I love Chinese takeaway. There’s only one problem. It tends to lead to a raging thirst. That’s okay when water is readily available but what if it isn’t, or what if you pick up a drink and it fails to quench your thirst. Have you ever been that thirsty?
We’ve talked here before about emotional thirst -a longing, a heartache for something more. We can also have spiritual thirst and hunger. In fact, spiritual hunger and thirst is a good thing but what happens when I feel that I can’t find that satisfaction.
What happens when the darkness does not lift?
What happens when God seems distant?
What happens when heaven is silent?
Well here we are with part three of our series on peace and it’s all about finding peace of mind. What do I do when my heart is hurting and troubled? What do I do when I cannot find inner peace?
What causes this?
- What stops me having peace of mind?
– Money worries
– Broken relationships
– Being in love (especially, but not only when it is unrequited)
– Loneliness and isolation. This can be both a root cause and a result of the problem. Sometimes we can begin to feel that we are completely alone and that no-one else understands or gets it.
– Health – n.b. -emotional and mental health – and potential roots in physical health
– May link to present circumstances health, money, work -uncertain future
– Link to last week worry about war, terror etc.
– Some of us are worriers by nature
- What does the Bible have to say?
The Bible is such a powerfully practical book. I want to suggest that this is the right place to go. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. God knows our hearts and minds better than anyone. We’re going to the Psalms now as here we find the full range of human experiences and emotions explored.
Psalm 42 was written by the Sons of Korah. If you ever look at those modern worship songs with a long list of authors and think “remember the good old days when just one person could write a song on their own?” Well collaborations have their root right back in Bible times.
These were the worship leaders of the Temple. The Psalm may be written to reflect the experience of someone else such as King David though no-one has pinned it down to a place or event.
We know that the author is in exile -they are at Mount Mizor in the country (or at the source) of the Jordan. In other words, they are right up on the northern borders a long way from Jerusalem.
The Psalmist’s dilemma
There then follows an inner dialogue where the Psalmist both describes his own situation and state of mind but at the same challenges it. He says “This is how I feel” but goes on to ask “Why do I feel like this?”
Did you notice?
– Thirst and longing for God (v1-2) He is desperate like an animal hunted, running and desperate to pause at a stream to drink. Notice for him that this would have physical implications. He misses the temple and all it represents. He misses leading God’s people in worship. It’s worth pausing on that point (v4). A few weeks back I talked about times when we can’t use our gifts. Some of you may identify very directly with this. You feel that you are unable to exercise a gift and you are missing that opportunity. Your heart cries out not because you want to show off but you miss the joy of service. If that’s you, take time to hear and experience this Psalm. Be pushed beyond the joy of serving even deeper into the joy of knowing true fellowship with God.
– The thirst is unsatisfied -instead, there’s deep sorrow. He suffers tears and taunts (v3-4). Sometimes our pain is intensified by the cruel words and thoughtless actions of others. Sometimes that is deliberate. Sometimes it is careless. Sometimes it’s well-meaning people who just say the wrong things. And many of us probably cringe when we remember the times we’ve said the wrong thing.
– Brokenness, sadness, discouragement inner turmoil (v 5-8). Here we pick up on that physical exile but sometimes the exile is emotional distance and it’s just as painful. If you have a sense of deep despondency. If you are ill at ease, if you can’t settle, if your sleep is unsettled then find in Scripture real empathy. At times the Psalms even seem to describe very closely the feelings of deep depression.
– Feeling deserted/abandoned –even by God (v9) That’s the hardest bit isn’t it. Perhaps for the author there’s a link in his mind between his circumstance and this feeling. “Am I here because God has left me here?” Is there a temptation even to think “God has let me down” Or is it a belief that God is judging him? There may be genuine guilt for sin here and we do need to recognise that sometimes where we are is because of God’s discipline and the consequences of what we have done. Though remember also how we’ve talked about false guilt and how we can hide away in shame.
– The deep pain of abuse and accusation (v10)– felt in the bones. We used to have a rhyme at school to see off the bullies “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.” I had two problems with that. First of all, it didn’t work. In fact it probably encouraged the bullies to do physical damage too. Secondly, insults, gossip, slander do hurt don’t they?
Do you identify with any of those things?
Again -don’t worry if that’s not where you are or have been! This is also about hearing for others, to understand, to be able to pray with, stand with, encourage.
The Psalmist’s Response (v 5 & v 11)
I want you to notice carefully how the Psalmist responds to these real circumstances and feelings. He talks to himself. He challenges himself. He learns to tell himself the truth about God and himself. He reminds himself of the Gospel.
He makes a commitment -a covenant with himself:
He can do this because God is his salvation.For the Psalmist there was a looking forward to the one who would fulfil this Psalm, experiencing the very exile and banishment of death that we deserve so that we can be set free from guilt.
This is what we keep coming back to. We can find peace through all the storms of life because our salvation is in Christ. This means that even the longest, darkest night and the fiercest storm is temporary. We have future grace where there are future fears.
It means that we know God is present with us. We may feel alone but we never are alone. We have present grace for present circumstances
It means that whatever may happen to me, even in my darkest hour, my salvation is rooted not in my feelings or the words of others but in the objective truth of the Gospel. I have the assurance of past grace -that God loved me and sent his son to die for me – that deals with past regrets.
Going forward -some practical thoughts
Here are a few final thoughts for those of us who are struggling to find peace of mind at the moment and for those of us who are seeking to come alongside and help. It’s not the full picture by far -you’re not going to get that in one sermon.
First of all, be aware of what is causing the pain and turmoil.
Physical causes should be treated physically -don’t be scared to go to your GP if you are struggling. Even be aware of simply remedies -sleep, sunshine, food. I think I’ve told some of you about the preacher who experienced intense lows after preaching. It felt like spiritual warfare, he wondered as well if it was a personal failing. He was toying with giving up. He got some simple advice from another pastor. “What do you do after church in the evening? Why don’t you go home, take the phone off the hook and pour a hot relaxing bath?” Apparently, it worked.
But be aware that how we are spiritually can help or exacerbate our response to natural things.
Spiritual causes need to be dealt with spiritually Are there things you need to get sorted out with someone? Do you need help finding reconciliation? Are you holding on to bitterness and can’t let go. Maybe you simply need to acknowledge the pain of that with someone and that you haven’t been responding right. “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”
Are you telling yourself the truth? Actually, this is what good counselling helps you to do. However, it falls short if it doesn’t get is to the point of telling the truth about the God and the Gospel.
Is your relationship right with God? Do you know the joy of forgives and the assurance of eternal life? God is not far off. God has come close in Jesus. Jesus drew near because we had gone far away from God. Jesus reconciles us to God so that we don’t have to go into eternity facing the judgement of hell.
By the way – I’m not promising a magic wand to take away your worries or their causes. I’m not promising that Christians won’t go through things like depression. Sometimes peace with God will mean living through the pain and the struggle but having the resources deep in your heart to do that, to survive to be an overcomer.
Peace with myself starts when I have peace with God.
 NB further reading might be helpful including John Piper, When the Darkness will not lift, John White, The masks of melancholy, Martyn Lloyd Jones, Spiritual Depression.