There are times in life when burdens threaten to overwhelm our hearts, when we walk through periods of pain for so long that we begin to feel numb to its presence, when numbness slides into a season of sorrow, which gives way to a sadness that turns into bleakness, and life loses its luster, and then, we despair.
Perhaps you’ve been in that place where hope seemed like a mirage, where happiness seemed so distant that you doubted you’d ever feel it again, where loneliness or grief descended upon you like a cloud. Most of us will relate to this experience at some point in our lives, and if we’ve not yet been there, we should prepare ourselves now for the dark night ahead.
The woes of turmoil stem from many different sources. Some people may be more inclined to these trials because of their temperament. For others, it may be brought on by unrelenting physical pain. For some, it is grief that leads us to this state, a feeling of numbness after a trauma or tragedy. For others, it may be that we’ve been on a spiritual mountaintop, and the Lord has now led us to the valley.
Whatever the cause—in these seasons, we must fight for hope. Psalm 42 instructs us how.
Pray to God honestly.
The psalmist first expresses his emotions to God. He’s honest.
I will say to God, my rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about in sorrow because of the enemy’s oppression?” (v. 9)
When the cloud of darkness descends upon your life and God seems absent, and when it seems like your prayers are just hitting the ceiling and not going anywhere, shout to the Lord in the void. You may think “prayer” sounds like a Sunday-school answer in the battle against sorrow, but the Scriptures teach us to pray because God is powerful and because he cares. He’s sovereign over our sorrow.
The psalmist knows God is not surprised about his suffering:
Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your billows have swept over me. (v. 7)
In fact, he credits the circumstances to God: “God, it’s your breakers and billows that have swept over me. God, you’re the one who’s put me here, in this situation. You are the one who has led me to this place of sadness!” At first, it may seem like bad news to think of God being sovereign over our sorrows. But when we look at this truth from a different angle, we realize: If God is sovereign over our sorrows, if he truly knows what’s best, if he allows us to go through trials and tribulations, then that means he is powerful enough to remove them from us as well. It means he is in control.
“He is their strength in the time of trouble” (Psalm 37:39). God will be the strength of our hearts; he will join his forces with us. Either he will make his hand lighter, or our faith stronger.”
God will not allow us to be overcome by our weakness. He is our strength. Either he will lighten the trial or strengthen our faith. In both cases, he is with us.
Preach to yourself aggressively.
The psalmist doesn’t just pray to God honestly. He also preaches to himself aggressively. He is determined not to let his feelings have the last word.
God’s goodness, while sometimes only a faint memory, is an ever-present rock of truth. When we fight for hope, we seek to clear away the haze in order to see God’s consistent goodness with clarity. We preach the truth of God’s Word to ourselves—aggressively. The psalmist does this twice:
Why, my soul, are you so dejected? Why are you in such turmoil? Put your hope in God, for I will still praise him, my Savior and my God. (vs. 5, 11)
This isn’t self-talk. It’s self-preaching. He tells his heart what his mind knows to be true. Don’t think of this guy as just quietly, in peace, trying to make things better for himself. He’s fighting. He’s aggressive. He believes with all his heart that God is going to show up again and that God is going to deliver him, that the billows and breakers will die down, that the darkness will lift, and the sun will shine again.
One of last century’s greatest preachers, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, said that we listen to our worries or we let our circumstances talk to us too much, instead of talking and preaching to ourselves.
“You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself. You must say to your soul: ‘Why art thou cast down’—what business have you to be disquieted? You must turn on yourself, upbraid yourself, condemn yourself, exhort yourself, and say to yourself: ‘Hope thou in God’—instead of muttering in this depressed, unhappy way.”
What Lloyd-Jones said from the pulpit, Andrew Peterson says in lyric:
I’ve been waiting for the sun
To come blazing up out of the night like a bullet from a gun
Till every shadow is scattered, every dragons on the run
Oh, I believe, I believe that the light is gonna come
And this is the dark, this is the dark before the dawn
This is the storm, before the calm
This is the pain before the balm
This is the cold before the warm
These are the tears before the song
This is the dark –
Sometimes all I see is this darkness
This is the dark before the dawn
Fighting for Hope
This is fighting for hope. That’s what the psalmist did, and that is what we must do. He fought for hope by praying to God honestly and preaching to himself aggressively. Psalm 42 gives us two defenses against sorrow. Neither of these practices makes up the entirety of the Christian’s arsenal in the war on woe, yet we are called to both of them—to pick up prayer and preaching to ourselves as weapons in our ongoing fight for hope.