Sep 13 - Feeling Low

Feeling Low

September 13, 2015

Psalms 42-43

 

FEELING LOW

September 13th, 2015

Psalms 42-43

 

 

Every night we go to bed, without any assurance of being alive the next morning but still we set the alarms to wake up.

We plan big things for tomorrow in spite of zero knowledge about what tomorrow may bring.

 

Someone who felt this way was the author of Psalms 42 and 43.  We cannot be sure who wrote these Psalms because the introductory titles, attributing it to the sons of Korah, likely Levites who were in charge of public worship, were added long after the psalms were collected. 

 

In some ancient Hebrew manuscripts these companion psalms are a single psalm.  Whether two psalms or one, the subject is obviously similar and they are united with the common refrain:

 

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?                       Psalm 42:5,11; 43:5

 

My soul is cast down within me.                       Psalm 42:6

 

The thrice repeated refrain, as well as the statement in 42:6, make it clear that the Psalmist was depressed.  He was cast down.  He was in turmoil within.  And he readily admitted it.

 

The expression, “cast down” speaks of being bowed down to the earth, of laying prostrate on the ground.  Since his soul is cast down, it speaks of an emotional low. 

 

Depression has been described to me by a friend as feeling lower than the belly of a slug.

 

You can’t get much lower than that.

 

However, notice that in the refrain at least, he asks about the cause of his depression.  And in his Psalm he answers himself by giving hints as to the causes of his depression.  For one, the author was depressed because he was not living near his previous home.  Somehow he was isolated to a region far to the north.

 

I remember you (God) from the land of Jordan and of (Mount) Hermon and from Mount Mizar.            Psalm 42:6

 

The area the Psalmist describes is at the very northern end of the united kingdom of Israel during the reigns of kings David and Solomon.  It is the region north of the sea of Galilea where the Jordan and all its tributaries find their source, including the majestic mountain range called Hermon and the lesser Mount Mizar. 

 

Previously, there had been a time when the Psalmist was in a position of importance in Jerusalem, leading the people in the worship at the festivals.

 

… I used to go with the assembly, the multitude celebrating the festivals, and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise.

                                                                                    Psalm 42:4

 

But it wasn’t just that he was a fair distance away from where he used to live … we also know that the Psalmist was distressed because he was oppressed and taunted by his enemies.

 

My tears have been my food day and night, while they (my enemies) say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?”                                                                               Psalm 42:3

 

So his enemies are taunting him, so that he is constantly weeping.  This verse may also imply that he is not eating properly.  Both weeping and loss of appetite are indicators of depression.

 

… The taunts of my adversaries crush my bones (or: pierce my bones with a sword), while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?”                 Psalm 42:10

 

The ongoing taunting potentially leads to great emotional, almost physical, pain … it felt as if someone shoved a sharp sword through the flesh into the bone, or a heavy weight crushed the bones.  The Psalmist is really speaking of the pain of a mortal wound.

 

I am also reminded that depression can cause, not only great emotional pain, but actual physical pain … headaches, stomach pain, even chronic pain, depending on how severe the depression.  

 

Why do I go about mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?                                            Psalm 42:9; 43:2

 

We don’t know who the enemies are, but the oppression and taunting have added to the Psalmist’s despair.  He weeps day and night, he goes around in mourning. 

 

Deep calls out to deep at the roar of your (God’s) waterfalls (or: waters); all your breakers and your waves are going over me.                                        Psalm 42:7

 

Why have you (God) rejected me?                  Psalm 43:2

 

To the Psalmist, it seems as if he is drowning.  It’s all just too much.  And God seems to be standing at a distance, just as Jesus called out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (a quote from Psalm 22, where the Psalmist finds himself in a similar situation to our Psalmist). 

 

After all, bad things cannot happen without His permission.  God seems to have abandoned me … and it confuses me. 

 

And so he prays that God would change his circumstances:

 

Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people.  Deliver me from the deceitful and unjust.  Because you are the God in whom I take refuge.                                                                                   Psalm 42:1-2

 

In this prayer, one can already see the hope and trust the Psalmist has in God … despite the terrible circumstances he is faced with.

 

And what is inspiring about this Psalm is that despite the circumstances the Psalmist does not allow himself to stay depressed.  He was someone who was able to pull himself out of the nosedive of depression.

 

So how did he go about doing this?  For one, we noted already that the Psalmist was pretty honest with himself, God and those who would hear the song he was writing:  I am depressed.  Perhaps we could think of this as one step to begin the journey out of depression … actually admitting that we are having a problem with it.

 

1. Admit that I am depressed.

 

Often we may not even realize we’re depressed because we don’t know its symptoms.  In fact, we or someone else in our family may be dealing with depression and not even recognize they are.

 

One thing I want you to notice in our Psalm, is that the Psalmist wasn’t apologetic about being depressed.  He did not think that being down did not expose a lack of faith or that he was somehow spiritually wanting in some other way.

 

But the Psalmist didn’t stop there.  As we already noticed, he actually realized the cause of his depression.  In his case it was due to his circumstances.

 

2. Find out the cause of my depression

 

Depression is like the red, yellow or orange warning light or maintenance light on the dashboard of our cars.  Those lights indicate that there may be a problem.  We can keep driving and ignoring the lights, but that kind of negligence could damage the engine, keep the airbag from deploying, or cause the brakes to fail.

 

It is so much better to heed the little light and get it checked out and hopefully fixed.   

 

Is the depression due to physiological reasons, hormonal, perhaps, or due to brain chemistry going awry?  Is it because we lack sleep or exercise

 

Is it psychological?  Have we been under intense stress?  Have we suffered intense loss?  Are we wallowing in self-pity?  Are we dealing with a mental disorder?

 

Is the cause of our depression spiritual? 

 

Sometimes we crash after having a spiritually enriching experience … we attended a camp or retreat and now we’re back and get hit with the reality of day to day living … and God is so distant whereas before he was so close.

 

Or, we have been bitterly disappointed because God didn’t answer our prayer, or he didn’t answer it the way that we desperately wanted him to. 

 

We can also be depressed due to our disappointment with ourselves, being down because we are dealing with an addiction or a besetting sin, feeling guilty and defeated.  There are a number of Psalms where the author is depressed because of the sins he had committed.  In the case of king David, it was because of this adultery and murder (Psalms 32, 38, 51) and he needed to confess and receive God’s forgiveness and cleansing before he could move past it. 

 

Is our depression due to stress or loneliness?  Due to prolonged illness or pain?  Is it due to seasonal affective disorder (SADS), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or bi-polar disorder?  Is it due to postpartum or menopausal conditions?  Is it clinical?  Is it spiritual?

 

Whenever we are down for a prolonged time, it’s probably time to get a medical check-up, especially if we’ve avoided our physician like the plague.  Having said that, sometimes a visit to our GP may not be enough because he or she may not be familiar with the kind of depression we are dealing with. 

 

Perhaps we’ve pushed too hard or have been under unusual stress and we’re just exhausted and need some rest and a change of pace.

 

It’s important to know ourselves.  We may simply be dealing with a minor mood swing, like a pilot flying in minor turbulence.  If that’s the case, we can make a slight adjustment and not be too concerned.

 

But if we’re in a prolonged nosedive, we likely have to take some drastic actions to avoid a crash.  

 

3. If depression is based on my circumstances, seek to gain a new perspective

 

We often can’t see the big picture.  We look at our circumstances and it’s like looking at the back of a tapestry.  We cannot see what the front side is like, what the real picture is like, what God sees.

 

Learning to respond with faith and hope in our trials is one of the most crucial lessons we can learn as Christians.  

 

As the apostle Paul wrote, God has given us the resources to be overwhelming conquerors in even the most desperate situations, including the time when we will face our own death.  Paul himself had gained that new perspective, as indicated in his letter to the first century believers at Rome

 

Who will separate us from the love of Christ?  Will trouble, distress, persecution, hunger, abject poverty, danger or physical threat?  … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  For I am absolutely convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor rulers, neither the present nor the future, neither height nor debt, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.                                Romans 8:35-37

 

By the way, God does expect us to do something about our circumstances if we can.  Change jobs, write a resume, call for a job interview, exercise, change our eating habits, go to a place we can meet a potential spouse, move to another city, do whatever is necessary for us to overcome the circumstances that are the cause of our depression … without simply giving up.

 

Often we can deal with depression once we take our eyes off ourselves and focus them on the needs of others, recognizing that they are going through issues similarly hard or even worse than we are … and seek to do something about those needs if we can. 

 

Depression is often a naval-gazing activity, it is often due to an intense focus on ourselves and our own struggles and problems.  One way to overcome it is to focus on others who are really struggling. 

 

Sometimes God wants us to be proactive, to take steps to get out of our depression and not wait around for something miraculously to happen.

 

But at times that is not possible.  We cannot, in our own strength, change the circumstances we are faced with.  That seemed to have been the case with the Psalmist.  But notice how he actually changes his attitude despite the fact that his circumstances had not improved.

 

By day YHWH commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me as I pray to the God of my life.

                                                                        Psalm 42:8

 

[There is always something to be thankful for;

I don’t know a truly miserable person who is thankful or a truly thankful person who is miserable.]

 

Do you notice how the Psalmist refuses to get bitter or surrender to his depression?  Rather he speaks of God’s love for him, and his response in praise and prayer.  In fact, it seems to me that his prayer is a prayer of praise.

 

He take the focus off himself and places it on God … on the love God has for him – 24 hours a day, day for day, week for week, month for month, year for year.

 

A song of praise to God can drive the darkness away.  Particularly one that reminds us of God’s saving grace toward us in Christ, or one that extolls the greatness and mercy of God.  It can remind us of who God is, what he has done, and the promises of his never-ending love and presence with us. 

 

Paul tells us to always rejoice in the Lord (Phil 4:4; 1 Thess 5:16), and to constantly give thanks in and for the circumstances we encounter (Eph 5:20; 1 Thess 5:18). 

 

I think this is only possible if we recognize all of God’s blessings despite the difficulties we face, the very difficulties that can drag us down.

 

If I can’t personally do something to change my circumstances, is it possible for me to recognize that God may be using this difficult and depression situation to learn from it?  Can it break my pride?  Can it increase my trust in God?  Will it help me to become less entitled?  Does it help me to feel greater compassion for others?

 

As the Psalmist leans into God, he is able to confront his despair, take a hold of what is true, despite his feelings to the contrary.  And as a result, the Psalm actually ends up reiterating the hope that the Psalmist has about the future.  Three times the refrain echoes that hope:

 

Hope in God, because I will praise him again, my salvation and my God.                   Psalm 42:5, 11; 43:5

 

 

That same hope is found as Psalm 42/43 comes to a close.

 

Send out your light and your truth and let them lead me.  Let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling place.  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

 

Here the Psalmist looks into the future and recognizes that his circumstances won’t always be the same.  Eventually there will be a change.  Eventually he will be able to return to Jerusalem and again lead the nation in worship at the temple, which he previously had described as being with God’s people, with glad shouts and songs of praise. 

 

When we are depressed, we tend to isolate ourselves, which just feeds our depression.  To get out, be among people, worship together … all these are positive ways of dealing with depression, even though it means going against our feelings.

 

So the future will bring with it positive change … but in the meantime, the Psalmist leans into God.

 

4. Lean into God

 

As the deer pants for flowing streams, so my soul pants for you, O God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.                                                               Psalm 42:1-2

 

Have to realize, this is written in a very dry climate where water is not easily found.  The deer he describes is parched as he searches for water to drink.  It is absolutely necessary for life to continue.  The Psalmist is yearning for God with that kind of drive.

 

Often depression causes us to withdraw … not only from others, but also from God.  We are robbed of our motivation, our energy, our concentration, our sleep … and so we are immobilized. 

 

But it seems that our Psalmist had such a deep desire for God, that he was able to rouse himself to seek after God, to draw near to God, to praise God, despite his despair.  In fact, these verses introduce the Psalm and likely are the reason why the Psalmist was able to regain a positive perspective – he recognizes that his greatest need is for God.

 

Note that the psalmist knew God personally before this trial hit. In this Psalm he calls God

“my God” (42:6, 11; 43:4, 5);

“the God of my life” (42:8);

“my rock” (42:9);

“my strength” (43:2);

“my exceeding joy” (43:4),

“my salvation” (43:5) and

“The God in whom I take refuge” (43:2).

 

He had experienced God’s work in his life before.  He had worshipped God in the past, and knew that God was his exceeding joy.  He had taken refuge in God before and had experienced God as his strength and salvation. 

 

Now, in his time of despair, that has not left him.

 

I do believe that the Christian life should be marked by a deep inner joy and hope in God, despite the negative circumstances that may come our way.  When we think rightly and act rightly, depression can be replaced by genuine joy in the Lord.

 

However, when it comes to depression, I think that we need to have a very balanced approach.  If we are faced with bi-polar disorder or some other disorder, or with clinical depression, then there is absolutely no shame in being treated for it.  That is not to say that drawing near to God is not helpful … but it won’t overcome the chemical imbalance that will need to be dealt with. 

 

It is also possible to denigrate ourselves as somehow lacking if we experience depression.  In the Bible, even the spiritually most mature were susceptible to depression.  For example, when Elijah’s life was threatened by Queen Jezebel, he got so low that he asked God to take his life (1 Kings 19:4). 

 

If you are dealing with depression, I hope that you are kind instead of harsh with yourself, that you seek answers and solutions to the depression without condemning yourself. 

 

I also hope that you would be able to deal with your depression in the very positive way that our Psalmist has done.  And that you know that, no matter how bad things get, God still is on your side, and to turn to him, with constant thanksgiving and praise for the good that is still a part of your life. 

 

May you and I have the kind of thirst for God, that we cannot but seek him as the source of our hope, no matter what life may bring with it. 

 

IF I FEEL DEPRESSED, WHAT STEPS DO I NEED TO TAKE TO DEAL POSITIVELY WITH MY STATE OF MIND?