Introduction: Psalm 42 begins the second of the five Books of Psalms. In a chiastic literary structure, the “sons of Korah” (the worship leaders) drafted the beginning and ending Psalms in this Book (Ps. 42-49, 84-89). The worship leader Asaph wrote the next set of beginning and ending Psalms (Ps. 50 and 73-83). David likely wrote the middle Psalms (Ps. 51-72). Here, the psalmist battled discouragement. He had once worshiped in Jerusalem. He now found himself expelled from Jerusalem where others questioned his faith. From this Psalm, God reveals seven lessons for battling discouragement. These include: (1) seeking God, (2) worship with others, (3) hope, (4) remembrance, (5) trust, (6) authentic prayers, and (7) persevering patience.
First, in his sadness, the psalmist cried out that his soul thirsted for the living God. Jesus offers you “living water” that will forever quench the thirst of your soul. When you feel discouraged, He wants you seek after Him and the living water that He offers. Second, the psalmist fondly reminisced when he worship with others in God’s house. When you feel discouraged, God wants you to worship with other believers. Corporate worship can help to uplift your soul. Third, in his despair, the psalmist placed his hope in a future time when he would again dwell in God’s presence. When you feel discouraged, God also wants you to place your hope in Him. Whatever pain you may now experience, you have the hope of eternal joy dwelling in His presence. Fourth, in his sadness, the psalmist remembered God’s faithfulness to fulfill His promises. When you are discouraged, God also wants you to remember His faithfulness. This includes both His faithfulness to keep His Word and His faithfulness in your life. Fifth, the psalmist cried out that he felt overwhelmed. But he would still place his trust in God. When you are discouraged or overwhelmed, God also wants you to place your trust in Him. Sixth, even though the psalmist knew that God would never leave him, he cried out that he felt as if God had left him. When you are discouraged, God also wants you to express your genuine feelings in your prayers. It is a sign of both your faith and your relationship with God. Finally, in the face of his trials, the psalmist told himself that he needed to be patient and persevere. When you are discouraged, God also wants you to be patient for Him and for you to persevere in your faith.
1. Seeking God: When You Feel Discouraged, Seek After God. Ps. 42:1-3.
The psalmist craved relief that only God’s living water could provide. At a time of great sadness and enemies who mocked his faith in God, the psalmist cried out to God in complete desperation for the comfort that he knew that only God could provide: “For the music director. A Maskil of the sons of Korah. 1 As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, God. 2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God; when shall I come and appear before God? 3 My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’” (Ps. 42:1-3). Book One of the Psalms began with a similar declaration that God is the source of our spiritual wellbeing: “3 He will be like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers.” (Ps. 1:3). Here, the psalmist saw himself in the same level of desperation for God’s relief as a dehydrated desert deer that was helpless in the face of its hungry predators: “Ease he did not seek, honour he did not covet, but the enjoyment of communion with God was an urgent need of his soul; he viewed it not merely as the sweetest of all luxuries, but as an absolute necessity, like water to a stag.” (Charles Spurgeon on Ps. 42). “It is a soul in desperation that pants after God. It is the inner man that is dry, and fearful, and unable to flee from the pressures of life that pursue us unrelentingly, that discerns their need of God. It is the very core of our being, the entire person, the innermost self that aches for God with a deep, deep thirst that cries out to the Lord for help. It is then that we come to the end of our self, and realize that the broken cisterns of this aggressive world can never provide what we need.” (Source: https://dailyverse.knowing-jesus.com/psalm-42-1).
The psalmist regularly turned to God when his soul felt dry and empty in the world. When you are sad or in need, the Psalms encourage you to seek out a deeper relationship with God the way a thirsty person in the desert might crave a drink of cold water: “My soul longed and even yearned for the courtyards of the LORD; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.” (Ps. 84:2). “My soul is crushed with longing for Your ordinances at all times.” (Ps. 119:20). “I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched; my eyes fail while I wait for my God.” (Ps. 69:3). “I am weary with my sighing; every night I make my bed swim, I flood my couch with my tears.” (Ps. 6:6). If you are sad or discouraged, pour out your heart to God for comfort and fulfillment.
Jesus provided the living water to sustain the Jews in the wilderness. During their time in the wilderness, God sustained the Jews and kept them from dying of thirst. For example, God transformed the dirty waters of Marah to provide drinking water (Ex. 15:25-27). In addition, “[t]hey did not thirst when He led them through the deserts. He made the water flow out of the rock for them; He split the rock and the water gushed forth.” (Isa. 48:21; Nu. 20:2-12; Ps. 81:16; 106:41). Jesus was the Rock who gave the living water (1 Cor. 10:3-4). “Trust in the Lord forever, for we have an everlasting Rock.” (Isa. 26:4).
Jesus offers the living water that will quench your soul. During the Feast of Tabernacles, the Jews celebrated that God gave them the water of life. The High Priest took a golden pitcher of water from the pool of Siloam and poured it into a basin at the altar of the Temple. The water then flowed back through a pipe to the Brook of Kidron (Talmud: Sukkah 4:9). This was done in conjunction with prayers for rain to sustain crops in the following year. In connection with this ceremony, the Talmud states: “Why is the name of it called the Drawing Out of Water? Because of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, according to what is said: ‘With joy shall ye draw out of the wells of salvation’” (Is. 12:3). God offered living water to quench His people’s thirsty souls: “You there! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” (Is. 55:1). “And the LORD will continually guide you, and satisfy your desire in scorched places, and give strength to your bones; and you will be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.” (Is. 58:11). This all foreshadowed Jesus. On the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, He offered: “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, from his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.” (Jo. 7:37-39). “but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never be thirsty; but the water that I will give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up to eternal life.” (Jo. 4:14). If you are in need, are you turning to Jesus?
Jesus also offers you comfort when you turn to Him. When you suffer, you can also turn to Jesus for His comfort: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (1 Cor. 1:3-4). He restores you when you feel sad: “But You, LORD, are a shield around me, My glory, and the One who lifts my head.” (Ps. 3:3). “A Psalm of David. I will exalt You, LORD, for You have lifted me up, and have not let my enemies rejoice over me.” (Ps. 30:1). “But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Lk. 21:28). When others around you are in pain, Jesus also wants you to share with them the same “comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (1 Cor. 1:4). Are you showing the comfort that Jesus has shown you to those who are in need?
2. Church Worship: When You Feel Discouraged, Worship With Others. Ps. 42:4.
The psalmist fondly reminisced when he would corporately worship in God’s house. At a time when he was living in exile, the psalmist recalled the joy of worshiping with others in the Temple during one of God’s festivals in Jerusalem: “4 I remember these things and pour out my soul within me. For I used to go over with the multitude and walk them to the house of God, with a voice of joy and thanksgiving, a multitude celebrating a festival.” (Ps. 42:4). The reference to the “festival” would have referred to either the Feast of First Fruits (Passover), the Feast of Weeks (Shavout) (Pentecost) or the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot). Of the three, the Feast of Tabernacles was the most festive and most likely the one referenced in this Psalm. “You shall celebrate a feast to the Lord your God . . . because the Lord will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you will be altogether joyful.” (Dt. 16:15-17). As referenced above, this festival also celebrated the living water that God provides to those who seek Him.
When you are discouraged, uplift your soul through corporate worship. The Psalms remind you that you can find “sweet fellowship” when you worship with others: “We who had sweet fellowship together, walked in the house of God among the commotion.” (Ps. 55:14). Thus, you should worship in the fellowship of other believers: “not abandoning our own meeting together, as is the habit of some people, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” (Heb. 10:25). While a small group can bring accountability and encouragement, corporate worship can help you to find God’s joy by taking your eyes off yourself and fixing your sight on Him. Are you on time to service each week to worship with the other believers in your church?
Corporate worship can also help you to be thankful when you feel despair. The psalmist also stated that he worshiped with “thanksgiving” (Ps. 42:4). Worship also helps you to be thankful for the blessings in your life. “Praise the LORD! Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; for His mercy is everlasting.” (Ps. 106:1). “Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, for His mercy is everlasting.” (Ps. 107:1). “always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to our God and Father;” (Eph. 5:20). “in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thess. 5:18). If you feel discouraged, sing songs to express your gratitude to God.
3. Hope: When You Feel Discouraged, Place Your Hope in God. Ps. 42:5.
In his despair, the psalmist found hope in the restoration of God’s fellowship. Although he felt alone, the psalmist found comfort in the promise that he would one day be in God’s presence: “5 Why are you in despair, my soul? And why are you restless within me? Wait for God, for I will again praise Him for the help of His presence, my God.” (Ps. 42:5). The psalmist believed in God’s promise that He would never forsake him: “For the LORD your God is a compassionate God; He will not abandon you nor destroy you, nor forget the covenant with your fathers which He swore to them.” (Dt. 4:31). “Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or in dread of them, for the LORD your God is the One who is going with you. He will not desert you or abandon you.” (Dt. 31:6).
Place your hope in Jesus. David proclaimed that God was his hope when he was surrounded by darkness: “And now, Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in You.” (Ps. 39:7). “For You are my hope; Lord GOD, You are my confidence from my youth.” (Ps. 71:5). When you feel turmoil in the world, Jesus is the anchor of your soul and the source of your hope: “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and reliable and one which enters within the veil,” (Heb. 6:19). He will never leave you nor forsake you. He also offers you eternal life where you will be freed from all suffering.
Hope must be enduring or it is not based upon faith. In the next Psalm, the psalmist repeats the same question: “Why are you in despair, my soul? And why are you restless within me? Wait for God, for I will again praise Him for the help of His presence, my God.” (Ps. 43:5). God did not immediately answer the psalmist’s prayer. The psalmist needed to learn to maintain his hope without an immediate answer from God.
Even in times of sorrow, there are many reasons to maintain hope in God’s promises. “The psalmist paused from the painful memory to challenge his own soul. He did not surrender to his feelings of spiritual depression and discouragement. Instead, he challenged them and brought them before God. He said to those cast down and disquieted feelings, ‘Hope in God. He will come through again, because He has before.’ This is a long way from the surrender that often traps the discouraged or spiritually depressed person. He didn’t say, ‘My soul is cast down and that’s how it is. There is nothing I can do about it.’ The challenge made to his own soul – demanding that it explain a reason why it should be so cast down – is a wonderful example. There were some valid reasons for discouragement; there were many more reasons for hope. It also wasn’t as if he had not already given many reasons for his discouragement. Many things bothered him. · Distance from home and the house of God (Psalm 42:2, 42:6). · Taunting unbelievers (Psalm 42:3, 42:10). · Memories of better days (Psalm 42:4). · The present absence of past spiritual thrills (Psalm 42:4). · Overwhelming trials of life (Psalm 42:7). · God’s seemingly slow response (Psalm 42:9). Still, it was as if the psalmist said, ‘Those are not good enough reasons to be cast down when I think of the greatness of God and the help of His favor and presence.’” . . . In his discouragement, the psalmist spoke to himself – perhaps even preached to himself. He didn’t feel filled with praise at the moment. Yet he was confident that as he did what he could to direct his hope in God, that praise would come forth. ‘I don’t feel like praising Him now, but He is worthy of my hope – and I shall yet praise Him.’” (David Guzik on Ps. 42) (emphasis original).4
4. Remembrance: When You Are Discouraged, Remember God’s Faithfulness. Ps. 42:6
The psalmist remembered God’s faithfulness. At a time when he was displaced from Jerusalem and living far to the north, the psalmist sought to overcome his despair by “remembering” God: “6 My soul is in despair within me; therefore I remember You from the land of the Jordan and the peaks of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.” (Ps. 42:6). The psalmist had not forgotten God. Instead, he remembered God’s faithfulness.
God is faithful. As our example, Moses celebrated God’s faithfulness in keeping His promises: “Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments;” (Dt. 7:9). “ . . . I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, . . . showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” (Ex. 20:5-6). “and I will remember My covenant, . . .” (Gen. 9:15). Nehemiah, another prayer warrior, also praised God’s faithfulness when he prayed (Neh. 1:5). Do your prayers also praise God for His faithfulness?
Take steps to remember God’s faithfulness. On many occasions, the patriarchs and leaders of the Jewish nation took steps to ensure that they would not forget God’s faithfulness. For example, Jacob set up a stone pillar and poured oil on top of it to remember what God had done when he came to what is now called “Bethal,” the house of God (Gen. 28:18-19). He later set up another pillar of stone and poured oil on it to remind him of a place where God spoke directly to him (Gen. 35:14). Joshua also took 12 stones from the Jordan River and brought them into the Promised Land for the Jews to remember that God had fulfilled His promises (Josh. 4:20-22). The stories of the Jews were meant for your instruction (1 Cor. 10:11). Thus, you can learn from these examples. Like the Jews, God has delivered every believer. This includes being saved from eternal damnation, answered prayers, deliverance from an illness, an addiction, or restoration of a broken relationship. Remembering what God has done for you is important for your faith and your testimony. Are you creating journals or taking other steps to remember, celebrate, and share what God has done for you?
God was both merciful and faithful to the family of Korah. The “sons of Korah” had the privilege to draft many of the Psalms (e.g., Ps. 42-49, 84-89). But this was only by God’s mercy and grace. In Moses’ day, the leader of their clan led a rebellion to take power from Moses (Nu. 16:1-40). The leader, “Korah”, was the grandson of “Kohah” and a descendant of Levi (Nu. 16:1). God had given the Kohath tribe the honor to protect and carry “the most holy things,” which included the ark (Nu. 4:4). Moses said that Korah’s specific duty was to conduct “the service of the tabernacle” and minister to the congregation (Nu. 16:9). Thus, Korah was a powerful lieutenant below Moses and Aaron. Korah deceived 250 “men of renown” into joining his rebellion (Nu. 16:2). Korah’s name meant “ice”. His pride caused him to feel a lack of recognition as the worship leader. He craved power and wanted to usurp Moses’ God-given authority. God later judged Korah and all who followed after him. His descendants had no right to continue to lead worship. It was only through God’s mercy and grace that they were able to do so. Here, the psalmist drew comfort by remembering God’s mercy and grace. The next time you feel despair, remember God’s ongoing mercy and grace in your life.
5. Trust: When You Are Discouraged, Place Your Trust in God. Ps. 42:7-8.
The psalmist cried out to God that he felt overwhelmed. Even though his despair felt overwhelming, the psalmist trusted that God would send His “goodness” to comfort him: “7 Deep calls to deep at the sound of Your waterfalls; all Your breakers and Your waves have passed over me. 8 The Lord will send His goodness in the daytime; and His song will be with me in the night, a prayer to the God of my life.” (Ps. 42:7-8). The psalmist saw his woes like a powerful wall of water that he could not control. He felt like he would drown in his sorrow without help. He trusted that God would be his help.
Cry out to God when you feel overwhelmed or filled with despair. This was one of many Psalms where either David or other psalmists cried out to God to save them from their despair: “A Psalm of David. Save me, God, for the waters have threatened my life. I have sunk in deep mud, and there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and a flood overflows me.” (Ps. 69:1-2). “The ropes of death encompassed me, and the torrents of destruction terrified me.” (Ps. 18:4). “A Song of Ascents. Out of the depths I have cried to You, LORD.” (Ps. 130:1). “Your wrath has rested upon me, and You have afflicted me with all Your waves. Selah” (Ps. 88:7). “I remembered God, and was troubled; I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed. Selah”. (Ps. 77:3).
When you face evil, trust God and do not lean on your own understanding. As a person of faith, David learned to place his trust in God and seek to do His will: “Trust in the Lord and do good; live in the land and cultivate faithfulness.” (Ps. 37:3). God also wants you to trust in Him and not to lean on your own understanding: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil.” (Prov. 3:5-7; 28:26; Ps. 62:8). God gives wisdom when you ask for it: “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (Jam. 1:5). “For the LORD gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.” (Prov. 2:6). “Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, and in secret You will make wisdom known to me.” (Ps. 51:6). But many view the wisdom of God’s Word as a foolish waste of time. “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor. 1:18; 1 Cor. 2:14). If you reject God and rely upon your own understanding the result is frequently disastrous: “There is a way which seems right to a person, but its end is the way of death.” (Prov. 14:12; 16:25). When you feel overwhelmed, place your trust in God.
6. Authenticity: When You Are Discouraged, Be Genuine in Your Prayers. Ps. 42:9-10.
The psalmist felt abandonment despite knowing that God would never leave him. Even though the psalmist knew that God was faithful, he still cried out that he felt alone: “9 I will say to God my rock, ‘Why have You forgotten me? Why do I go about mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?’ 10 As a shattering of my bones, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’” (Ps. 42:9-10). Here, “in 42:9 (MT 42:10) he cries out to God, asking why he has been forgotten, why he goes about with a darkened countenance in this psalm, he knows that he is not forgotten. But his circumstances and emotions are not what he wants them to be. In spite of what he knows he feels forgotten, so he cries out honestly to the Lord.” (James M. Hamilton Jr., Evangelical Bible Theology Commentary Psalms (Vol. I: Psalms 1-72) (Lexham Academic 2021) p. 452). God also wants you to be authentic in your feelings when you pray. Your ability to share your honest feelings shows that you have a real relationship.
Cry out to God when you cannot feel His presence. Some might feel ashamed to admit that God feels distant. But the Psalms should encourage you that He welcomes your honest prayers when you feel disconnected. It shows that you covet that relationship and seek to have it rekindled: “For You are the God of my strength; why have You rejected me? Why do I go about mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” (Ps. 32:2). “Why do You hide Your face and forget our affliction and oppression?” (Ps. 44:24). “For the music director. A Psalm of David. How long, LORD? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long am I to feel anxious in my soul, with grief in my heart all the day? How long will my enemy be exalted over me?” (Ps. 13:1-2). “For my life is spent with sorrow and my years with sighing; my strength has failed because of my guilt, and my body has wasted away.” (Ps. 31:10). When you feel disconnected from God, are you honest in your prayers to Him?
7. Patience: When You Are Discouraged, Be Patient and Persevere. Ps. 42:11.
The psalmist resolved to be patient and persevere in his faith. The psalmist concluded by giving himself a pep talk. He resolved to be patient for God and persevere in his faith: “11 Why are you in despair, my soul? And why are you restless within me? Wait for God, for I will again praise Him for the help of His presence, my God.” (Ps. 42:11). The psalmist drew comfort in God’s promise that he would again be in His presence.
Be patient for God’s timing. From his trials, David learned to wait on God’s timing: “Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him; do not get upset because of one who is successful in his way, because of the person who carries out wicked schemes.” (Ps. 37:7). “A Psalm of David. I waited patiently for the LORD; and He inclined to me and heard my cry.” (Ps. 40:1). “Wait for the LORD; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the LORD.” (Ps. 27:14; 25:3, 21). Any victory that Satan wins is temporary. God therefore wants you to have faith in His timing: “You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.” (Jam. 5:8). “By your endurance you will gain your lives.” (Lk. 21:19). Do you trust in God’s timing?
Let God use your trials to build perseverance and draw you closer to Him. God likely allowed the psalmist to suffer through many trials so that he would have a deeper faith in Him. Your trials should also produce perseverance and build up your faith: “And not only this, but we also celebrate in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance;” (Ro. 5:3). Paul was persecuted and thrown in jail. But he encouraged believers that faith should include “rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer,” (Ro. 12:12). “Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” (Jam. 1:2-3; 2 Cor. 1:8-10). Are you trusting Jesus to protect you during your trials?