If you’re like me, you may recall seasons of vibrancy and zeal in your Christian life. Spiritual disciplines come easy: time in God’s Word is fruitful, prayer is often, the gap between each journal entry is minimal, and fellowship brings glee. The streams of God’s endless love and grace that flow from the fount of Christ are delightful to drink.
But if you’re like me, you may also recall seasons of spiritual gloom, where dullness and indifference paralyze your pursuit of God’s glory. Spiritual disciplines become arduous. God, although as near as ever, feels farther to reach. Christ’s splendor and grandeur seemingly lose their spectral colors.
Spiritual gloom is a sickness suffered by so many. The author of Psalm 42 also suffered from this spiritual sickness. He was a worship leader separated from temple worship and God’s presence because of Israel’s unfaithfulness, forced into exile from his home and God. During his exile, he recounts the deep, soul-wrenching spiritual pangs of spiritual gloom—how he yearns to delight in God’s presence once more.
Psalm 42 is a tear-jerking lament that captures the soul’s dire need for God’s presence. But it’s also a Psalm shimmering with glimmers bright enough to repaint spiritual “gray-ness” with the colorful array of hope in the living God. It’s a Psalm littered with remedies reliable enough to cure the sickness of spiritual gloom.
Remedy #1: Thirst for God.
The Psalmist illustrates his spiritual longing and proclaims his severe thirst for God. Comparable to a deer panting for water, the writer’s soul longs for the Lord. The inner depths of his being are parched from lack of communion with the Divine. He reiterates his desperation in verse two: “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” He thirsts for the living God. God, compared to a flowing stream, is also declared as living. Such a declaration has the reader consider streams that never run dry during arid seasons. Streams of “living water” are what these streams are called. Thus, the Psalmist pants for God, who is the Living Water able to quench the drought in his soul.
Spiritual complacency is poisonous in the Christian life. It will intoxicate believers and trick them into waiting for the next “spiritual high,” where they’ll enjoy brief moments of divulging on God’s Word and practicing the spiritual disciplines. Psalm 42 is a soft rebuke to that mindset. Instead, believers must echo the Psalmist and embrace their thirst for God, driving us to dunk our heads into the Living Water, knowing that we’ll always be satisfied. When you don’t feel thirsty, pray for thirst. And when you thirst, race to the flowing streams knowing the waters will flood your soul.
Remedy #2: Remember God’s faithfulness.
Remembrance is a central theme in Psalm 42. Throughout the Psalm, memories of worship, fellowship, and communion with God leap to the worship leader’s mind, giving him hope to press on in his spiritual gloom. He remembers leading the masses in worship (42:4a), singing songs of praise (42:4b), and praising God in His presence (42:4b). Ultimately, he recounts the faithfulness of God. Memories of God’s faithfulness warm the cold heart of the Psalmist as he waits to commune with the Divine once again. Yet, spiritual destitution loomed over him.
I remember going through a season of spiritual gloom last year. Daily devotions that were once fruitful were dry. I fought daily to enjoy communing with the Lord through spiritual disciplines. I confess that a portion of my daily devotion that season was another item I “checked off” my daily list. It was grueling. Waves of spiritual sadness and longing for a rekindled desire for the Lord pained my heart. I eventually started to read and reread Psalm 42, prompting me to reflect on God’s faithfulness in my life. His faithfulness soothed me in my spiritual despair and spurred me to delight in the Lord again. My apparent drought and gloom ended.
God’s faithfulness ought to be the anthem among Christians enduring spiritual gloom. No spiritual depression or decline can overshadow the mountain of God’s faithfulness. In our highest of highs and lowest of lows, God’s faithfulness should resound in our hearts. We ought to recount God’s faithful love shown for us in Christ. We should reflect upon the spiritual blessings believers have in Christ. We should dwell upon the gift of the Holy Spirit. We must reflect on the many mercies given to us by the Most High, that such memories sway the distressed, gloomy souls of the spiritually downtrodden.
Remedy #3: Hope in God.
Psalm 42 is sectioned by two desperate self-rebukes to a downtrodden soul with a singular message: hope in God (Ps 42:5-6a, 11). Although separated from his worship and his people’s rhythmic fellowship, the soul of the Psalmist can boast an assured hope in God. And his hope will one day be realized: that he shall again praise his God, his salvation.
Christians can hope in God in seasons of spiritual sadness. Why? Because the God of the cosmos is a God in whom we can hope. The transcendent God stepped into a world that abandoned hope and embraced sin, incarnating as an infant. He walked the earth, showing compassion to all, teaching the masses about the kingdom of God, and performing miracles. He was the hope of God in a groaning world. And just when His death appeared a lost hope, He rose again in a blazing glory of triumph, declaring victory over sin and death and securing humanity’s ransom.
We can hope in God because He quenched our thirst. We can hope in God because He’s faithful. We can hope in God because we will one day praise Jesus Christ as we kneel before Him, the Lamb, and worship Him amongst a great multitude from every nation and tongue, extolling Him as we recount His faithfulness and glory.