Some Reflections from Psalm 42

Enjoy these Reflections inspired by Psalm 42, and the exquisite extracts of music that accompany them:
Holy is the Lord (Kevin Sumter, House of the Open Door Community) – Nicola Gerrard and Mike Halliday et al (flute and clarinet)
The Nightingale (Franz Liszt) – Fontane Liang (harp)
Variations on Dowland’s Lachrimae – Johannes Schopp (Julia Herzog et al)
Andante – John Baston (Thomas Herzog et al)

I love the phrase ‘deep calling to deep.’ (Ps. 42:7) It speaks to me in the first instance of connection, as the deep that is in the Lord, and indeed which is His very nature, calling out to all the best and deepest in us. There may be much we don’t understand, but our spirit senses His heart cry, and longs to respond. Sometimes this will take the form of Spirit Himself interceding for and through us with too deep for words as Paul says in Romans 8:26; at other times we may be just caught up in His presence, or express the things we sense god is showing us, or that we would like to say to the Lord in music, the deeply felt “song of the Lord.”

Sometimes what we sense is purely between us and God, but often it will take the form of sensing what others are going through; without knowing all the details, we tune in to the deeps that they are experiencing, or to the heights they are scaling, and pray or reach out to them accordingly.

When deep calls to deep we are empowered, to experience more of the depths of the Lord’s compassion, and the power of His leading. I love the lengths God goes to in order to draw us deeper into these depths. The image of this happening “in the roar of Your waterfalls” may, at first sight, appear to be a rather attractive metaphor for soul work; but the original context of the psalm, suggests not so much a gentle picturesque tumble of water as a waterspout: those mighty and destructive phenomena that are so common in Transjordan and off the coast of Syria. The Psalmist is actually living on a diet of tears, suffering agony as blow after blow comes his way. The further reference in the verse to the seemingly endless succession of “waves and billows” amplifies how intense this process really is.

By His mercy God grants me many times when “nuach” rest and “ruach” winds blow soft and strong through my soul. Like the hart in verse 1, precious streams of water are close at hand, and I am able to drink and drink in the presence and the goodness of the Lord. But I am also only too familiar with those times when strong and contradictory or opposing forces are at work externally, or even sweeping through my own soul. Then, as multiple trials and misfortunes strike home, it is easy to be susceptible to the dejection that the Psalmist doesn’t try to hide – unlike those Christians who feel they always have to keep the mask on.

The writer to the Hebrews likewise broadcasts a strong message of maturity that many in the comfortable West (as opposed to most of the rest of the world’s Christians) do not want to know about. He is urging us to consider that what is happening at these times is precisely the sort of opposition that Jesus Himself experienced, and to fix our mind-sets accordingly. (Heb. 12:3)

Like the psalmist we must work our way through to the realisation that many of these blows may well be divinely appointed. Proverbs 20:30 reminds us that “blows that hurt cleanse us of evil; and strokes and beatings cleanse our inmost being.” It is a reminder that the Lord actively disciplines and chastises His beloved children. Let’s not underestimate or “make light” of God’s purposes in this process; the actual Greek in Hebrews 12:5-6 uses the word ‘scourging’ to translate ‘chastising’.

We are called to be overcomers, which means that there are many things to overcome. Part of our challenge is to recognise what blows we are meant to pray away and ward off – and which God is specifically using to further His own purposes. I had a raging abscess developing last night that set my teeth on edge and made my mouth feel dreadful. This was something to pray away – and on this occasion (sadly, this has by no means always been the case) it went – just like that. Thank You, Lord.

But there are other things where the challenge is to grow in courage and endurance when pressures mount and multiply. The most important thing here is not to allow the pain of difficult circumstances to cause us to lose heart. The author of Hebrews urges us to hold on to both our convictions our confidence. (Heb. 3:6). To do this we will need to draw on all our spiritual resources, all that we have learned of God’s faithfulness in previous tough times – and not be ashamed to humble ourselves and ask others to share with us in the great resource of shared prayer. Time and again it makes all the difference!

I quoted the extreme example of Horatio Spafford in Vale of Tears, who wrote a hymn whose words have become well known all around the world.

When peace like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll,
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

What many do not know is the enormous grief circumstances that lie behind its composition.

Back in 1873, Spafford had sent his wife and daughters across the Atlantic to Europe, planning to follow on shortly afterward, but the vessel his family were travelling in was involved in a collision, in which all four of his daughters drowned. It was when Spafford was as close as close as he could be to the actual spot where his daughters drowned as he journeyed across to comfort his wife, who had survived the accident that he penned these words. Whereas some become bitter and resentful Spafford chose to accept these terrible blows and allowed the Lord to transform his grief into something of great power and beauty.

Though Satan should buffet,
Though trials should come,
Let this blessed assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight,
The clouds rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound
and the Lord shall appear,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

As the verses we have referred to from both Proverbs and Hebrews remind us, the Lord’s ‘scourgings’ are designed to bring about a deep scouring, which deepens both our attentiveness to Him and our concern and care for others. It is a sure sign that we are handling these blows well if, to the very top level of our strength and endurance, we pour forth passionate prayers that bring the Lord’s compassion and release into one situation after situation. When prayer intensifies in such ways the power of God is never far behind.

No discipline is pleasant at the time as Hebrews 12:11 reminds us, but the more confidence we have that God is accomplishing something and training us through it, the more likely it is that we will emerge from it with deeper trust, spiritual empowering and the confidence that achieves great things for the Kingdom.

May those of us who feel “caught in a waterspout”, or who are working our way through successive sorrows find comfort as we soak ourselves in these thoughts that the psalmist presents us with, and which mirror our own experience so faithfully. He will help us to bear them, and to trust that He is still overruling, and still working all things together for our good as we cry out to Him.

Let’s draw the strands of this meditation together now by focusing on some of the themes that shine out from Psalm 42 and to ponder them in the Lord’s presence.

Lord, our soul is thirsty to meet with You, the living God. V2

Grant us, like the psalmist, the gift of tears; for weeping expresses our grief but also cleanses and purifies; and You it interpret it as precious and holy prayer that you gather in Your bottles. V3

You have protected us so often and so profoundly. Thank You that your arm is not shortened; You are so able to grant such protection again and again as often as is needed, and we ask You to do so. Renew Your deeds of power! V4

Make us willing to acknowledge before You – and others — when our soul is “vexed” and downcast within us; Vv 5-7 those times when we go about in agony when the enemy oppresses heavily; and our bones feeling “smitten asunder as with a sword.” You know our profound disquiet when the enemy taunts us both internally and externally: “Where is your God now?” V10 But You are our Rock, and the God of our life and to You we pour out our prayer. Vv 8-9

Thank You that you continue to direct Your loving kindness by day; and to stir up songs to You at night. V8 You find such ingenious ways to revive our hope as we put our trust in You. We do not make light of Your discipline, Lord Jesus, we welcome Your rebuke and ask that You will empower us day by day for Your own name’s sake with the power of Your Holy Spirit, so that we may live to praise and serve You day by day by day. V11