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How to Hurt
Hopefully your equilibrium hasn’t been thrown off too much by Chris and I trading places today! I was so blessed to be out there during our time of singing and feel a little strange to be here now. But this is a total joy and privilege. Please turn in your Bibles to Psalm 42.
Here at FBC, we’re in a short Psalms series. Robert Dodson started us off two weeks ago in Psalm 145 (we’ll spend another six weeks in the Psalms). We took a break last week to hear from our friend, Steve Lawson (how’s that for a laugh)–my first Sunday morning preaching and I have to follow Steve Lawson. But God is sovereign and I am a lover of the Psalms.
As we approach Psalm 42, I want to set our thoughts right about what it is we’re reading. The Book of Psalms (in the middle of our Bible) is a divinely inspired hymnbook. These are lyrics written under God’s inspiration meant to be set to music, so that the people of God could sing His praises in the midst of every season of life.
Psalm 42 is particularly instruction-oriented. Look at the subscription at the top, it’s called a “Maskil”–this is from the Hebrew word “sakal” which means to be prudent, to think through, to ponder. It’s a song for thought, for learning, a teaching poem. The idea is that you’d take the very real expressions of the psalmist, and in a sense join your voice with his voice and learn how to express praise to God as you walk through similar circumstances.
Our psalm today teaches us how to hurt. It’s a guide for the despairing soul (a psalm that has been a help to my soul in the midst of a few valleys). A little heavy, but it offers an incredible hope. Read with me silently as I read Psalm 42.
In the year 1871, tragedy struck Chicago as fire ravaged the city. It left 300 dead and 100,000 homeless. Horatio Gates Spafford was one of those who tried to help the people of the city get back on their feet. A lawyer who had invested much of his money into the downtown Chicago real estate, he’d lost a great deal to the fire. Still, for two years Spafford spent himself on assisting the homeless and grief-stricken people whose lives had been devastated by the fire.
After two years, with a great need for refreshment, Spafford and his family planned a vacation. They were to go to England to help with some evangelistic crusades, and then travel in Europe. Horatio was delayed by some business but sent his family on ahead–he would catch up to them on the other side of the Atlantic.
His family’s ship, the Ville de Havre, never made it. Off Newfoundland, it collided with an English sailing ship, the Loch Earn, and sank within 20 minutes. Though Horatio’s wife, Anna, was able to cling to a piece of floating wreckage and live, their four daughters–Maggie, Tanetta, Annie, and Bessie—perished in the ocean. Horatio received a horrible telegram from his wife, only two words long: “saved alone” (speaking of herself).
Spafford boarded the next available ship to be near his grieving wife, and though he battled against the rush of despairing emotions that assaulted him as he sailed over the sea that had just claimed the lives of his children, there was something that held his heart steady, because it is said that on that very voyage, he gathered his thoughts and penned them into one of the most well-known hymns ever written.
“When peace like a river attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot Thou has taught me to say
‘It is well, it is well with my soul.’”
Hurt accompanies this life. Whether it’s illness, tragedy, relational strife or physical pain, there are circumstances that lay us low and threaten our ability to lift our head.
Listen, we’re joyous people here at FBC (I’ve been called the bouncing guitarist), and joy should characterize the lives of people transformed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But friends, life on this side of Heaven is lacking and can be dark.
Jesus said in John 16:33, “In the world you will have trouble.” Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:2, “In this house [referring to our current body] we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven.” Sin and the fall have blemished our experience of the life God intended for us. And we feel that ache inside us that longs for everything to be made right, because for now it’s not.
So it’s not a matter of if, but when–and when suffering takes place in your life, the next big question is, “How will you face it?” Will you wallow in it? Will you be devastated by it? Or will you sing with Horatio Spafford, “Whatever my lot, you [God] have taught me to say: ‘It is well, it is well with my soul.’”
You can–but you need God’s Word to train your heart. We need Scriptures like Psalm 42 to plant our feet in, so that when we hurt, we can do it well (in a way that pleases the God who has given us hope). So let’s learn from the words of the psalmist today. Follow along through the outline to see three reactions the psalmist has toward his circumstances that teach us “How to Hurt.”
1. Keep it REAL Verses 1 to 4
The psalmist “keeps it real”–he’s honest about his struggle! He is a man who feels distanced from the Lord. But knowing that his faith is not about feelings, he directs his desires to long to be near Him again.
This psalm and ten others were written by the sons of Korah. You can read about them in Numbers 26, 1 Chronicles 6 and 2 Chronicles 20 (they were the worship leaders of their time). Their story is interesting–their great grandfather, Korah, led a rebellion against Moses, which ended in God opening the earth and swallowing Korah and most of his family. But the Lord preserves some of his sons, and generations later they become the men in charge of the worship of God in the temple.
So a son of Korah is walking through some trial here in Psalm 42, and as songwriters tend to do, they express exactly how they feel in the midst of it. He comes out of the gate with: “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, O God.”
That probably reminds you of the 1991 Maranatha praise tune, “As the Deer…”–but that’s not the tone here! Read verse 5, “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God.”
Despair, disturbed (that’s the tone)–but a desire to hope in God. So he says, “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, O God.” What do we often do in the midst of trial?–complain, whine, blame-shift. What does the psalmist do?–right there in the midst of that hurt he longs for the Lord!
Panting, thirsting like a deer charging through a hot summer day in pursuit of that cold stream he asks, “When shall I come and appear before God?” Later in verse 9, he’ll even say to God: “Why have You forgotten me?” Brutal honesty about his doubts.
Has God forgotten him? No. And does he know that? Yeah–that’s why twice in this Psalm he tells his soul to hope in God, but he’d be lying to say that he feels near to the Lord. It’s why he’s longing! He’s saying, I’m longing to be near Him, but I’m not there yet.
Verse 3 he says, “My tears have been my food” day and night! The psalmist’s diet during this troublesome time is continuous weeping! The drops of salty tears that are pouring out over his nose and cheeks and resting in the corners of his mouth are the only thing he tastes and swallows down into his stomach. Have you been there?
Then there’s the taunting, verse 4. “All day long” his adversaries ask, “Where is your God?”–which is just the worst thing to hear when you’re doubting! But these taunters are looking at this guy and he probably looks like he feels–he’s expressing that he’s a man without hope.
Can you imagine if we had this kind of honesty in our interactions on the patio? (Some of you are like this.) “Hey bro, how’s it going?” “Well, I’ve never felt more distanced from the Lord. I know He’s in control, I know He’s my hope–but right now it feels like He’s forgotten me. I haven’t slept in days and the only meal I’ve had is my own tears” . . . “Peace out!”
And look, sometimes that ho-hum, glummy guy just needs a kick in the pants. But sometimes (like with this psalmist) that person has the truth in their mind, they’ve got their eyes set toward the Lord, and yet their heart is heavy. And what do they need at those moments? (Do they need twenty Scriptures fired at them? Do they need to have their theology corrected on the spot? Maybe later.) How about an arm around the shoulder? Pray with them, cry with them. They just need you.
In fact, look at what the psalmist remembers in his longing. Psalm 42:4, “These things I remember and pour out my soul within me. For I used to go along with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God, with the voice of joy and thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival.”
He remembers times of corporate worship, being with the congregation in the house of God, singing praises to the Lord. Remember, this guy’s a worship leader–he says, “I led the procession!” Gathering is an important part of our growth, especially necessary when we hurt. We need this.
I put Hebrews 10:23 to 25 there in your outline–it’s the passage that speaks of not forsaking the assembling together. “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”
This is a crucial part of our holding fast the confession of our hope when the circumstances of life cause us to waver. We are here to stimulate one another toward love and good deeds, to encourage one another.
Every Sunday, I look out over our congregation while we sing songs, and it fills me with courage–standing among redeemed saints, sinners saved by grace (just like me) who have surrendered their lives to Christ, coming under the authority of His Word and desiring together to strive for godliness in a world that is opposed to everything of the Lord. You neglect faithful weekly gathering with God’s people and you will find yourself vulnerable to wavering in your faith.
So the psalmist is honest about his circumstances and the state of his soul–he longs for nearness to the Lord and to be back in that place, praising Him in the midst of the assembly, and he keeps it real in the midst of the hurt. But now there’s a second reaction he has toward his trial (and we’ll spend a little more time on this one than the others). If we’re going to walk through seasons of hurt in a way that honors the Lord, we must . . .
2. REHEARSE the Truth Verse 5 to 7
We love rehearsal in the music ministry. Ever seen a vocalist in the corner like this (singing to themselves)? We’ve sung some of these songs hundreds of times, but before we walk onto that stage we want to have that harmony, that chord progression grooved into our soul, so that we can engage in the most important thing–adoring Christ!
The same is true and so much more of our approach to life and our need to rehearse Scripture, so that when you walk into your day and a storm hits, those truths are grooved into your soul and you tell your soul, “Don’t believe that, believe this.” That’s what the psalmist begins to do in verse 5, turning toward his soul . . .
Psalm 42:5, “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence.” Sometimes it’s necessary that we audibly pull our own heart away from the despair we feel and feed it with truth.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in his book, Spiritual Depression, talks about Psalm 42. “Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself and not talking to yourself? … this man’s treatment was this; instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself. ‘Why art thou cast down, O my soul?’ he asks. His soul had been depressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says: ‘Self, listen for a moment. I will speak to you.’”
So maybe avoid doing it on park benches or in the elevator (weird), but (joking aside) this is so important to regularly practice! Our fleshly emotions can really lead us astray, and Lloyd-Jones says, speak to yourself; you’re rehearsing for yourself what it is that God would say, what He would think, what His wisdom is for that situation.
And this is why we need strong doctrine–to first know what God’s Word says, then to establish beliefs based on it, and we need to do that before the trial hits. Don’t wait till the storm comes.
Our doctrinal beliefs are like the ropes that tie a ship into a dock. Trials come in on us like stormy waters that beat against our boat, rocking us back and forth, and those ropes get tested. And if they haven’t been rightly cinched up, they get a little loose and they can begin to cause major damage the further away from the dock that your boat gets.
We need our ropes tied tight into God’s Truth, and that requires the basics–knowing it, reading it, meditating on it, memorizing it and rehearsing those truths to yourself, so that your resolve is strong.
There was a season of my life in my early 20’s when I lost my bearings. I was like that ship that got loose from its moorings and I began to doubt everything I once held true–probably about 14 months without a whole lot of joy. But the thing that was eventually the rescue for my soul, to scoop me up out of that miry pit (in addition to many godly counselors in my life) was little simple scriptural truths that I would read, ask God to help me believe, and then preach that truth to myself, often out loud.
You got to take Romans 8, for example and say, “Soul! There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ, Soul! We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, Soul!” And mind you, the psalmist is pre-cross–he doesn’t have Romans 8 to preach to himself, but you do! What he does have (and we have as well) is the immovable character of God, which is the truth he rehearses in verses 5 to 7. These are three characteristics of God he acknowledges.
First God is HOPE
“Hope in God!” he tells his soul (in verse 5). He may not currently be experiencing hope, but He knows where hope is going to come from. David, in Psalm 62, similarly speaks to his own soul. Psalm 62:5, “My soul, wait in silence for God only, for my hope is from Him.”
One of the songs of Ascent, Psalm 121:1 and 2 says this, “I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; from where shall my help come? [He answers himself] My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” This is the Lord God, our Creator! The strength of our hope is strong, based on the character of the One we place it in. Our God is hope!
Second [He acknowledges] God is PRESENT
He is omnipresent. The psalmist says in verse 6, “O my God, my soul is in despair within me; therefore I remember you from the land of the Jordan and the peaks of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.” His description is of areas throughout various regions, and he essentially is saying, “I could be all the way to the north, south, east or west, and I’m going to remember you from that place–You will be there with me!”
You know who I think of when it comes to this truth of God’s presence? Moms (this passage is for everyone, but it’s Mother’s Day)–especially young moms. Your labor at home with those kids is full-time, non-stop ministry, and it is largely unseen (unless you’re a Facebook blaster).
There have been times that I come home from what feels to me like a full day of ministry and find my wife weary on the couch, having done the harder of our two jobs. And though she knows I’m there, after a long day instructing, correcting, disciplining, through tears–at times she feels alone. Moms–rehearse the truth of God’s presence to your soul.
Psalm 139:7 to 12, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, and the light around me will be night,’ even the darkness is not dark to You, and the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You.”
There is no place, no deep dark hole of despair that can hide you from the all-knowing, ever-present God. The psalmist rehearses these truths. First–God is hope, second–God is present, and third–God is sovereign.
Psalm 42:7, “Deep calls to deep at the roar of Your waterfalls; all Your breakers and Your waves have gone over me.” Wait a second! Whose waterfalls? Whose breakers and waves are overtaking him? God’s? The psalmist recognizes here that though these waves of trial are painful, they are still God’s waves. His sovereignty extends over every circumstance.
Ecclesiastes 7:14, “In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other.” Psalm 32:3 and 4 (David says as he confesses and repents), “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.”
I cannot determine the cause of the trial that you face, but I can say without a doubt, God is perfectly, intimately, powerfully in control of it. And whether you’re David with God’s heavy hand upon you or Job experiencing the worst of trials, God’s intention with that very circumstance is (as Romans 8:28 says) “for your good.”
I know that in this room I am surrounded by believers who have stood under the trials of life (things that I’ve not ever experienced in my life up to this point), and you have remained faithful and steady, with a deep conviction that God is both sovereign and good.
You’re the kind of people I love to be in ministry with, the kind of people I want to raise my kids around. And I know that every one of you who have walked those dark valleys of trial would say that the reason you stand here today, having made it through that, is a firm grip on God’s sovereignty.
We’re learning from the psalmist how to hurt, how to suffer well, and we’ve seen two reactions toward his trial–first, he keeps it real about feeling distanced from the Lord while expressing his great longing to be near Him, and second, we see him rehearse the truth, telling his own soul that God is a very present hope and sovereign over his circumstances. And now we see him . . .
3. RUN to God in Prayer Verses 8 to 10)
In verse 8, the psalmist is praying to God in the night. In verse 9 he’s begging the Lord for answers, “Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” (honest questions). And notice “in the night”–not a lot of sleep going on. He’s crying out–you ever cried out like this? Dependent prayer is so lacking in my life. We have so much and we rely on it, run to it–far more than we run with desperation to our God in prayer!
“Where does my help come from?… It comes from the LORD!”) Not my paycheck, not my possessions, not my stable health or the well-being of my family–all of those things can be stripped away. Some of you have experienced that–and then what’s left?
Is there an intimate relationship with God that has been cultivated through constant, dependent prayer? That’s what you need when that trial hits.
Now I want to give you something to chew on here. You see how he uses singing and prayer interchangeably? “At night His song is with me [what is the song], a prayer to the God of my life.” Sometimes you’ll hear me shout at you while we’re singing, “Pray this with me!” or “This is a prayer!” When a song is begging God, praising God, extolling God, we’re praying–you’re engaging in communication with God. And singing gives it that extra little boost!
Music is incredible. There are seven major notes on a scale (eight if you count the octave), and millions of songs written with those notes. God has given us such a gift in music, and when we take music and put it together with verbal expressions of praise, it’s a unique form of worship. And it’s helpful!
I heard it said recently in a seminar for worship leaders that people don’t walk out of church humming the sermon–you walk out humming the songs. Which is why I take seriously the need to pick songs that fit (as best I can) the exact theme of the message so that as we go home humming those tunes, they beckon our thoughts back to the applications from Scripture.
Your prayer life needs the ministry of praise songs–melodies that stick, with sound theology to attach your heart, so that in the high moments of life (O, Happy Day) and in the low (“You give and take away, You give and take away, my heart will choose to say, ‘Lord, blessed be Your name.”). Prayer is pursuing the Lord. It’s doing what the psalmist described in the opening words of this psalm, “Like a deer panting for the water…”
David Brainerd was a missionary to native Americans in the 1700’s. He was a man acquainted with grief–he lost both parents while in his teens and a number of his siblings died very young. The Lord saved him at 21 and used him in incredible ways, but he was constantly sick (he contracted tuberculosis at 22, which caused his death at 29). He battled with depression almost his entire life.
These are Brainerd’s thoughts about pursuing God: “When I really enjoy God, I feel my desires of Him the more insatiable, and my thirstings after holiness the more unquenchable;… Oh, for holiness! Oh, for more of God in my soul! Oh, this pleasing pain! It makes my soul press after God… Oh, that I might not loiter on my heavenly journey!”
There is a way to hurt, a way to experience the anguish of this broken life and yet not move off of our pursuit of the Lord. We need to keep it real, not afraid of those feelings of doubt or tearful despair but in the midst of it, longing for God’s presence. There must be a constant rehearsing of the truth so that our ship holds fast to the dock when the storms of life come. And we must run to God in prayer in desperate dependence on the One who alone is our help.
Let’s conclude by looking at that last verse in Psalm 42 and then I’ll leave you with two final thoughts. Psalm 42:11, “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God.”
It’s a very non-Hollywood ending (everything wrapped up with a bow in 90 minutes). The psalm comes to a close and the soul is not yet at rest. He says, “I shall yet praise Him!” (He’s still not there.) Sometimes a trial can lay us flat on our face for long periods of time. We should 1) keep it real, 2) rehearse the truth, and 3) pray. But while doing that, some trials, some hurt lasts a lifetime. But the psalmist knew it, and we know it better than him–hope is in God.
I mentioned it early, but listen again to John 16:33 where Jesus says, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have trouble. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
That phrase in verse 11, “the help of my countenance”–the Hebrew there can also be translated, “the salvation of my face,” David uses similar language when he writes in Psalm 3:3, “But You, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the one who lifts my head.”
This reminds me of my mom lifting my head by my chin–she would literally grab my little chin and tip my head back so that my gaze was no longer on the ground but on her face, so that she could assure me that everything would be okay. Our Heavenly Father, having purchased our salvation in His Son, can take the chin of His children, lift your gaze off of the earthly and temporal and onto Himself. And because Jesus lived, died and rose from the grave, God can give us that full assurance that everything will be okay! That’s Psalm 42.
So these are my two encouragements as we leave today:
Place Your Trust in the God of Hope
Jesus is the ultimate hope for every hurting soul. If today, you do not have the ability to run to and find hope in Him, it may be that you do not have a real relationship with Christ. When Jesus hung on the cross, He took upon Himself the penalty for our sins. He went ahead of us (instead of us), perfectly fulfilling the necessary requirement to make a way for us who are sinful and hurting and hopeless to ultimately be saved from that destruction!
Hebrews 6:19 describes the hope we have in Christ as “an anchor for the soul.” If you lack that anchor, cry out to God today and beg Him to forgive you for your sin. Life apart from Christ is truly hopeless, so place your trust in the God of hope.
Talk to Your Soul
As Martin Lloyd-Jones said, most of your unhappiness is due to the fact that you’re listening to yourself and not talking to yourself; tears and sorrow make sense in this life, but it is the knowledge of the hope of the Gospel that sets us apart as a people. Tell your soul that Good News! Tell it to hope in God! Tell it Jesus died to rescue you and rose to bring you life eternal! Paul encouraged the Corinthians, in light of the resurrection.
Second Corinthians 4:16 to 18, “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
So you have pain and you have hurt that you bear up under right now in life (maybe its physical, maybe its spiritual, emotional, relational). But if today you stand surrendered to the Lord and His glorious commands, though the pain may continue for a lifetime, it will never compare to the glories of Heaven with Jesus that await you. Preach that to your soul.
If, like the psalmist, you have seen firsthand the brokenness of life on Earth, and your soul groans to be free of this misery, you are in good company. But be sure to do as the psalmist does and preach truth to your soul. Know, believe and live in light of the hope we have in Christ and the reward that awaits us of being with Him in glory.