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Sunday, October 11, 2020

"A Dying Thirst for the Living God" [Matt's Messages]

“A Dying Thirst for the Living God”
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
October 11, 2020 :: Psalm 42
Our series this Fall is called “Fortifying Truth.” We are receiving from the Psalms the fortifying truth that strengthens us for the tumultuous days in which we are living.

God has given us a songbook in the very center of our Bibles to provide us with songs for our hearts to sing for each and every situation in which we find ourselves.

And I want you to consider this fortifying truth today:

Often, it is good spiritually to feel bad emotionally.

Let me say that again.

Often, it is good spiritually to feel bad emotionally. And to sing about it!

There are a lot of songs in this divinely authorized songbook that are set in a minor key.
 
The last several weeks, the psalms we’ve considered have been celebratory, more in a major key. Psalm 23 with our good shepherd (but don’t forget the shadowy valley). Psalm 103 with all of the blessings we shouldn’t forget (but also remember that we are like dust). And Psalm 133 with the rare and holy blessing of unity. How good and pleasant it is!

But many of the psalms are set in a more minor key. The psalmist sings about how hard things are, how difficult, how painful.

We call them “psalms of lament,” and they, too, are songs from God for us to sing from our hearts.

Because often, it is right and good spiritually to feel bad emotionally and to sing about it, to others, to ourselves, and to our Lord.

That’s what Psalm 42 is like.

Psalm 42 about a Israelite worship leader who feels just terrible. He’s in a tough spot with no obvious time-line for getting out of it. And he feels really rough.

Do you feel really rough today? Has 2020 got you down?

This is a psalm with jagged edges to it. The author feels ragged and jagged. And God led him to write a song about it for us to pray and sing ourselves when we feel like this.

Isn’t that good?! We may not feel good, but it is good to have something right to pray when we feel this way.

Here’s how bad the psalmist feels. He almost feels like he’s going to die.

Psalm 42, verse 1.

“For the director of music. A maskil of the Sons of Korah.

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?


Years ago, Heather and I were talking about this psalm, and she said, out of the blue, that the psalmist had “A Dying Thirst for the Living God,” and I thought then and I think now that perfectly captures these first two verses.

“A Dying Thirst for the Living God”

Do you see the deer in your head?

It’s thirsty.

Perhaps there has been a drought and there is very little water to be found.

Or maybe the deer has been chased by hunters like my son Peter who got his first archery harvest this week out in the woods.

And the deer hasn’t been able to stop and pause get a drink.

It’s yearning, longing, panting, dying for a drink.

Can you feel its thirst?

“Thirst” is one of those words that when you say it, you begin to feel it.

The author says that his soul is thirsty for God.

Now, we don’t know that much about the author. The superscription says that this song was written for the director of music. It’s a “maskil” (which we’re not sure exactly what that means, but it was probably something like “a teaching poem”) “of the Sons of Korah” which was a long line of worship leaders for the people of Israel first in the tabernacle and then eventually in the temple.

And the next 8 psalms are all a part of their collection. It’s like a 8 psalm album of these Sons of Korah guys.

And it seems like it’s one of those worship leaders who is describing his thirst.

And it’s like a dying thirst for water, but it is actually a deep thirst for experiencing God.

“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?

Now, of course, this psalmist is talking to God already. He knows that God is everywhere.

But there was a special place when he was living that God lived in a special way. In Jerusalem. On Mt. Zion. In the tabernacle or the temple. In the holy of holies.

And it seems that the psalmist was far far away from that home. And he was desperate to get back. Desperate! Thirsty for the full and joyful fellowship that came with temple worship.

My best guess is that he is in captivity. That he was captured by an enemy and is being held against his will.

He wants to be in worship with God’s people in Jerusalem, but he is not able right now. ... And he doesn’t know when he will be.

See how he feels? Verse 3.

“My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’”

Have you ever felt like that? Tears are your total diet?

It’s been 5 years this week since Blair Murray died. I remember coming home from being with Ruth that night and just bawling in our living room.

The only time I sobbed more was when we had a stillbirth back in 1999. When our daughter Charis died back in 1999, I lost dozens of pounds in a few weeks because of grief.

This guy can’t eat because he’s so sad. And there are men right there taunting him all day long, “Where is your God? Why doesn’t he show up?”

That’s why I think he’s in a kind of prison.

He’s far from God’s earthly home, and he feels alone with his enemies.

He can’t go up to Jerusalem and sing the songs of ascent like we learned about last week.

He’s stuck right here. And even his joyful memories make him sad! V.4

“These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng.”

I remember how good it was!

How tov” and pleasant it was to worship in unity.

But now I don’t have that.

I think that many of us can relate in a new way in 2020 to how this psalmist felt  when he was kept from God’s presence in gathered worship. For three months this Spring we didn’t gather in person on campus for worship as a church. And though we’ve been meeting again since June, we’ve still been separated in significant ways. And many are not yet ready and able to come.

“When can I go and meet with God?”

This psalmist was not going through a dry spell in his relationship with God.

Not on purpose. He wanted more of God than he could get!

And so it hurt.

Do you feel his dying thirst for the living God?

Now, notice, that’s a bad feeling to feel, but it’s a good feeling to feel. Right? Do you see how it is good spiritually to feel bad emotionally?

It would be so much worse if he didn’t care! If he was ambivalent or apathetic.

No. He feels thirst. He feels anguish. He feels distress.

His spiritual lungs are heaving back and forth longing for the waters of the living God.

So I have two diagnostic questions for us to all ask ourselves as we learn from this “maskil” psalm of lament. Here’s the first one:

#1. DOES MY SOUL THIRST FOR THE LIVING GOD?

Because that’s a very good thing to feel even if it doesn’t feel very good.

Does my soul thirst for the living God?

Now, we live in a different day and age than Psalm 42. There is no temple for us in Jerusalem. And this building is not a temple. Jesus has come and replaced the temple, and He has ascended into heaven to the place that was the template of the temple.

So, I think the question becomes do we long to be with Him?

Do we long to be with Jesus and experience Him with fullness of joy freed from our enemies, the world, the flesh, and the devil? Do we have a dying thirst for the living God?

And that will come out, of course, in whether or not we have daily fellowship with Him and long for weekly worship with His people, a happy foretaste of heaven.

If we don’t have that, we have very little reason to believe we have the other.

Ask yourself. Does my soul thirst for the living God?

Do I feel any desperation for the Lord’s active presence in my life?

Or am I “good?” “I’ve got enough, thanks. I’ve got plenty of God, thank you very much.”

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6).

But what if you don’t thirst?

Then it’s bad to feel good.

Do I have a dying thirst for the living God?

Now, the psalmist knows it is often good spiritually to feel bad emotionally and to sing about it.

But! There are limits. You can take that too far. And you can stay with it, too long.

Most of the laments in the psalms do not stop with lament.

Some of them do. The worse the pain, the longer the legitimate lament.

But the psalmist knows that the pain is not all there is. There is more to this story because of God.

So as right as lament is, there is also hope.

And Psalm 42 shows us how to perfectly intermingle and balance the two. Look at verse 5.

“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and  my God.”

Now, here’s where I often go wrong.

The psalmist is not slapping himself back for verses 1 through 4. He’s not saying that he’s been doing it all wrong. But he is stopping himself from going too far.

My wife Heather says that he is “checking himself from going down the spiral of despair.” He knows that he is tempted to go further with his feelings and to wallow in them. 

So he talks to himself about it.

Just like King David does in Psalm 103, he talks to his soul.

Read this gently. This is a gentle self-rebuke. V.5

“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?”

He knows why! He just said why! He’s not saying that he’s got no reason.

He’s just saying to himself, “Don’t forget the bigger picture.”

“Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”

Hope has the final word.

Hope is faith directed into the future.
Hope is waiting for God to do His thing.
Hope is expecting God to keep His promises. Every single one.

So the psalmist says, “Don’t get stuck down there. Yes, I know it hurts. And it’s right to say it and even sing it. But don’t get stuck there. Don’t forget God.”

“Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and  my God.”

He’s going to say this again in verse 11.

And he says it again Psalm 43, verse 5! Most scholars think that Psalm 43 is simply the second part of this song. 

“Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”
“I will yet praise him.” That’s a declaration of faith.

He praises God today because he fully expects God to rescue Him some day soon.

And he will get to worship in Jerusalem once more.

Second diagnostic question, a little different from the first:

The first was, “Does my soul thirst for the living God?” If so, that’s good, you want that on this side of heaven.

The second is, “Is my soul downcast within me?”

#2. IS MY SOUL DOWNCAST WITHIN ME?

If so, it is good to know it and say it.

But it is dangerous to just stick with it.

If your soul is downcast within you, tell it to put your hope in God.

Remember that how you feel today will not last forever.

What will last forever is God keeping His promises to you.

Turn your face towards God and put your faith in Him.

It doesn’t stop the pain. It doesn’t necessarily make you feel all better. Not yet.

But it reorients your heart towards what is forever.

It is fortifying truth for tumultuous days.

What I love about verse 6 is that just because he has declared his faith, it doesn’t mean that he has solved his problems. They are still there. He’s still in captivity. He’s still far from home. He’s still far from God’s earthly home.

In fact, his soul is still downcast. V.6

“Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” [Verse 6] My soul is downcast within me [yes, that’s where I honestly am]; therefore I will remember you from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon–from Mount Mizar. Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.”

You see how the psalmist oscillates from lament to hope, from lament to hope?

He is brutally honest. He is depressed, and it isn’t going away.

But he is still going to remember God.

Even far from home. It seems from verse 6 that he’s in the far northern regions of Israel, remember tall Mount Hermon from last week’s psalm 133? He’s either up there or beyond there. We aren’t sure which peak is Mount Mizar, but it sounds like it’s near the headwaters of the Jordan river. And the water is just pounding!

Roaring, deep roaring, chaos and tumult and crashing waves, crashing over him.

It sounds like Psalm 93 doesn’t it? That we saw a few weeks ago. “The seas have lifted up, O LORD, the seas have lifted up their voice; the seas have lifted up their pounding waves.”

He’s gone from not enough water as a deer wanting flowing streams to too much water and getting pounded by it.

And he knows that these waters are God’s! He knows that God is sovereign even over these overwhelming things.

It’s too much! It’s just. too. much.

Have you felt that way recently? Overwhelmed and overcome.

I think the Prophet Jonah quotes this psalm in his song in Jonah chapter 2. That’s someone who was overwhelmed!

I love how honest the Bible is. I love how honest the psalms are about how hard it is to live in this broken world as broken people.

It is good to sing about how bad it can be!

And then he says another word of faith. V.8

“By day the LORD [Yahweh] directs his love [sends it this way], at night his song is with me–a prayer to the God of my life.”

Isn’t that interesting? 

He knows that God is with him, even if he isn’t with God at the temple.

All day long. He knows that God’s hesed, his steadfast covenant love is directed at him, and all night long, the Lord’s song is with him.

And he sings it back to God.

It’s a song of faith even if it’s a song of pain.

Here’s what he says. Verse 9.

“I say to God my Rock, ‘Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?’ My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’”

Question: Is that a good prayer?

Yes, it is. It’s a lament. Those questions (why, why, why?) are not unbelief. They are what pain says in faith to your Rock when you feel those questions in your body and your soul.

And it when the pain doesn’t stop. You say, “When, Lord? When will it stop?”

When will these enemies leave me alone? 

I’m dying here.

And I feel all alone.

When it feels like that, you sing about it.

You tell the Lord exactly how it feels.
You sing it with the rest of the worship team.
With your whole church family.

A prayer to the God of your life.

It is spiritually good to sing about it when you feel emotionally bad.

But then check yourself. Don’t let yourself slip into despair or wallow in your circumstances. Verse 11.

“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”

I love that this psalm ends with no resolution of this guy’s problems.

Because that’s how real life often is!

And when you pick up Part Two in Psalm 43, he’s still struggling!

But I also love how this psalm ends with repetition of verse 5 in verse 11 (and it does again in verse 5 of Psalm 43!).

Don’t let your downcast heart have the last of the last words! Make sure the last word is a last word of hope and praise.

“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”

***

Fortifying Truth - Fall 2020

01. Majestic and Mindful - Psalm 8
02. All Our Days - Psalm 90
03. "The LORD on High Is Mighty!" - Psalm 93
04. "The LORD Is My Shepherd" - Psalm 23
05. "Praise the LORD, O My Soul!" - Psalm 103

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