We all have days where we just need to complain to the Lord - even men after God's own heart:
Lord, how they have increased who trouble me! - Psalm 3:1
Why do You stand afar off, O Lord? - Psalm 10:1
Help, Lord, for the godly man ceases! - Psalm 12:1
How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? - Psalm 13:1
Yeah, it would seem that David wrote many a Psalm simply to give voice to his frustrations. Whether it be with God or man, David openly shared his bellyaching in song. And let me tell you what: when I'm having a bad day, I love these Psalms! I read them with a sour scowl on my face and say, "Atta boy, David! Preach it!" and feel better for not being alone in my pity party.
In all seriousness, though, I am so very thankful that these Psalms exist because they bring a balance to the walk of 'faith and not sight' that the Lord has called us to. That walk, after all, isn't the one along wide paths with easy access - it's the one that is constricted and narrow and even takes us through the dark valley again and again. If it wasn't for these bemoaning Psalms, we may not know what to do with our questions and doubts. But David taught us through these Psalms what to do with them: bring every bellowing, bemoaning, bad attitude-laced, doubtful, angry question to Him and let Him teach you and correct you there. Yes - thank God for the 'salty' Psalms.
Psalm 42 is one of the better known salty Psalms, although it is often not thought of as a complaint and here is the reason why: In it we find such well known phrases as, As the deer pants for the water so my soul pants for you and deep calls to deep. We simply think of these phrases as longing to know God more and, while this is partially true, it's not the full scope of the Psalm. Let's put it in context a bit:
As the deer pants for the water brooks, So pants my soul for You, O 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 continually say to me, “Where is your God?” 4 When I remember these things, I pour out my soul within me. For I used to go with the multitude; I went with them to the house of God, With the voice of joy and praise, With a multitude that kept a pilgrim feast. 5 Why are you cast down, O my soul?
Did you notice the painful language? These verses describe grieving and night-long sobbing because of the remembrance of things no longer present. What was no longer present for the Psalmist, it seems, was a joyful gathering in worship with the people of God. Did you catch that, saints? This sounds a lot like what we are facing as congregations across the globe right now - Covid-19 has caused us to say, "I used to go with the multitude to the house of God....but now?" Now - we just stay home alone in our jammies.
It could be very easy in our present day to get down in the dumps. But even after Covid-19 is an after thought, there will still be things that make us 'lonely for the tangible presence of the Lord' especially that tangible presence we only sense among a gathering of His people. Maybe it will be because of old age or a season of extreme business that causes us not to gather as we did before, or even a season of growth when we simply cannot feel Him as we could before, but whatever the reason for the panting of the soul, the Psalmist gives us the answer on how to soothe it here in our How to Handbook for Praise & Worship. The Psalmist explains (vs 5):
Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him
For the help of His countenance.
"Hope in God!" he says! Hope! That can be a difficult word to define because it often seems to be the same as "wishing." However, hope is better understood when you discover that the word 'hope' is also translated "wait"..."wait in God." It feels like on our world right now we are doing a whole lot of waiting. But waiting in God? That's different than simply sitting around dreaming and wishing. Waiting on God is tied to praise, but not just any praise. The word 'praise' here is 'yadah'. Yadah, as you may remember, means to extend the hand, to throw out, to shoot out the hand (in thanks). In other words, waiting on God is to stir up your remembrance of all that he's done for you in the past knowing that He is not finished with you yet. So, hope in God! Lift up those hands and thank Him for His goodness and wash your heart in the remembrance of it all. Then wash, rest, and repeat it over and over again and again.
Another jewel in this Psalm is found in verse 8:
The Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime,
And in the night His song shall be with me—
A prayer to the God of my life.
On days when we find we are lonely like this Psalmist, we can remember that God has filled our days with His love. In fact, it says He has commanded it! Anything God commands is established forever, amen? That means every single day, whether I feel it or not, God's lovingkindness goes before me, beside me, above me, and all around me. In this truth, I can 'yadah' and encourage my lonely heart! And if we are afraid in the night hour, we can be reminded that His song is swirling around us nonstop. Notice it doesn't say 'your song about the Lord,' but 'His song' with you. HIS SONG. He's singing over you...maybe even about you (Zeph. 3:17)! Make this your prayer - that God is singing over you and covering you with his love. Mull it over! Talk to Him about it! Thank Him for it! And let your soul be quieted within you.
Oh, and you can sing about it, too, because another translation for the word 'prayer' in this verse is 'hymn'! Take the song He sings over You and sing it right back to Him! If He says, "You are holy, chid," then turn it around and say, "You are holy, Father." If He says, "You are loved, child," then say back to Him, "You are loved, Father." There are many times when I have taken a song of love to the Lord and heard Him sing back to me. Delirious' famous chorus, "I could sing of Your Love forever" and even Steven Curtis Chapman's old song, "I Will Be Here" are songs that have made me weep with joy as I've heard the Lord sing them to me. If you've never tried it, give it a try!
When you read the rest of this Psalm, you find that the Psalmist goes back and forth between mourning and praise, praise and mourning - but ends it with the same declaration of praise that he made in verse 5 (vs 11):
Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; For I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance and my God.
What this back and forth struggle shows me is that praise in the midst of heartache isn't a one time decision - it's a choice we make over and over again. Some days I may need to remind my soul to praise dozens of times, while other days, it seems to come naturally. It's all part of the walk of faith. It's not a walk of unwavering emotions. It's not a walk of certain circumstance. It's a walk of faith...and that means that it is totally okay to have days like this Psalmist had - days when you struggle between the temporal and the eternal, the questions and the Answer. But it's always best to end your day like he ended this Psalm - with the recommitment to lift your hands in thanksgiving for all God has done and to leave the pity party behind. Remember, even men after God's own heart have bad days - but even the worst days are best ended in praise.