Dear Citylife – Letter to Congregation from Pastor Um (4/29/20)

Psalm 42

As a deer pants for flowing streams,
    so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
    for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?
My tears have been my food
    day and night,
while they say to me all the day long,
    “Where is your God?”
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.
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.
My soul is cast down within me;
    therefore I remember you
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
    from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep
    at the roar of your waterfalls;
all your breakers and your waves
    have gone over me.
By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
    and at night his song is with me,
    a prayer to the God of my life.
I say to God, my rock:
    “Why have you forgotten me?
Why do I go mourning
    because of the oppression of the enemy?”
10 As with a deadly wound in my bones,
    my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me all the day long,
    “Where is your God?”
11 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.

Dear Citylife,

As I have been praying and hearing from many of you in our congregation, I realize that many of us might be struggling with being downcast. We have come to terms with the fact that this is our settled lived experience for both now and for the foreseeable future.

Governor Baker has just announced that we will be sheltered in our homes until May 18th (by the way, please respect his advice to stay at home, to follow social distancing guidelines when going out for essential items, and to wear a mask) and most likely even after this ban is lifted, we will probably have to continue respecting physical distancing protocols. There is a good possibility that people will not be able to congregate in large numbers for quite some time.

We do see some potential hope that the economy and businesses will start opening up soon. However, it’s not like we are going back to our “normal” lifestyle any time soon. This is the reason why I believe Psalm 42 can be an extremely encouraging word for us this week.

This passage not only helps us to be very honest about assessing and analyzing what is going on inside of our souls but also it shows us where the cure can be found for our spiritual depression.

  1. The Problem: Spiritual Depression

Three times the Psalmist describes the state of his heart, which is dry and dark.

  • “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” (42:5).
  • “My soul is cast down within me” (42:5).
  • “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” (42:11).

He begins the psalm by saying that he is like a deer panting for flowing streams (42:1). This is not simply a description of people who need a nice cold glass of water! The Psalmist is using this image to talk about a deer who was probably being hunted by a predator, who is now trying to catch its breath by looking for water to quench his thirst. This is not an animal that is simply thirsty but an animal which is panting as if there is nowhere to get water.

Because the people of God lived in a very arid region, it was easy for the vegetation to dry out and for animals to die. This image is being used as a parallel description to clarify the spiritual condition of the Psalmist’s soul. In a sense, he is saying that his soul is parched, dry, barren, and yellow like the vegetation around him which has received no water. Therefore, his soul is downcast and he is spiritually depressed.

The Psalmist knows he needs to long for the living God. Yet, his experience at the moment is that God doesn’t seem like he’s real or very close. That is why his soul is panting and desperate. His mouth is so dry and his tongue is probably swollen so he’s not able to taste the goodness of life. There is no sense of enjoying the sweetness of life and he is lacking any energy, and life has now become a grind for him.

Right now, this might be your testimony.  “Life is a grind.” You’re not able to taste the goodness of your God! He seems very far away. Therefore, your heart has become numb, and you have entered into a state of spiritual lethargy and apathy.

However, one obvious point needs to be shared here. ThePsalmist is a child of God! He is now calling out for God’s help. He is speaking to his own heart, saying “why are you downcast, o my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” (42:5,11). He then preaches the gospel to his own soul! “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (42:5,11). The Psalmist is reminding his heart that the Lord commands his steadfast love.

One of the reasons why the Psalmist is experiencing what he’s experiencing is because he was probably living in exile (42:4). The Psalmist is saying, “O how I long to have that experience of participating in corporate worship with fellow saints in the presence of our God! Because I am presently not participating in person the celebratory experience of going into the house of God (the temple) for corporate worship, this community deprivation is causing me to be spiritually down.”

Dear brothers and sisters, we have been created to be social beings. We are not supposed to experience complete isolation and loneliness. It makes complete sense why many of you (especially those of you who are single and without roommates and sheltered at home) would feel spiritually down! You aren’t able to be around others and to live out your life in the context of your church community. Let me say that if any of you are struggling, please reach out to our CG leaders, church staff, and/or diaconate. We want to surround you with our love and to support you the best way we can.

Another reason why the Psalmist is spiritually depressed is because he has opposition. He is being asked, “where is your God?” (42:3). At this very moment, you might have false voices speaking into your ears (whether they are coming from the world, the flesh or the enemy) saying, “where is your God? If he is for you, why are you experiencing this and why are you being treated like this?” (42:9-10).

One commentator points out another reason why the Psalmist wrestled with spiritual desolation.  He was an individual who had the responsibility of leading corporate worship, and he no longer has an outlet or opportunity to give that kind of service because he was living in exile. For many of you, your mind and body are accustomed to living with a particular rhythm. Because that rhythm has been altered, that inability to give, serve, work, create, and make meaningful contribution according to your former rhythms has brought you to this lethargic space.

  1. The Prescription for the Problem

The Psalmist assesses the condition of his heart, speaks the gospel directly into his heart, and locates where the hope can be found – in God! (42:5).

He also devotes himself to prayer (42:8). As challenging as his circumstances are, he is aware that he needs to look to God to find hope and experience his steadfast love! To praise God that his heart might rejoice. (42:11).

The Psalmist realizes that the resolution for his desolateness is to engage in gospel memory rather than gospel amnesia. He is saying that God is my salvation! God is my God! He is not just an abstract idea but he is a God with whom I have a personal relationship. I know that I have a God who will not abandon me, disappoint me, or desert me.

Where do I get this assurance? Jesus Christ himself. When he was panting on the cross and was completely parched, he died and did not have his thirst quenched! He was so committed to preserving our lives that he died of thirst. Remember that he tasted the gall and vinegar of God’s judgment so that we would forever drink from the wells of living water!

Know that your heart is thirsty today and pant for the living God, for he will quench your thirst now and forever.

I hope to see you tonight for another “Wednesdays with Pastor Um” session. Please come join me at 7:00p.m. Look back at the latest Citylife News email, subscribe to our weekly Newsletter here or join our Citylife Social FB group to find the meeting login info.

Cast all your anxieties on him because he cares for you.

Pastor Um