Man Pouring Out His Heart to God in Prayer
Folksongs of Faith

A Song of Confidence

Author: Ray C. Stedman

The book of Psalms falls into five different divisions, five books. It is our purpose in this present series to study the introductory psalm to each of these books. These five books of The Psalms correspond to the five opening books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. These five books of Moses spell out the pattern of God's working with men. If you have the first five books of the Bible clearly in mind as to their message you will know the repeated theme which God emphasizes over and over again throughout the Bible. That is also true for the books of The Psalms.

The book of Genesis is the book of foundations. There we have the explanation of the origin of the universe, the origin of humanity, the beginning of sin, the problem of evil in human life, and the beginning of redemption. It lays the foundations of life, and that is also what we have in the first book of Psalms. It is fittingly introduced by the first psalm which sets forth for us the only two ways of life: the godly versus the ungodly. The godly life is the secret of happiness, while the ungodly life tries to look happy, but, inside, is hollow and empty.

Now we come to the second book of The Psalms which begins with Psalm 42. This corresponds with the book of Exodus, the story of redemption. It tells of God calling Israel out of Egypt, redeeming them by the blood of the Passover lamb. It is the story, in other words, of the work of God on behalf of man. It is most fittingly introduced by the forty-second Psalm, which is an expression of the confidence of man in God in a time of trouble. Since we all have troubles, this is a very appropriate psalm for anyone, at any stage of life.

Also, we need only to read Psalm 43 to see that it belongs with Psalm 42. Once these were probably one Psalm but they were divided somehow into two, although they clearly belong together.

As I have pointed out from time to time, tradition tells us that a certain Dutchman who was carrying the manuscript of the New Testament to the printers on horseback is the one who is responsible for the chapter divisions in our King James New Testament. Men have felt that every time the horse stumbled his pen made a mark which the printers took to mean "chapter division here". They are almost that haphazard. Though we have less trouble with chapter divisions in the Old Testament, still some Jew must have had a similar problem. Here is a division which is not warranted, and we must handle Psalms 42 and 43 as one.

Now the key to this Psalm is found in the repeated refrain which is found in verses 5, 11 and 43:5.

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
  and why are you disquieted within me?
hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
  my help and my God. (Psalms 42:5, 42:11, 43:5)

If you refer to the inscription with which this psalm opens, you will find that it is addressed to the Choirmaster, and is called a Maskil of the Sons of Korah. These inscriptions are part of the inspired record; they belong with the psalm and indicate something vital about it. Maskil is the Hebrew word for teaching. This Psalm is intended to teach something to us. What? Judging by the repeated refrain, it is intended to teach us how to handle our blue moods, the times when we get up in the morning and say, "Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?"

We all know that there are some mornings when we spring out of bed, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and say, "Good morning, God." There are other mornings when we only manage to pry open our eyelids, sit dejectedly on the side of the bed and say, "Good God, it's morning."

These are the mornings that are in view here. The answer to each blue mood is, "Hope thou in God;" i.e., wait for God. He is working out his purposes and if you hang on you will yet praise him.

Just a word further on the inscriptions. The Sons of Korah were a family of singers in Israel who passed along their musical office from generation to generation, and were noted as an outstanding family of musicians. Several of the Psalms come from them. The experience which this psalm reflects was unquestionably David's, but it was put to music by the Korah Family Singers, and dedicated to the Chief Musician, or the Royal Choirmaster. Most of us believe that the blues songs began with The St. Louis Blues, but actually they began in Jerusalem with The King David Blues. Here is one of The King David Blues. It is designed to teach us a very important lesson: How to handle our blue moods, those times when you say to yourself, "Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?" Some scholars feel that the occasion which is reflected in this psalm was when David was excluded from the temple at the time of Absalom's rebellion. Late in David's reign Absalom took over the kingdom temporarily and David was driven into exile outside Jerusalem. It was probably on this occasion that he wrote this psalm. There is no mention of this in the psalm, but it clearly reflects a time of depression and frustration. But David does not accept that blue mood, that depression of spirit, as inevitable. He does something about it. The whole purpose of this psalm is to help us learn how to handle these times in our own lives. None of us need think that because we are Christians we shall escape times of depression; they will come. But when they come, we need to do something about them. I am afraid most Christians simply succumb to them. They just go along making everybody around them miserable because they are passing through times of depression. They are in a bad mood, and they wait for it to pass but do nothing about it.

Lest you think that some of the great saints have never had this kind of trouble, let me share with you a quotation from an outstanding theologian and preacher of the l9th century, Dr. John Henry Jowett. He once wrote to a friend,

I wish you wouldn't think I'm such a saint. You seem to imagine that I have no ups-and-downs but just a level and lofty stretch of spiritual attainment with unbroken joy and equanimity. By no means. I am often perfectly wretched, and everything appears most murky. I often feel as though my religious life had only just begun and that I am in the kindergarten age. But I can usually trace these miserable seasons to some personal cause, and the first thing to do is to attend to that cause and get it into the sunshine again.

That is what this Psalm attempts to teach us: how to get into the sunshine again. It is a teaching psalm designed for that very purpose. As we look at it you will note that it traces three stages of the Psalmist's experience, and at the end of each stage there comes the refrain that describes what brought him through, "Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God."

Now the first stage is one of intense longing and desire.

As a hart longs for flowing streams,
  so longs my soul for thee, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
  for the living God.
When shall I come
  and behold the face of God? (Psalms 42:1-2 RSV)

How beautifully he puts that! As the deer running through the woods longs for water, so his soul is thirsting after God. He has reached the place in his experience where he knows only God can meet his need. He longs to come into a relationship of freshness and revitalizing fellowship that will mean his soul thirst will be quenched. We learn why he so thirsts in the question he asks at the close of Verse 2, "When shall I come and behold the face of God?"

In other words, he is experiencing a sense of God's delay. There is no doubt in his heart but that there is help for him in God. He expects to find it. He knows God has met his need in the past and he expects him to meet it again. But, for some reason, that help is delayed and this is hard for him to bear. I am sure you have found it is hard for you to bear. When God immediately answers your prayer and buoys your dejected spirit up and you find yourself strengthened when you turn to him, it is wonderful. This is the common, usual experience of most Christians. But there will also be times when God apparently does nothing. There will be times when he lets you wait. Those times of delay are the times that threaten and test our faith. That is what David is experiencing here. It was made worse by the present taunts of his enemies and the thoughts of past experiences of joy.

My tears have been my food
  day and night,
while men say to me continually,
  "Where is your God?" (Psalms 42:3 RSV)

That is, "I cannot sleep or eat because of my sorrow, my longing for God."

These things I remember,
  as I pour out my soul:
how I went with the throng,
  and led them in procession to the house of God,
with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving,
  a multitude keeping festival. (Psalms 42:4 RSV)

He is recalling, here, the past. The Hebrew is, "I will remember." It is a strong expression of determination. He is determined to remember how God has helped him in the past. That is one of the greatest things to do when you begin to experience depression of spirit. Think back to what God has done for you in the past. Remember!

Some people have a habit of remembering only the bad things. They date everything by these. "That was the day the garage caught on fire." "Oh, yes, I remember. That was the day when the baby fell in the garbage can." Everything is dated from these unhappy circumstances. "I remember that week! That was the week when the boss came to work with a hangover."

But here the Psalmist is showing us that memory can be an important aid by remembering the positive experiences of God's blessing. "I will remember," he says, "the times when God caused my heart to exult with joy, and shut the mouth of all my taunting enemies by answering in such a way that everyone could see that it was God's hand at work."

Two weeks ago I was in Tyler, Texas. I was accompanied on my speaking schedule by Mr. Ed Murphy, of Overseas Crusades. I have known Ed for a number of years, but I had never heard the full story of his Christian experience till he told it there. It was very thrilling. He had been raised in a Roman Catholic family in the New England area. He was fourteen years old before he even saw a Protestant, and when he saw his first one he expected to see horns sprouting from his head, and a tail waving around behind. Through a remarkable experience, where God put him in a lonely lumber camp with a Christian boy, he came to know the Lord Jesus Christ. This lad gave Ed a New Testament, and, through the reading of that New Testament, Ed Murphy's soul was captured for Christ.

Some time afterward he determined to obey God's call to go to a mission field, and he enrolled in Biola University. When his Catholic family heard that he was planning to go to Bible School, they called him in, and told him that if he went there he could never be their son again. His mother was particularly opposed to it, and told him that if he went he was never to come home again. But Ed felt led of God, and so he went to Bible School. When he drew near to the close of the first year he had a job lined up for the summer to meet his expenses, but he was lacking sixty dollars to pay the final bills for the current semester. Before he took his final exam, it was required that he pay this money. He tried every way he knew to raise the money, but he couldn't. Finally, in desperation, he wrote his mother saying, "Mother, I know you don't like what I'm doing, but I feel led of God to do it. I have now come to a difficult time. I lack sixty dollars of my school expenses, but I have to pay it before I take my final exam. You've helped me in other matters in the past, and I just wondered if, perhaps, you might relent and help me again. I'll pay you back this summer."

His mother wrote back, "Son, when you left this house to go to a Protestant Bible college, I told you that you were never to come back again. I wanted nothing to do with you as long as you continued in the Protestant faith. You told me at that time that your God would take care of you, but now that you come to a time of trouble you run back to me. If your God is really the God you say he is, then let him take care of you. I will be in Los Angeles this next weekend. You tell me that if you haven't received this money you will have to drop out of school. I'll be at this address, and if you want to come home with me, come there, and I'll know that you've dropped all this foolishness."

It was a great time of testing for Ed. He prayed about it, asked God again to supply, but the day came on which he had to take the exams and there was no money. So he packed his bags, called his mother, and told her he would meet her to go home with her. Just as he was going out the door with his bags the Dean of Education stopped him, and asked him to come into the office for a moment. Ed went in, and the Dean said, "How much was it that I said you owed the school?" Ed said, "Sixty dollars." The Dean said, "Well, it's strange. Just as you were going down the hall I was reading this slip with your name on it which says you have forty dollars to your credit." Ed said, "There must be some mistake. I don't know anything about that. I only know I owe the sixty dollars." So the Dean called to check it out, and it turned out that someone that very morning, quite anonymously, had sent in one hundred dollars, credited to the account of Ed Murphy.

When he went to meet his mother she said, "Well, son, you've given up your Protestant faith, have you?" He said, "No, mother, I haven't." She said, "But you can't go back to school." He said, "Yes, I can. God has supplied, and given me not only the sixty dollars but forty dollars in addition." His mother did not say a word. She turned around, went out the door, and went home. But two weeks later she wrote to him, "Ed, I want to know this kind of a God." That incident has been a source of strength to Ed Murphy through the years. Whenever he is discouraged he has learned to look back to the time when God dealt with him in this remarkable way.

And that is what this Psalmist is doing. He is looking back and remembering the time when God had so remarkably delivered him that his soul was filled with exultation and joy. He is obviously hoping that this will relieve his fears now, but it does not. So he reminds himself in the refrain,

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
  and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall yet praise him,
  my help and my God. (Psalms 42:5 RSV)

But his trial is not over. He has reached a second stage and he tries another tactic. He says,

My soul is cast down within me,
  therefore I remember thee
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
  from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep
  at the thunder of thy cataracts;
all thy waves and thy billows
  have gone over me.
By day the Lord commands his steadfast love;
  and at night his song is within me,
a prayer to the God of my life. (Psalms 42:6-8 RSV)

He is still despondent. His remembering of the past has not worked. Usually it does. Usually this is enough to deliver us from this nagging fear that God is not going to do anything at all. But now it does not, and so he tries to help by remembering something else: an experience that he had when he was in the northern part of Israel near Mount Hermon, at the head of the Jordan River, on a little peak of the range where Mount Hermon is located, called Mount Mizar (which, incidentally, means "little mountain"). On that occasion he could hear the waterfalls of that mountainous region, the thundering cataracts. He became aware of how they seemed to be calling to one another, "deep calling unto deep," and it reminded him that the deeps in God call out to the deeps in man.

One of the amazing things about nature is the silent voices that call to one another across vast spaces. The moon calls to the deeps in the sea, raising the tides. Twice a day the waters rise in tides across the earth, because of the moon calling to the ocean. You know how the sun and the rain call to the deeps in a seed, causing it to stir with life and to spring up and grow. There are vast distances that call to the deeps in wild birds, causing them to wing their way across trackless wastes to lay their eggs; there are voices that call to certain fish, sending them across the seas to spawn. In this way the Psalmist is reminded that God also calls to man. There are deeps in God that correspond with deeps in man, and he calls to them. The Psalmist specifically names two here: the deeps of the love of God, and the joy of God, calling out to the corresponding deeps of prayer in the believer.

By day the Lord commands his steadfast love;
  and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life. (Psalms 42:8 RSV)

The love and joy of God call out from him a prayer to the God of his life. This helps him. He is remembering that the nature of God is linked up to the nature of the believer and that relationship never changes. Even though he does not feel anything, they are there; these silent deeps in God calling out to the deeps in man. This usually steadies him strengthens him and helps him. It is an excellent way to dispel the blues. Remember that what God has said about you and therefore what is true about you, does not change. There are deep ties that are never broken between God and man, the believer and his God.

But this time it does not work for the Psalmist. He expresses his reaction in Verses 9-10:

I say to God, my rock:
  "Why hast thou forgotten me?
Why go I mourning
  because of the oppression of the enemy?"
As with a deadly wound in my body,
  my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me continually,
  "Where is your God?" (Psalms 42:9-10 RSV)

He is still deeply troubled. The two usual means for dispelling depression have not helped him this time. He has not been able to shake his sense of God's untimely delay, and now it has grown into a nagging, torturing doubt, "Why hast thou forgotten me?"

A few weeks ago on a Sunday morning after the service I left for home. My little seven year old daughter, Laurie, was in children's church, and I thought she was with her mother. Her mother thought she was with me, so we went home and left her. Of course, as soon as we reached home we missed her, and I came right back. I found her waiting for me, two tears standing in her eyes and with the utmost reproach in her voice she said, "Daddy, you forgot me!" What a horrible feeling it is to be forgotten! It did not hurt her that she was a little late; it was just that she thought we had all forgotten her.

That is the feeling expressed here, and what a terrible feeling it is. David says, "My enemies taunt me with this, and it is like a deadly wound in my body, like a dagger in the heart." Actually the Hebrew is even stronger, "As with murder in my bones, my adversaries taunt me continually, saying, 'Where is your God?'" Faith can only reply,

Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God. (Psalms 42:11 RSV)

Then we reach the third phase of his experience. The Psalmist cries out now in desperation,

Vindicate me, O God,
  and defend my cause against an ungodly people;
from deceitful and unjust men
  deliver me! (Psalms 43:1 RSV)

We all know something of this problem. Men have betrayed him, mistreated him; it is a gross injustice. How common that is. How many times do we feel that those whom we trusted have betrayed us, have deceived us, taken advantage of us. He cries out,

For thou art the God in whom I take refuge;
  why hast thou cast me off?
Why go I mourning
  because of the oppression of the enemy? (Psalms 43:2 RSV)

This time his question reveals he has reached the place of despair. "Why have you abandoned me? Why have you cast me off? I've taken refuge in you, God, and yet you do nothing, absolutely nothing. You have abandoned me, cast me away. I feel utterly forsaken."

Have you ever felt like this, that God has abandoned you? It is the greatest test of faith, when the God to whom you cry apparently does nothing. But now he realizes, at last, the way out.

Oh send out thy light and thy truth;
  let them lead me,
let them bring me to thy holy hill
  and to thy dwelling!
Then I will go to the altar of God,
  to God my exceeding joy;
and I will praise thee with the lyre,
  O God, my God. (Psalms 43:3-4 RSV)

What a word of triumph! Now he understands that what God is doing is driving him step by step to the ultimate refuge of any believer in any time of testing: the word of God. It is the truth of God coupled with the light. The truth is God's word; the light is your understanding of it. What he is crying out for is an understanding of the word as he reads it; light, breaking out of these marvelous promises, to encourage and strengthen his heart. He says, "If you will do that, God, then my heart will be filled with joy and with gladness, and I will praise you with the harp; for you, O God, are my God, my personal God." What a revelation that is.

There comes a time in all of our lives when we discover for ourselves that the ultimate refuge of any believer is in the word of God, what God has said. I remember such a time in my early ministry. I had just begun my work at Peninsula Bible Church when there came to me a young man who was having severe marital problems. He was in his twenties, and his wife had just divorced him. He was left with a boy about five years of age. He came to me for help, and I tried to help him as best I could, and, through the circumstances, led him to Christ. For a few weeks there was a real change in this young man's life. He gained firm hold on God. But, as often happens, there came a time of testing of his faith, and he was plunged into despair. One Sunday morning he called me up just before church and asked me over the phone for help and prayer. I counseled with him and we prayed together. I told him that as soon as the church service was over I would come to see him. When the service ended I did go over to see him. I went up to the house and knocked but there was no answer. I knew he should be there, so I knocked again, but still no answer. Finally I tried the door, saw it was open, and went in. He was nowhere to be found until I went into the bedroom. There I found him lying in a spreading pool of blood, dead by his own hand.

It was a shock, a most terrible shock. I called the police, and made arrangements, and then went home. The rest of that day I was shaken, unnerved, and did not know what to do. I was experiencing a combination of the emotions of fear, anger, sorrow, and grief. I was upset, and did not know whether I wanted to continue in the ministry; it seemed so senseless and useless. I tried every way to find help. I prayed, but it did not seem to relieve me. I talked with others, tried to keep busy, but nothing worked. Finally, that night, fearing that I would lie sleepless all night long, my wife and I together took our Bibles and began to read. I do not to this day know what we read, but I remember that every word came like balm, like healing salve, to my heart. I have thought since of that marvelous phrase in Psalm 107, "He sent his word, and healed them," (Psalms 107:20a RSV). In that time of deep, dark despair and frustration, the reading of the word healed my heart.

That is what this Psalmist is saying. When you can't shake the blues, and you have a depression of spirit that nothing seems to relieve; when you have tried to remember the past, and tried to recall the unshakable, unchangeable relationships that exist between you and God, but nothing helps; then there is nothing left but to rest upon his word, his truth, and to allow that to heal the heart. So the Psalmist closes again with the refrain that catches up the whole meaning of this song,

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
  and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
  my help and my God." (Psalms 43:5 RSV)

Yes, hope in God, for he is working out his purposes. That is what the New Testament means when it says, "Having done all, stand," Ephesians 6:13). Stand upon his word.


Our Father, how grateful we are for this remarkable psalm and its help to our hearts in times of depression. Help us, Lord, to lay hold of it and use it in our life, knowing this was written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the age have come. We thank you in Jesus' name, Amen.