The Psalms seem to offer a prayer for every type of experience.
Even when we encounter depression, loneliness, or anxiety God provides a prayer for that. Psalm 42 and 43 teach us what to pray when we experience depression.
Let us learn to use this prayer and then reuse this prayer to guide our thoughts every time our feelings start to overwhelm us.
Psalms 42 and 43 go well together, and were probably at one time, united as one prayer. The Psalms teach us how to pray, but when we suffer they also teach us how to think.
This prayer repeats the same refrain three times: “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (Ps 42:5, 11; 43:5). And each chorus follows the same pattern: examination, edification, and expectation.
As the Psalmist prays this pattern, his thinking slowly begins to align itself appropriately to God’s ways despite his feelings of depression.
First, the examination: “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?”
The prayer writer had good reason to be depressed. Verses one through four reveal that he no longer feels God’s presence. He has been cut off from the Temple and the community of God.
And to compound his agony, the psalmist reports that his enemies taunt him, “Where is this God of yours?” they ask (Ps 42:3).
In the second stanza, his enemies still taunt him, so he tries a different approach. Under prayerful thought, the writer reminds himself of God’s enduring, loyal love.
But even after reflecting on God’s faithfulness, Yahweh still feels distant (Ps 42:6-10): “I say to God my Rock, ‘Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy’” (Ps 42:9)?
What should we do when our circumstances are terrible? What should we do when God feels distant? We need the edification in each refrain: “Put your hope in God” (Ps 42:5, 11). Psalms 42 and 43 instruct our souls to entrust ourselves to God.
This seems like a simple command, but sometimes even simple commands are difficult to obey. The Psalmist prays this command three times to force himself to do what he knows is right even though he does not feel hopeful.
Jesus endured similar emotions as He headed to the cross. Betrayed by his closest friends, mocked by His enemies, and going to his sacrificial death, God’s comfort seemed to have disappeared.
Yet, Jesus continued to do right despite His despair, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
God answered Jesus’s prayers because He put His hope in God (Hebrews 5:7).
Even by the end of Psalm 43 the Psalmist’s feelings have not changed. His meditation changed, though. In the first section, the prayer focuses on what he lost.
The second section reflects on God’s actions during his oppression. By the third stanza, the grief still exists, but the prayer shifts to anticipate God’s perfectly timed relief, “Rescue me from those who are deceitful and wicked. You are God my stronghold” (Ps 43:1, 2).
This is the expectation part of the refrain: “…for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God” (Ps 42:5, 11; 43:5). This prayer approach works when we are surprised by depression, too. As we examine why our soul is downcast and disturbed, God instructs us to entrust ourselves to Him. He is the only One who can really change things.
In Jesus, God reveals how much He has already changed our conditions.
By sending Jesus to die for our sins and then by raising Him from the dead three days later, we possess legitimate reasons to put our hope in God regardless of our circumstances or feelings.
The resurrection of Christ is our reminder that God still saves. This prayer puts the burden of our desired rescue into God’s sure hands, and reminds us to anticipate our own salvation even from depression.
Let me know what you experience as you use this prayer. Tell me about a time God came through for you.
Even better, let me know how much these prayers from Psalms have realigned your thoughts to the ways of God. Email me at [email protected] .
Dale McCamish is Senior Minister at the Wilmington Church of Christ.
This weekly column is provided to the News Journal on a monthly rotation basis by members of the Wilmington Area Ministerial Association.