‘When we are up, we are up. When we are down, we are down. When we are only half-way up, we are neither up nor down.’ It’s about the Grand Old Duke of York’s men, but it could be about our mental wellbeing.
For lots of us, life is a series of ups and downs. And presently quite a lot of us are feeling down. It’s not surprising, given our circumstances, but it is concerning. We want to keep going and keep praying. Where can we look for help?
Psalm 42 is a tremendous example of a prayer of someone who is down: “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?’ (v5,11) is the refrain. It’s a good question and the psalmist answers it by describing what has happened.
He is a little desperate, feeling apart from God: ‘As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God’ is how the psalm starts.
He has been crying a lot, sleeping badly and has lost his appetite (v3). Others have been goading him, mocking his faith in the Lord (v3). He has not been able to go to church for ages, and wistfully he remembers the good old days, when he was part of the crowd, praising the Lord (v4).
He is homesick (v6). He feels powerless, like someone thrown about in the river rapids or the large breakers at the seaside (v7). He feels forgotten by God and oppressed by his adversaries (v9) and at the same time he is in serious pain (v10).
Really, it is no surprise! Who wouldn’t be down in these challenging circumstances?
The issue is what to do about it.
The psalmist is kind to himself but firm in his resolve. He addresses the Lord honestly and pours out his heart. He asks himself ‘Why?’ and sets himself to look towards better days.
The second half of the refrain is ‘Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God’ (v5,11).
Now it is hard to see the way ahead, but what hope he has, he is encouraging himself to put in God. Now he doesn’t feel like praising, but he is determined to be praising God again sometime. He is committed to being patient, gentle with his own fragility, and able to set his sights on being back to a praising, serving, worshipping faithful life as one of God’s people.
When we are down, we are down. But Psalm 42 shows how can keep praying to the Lord who knows and love us through and through.
Yours in Christ,