Psalms 42 and 43

Psalm 42 As the deer pants for streams of water, so I long for you, O God. I thirst for God, the living God. When can I come and stand before him? Day and night, I have only tears for food, while my enemies continually taunt me, saying, "Where is this God of yours?" My heart is breaking as I remember how it used to be: I walked among the crowds of worshipers, leading a great procession to the house of God, singing for joy and giving thanks- it was the sound of a great celebration! Why am I discouraged? Why so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again- my Savior and my God!

Now I am deeply discouraged, but I will remember your kindness- from Mount Hermon, the source of the Jordan, from the land of Mount Mizar. I hear the tumult of the raging seas as your waves and surging tides sweep over me. Through each day the LORD pours his unfailing love upon me, and through each night I sing his songs, praying to God who gives me life. "O God my rock," I cry, "Why have you forsaken me? Why must I wander in darkness, oppressed by my enemies?" Their taunts pierce me like a fatal wound. They scoff, "Where is this God of yours?" Why am I discouraged? Why so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again- my Savior and my God.

Psalm 43 O God, take up my cause! Defend me against these ungodly people. Rescue me from these unjust liars. For you are God, my only safe haven. Why have you tossed me aside? Why must I wander around in darkness, oppressed by my enemies? Send out your light and your truth; let them guide me. Let them lead me to your holy mountain, to the place where you live. There I will go to the altar of God, to God-the source of all my joy. I will praise you with my harp, O God, my God! Why am I discouraged? Why so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again- my Savior and my God

Do you remember a really special worship service? What we might call a mountain top worship? I do.

All of the mountain top experiences have something in common: I was sure I was in the presence of God.
Worship was good not because it was entertaining or emotional but because the spirit of the Lord – his grace, mercy, and mysterious majesty surrounded the assembly.

The psalmist remembers mountain top experiences – They were celebrations! He led groups of people to the worship singing songs of thanks! They were marching up the hill singing songs of joy. They were on their way to God’s house. Those were special times – but the psalmist is singing a different song today. Today his heart is broken because worship isn’t much of a celebration. He’s not on the mountain top and he doesn’t know where God is.

We always want mountain top experiences to last, but they don't. Just as you can remember really special worship services, maybe you also know about times of worship that seem routine and stale. Maybe you even remember days you didn’t bother to worship because you just didn’t have it in you. Not that you were lazy or wanted to do something else – no, you just felt numb and cold inside. No matter how loud you sang or how catchy the songs – even if the preaching was better than usual – something was missing. You felt like a deer, panting for water and unable to find even a trickle of a stream to quench your thirst.

That’s the way the psalmist describes it. He is dry and parched. He longs to be near God but instead of the mountaintop – he’s in the desert. No songs of praise come from his parched lips. His swollen, red eyes see no sign of God’s face. He is only blinded by the sun. And there isn’t even an edifying voice of a fellow worshipper speaking a psalm, hymn, or spiritual song to spur him on to love and good works.

In the desert, he faces questions about God – "So, where is your God? Why do you think he abandoned you like this? Maybe it is something you did? Maybe there is some unresolved sin or pride in your life? What is God trying to teach you through all this suffering? How is it you have fallen out of favor with him? If you don’t feel close to God, then who moved?"

That last one is a good question. If you ask the Psalmist he might surprise you and say – well it seems to me that God did!

The psalmist feels abandoned and forgotten. Being forgotten is one of the worst feelings: rejection can hurt worse than punishment. Being forgotten means being alone – defenseless before enemies and the forces of nature. Being forgotten means losing stability and security – nowhere is safe, darkness surrounds.

The psalmist wants to know why God has thrown him aside. He is lost in darkness, enemies have taken advantage of his misfortune. And he feels shame – an embarrassment for God. He has praised God like an adoring child praises a Father - confident in the Father’s goodness and boasting that the Father can do anything! "My dad is stronger than your dad!" And then in the moment he is needed most, the Father isn’t there. And the child is – abandoned. All the praise and boasting about the Father becomes embarrassing.

Whose Psalm is this? Who are the children of Korah? Maybe they are among us. Maybe our names, along with the names of Job, Jacob, David, and Jesus belong in that title line. Any of us who feel thirsty for God’s presence.
Those who hear people say "Where is Your God?" because something terrible has happened and they are put to shame by it. It calls into question their relationship with God. Those who find themselves in oppressive surroundings as family members or co-workers insult them for their faith. And those who feel stressed and disappointed because God hasn't seemed to do much to help them out of a difficult situation.

This song is for the thirsty, parched souls who long for God – those who long to be immersed in his mercy and rescuing grace. The chorus of the song doesn’t appear in our contemporary song "As the Deer" - but maybe you will remember it from now on. It is a chorus that admits to the sadness and despair we feel. It starts off with a little self-talk ...
Why am I discouraged? Why so sad?
(Despair is a vicious thing. It is a sort of auto-immune disorder of the soul. It attacks your soul then turns your soul against you for feeling sad.)

But the chorus caves in to hope. The thirsty soul in the desert decides to become a pilgrim. He calls for God to send the light from his mountain. To lead him out of the darkness. To bring him to the source of his joy. Like the deer he is going to sniff out the source of water. He will trace it back to the head waters and his hope is that he will be plunged into the deep!

I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again- my Savior and my God!

Being a pilgrim means accepting the wilderness, but settling for nothing on the journey except the deep waters of God. That’s why we need this song – to send us on our pilgrim journey. Too many people settle for poison in the wilderness. "Feeling better has become more important to us than finding God."

Jesus once spoke to a thirsty woman in the wilderness of Samaria (John 4). She felt far from God and so it isn’t strange that she asked "Where is God?" She had heard from her family – the generations before her - that God is on his holy mountain – Mount Gerazim. But she’s heard from her enemies that God lives in a big house in Jerusalem. Where is God? She’s thirsty. Jesus isn’t surprised by the fact that she’s had five husbands and the man she is with now isn’t her husband. Like many of us who long for God, she’s turned to other people to satisfy what only God can. She is thirsty and so when Jesus speaks of living water – deep water – that not only satisfies thirst but taps a spring of gushing water in their soul – she wants it! Like a deer panting for water!

To those who are in the wilderness aching with thirst: You are invited to join the pilgrim journey. There is a beam of light we are heading for – it leads to God’s mountain. The source of his kindness and joy is there – deep waters to wash over us and soak us. On the journey we sing the song left to us by the sons of Korah ...

Why are you so discouraged? Why are you so sad? Put your hope in God! You will praise him again – your Savior and your God!

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 20 June 2004

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