I have a necktie which I love to wear. It is a beautiful mixture of brown and green. It has a stream, with four deer standing beside it. Psalm 42:1, “As the deer pants for streams of water,so my soul pants for you, O God” is printed on it. I have long loved that verse but upon a more careful reading of Psalm 42, I have changed my interpretation of it. I will continue to wear that tie because of its beauty, but not because I want it to be true in my life. Psalm 42 is a description of a true and real experience in the life of the psalmist. However, it is not presented as the normal or ideal experience for a Christian. Rather, the recurring theme of Psalm 42 is that the writer’s soul is downcast; he is in tears, mourning for a previous joyful relationship with the Living God. Dear brother and sister in Christ that is not the normal Christian life. The normal Christian life is enjoying an intimate relationship with Christ, resting in Christ, drinking in Christ.
Psalm 42 presents the psalmist in a sad state where tears are his food; he is asking when he will be able to meet with God; unbelievers are mocking his inability to meet with God. The psalmist cries out that his soul is disturbed within him; he is asking why God has forgotten him. He likens his spiritual condition to that of a man who is being beaten down and drowned by the waves of the sea crashing over him. He paints a picture of himself just about to catch his breath when the next wave fills his mouth with water so that he cannot draw a breath of life-sustaining air. He declares that his bones are in mortal agony. That is not the picture of the Christian life.
Psalm 42 is not all gloom and despair. In verse 5 and verse 11, the psalmist asks himself a question and then gives the right answer. He realizes that this disturbed, downcast, despairing life is not good or normal or necessary. He reminds himself; he speaks to himself in third person as if he were giving advice to another; he orders himself to put his hope in God and praise Him. That is excellent advice for all of us. Even when we don’t feel like it, especially when we don’t feel like it, we must speak that truth and attempt to live in light of that truth. Our hope and trust must be in the Almighty. We must praise Him even when we feel like He is far away, especially then. In verse 6, the psalmist declares that because his soul is downcast he will remember the great deeds of his Almighty God.
Psalms 42:8 declares, “The Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime; And His song will be with me in the night, A prayer to the God of my life.” God loves us in the day and in the night. God’s song is with us day and night. What the psalmist is pointing out is that God’s lovingkindness and song are with us in the good times and the bad times. Here, the psalmist gives the key to leaving the life of panting behind and beginning the life of enjoying Christ. Don’t miss the psalmist telling us to pray God’s lovingkindness and song back to Him. That is the way to enjoy God rather than be panting after Him. I’m hoping to find a necktie with verse 8 on it. That would be nice but what would be even better is if I can learn to live verse 8.
STEVE ELLISON is director of Ouachita Baptist Camp in Arkansas. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.