Fighting Discouragement

Why do I feel so down?

“Why do I feel so down?” If you have ever asked this question, you are not alone. The psalmist who wrote Psalms 42 and 43 asked this question. He asks it this way, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” Most of us experience feeling cast down from time to time, and some experience it often. Many more are experiencing it during the current circumstances. Uncertainty, fear, and isolation have led to many feeling “cast down.”

The psalmist feels a sharp and overwhelming depression. We know his experience goes beyond a down mood because of his description in 42:3. He writes, “My tears have been my food day and night.” He begins the psalm by telling us that his soul is thirsting for God, but all he finds to drink are the tears rolling down his cheeks. His soul is truly cast down. He finds himself in a dark place.

There is no magic cure for a downcast soul. I wish I could offer you one, but I cannot. The psalmist cannot either. These psalms illustrate the wrestling and fighting that are required when we find ourselves cast down. As you read these two psalms, you can observe the psalmist tumble down into the discouragement described as breakers and waves overwhelming him (Psalm 42:7). Then, he ascends with the remembrance that his God commands steadfast love concerning him, and has given him a song to sing (Psalm 42:8).

So, we must wrestle and fight, but how? What causes us to be downcast, and how do we fight against it?

The weights that pull us down

The psalmist feels several weights that are pulling him down into discouragement.

His enemies seem near. They are whispering in his ear, “Where is your God?” (Psalm 42:3, 10). He writes, “As with a deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries taunt me” (Psalm 42:10). Later in Psalm 43:2, he adds, “Why do I go about mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” His enemies feel near, and he feels vulnerable. The enemies we face take many forms. They can be those who try to harm us, our own emotions and feelings, financial hardships, or physical ailments. They often whisper the same thing, “Where is your God?”

He feels that while his enemies are close, God is distant. Of course, we know this is not true, but the feeling is real. He begins Psalm 42 by articulating this yearning for God, which is not satisfied. He longs to feel the nearness of God, but he does not feel it. In Psalm 42:9, he asks, “Why have you forgotten me?” He feels as though God has abandoned him. He feels God is nowhere to be found in this moment of crisis. In moments of discouragement, we can be quick to believe the lie that God has turned his back on us. We quickly forget all the times he has delivered us, provided for us, given us help, encouragement, and direction in times of need.

All of this leads to a feeling of being overwhelmed. He describes His circumstances as a waterfall or waves that relentlessly break over him again and again. He is overpowered, beaten down, and feels He no longer has the strength to stand back up. Life has a way of washing over us in this way at times. It can seem we cannot catch a break. It can feel as if bad news follows bad news. In these moments, we can be embarrassingly quick to throw our hands up and imagine God has disappeared. In our hearts, we sometimes accuse Him of not caring or not treating us fairly.

Where should we turn?

We can see the psalmist struggling, and we see where he is looking for help. In the refrain he repeats three times, he says, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” (Psalm 42:5, 11; 43:5) He knows that he should look to God. He knows that he feels cast down and in turmoil because he is failing to put his hope in God. His eyes are fixed on his heartache, disappointments, and overall circumstances instead of being fixed on his infinitely good, loving, and sovereign Heavenly Father.

He knows the cure for his cast down soul. He knows the cure for his turmoil and anxiety. It is to put his hope in God, which is easy to say, but sometimes hard to do.

Fighting to hope in God

As the psalmist bears his soul, we gain insight into how he is fighting to put his hope in God. We get to watch as truth triumphs over despair, and we can employ some of these same truths in our lives as we fight for joy in the Lord.

The weapons the psalmist use in his fight for hope in God all fall into the category of remembering. Instead of letting his feelings do the talking, he starts talking to himself. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones talks about this in his book, Spiritual Depression.

“This man was not content just to lie down and commiserate with himself. He does something about it, he takes himself in hand. But he does something which is more important still, that is he talks to himself.”

“I suggest that the main trouble in this whole matter of spiritual depression in a sense is this, that we allow our self to talk to us instead of talking to our self.”

“This is the very essence of wisdom in this matter. 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? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them, but they start talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you. Now this man’s treatment was this; instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself.”

(excerpts from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure, p.20-21)

What is the psalmist talking to himself about? What is he remembering?

  1. He remembers the joy of worship. He says in Psalm 42:4, “These things I remember as I pour out my soul: 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.” At first, this is a painful memory. He is longing for God, and his memories of joyful times of worship are bittersweet. Then, in the next few verses, he reminds himself that he will worship with joy again. Spend some time thinking back to the heights of joy you have experienced while worshiping God. Ask God to help you remember the joy of your salvation.

  2. He remembers that circumstances are temporary. He talks to himself about perspective. When we face trials or discouragements, our temptation is to think that the trial will never end. The Psalmist fights to remember that good times will come again. Each time he instructs himself to hope in God, he reminds himself that “I shall again praise him”. Psalm 30:5 says, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”

    If your soul is downcast, ask God to give you perspective. Ask him to help you remember that whatever circumstances you are facing, they are temporary. Even if the circumstance lasts until you pass from this life into the next, our lives are short compared to the eternity we will spend with God.

  3. He remembers the steadfast love of God and his song that stays with us. One of the most beautiful verses in these two psalms is verse 8 in Psalm 42. The psalmist writes, “By day the LORD commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.” The LORD commands his steadfast love. The psalmist reminds himself that he cannot escape the steadfast love of God because God has set his love upon him. Regardless of how he feels, God’s love will never leave him. Then, he remembers the song of praise that God has given him.

    Charles Spurgeon writes about this verse, “Songs of praise for blessings received shall cheer the gloom of night. No music sweeter than this. The belief that we shall yet glorify the Lord for mercy given in extremity is a delightful stay to the soul. Affliction may put out our candle, but if it cannot silence our song we will soon light the candle again” (Charles H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, Vol. 1, p.274).

    Remember that the steadfast love of God in all circumstances gives us what we need to light our candles again.

  4. He remembers that God is a rock that never moves. He writes in Psalm 42:9, “I say to God, my rock”. Even in the throes of doubt and discouragement, he reminds himself that God is more like a rock than sand. The psalmist’s emotions are telling him that God is shifting and changing. The truth is that God does not move, does not retreat, and does not abandon us.

    Remember that the steadfast love of God in all circumstances gives us what we need to light our candles again.

    Remember that God is an unmovable rock of shelter and support. Our emotions get tossed around like a boat in the sea, but God is steady and sure. Ask God to help you set your feet on the Rock.

  5. Finally, he remembers to pray. The Psalmist climbs out of his pit in Psalm 43, as he remembers to pray. He asks the Lord, “Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling! Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God” (43:3-4). He remembers and feels that in the presence of the Lord there is fullness of joy.

    When we pray, we not only ask the Lord for help, but we get to experience the peace and joy that come from being in his presence.

    Remember to pray. And when you find it difficult, remember to pray until you pray.

Access to the cure

In one of his sermons on Psalms 42 and 43, James Montgomery Boice said, “Is there a cure for depression? Yes. But it is not in us. It is in God. The cure is to seek God’s face, so ours will not be downcast, which is what the psalmist does.” This cure would be out of reach for us if Jesus Christ had not come to save us from our sin and reconcile us to God. He lived the life that we could not live, died the death we deserved to die, and was raised from the dead to give us assurance that his sacrifice was all that was required. If you want to draw near to God, you can only do that through faith in Jesus Christ. His sacrificial death is the only thing that can cleanse you of guilt and restore your relationship with your Heavenly Father. Put your trust in Jesus today, and draw near to God, for in Him, you will find the only cure for your downcast soul.

If you are struggling with discouragement, depression, or need someone to pray with, we would love to help. You do not have to struggle alone. You can reach out to us here.