Far from home, Psalm 43

Most scholars believe that Psalm 43 belongs with Psalm 42. In The Literary Study Bible ESV, editors Ryken and Ryken write: “The case is overwhelming that these two poems actually constitute a single worship psalm” (p. 792). They point out how the combined psalms express the longing of an exile to return to worship God in his own land.

Can we identify with this exile? Although you (like me) probably never were banished or taken by force from your own country, we’re far from our real home. If we’re Christians, our home is in heaven.

The Bible tells us that “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20).

While we climb the mountains and valleys of this world, anticipating that great and final homecoming, we suffer in many ways. Sometimes others manipulate or oppress so severely that we feel God has rejected us (Psalm 43:1 & 2, ESV):

Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause
    against an ungodly people,
from the deceitful and unjust man
    deliver me!
For you are the God in whom I take refuge;
    why have you rejected me?
Why do I go about mourning
    because of the oppression of the enemy?

Despite feeling rejected by God, the psalmist still puts his trust in him. He is the One in whom we take refuge. He is the One whose guidance we seek (verse 3, ESV):

Send out your light and your truth;
    let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy hill
    and to your dwelling!

While we live far from home, we can ask God to split this world’s darkness with his light and to shatter deceitful lies with his truth. We can beg for his guiding light and trustworthy truth to bring us to God, our dwelling place. Led by God’s light and truth, we can truly worship (verse 4, ESV):

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.

We can worship and praise God with joy. We can call our downcast soul to task (verse 5, ESV):

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.

Our lives are filled with physical and emotional turmoil. Why should that surprise us? Jesus warned, “In this world you will have tribulation,” but he didn’t end there. He added, “Take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Put your hope in God. You will again praise him, for he is your salvation and your God!
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Your worst life now, Psalm 42

100_2661Contrary to some popular preachers, you can’t live your best life now. You’re actually living your worst life now.

Can you imagine a manuscript titled Your Worst Life Now? Any editor or publisher consider that proposal an epic fail in marketing strategy. It’s too negative! It’s too pessimistic! But it’s only too true. What you’re living now as a Christian in this broken world absolutely, positively is your worst life now.

This good life is as bad as it gets for the believer. When we die and go to heaven, that life will be a whole lot better. And when Christ returns and makes all things new, that life will be by far the best! But a book titled Your Best Life Won’t Be Until Christ Returns or Your Worst Life Now won’t sell well.

Psalm 42 reflects the reality of living in a broken world while reminding us of the hope we have for the future. Life is hard, but believers have hope.

This first psalm in Book Two of the Psalter begins with a literary image of a thirsty deer (Psalm 42:1 & 2, ESV):

As a deer pants for flowing streams,
    so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
    for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?

We envision a deer that has run hard and far, its tongue hangs from its panting mouth as it stumbles and searches for a refreshing stream. The deer has run from a threat, perhaps pursued by hunters or a predator.

Just as that thirsty deer pants for the refreshing water that will restore its vigor, our souls often thirst for the living God. He alone can refresh our spirits. People or events often seem to conspire in stealing our joy.

My tears have been my food
    day and night,
while they say to me all the day long,
    “Where is your God?”
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 (3 & 4, ESV).

When people mock our faith or we feel alienated from other believers, it’s as though we subsist only on our tears. Food and drink have lost their taste. Christian joy disappears. Glad worship is only a memory. We pour out our souls in weeping and prayer.  We become depressed and anxious. Our souls are cast down.

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.

My soul is cast down within me;
    therefore I remember you
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
    from Mount Mizar (5 & 6, ESV).

We feel the force of God’s bitter providence surging over us like the drowning power of a relentless undercurrent beneath a roaring waterfall or a breaking wave.

Deep calls to deep
    at the roar of your waterfalls;
all your breakers and your waves
    have gone over me (7, ESV).

But even when we feel abandoned or oppressed, God remains with us (8-10, ESV):

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?”
As with a deadly wound in my bones,
    my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me all the day long,
    “Where is your God?” 

We may cry out to God from pain-filled hearts, we may feel that we are fatally wounded, but God is with us in our loneliness and persecution. Since God never leaves or forsakes us, why should our souls be cast down?

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.

When cares and concerns bring down joy or flare up fear, we can remind ourselves that we don’t need to be depressed or afraid. Yes, we live in a world full of pain. Feeling despair or anxiety is normal, but it isn’t necessary.

There’s no need to wallow in an emotional slough when we can climb out by clinging to the rungs of hope. Our hope in God is sure. He may work out deliverance sooner or better than you think. God is your loving Father, your equipping Spirit, and your redeeming Christ. You will praise him again. Maybe not as much as you’d like in this life, but certainly more than you can imagine in the next.

This present reality is your worst life now. Your bliss in heaven with him will be better. Your future glory at Christ’s return will be best.

Why are you cast down, O my soul? Hope in God!