This psalms speaks about the condition of spiritual dryness and how the psalmist process it.
"As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God." (Ps 42:1)
The word for 'soul' in Hebrew can be translated as 'throat' as well. The psalmist alludes thirsting for God to one thirsting for water in the heat of the day, where you are dehydrated, weak and faint and there is no water in sight. That is what the psalmist feels like in his spiritual dryness. He is thirsting for God because he cannot find God, and not just God in the abstract but also a very specific trait of God.
"My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?" (Ps 42:2)
Notice the word 'living' used to describe God. This suggest that the psalmist did not lose his idea or belief of God but rather he has lost the sense that God is a personal God, a God who listens to our cries, a God who speaks and respond to us.
“My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, "Where is your God?"“ (Ps 42:3)
While struggling with his grief and suffering, the only thing the psalmist felt from God was His absence and abandonment. Things that used to comfort and encourage him do not resonate with him anymore. There is no sense of God's love, His joy nor His peace. It's like how CS Lewis once put it when he was in utter despair with God: “But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence."
Friends, does it shock you that the Bible can get so morbid at times? Perhaps you are able to relate to the psalmist as well? Speaking from my own experience, I had the same spiritual state as the psalmist as well. There was a time where I had to suffer a lot and go through tremendous grief. I tried to draw near to GOd through fasting, praying and singing worship songs for days. But at the end, all I had was the feeling of how meaningless all of these things were and I felt like a fool for even trying in the first place. I had no assurance of God's love nor my identity in him. Yet this psalm teaches me that Christians do go through experiences like this and that God cares for us enough that He actually writes it in His word for us to meditate and process it.
"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." (Ps 42:5)
How did the psalmist process his spiritual dryness then? In short the psalmist preached the truth of God to his own heart.
The psalmist preach to his heart by performing the following actions:
1. He listens to his heart
2. He remembers the truth of God
3. He evaluates the truth of God against his hope and circumstances.
Notice that the psalmist isn't talking to God nor to his friend. He is talking to himself. He is listening to his heart and asking the cause of his grief. He is analysing where he has truly put his hopes and security in.
"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." (Ps 42:4)
"Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls... By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life." (Ps 42:7-8)
The next thing the psalmist did was to intentionally remember God's truth and character. Notice that when the psalmist is in grief, he is deliberately trying to remember who God is. In particular, he remembers of God's victory and salvation and God’s covenantal love (Ps 42:4,7-8).
The psalmist took the strongest assurance of God's love and his power and he pit it against his circumstances and sorrow. Then he comes to the conclusion that the truth of God is more reliable than the circumstances that he is facing and by faith he will “hope in God, for I shall yet again praise him”.
That is how the psalmist preach to his heart. There is one thing that is lacking in the psalm: the psalmist did not tell us how specifically did he get that assurance in his heart. The psalmist have left that for us to find our own assurance, mainly:
How do we know that God still love us inspite of our spiritual darkness?
How do we know that God has the power to turn my defeat and grief into victory and joy?
We can have this assurance when we look at the cross.
When we look at the suffering of Christ and the cross, we see that Jesus, at his most vulnerable state, was abandoned by God. He was the one that truly thirst for God and yet God did not come through for him. Why? He did it for us. So that we know that no matter how dire our circumstances are and no matter how dry our spiritual life may be , God will not abandoned us not forsake us.
Second, we know that God can use our suffering and turn it to the ultimately good by looking at the triumph of the cross. Does it amazes you how God delivered His greatest salvation through the means of grief, defeat, rejection and death?
James Stewart has further elaborated the significance of this:
"It is a glorious phrase of the New Testament, that ‘he led captivity captive.’
The very triumphs of His foes, it means, he used for their defeat. He compelled their dark achievements to sub-serve his end, not theirs.
They nailed him to the tree, not knowing that by that very act they were bringing the world to his feet.
They gave him a cross, not guessing that he would make it a throne.
They flung him outside the gates to die, not knowing that in that very moment they were lifting up all the gates of the universe, to let the King of Glory come in.
They thought to root out his doctrines, not understanding that they were implanting imperishably in the hearts of men the very name they intended to destroy.
They thought they had defeated God with His back the wall, pinned and helpless and defeated: they did not know that it was God Himself who had tracked them down.
He did not conquer in spite of the dark mystery of evil. He conquered through it."
If God is able to use a crucifixion and produce salvation out of it, how much more can he use your suffering and produce fruit and glory out of it? This is the assurance the cross of Christ has given to us, and this is what we can use to preach to our hearts.