the level of his emotional depression, exhibits some godly wisdom as he considers the reality of his situation.  He describes his spirit as cast down, and yet disquieted.  However, despite the circumstances that have brought this discouragement into his heart, he remembers the LORD, and he remembers the joy he had when he lifted up his praises to God in worship.

 

Sometimes when we become discouraged, we may throw a full-blown pity party, dig a trench of despair, and then jump into it.  Rather than allow himself to fall deeper and deeper into an abyss of self-pity, David did two wise and constructive things. 

First, David went to the LORD in prayer and confessed his true feelings saying, “My God, my spirit is cast down.”  By doing this, David is allowing the LORD to join him as He speaks to God as though he were conversing with a friend.  David did not use any theological or religious language, but rather simply spoke from the heart. 

 

Second, rather than focus on the circumstances that have caused him to feel separated from God, David chose to place his focus on those previous experiences where He observed and felt God’s wonderful presence. 

Many times, when we experience discouraging circumstances, we allow the “noise” of those experiences to drown out the truth that the LORD loves us and is continuing to bless us, even when we are not listening.  David describes this noise like waterspouts and waves of water that overpower him.  However, when we compare God’s love and the blessings that He desires us to experience to the noise of our circumstances, wisdom will always cause us to recognize the noise for what it is: something that is drawing us away from the joy that has already been given to us.

 

When David felt separated from God, he remembered Him, and put his focus on Him and those times when God was there to help, rather than on his current circumstances.  How is it helpful for us to remember the times when God helped us?  We can remember what brought us out previous difficulties and draw strength and direction from those experiences.  We can draw strength from the knowledge that the circumstance that we are experiencing will not last forever, and that God will be with us through the entire experience.  With the above passage in Romans in mind, we can ask, “What purpose is God working in my life through this experience?” 

 

David, still battling with his discouragement, vacillates between focusing on God and focusing on his circumstances.  What does David say, immediately after recalling how God is there to help?  He refers to the spring floods that come to the Jordan river following the thaw of snow in the mountains.  He feels like the river will sweep over him.  Working through times of depression will inevitably have its periods of highs and lows.  When we find closeness to God, we find strength that is only diminished when we take our eyes off of Him and place them back on the circumstances, worrying those circumstances like a dog worrying a bone.

 

What are some of the overwhelming problems that people face?   Some may include divorce, addictions, illness, death, long-term health problems, job loss, separation from families, financial difficulties, and many more.  In 1992 I lost my position of employment due to a staffing cut, a circumstance which drove us from our home, and fellowship with our extended family because of the forced move.  I lost my very active ministries as minister of music in my church, and my music director positions for our Baptist Association, and the Baptist State Convention of New York, as well as two vital ministries at the college campus where I taught.  We lost our church to a hostile takeover by the deacons, we lost the joy of our neighborhood when a powerful next-door neighbor embroiled us in a lawsuit over a land boundary (while we were trying to sell the house for our move), and then when we had just about been delivered from these things, Ann suddenly and unexpectedly lost her Dad who she loved and depended on so very much.  Our little family quickly found ourselves alone, 750 miles from home; in a place that for us was not entirely different from the En Gedi desert.  Needless to say, this was a very difficult time for us.  I was considering purchasing my family T-shirts that said, "We survived 1992."  We found ourselves, much like David, looking back over the good times when God was there, knowing full-well that God was still there.  It was hard not to be angry and bitter.  There were many moments when we thought we were overwhelmed.

 

Look at these great words of encouragement:

Isaiah 43:2-3a.  When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. 3For I am the LORD thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour:

 

Psalm 43:3-5. O send out thy light and thy truth: let them lead me; let them bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy tabernacles. 4 Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy: yea, upon the harp will I praise thee, O God my God. 5Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.

Note that this Psalm is really an extension of the previous one.  Some scholars feel that they are really one Psalm, separated for use in worship.

 

What did David ask for here?  He asked God to send light and truth.  Consider these two things for a moment.  What does God's light do?  It illuminates, providing truth and exposing falsehood.  Illumination is one of the several acts of the Holy Spirit that God uses to communicate His will and His purpose to us.  These include revelation, inspiration, illumination, and wisdom for application.  David also asks for truth.  Actually, it is probably hard to separate completely the use of light and truth, because when God illuminates something, it is the truth that we ultimately see.  Oftentimes when we are depressed, discouraged, or in distress we tend to miss the truth and replace it with a lie.  For example, when anger is allowed to run unabated, it is followed by bitterness, and ultimately loss of self-worth.  We start to give authority to our captor, and agree with its position.  The dark glasses hide the truth from us.  God’s love has the power to remove the dark glasses.

 

Where does our hope come from during these times?  When we try to find it in the circumstances, we find ourselves overwhelmed.  When we try to find it in ourselves, we are frustrated by the knowledge that it is though our own power we are suffering in the circumstance.

 

When we were immersed in the mire of 1992, I found comfort in the words to a contemporary Christian song that speaks to those circumstances when we find ourselves in the En Gedi.  Consider its words:

 

All things work for our good; though sometimes we can't see how they could. 
Struggles that break our hearts in two sometimes blind us to the truth. 

Our Father knows what's best for us, his ways are not our own. 

So when your pathway grows dim, and we just can't see Him,

remember you're never alone. 

 

He sees the master plan.  He holds the future in His hands. 

So don't live as those who have no hope all our hope is found in Him. 

We see the presently clearly, our Lord sees the first and the last. 

So like a tapestry He's weaving you and me to someday be just like Him. 

 

God is too wise to be mistaken.  God is too good to be unkind. 

So when you don't understand.  When you can't see His plan,
when you can't trace His hand, trust His Heart.[6]

It may be instructive for us to return to that cave in the En Gedi desert.  If we continue reading the story of David’s exile, we find that King Saul had heard of David’s presence in the En Gedi and chased after him.  Tiring at the end of the day, Saul chose a cave wherein to find some relief.  As he was “resting” a man was in the rear of the cave, a man who had arrived before him:  David.  David approached Saul quite stealthfully and cut off one of the tassels from Saul’s robe, retreated and left the cave.  Shouting to Saul from outside the cave, David demonstrated his respect for Saul, and by holding the tassel, proved to Saul that David meant him no harm, though he had been given the opportunity to kill him.  As a result, Saul declared David’s righteousness, affirmed that David would succeed him as the King of Israel, and asked for David’s mercy and for the preservation of his family when he does, one day, ascend to the throne.[7]

 

God revealed through this experience, that He was, indeed with him through it all, and had a specific and very important purpose for it.  David was simply unaware of how the LORD was working in and around Him to accomplish His ultimate purpose for Israel.   When Saul entered the cave, David had the opportunity to kill him.  Doing so would not only end the pursuit, but would surely have resulted in his immediate ascension.  David’s antagonist was revealed as the one who was vulnerable.  David’s act of mercy was a result of his sincere respect for the position held by Saul, one ordained by God, and was an act that in itself was in obedience to God.  Later when David made the event known to Saul, the pursuit temporarily ended. The very circumstance that had caused David to fall into a pit of depression was, all along, a process that the LORD used to restore the relationship between David and Saul, and affirm David’s ascendency to the throne. 

 

Let us never forget these lessons when we find ourselves in times of crisis.  Focus on God, not the crisis.  Look for ways that God plans on using these circumstances for our benefit and for the benefit of His kingdom.  Use the situation as an opportunity to testify to our trust in God.

So when you don't understand. 

When you can't see His plan,

when you can't trace His hand, trust His Heart.


[1] 1 Samuel 23:15-24:2, for example.

[2] 1 Samuel 18:7.

[3] A sin of anger and bitterness towards a friend who had betrayed me; a scenario that was not entirely different from that which David experienced at the hands of Saul.

[4] Judges 16:20-21; Isaiah 59:1-2, e.g.

[5] Ezekiel 10:4-19, 11:23.

[6] Babbie Mason, Eddie Carswell.  Copyrights 1989 Dayspring Music, LLC Word Music, LLC Causing Change Music, May Sun Music.  Administrated by Word Music Group, Inc

[7] 1 Samuel 24:3-22.