Have you ever been given the advice to “just speak to yourself”? (Maybe used often by parents to teenagers!). Meaning, “are you really aware of what you are doing or saying and just how it is impacting your life or the lives of others?” The aim being to get you asking yourself the hard questions in order for you to rethink your life and start acting or speaking in a way that is not detrimental to yourself or others.
These two psalms are unique in that the refrain that appears three times (42:5, 11 and 42:5) are the words of the psalmist speaking to himself about how he is feeling and then seeking to encourage himself. He says:
Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Saviour and my God.
In a sermon on “Spiritual Depression in the Psalms”, John Piper preaching on Psalm 42 quotes Martyn Lloyd-Jones who said: “Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself.” ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iy68YXttAvw )
Often our thoughts are negative and sometimes, in extreme situations, even suicidal. Listening to ourselves at these times can be very detrimental or even dangerous. But this is not what the psalmist does. Instead of listening to himself, he talks to himself and asks the “Why?” question followed by the answer to his feeling of being “downcast” and “disturbed”. That answer is hope in the God of Hope.
There is a story of David before he became king when he needed to “speak to himself” in dire circumstances. It is found in 1 Samuel 30 where we read that David and his men had been away from where their families were living (in Ziklag) and while they were away their enemies (the Amalekites) raided the Negev and Ziklag. They had attacked Ziklag and burned it, and had taken captive the women and everyone else in it, both young and old. They killed none of them, but carried them off as they went on their way.
When David and his men reached Ziklag, they found it destroyed by fire and their wives and sons and daughters taken captive. So David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep. David’s two wives had been captured… David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters. but David encouraged himself in the Lord his God. (verses 1-6)
He “encouraged himself” or he talked to himself about his God and his faithfulness, even if the circumstances suggested otherwise.
Then, he followed this by seeking guidance from the Lord. David and his men then pursued the enemy and recovered all that had been taken from them including all their wives and children.
It would have been easy for David to succumb to the depressing and dangerous circumstances he found himself in, but it seems he both “spoke to himself” and to the Lord and was strengthened to then act appropriately in the situation.
So next time you are feeling “downcast” talk to yourself quoting the refrain from these psalms. Then turn to Romans 8, particularly verses 31 onwards, asking yourself:
If God is for [me], who can be against [me]?
We confess to you Father that there are times in our lives when we do feel downcast and disturbed by the circumstances of our lives. Draw near at these times and enable us to hope in you, knowing that you are God and there is none equal to you. You are sovereign in your world and nothing surprises you. And you love us. Amen.
Note: Feeling downcast sometimes needs more help than just talking to yourself. Often it requires that we also talk to someone else, particularly if you are having thoughts of suicide. Just like the psalmist, be honest with yourself and God and then find someone you trust to help you work through your depression. (see also https://www.beyondblue.org.au/ )