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“My Soul Thirsts for You, O God!”

Readings:Psalms 42-43 (text); John 4:13-14

August 16, 2015 • Download this sermon (PDF)

"Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen" by Vincent van Gogh, 1884 (click image to enlarge)

“Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen” by Vincent van Gogh, 1884 (click image to enlarge)

Dear Congregation of Christ: Today, Christians are bombarded on television, books, seminars with promises of a life of prosperity–of health, wealth and happiness. That Christian life is a life without sadness, grief, loneliness, struggles, or even death.

But what our Lord Jesus Christ promises his people is a life of struggles, pain, persecution, and even martyrdom at the hands of God’s enemies. We have already studied several of the Psalms, and what have we found? Many of the Psalms are psalms of lament and sorrow. Even those Psalms that praise God and thank him for all that he has done for the psalmists almost always have a portion of lament over his sufferings in this life.

Psalms 42 and 43 are two of these psalms of lament. Although these are two separate songs, they can be treated as one. Just like many of our hymns today, they share a refrain, which begins with, “Why are you cast down, O my soul?” (verses 5, 11 and 43:5) While 42:9 says, “I say to God, my rock: “Why have you forgotten me?” 43:2 says, “For you are the God in whom I take refuge; why have you rejected me?” Also, most psalms have titles, but Psalm 43 doesn’t, which can mean that it a was part of Psalm 42. And both psalms express sorrow over the persecution and ridicule by God’s enemies. Another lament is that the psalmist is not able to go to the temple to worship God. Therefore, he thirsts and longs to see God and be with God’s people. Even the praise song we sung says, “You alone are my heart’s desire, and I long to worship you.”

So our theme today, then, is “My Soul Thirsts for You, O God” in three headings: first, Because Enemies Ridicule and Oppress;second, Because “God Has Forsaken Me”; and third, True Worship Satisfies This Thirst.

Because Enemies Ridicule and Oppress

The anguish in the psalmist’s heart is heartrending. It’s hard to imagine what kinds of sufferings evoked such anguish. In verse 3, he says,“My tears have been my food day and night.” I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t cried himself/herself to sleep. Again, verses 5, 11 and 43:5, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” The turmoil in his mind makes him feel so downcast and feeling sorry for himself. In verse 7, he says, “Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me.” It is as if his chaotic and uncontrollable situation, like the roar of waterfalls and waves, has totally overwhelmed him, even to the point of drowning him (Jon 2:5). In verse 9, he complains to God, “Why have you forgotten me?” God, are you awake? Or you even there, as you promised?

How did he come to this point? What has happened to the psalmist that he is in such sorrowful state? First, his enemies taunt and ridicule him, “they say to me all the day long, ‘Where is your God?’” (verse 3) Because of his sad state of affairs, his enemies, maybe even his friends, ridicule him for remaining faithful to the Lord. Like Job’s wife, who told him, after he lost all his health and wealth and still trusted God, “Curse God and die!” There are many people in our midst today who make fun of our faith in Christ when things go wrong. They say, “Where’s your God now? Ask him to save you from all your troubles!”

In verses 9 and 10, the psalmist mentions that his enemies do not just ridicule him, but also oppress him, “Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy? As with a deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries taunt me.” These psalms were probably sung by Israel when their enemies were about to overwhelm them, or when they were in exile in foreign lands. And today, we can sing these psalms when we are in sorrow over the impossibly difficult circumstances in our lives.

For notice this: in almost all of these almost inconsolable anguish, the psalmist always follows them with words of comfort, confidence, and even thanksgiving to God. In verse 5, after saying that his soul is so downcast, he sings, “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” His only hope is not man, his riches, or his power, but God. God is his only God and his only salvation from his sufferings. In verse 8, he remembers his prayers, “By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.” His prayer is to the Lord, who gives him steadfast love during the day, and a song and a prayer in the night to turn his mourning into joy.

Let this be a reminder to us that even in our times of hopelessnes and grief, never to cease from praying to God for help and thanking him for his love, mercy and grace, and salvation.

Because “God Has Forsaken Me”

In these verses of lament, one common thread is the psalmist’s complaint in verse 9, “I say to God, my rock: ‘Why have you forgotten me?” He repeats it in 43:2, “For you are the God in whom I take refuge; why have you rejected me?” He takes comfort in God’s promise that he is his Rock and Refuge. In Psalm 18:2, King David has many synonymous names for the Almighty God who gives him protection, salvation and comfort, “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliv­erer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”

So if God is his Rock, why doesn’t he protect him from his enemies’ oppression? If God is his Deliverer, why doesn’t he deliver him from his struggles? Because of these struggles, he feels that God has forgotten and abandoned him. For David, God has forgotten his promise that he would be king. For Israel, the Lord has forgotten his promise to their forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that they will dwell in the Promised Land forever. For us, in our troubles, the Lord has forgotten to give us our daily bread, and to deliver us from the evil one.

In the next psalm, Psalm 44, the psalmist again laments the troubles of God’s people. He remembers how God delivered Israel from Egypt, and drove the nations out of the Promised Land. Then, he says in verse 9, “But you have rejected us and disgraced us and have not gone out with our armies.” Yet, he says in verses 17-18 that they have been faithful to God.

This is a reminder to us again that our sufferings and troubles are not always caused by our own sin. Job’s friends who tried to counsel him blamed him for a hidden sin in his life, a sin that he has not repented from, for his sufferings. Christians suffer sometimes because of their own disobedience, but not all sufferings are to be blamed on sin. We all suffer much also because God is testing us to strengthen our faith, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” (Jas 1:2-3).

Just as the psalmist does, we do sometimes waiver back and forth between lamentation and praise when we suffer. But one thing is for sure: through the Holy Spirit, the Word of God read and preached in our worship service every Lord’s Day strengthens our downcast souls and satisfies our hunger and thirst for righteousness.

True Worship Satisfies This Thirst

This leads us back to the beginning of Psalm 42. In verses 1-2 is a picture of a deer panting for water because of thirst, “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” He compares the thirst of a deer for water to his soul’s thirst for God when he asks, “When shall I come and appear before God?” or “and see the face of God?” (RSV). Why does he ask this? Again, the next verses lead us to the answer.

deer_pants_for_waterIn verse 6, the psalmist says he remembers the Lord from his present location, “the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar,” places north of the Sea of Galilee, far from the temple in Jerusalem. Why is he in such a faraway place? Perhaps he has fled from Jerusalem because of his ungodly enemies. Though he knows that the Spirit of God is everywhere, he longs to be in the sanctuary of God in Jerusalem to worship together with God’s people. This is why in verse 4, he remembers “how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival.” In Psalm 55:14, King David remembers the days when he worshiped with one of his own friends at the temple, “We used to take sweet counsel together; within God’s house we walked in the throng.” Isn’t this what we do as the people of God every Lord’s Day worship services? We all make a procession from our homes to the place of worship, like a procession to God’s house. We sing songs of praise together, as in a festival. We take sweet counsel together according to God’s Word.

Then in 43:3-4, he prays that the Lord will send out his light and truth to lead him. The light of the Spirit and the truth of God’s Word will lead him and bring him to true worship in God’s holy hill, where God dwells. In the temple, he would be offering his sacrifices on the altar. He will praise him with songs. God will then be his utmost joy in this time of worship. O how the psalmist misses worshiping God together with God’s people! God’s Word, God’s people, and God’s songs are for him the water brooks that satisfies the deer’s thirsting. Not being able to worship God together with all his people torments his soul.

The house of God today is not the Jerusalem temple, nor is it any building. It is the church, wherever it is found, wherever God’s people assemble together. Our church gathered at a small building, but now in a church building. Wherever we meet for worship, God’s house is there. Wherever people long and thirst for God, his Word, his Spirit, and his people in the Lord’s Day assembly, it is God’s house.

When your circumstances prevent you from worshiping on the Lord’s Day together with God’s people, do you grieve, do you lament? All of us have experienced not being able to attend worship for many different reasons. The most common is job-related, being required by our company to work on Sundays. Sickness is another. Some are family-related, being prevented by an unbelieving family member. Still others are in prison, having believed in Christ while serving time. In the Middle East, many Christians are prevented from gathering for worship because of war, their places of worship burned down, and their lives in grave danger.

Do these circumstances grieve us the most when we are not able to attend worship on the Lord’s Day? Do we hunger and thirst for God like a deer that pants for water? As lack of water is a life-and-death situation for a deer, so attending worship with God’s people is a life-and-death situation for Christians. If it is not, then we must consider if our love for God is real. Because true godliness and righteousness is evidenced by our desire to be with God and his people; to serve him with all our heart, soul and mind, and to love God’s people as ourselves.

So do not think, as many others do, “I’m not going to church every Sunday. I can worship God in the confines of my house, since he is everywhere present. I’ll go whenever I feel like going.” No, God has appointed this special holy day for us to worship him together with his people, so that the longings of our souls will be satisfied.

Beloved brothers and sisters, all of us go through troubles and sufferings. It is right for us to pour out our souls to God. And because of God’s Word, we have confidence that he hears our prayers according to his will.

And we have confidence because Psalms 42-43 ultimately speak of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is our “model” worshiper. Every Sabbath, he is found worshiping with God’s people in the temple or in the synagogue. He sings Psalms with his disciples. He reads the Scriptures before the people. He prays in the temple. He did all his Father in heaven assigned him to do, obeying all his commandments. If the deer pants for water, Jesus longed to be with his Father and his food was to do the the Father’s will.

Jesus knew persecution and ridicule from Jews who hated him. He knew that he had to offer his own body and blood on the altar of the cross as the sacrifice for his people’s sins. On the cross, his enemies shouted insults at him. In Psalm 22:6-8, David experiences this persecution and mockery by his enemies, and he writes prophetically, “But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads.” They even mock and test God himself, “He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!” Like King David, Jesus was taunted as the “King of the Jews.” How can he be a king, who is crucified on a cross?

This knowledge of his sufferings and death was overwhelming to him. He told his disciples, “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’?” (John 12:27). And finally, as he hung on the cross, rejected and abandoned by his Father, he felt his aloneness, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Psa 22:1). So when you suffer, when you are ridiculed, and when your soul is troubled within you, remember that our Lord Jesus Christ experienced the same. Therefore, he sympathizes with you and he hears you in your troubles.

And God has not forsaken you. Because later in verse 22 of Psalm 22, David declares, “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.” And this is what Christ tells his Father when he ascended into heaven (Heb 2:12). From heaven through the Holy Spirit, he joins our congregation in our worship services in praise of God.

So as we worship together, be encouraged that our Lord Jesus, the true and perfect worshiper, is also our great worship leader! He leads us in our prayers, songs, preaching and sacraments in our worship through the Holy Spirit.

For those of you who thirst for God, he has provided a spiritual drink, just as our forefathers in the wilderness “drank from the spiritual Rock… and that Rock was Christ” (1 Cor 10:4). And in eternity, God promises, “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

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