As I was meditating on Psalm 42 this morning, I was struck by how often I skim over the words and fail to let them sink in. Maybe I sang the popular praise song, As the Deer, too much as a kid in youth group. You know that feeling that comes over you when you hear the beginning of a worship song that does anything but lead you into worship. You roll the eyes before a word is out of your lips and assume that God can no longer touch you through this particular medium. When this happens to me, I think it is important to take the tune away and focus on the words.
Here’s what David says later in Psalm 42:
“These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng. Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you.”
As I read this, I sense a wistfulness. It seems like David is looking back to those times when he was full of unabashed praise. All was glorious and he was in the midst of it. Note the words “used to.” When he wrote this, he was sad and disturbed. Personally, I love that he cannot even put his finger on why. Sometimes melancholy sneaks up on us unawares, and all we can do is feel it. As David was feeling it, he looked as his former self with wonder as if to say, “Who was that guy who used to dance with joy before the Lord?”
Can you relate to this? Have you ridden the waves of emotion? Down in the troughs, our focus turns to the looming waves and our fear. Perspective is all out of whack down there. We can hardly imagine the person hanging 10 on the longboard, and the utter joy of feeling like you are on top of the world carried by an unexpected grace. In the troughs, we wonder if we will ever feel that rush again. We wonder if we have somehow fallen out of God’s good will. We wonder who that praising person was.
Thankfully, what David also gives us in this Psalm is the medicine we need to feed on during these times. He tells himself and us, “put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him.” It is a statement that clings to the hope of what’s to come. The Psalm validates the experience of sorrow and despair, but does not let the reader stay there. David looks forward to the horizon of joy. When his soul is down, he remembers and trusts that God will bring him to that place again.
This past weekend, I was battling feelings of regret over a decision I had made. The decision would have changed the course of my path in significant ways. Honestly, I will never know whether it was the right decision or not. I felt slapped around in the waves of sorrow and self-pity, and could easily find myself paralyzed in that trough place. What I am learning is that God uses His Word, particularly the Psalms, to pull us through these moments and into His truth. The truth I needed to hear and envision was from the mouth of David: I will yet praise Him. Remember and believe that the season of joy will come again. When it does, sing a new song!