How good of God to graciously ordain that I would be in the Psalms right now as part of my normal Bible reading routine. After more than a month of sheltering-at-home amid the COVID-19 crisis, there has been no better place to be. Recently the twin pairing of Psalm 42-43 served as the perfect antidote for discouragement in isolation.
Like many, I have been feeling the disappointment of not gathering with my local church body for several weeks. Though the messages streamed by my church, The Orchard, have been incredibly soul nourishing, much like the Psalmist, I really miss going with the throng to the house of God (Psalm 42:4). How timely to read Scripture expressing my own longing to return to the sanctuary. As my ESV footnote helpfully pointed out; we may know God has not forgotten us, but it sure feels like he is distant apart from the worship service where we meet him most fully.
The deer finds his water in the stream (42:1), but my thirst is quenched in God’s presence, and that is most often felt in public worship. Watching the weekly service at home with my family and reading the Bible daily are good things, but not the same as gathering with God’s people corporately, leaving me feeling down. I’m comforted to be reminded that a downcast soul can be common among Christians. Indeed, it’s an affliction dating back to Old Testament times.
It’s normal and right to miss church and feel discouraged, even to mourn these circumstances. It’s appropriate to feel dry outside of Christian fellowship. In fact, it can even serve as evidence that our souls are thirsting for the right things. Or better yet, the right person—our living God (42:2).
If, like me, you’re feeling the turmoil of isolation, or feeling distant from God and anxious outside of the regular comforts found at church among other believers, these Psalms are for you. Be grateful if you can see and hear your pastor preach via video each week, but between livestreams, make time to preach to yourself from God’s Word.
Not sure where to start? Let’s take a cue from Psalms 42 and 43:
1. Remember things that are part of corporate worship.
“These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throng
and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise,
a multitude keeping festival.” Psalm 42:4
Remember the throng. Call a friend from church and pray or read scripture together. Sing a song at home that you love to sing in worship. Play the hymns and contemporary songs that most direct your thoughts and heart to Jesus.
2. Remember God himself.
“My soul is cast down within me;
therefore I remember you
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep
at the roar of your waterfalls;
all your breakers and your waves
have gone over me.
By day the LORD commands his steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.
I say to God, my rock:
“Why have you forgotten me?
Why do I go mourning
because of the oppression of the enemy?” Psalm 42:6-9
When it feels like his breakers and waves are washing over you, remember Isaiah 43:2: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.” The Psalms can be prayers to read on restless nights that help us remember God’s steadfast love never ceases, his mercies never come to an end (Lamentations 3:22). He is our rock, our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1).
3. Pour your heart out to him.
“By day the LORD commands his steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.” Psalm 42:8
Pour your heart out to the God who gave you life and sustains your life. Call to him when your heart is faint (Psalm 61:2) Tell him you feel weak and weary. Tell him you feel forgotten or abandoned. Cry out to him about the oppression you feel and the things you miss. Then ask him to lead you to the rock that is higher than you (61:2).
4. Believe you will praise him again.
“Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.” Psalm 42:11b
This time of sheltering at home is temporary. But even if we are kept out of our sanctuaries for many more weeks or months, those who believe in Jesus Christ will be worshipping him for all eternity. We will be face to face with our Lord and Savior in the new heavens and earth! Look forward to the promise that Christ is returning to make all things right.
5. Rejoice that he has given light and truth to lead you in the person of Jesus Christ (42:3).
“Send out your light and your truth;
let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy hill
and to your dwelling!
Then I will go to the altar of God,
to God my exceeding joy,
and I will praise you with the lyre,
O God, my God.” Psalm 43:3-4
We are saved by grace through faith in Christ. His Holy Spirit dwells in every believer and will bring us to his dwelling place. The place he leads us is to himself, our exceeding joy. Celebrate the light and truth of the word made flesh, Jesus.
Bible scholars teach that when God wants us to remember something, it’s repeated in his word. Three times in these two Psalms the same language is used. Like repetitive counseling for the soul, preach these words to yourself often and be comforted like the Psalmist:
“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
When we gather together as God’s people to worship him, it is a great gift! This is a blessing we can look forward to for all eternity. May God use this season of yearning for his felt presence to prepare our hearts to return to corporate worship with a renewed sense of eager expectation to hear from the Lord and meet with him through his preached word.