Pastor Marc Likins
In Psalm 42 (see below) we find a man who is struggling with what some have called spiritual dryness. He is internally dehydrated, and while he is a child of God, he feels as though he has lost the face of God. The relational experience of God’s presence is nowhere to be found. His prayers are hitting the ceiling so to speak. His connection to God feels dry and dusty, and you might even conclude that he is depressed (although he doesn’t outright say it).
What steps does this man take to reverse his spiritual dryness and get back on track? How does he bring water into the desert of his soul? What can we learn from his experience?
HE DOES NOT CONFESS SIN
You read it right; he does not. This is not a penitential psalm of confession, and his spiritual drought is not because he has done something sinful. It has just come upon him.
Parenthetically, there are a number of Psalms where someone has lost his sense of God’s presence, and it is coupled with a sense of guilt in regards to unconfessed sin. So, it is very possible for sin to have a bearing on spiritual dryness. Therefore, a great place to start if you find yourself spiritually dry is self-examination and confession of sin. However, that is not happening in Psalm 42.
You have to know that it is very possible for God to feel more distant today than He did yesterday, and it is not because of sin. Sometimes you are swallowed up internally, and it is not because you failed to check something off the spiritual to-do list or you neglected to pull the right lever. Spiritual dryness can come seemingly out of nowhere.
Failing to understand this will lead you to condemn yourself and others when seasons of dryness occur. You will attack yourself and believe that it is all your fault. “What did I do? What did I miss? Did I not pray in faith? I thought I did. Did I fail to claim the promises? Maybe I didn’t thank God for all my blessings? I know there would be nothing wrong if I did it all right!” You will create a world where you will never admit to anyone that this is happening, and in so doing you make yourself a lone ranger Christian that is far more susceptible to the attacks of the devil.
The point being, if you have unconfessed sin, please, confess it! But spiritual dryness is not always the result of unconfessed sin.
HE MISSES SPIRITUAL COMMUNITY
In verse 6 the psalmist says, “therefore will I remember thee from the land of Jordan, and of the Hermonites, from the hill Mizar.”
I won’t take you back to geography class, but those are very specific locations - locations that are far north from where the corporate temple worship is happening. It’s obvious from verse 4 that he used to be at the temple. He used to be part of regular worship. He used to be part of the feasting and praising, but he is no longer able to. Now he is up north and just remembering and yearning for the spiritual community he once had.
As I have pastored through these past few weeks of Coronavirus, I have spoken with many who have expressed that they are on “the struggle bus” internally. They are solid Christians, who are doing online church, trying their best to work on their spiritual life, but still there seems to be something off-kilter inside. This makes sense to me.
I am just as thankful for technology and online church as the next guy, but I also know that we miss being together. We miss what worship and spiritual community were eight weeks ago. We feel as though we are up north and our temple worship just isn’t the same.
Don’t run away from those feelings; this psalmist certainly did not. Lean into them, express them, and then remember with a smile on your face how it was better. Take a trip down the spiritual memory lane and see if it doesn’t lift up your cast-down soul a bit.
HE DOES NOT STOP PRAYING
On the one hand, this man is saying, “God where are you? The brook is dried up. I seem to be getting nothing from you.” On the other hand, this entire chapter is an eloquent, sustained, beautifully reflective prayer (verse 4 describes it as a pouring out of the soul). What’s the point?
He feels like he is spinning his wheels, but he hasn’t stopped trying to get out of the mud. If you feel as though you get nothing out of prayer or Bible reading or church, don’t miss it! If you don’t feel anything at all, fine – talk to God about that. Tell Him that He feels distant. Talk to God about how much you miss Him and how dry it is. Tell Him that He feels absent. I know it seems as though you are rowing the boat instead of sailing, but whatever you do, don’t put down the oars and stop rowing! Keep talking to God, keep going to Him, keep praying. Eventually, the wind will pick back up, and you will sail again.
1. As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.
2. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?
3. My tears have been my meat day and night, while they continually say unto me, Where is thy God?
4. When I remember these things, I pour out my soul in me: for I had gone with the multitude, I went with them to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holyday.
5. Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance.
6. O my God, my soul is cast down within me: therefore will I remember thee from the land of Jordan, and of the Hermonites, from the hill Mizar.
7. Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of thy waterspouts: all thy waves and thy billows are gone over me.
8. Yet the LORD will command his lovingkindness in the daytime, and in the night his song shall be with me, and my prayer unto the God of my life.
9. I will say unto God my rock, Why hast thou forgotten me? why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?
10. As with a sword in my bones, mine enemies reproach me; while they say daily unto me, Where is thy God?
11. Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.
This is part 1 of a 2 part series. Part 2 will be released next Friday, May 8. Both of these blog posts are influenced heavily by sermons preached on Psalm 42 by
Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and Timothy Keller.