Clinging to God in Depression

Psalms 42-43 have long been recognized as one Psalm, perhaps divided for liturgical purposes. But these two Psalms have also long been recognized as coming from a depressed soul. He says his tears have been his food day and night (42;3a). He says his soul is in despair, disturbed within him (42:5, 11; 43:5). He questions himself as to why this is the case. Throughout the Psalm, he acknowledges that the depression is caused by external oppression (42:3b, 9b-10; 43:1-2). But the Psalmist is depressed for more reasons than his circumstances. There seems to be an inner sense of loss. He remembers happier times with God’s people, in God’s presence (42:4), but that seems to be no more. He still longs for God, but it is a longing that appears to be unfulfilled at this point. The sense of despair in these two Psalms is palpable and is certainly better felt than merely exegeted.

Nevertheless, there is something else in this Psalm. The Psalmist not only questions himself, he preaches to himself. Three times there is this inquiry, “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me?” (42:5, 11; 43:5). The magnificent thing about this inquiry is that the Psalmist immediately responds to himself each time with, “Hope in God.” He preaches to his despair. He tells himself to put his confidence in God. He continues, “For I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God.” This is nothing other than a declaration of faith. He doesn’t feel like praising God, in fact he is complaining. But he knows that the outcome of maintaining hope in God will be that God’s praise will once again be on his lips, it is only a matter of time.

One other observation should be made. The Psalmist identifies certain truths about God throughout, which reveal where his hope is. He is the living God (42:1a), He is the God who commands lovingkindness (8a), he is the God of my life (8c), He is the God of my strength (43:2a), He is the God of light and truth (43:3), He is the God of my exceeding joy (43:4b), He is God, my God (43:4c) and He is the help of my countenance and my God (42:11c; 43:5c). The Psalmist does not hide his depression or despair, nor even his own sense of disappointment with God (which is more perception than reality). But right in the middle of all of it, he clings to who God is and what He is like. It is this that stirs his soul to say, “Hope in God.” It is this that keeps his faith from being extinguished.

Christina Rossetti, in a hymn that we should sing more often, captures this beautifully.

“My faith burns low; my hope burns low;
Only my heart’s desire cries out in me
By the deep thunder of its want and woe,
Cries out to Thee.”

(None Other Lamb, None other Name)

When our faith and hope burn low, remember who your God is. Remember what He is like. Preach to yourself that hoping in Him is never in vain and that in His lovingkindness you will again praise Him.

God’s Compassion to Idolaters

I love the book of Deuteronomy. It is filled with so many exhortations to obedience and reminders of God’s goodness and promises. This morning I was struck by something that Moses said to the generation about to enter the land. The first generation had died off (Deut. 1:34-40; 2:16). The second generation, which had seen God’s mighty deeds (Deut. 1:30-31; 2:7) was now being urged to obey God and His Word. They were to “give heed to yourself and watch soul diligently” (Deut. 4:9). The motivation to such self-watch and obedience was that they had heard God on the mountain and had been rescued from the furnace of Egypt to be God’s own possession (Deut. 4:9-20). Moses racks up the privileges and the corresponding responsibilities. It is a good sermon! “So watch yourselves, that you do not forget the covenant of the LORD your God which He made with you” (Deut. 4:23).

But then there is a shift in the exhortation, Moses seems to begin prophesying. After the people had been in the land for a while they would act corruptly and make idols (Deut. 4:25). Moses then calls for creation itself to serve as covenant witnesses against Israel as He judges them with exile (Deut. 4:26). God’s judgment would include scattering the people and judging their idolatry with more idolatry (Deut. 4:27-28). God’s judgments are not to be trifled with, He often judges sin by giving us over to more sin, creating a forceful downward spiral.

The prophecy however does not end there. Moses then prophesies that “from there,” that is the place of exile and idolatry, they would seek Him (Deut. 4:29). It is worth noting that there is also a strong conditional emphasis, they could not just sit around and wait for God. “You will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul” (Deut. 4:29). Their repentance is then described. “When you are in distress and all these things have come upon you, in the latter days you will return to the LORD your God and listen to His voice” (Deut. 4:30). There is nothing in this passage which would encourage passivity. There is much to encourage earnest repentance in the form of seeking the LORD, returning to Him and hearing His voice. The promise is for those who in their distress, under the judgment of God for their idolatry, return to the LORD with all their heart. In their distress they realize that their only hope is to return to God on the path of hearing His voice (i.e., obeying His Word).

What can those who return expect? Earlier in the passage Moses said, “For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God” (Deut. 4:24). But those who return will not be consumed by the fire of God’s holiness, rather they are urged to return, “For the LORD your God is a compassionate God; He will not fail you nor destroy you nor forget the covenant with your fathers which He swore to them” (Deut. 4:31). Frankly, this is remarkable. Those who had abandoned God, will find Him compassionate. Those who walked away from the covenant will not be destroyed because God remembers His covenant. The idolater, in his distress, is called to return because of God’s great compassion and covenant faithfulness.

The parallels to us are unmistakable. Have we not lived long under God’s blessings, gifts and provision? Do we not still feel “prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love”? Have we not made idols in rebellion and defiance against our kind and loving Savior? Perhaps it is worse than anyone knows. Perhaps God has disciplined your sin with more sin and you feel stuck and your heart hardened. Here is your hope, your only hope, the kindness of God leads us to repentance (Rom. 2:4). Turn in your distress and you will find a God of compassion, not standing there with His arms crossed and a scowl, but standing there with arms wide open, ready to receive those who return to Him.

Why wait? Your sin will not only disappoint you, it will destroy you. Return today. He will not disappoint you. He will not destroy you. He will shower you with grace, wash you from your uncleanness and restore you.

The Marks of a Healthy Christian

By: Brian Borgman

This year’s theme is healthy Christians. We are going to be exploring some of these themes throughout the year.

This past Sunday we started off the new year by looking at the characteristics or marks of a healthy Christian and then before the Lord’s Supper we look at what it means to be healthy in the Gospel. Here is a summary of those points. [The full sermon is available here.]

  1. A healthy Christian has a growing desire to know God in a deeper way. Phil. 3:7-11 To know the Father, the Son and the Spirit; to know is to grow in knowledge for sure, but it is to grow in personal acquaintance (experiential knowledge). (Psa. 42:1; 63:1) 
  2. A healthy Christian is rooted and grounded in the Gospel itself. A growing Christians grows in their love and understanding of the truths of the Gospel. 
  3. A healthy Christian tries to see all of life as service rendered to God – Coram Deo and wants to glorify God in all he/she does. Corporate worship is stream from which flows a life of worship. I want my life to glorify God — Col. 3:17; 1 Cor. 10:31 
  4. A healthy Christian has communion with God with through His Word and prayer. 1 Pet. 2:1; Col. 2:6-7; 4:2; Heb. 4:16 
  5. A healthy Christian is growing in his/her understanding of God’s Word. They are growing in doctrinal knowledge and understanding. What one thing have you learned this past year? 2 Pet. 3:16 (Heb. 5:11-14) 
  6. A healthy Christian is growing in their love for their Christian brothers and sisters and deepening their bonds of relationship and service within their local church. 1 Thess. 5:11; 1 John 4:7 
  7. A healthy Christian is living out their faith in their role within their family. A mother sees herself as a Christian mother, a father, and so. They seek to fulfill those roles in ways that please God. Col. 3:18-21 
  8. A healthy Christian is serious about their witness to the lost, lost family members, friends, neighbors, the nations. Col. 4:3-6 
  9. A healthy Christian fights his sin. Col. 3:5 
  10. A healthy Christian is a growing Christian. There is naturalness to growth, sees grow into plants, children grow into adults. As Christians, born of God’s Spirit, we should be growing in these areas. 2 Pet. 1:2-8; 3:18