This song recounts those days when we feel like curling up in the fetal position and quitting. Fortunately, David doesn't leave us on the ground. He advises how we can conquer those feelings rather than succumb to them.
The composition of David—preserved for us as Psalms 42 and 43—sings the following lines three times, strongly suggesting the issue at hand is inner turmoil.
Why are you in despair, O my soul?
And why have you become disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him. (Psalm 42:5, 11; 43:5)
The term "despair" comes from the Hebrew word shakhakh, which in the literal sense means "to crouch, bow down." In the figurative sense, the verb means "to become low, be abased." This song recounts those days when we feel like curling up in the fetal position and quitting. Fortunately, David doesn't leave us on the ground. He advises how we can conquer those feelings rather than succumb to them, how to overcome feelings of inner turmoil rather than "churn" our way through life.
As I mentioned earlier, having those disturbing feelings on occasion is normal. We do a real disservice to a new Christian by telling him or her that sadness or despair is sinful. That's both unrealistic and unbiblical. David wrote many psalms while he was churning within. While we have no business wallowing for months in a pit of depression, all of us should be transparent enough to admit we have "blue" days like that. I am comforted that even Jesus Himself, on occasion, felt inwardly troubled (John 11:33; 12:27; 13:21). Charles Haddon Spurgeon wrote of "the minister's fainting fits" in his Lectures to My Students. Dr. John Henry Jowett, another outstanding preacher of yesteryear, was honest enough to admit in a letter to a friend:
I wish you wouldn't think I'm such a saint. You seem to imagine that I have no ups and downs, but just a level and lofty stretch of spiritual attainment with unbroken joy and equanimity. By no means! I am often perfectly wretched and everything appears most murky. I often feel as though my religious life had only just begun, and that I am in the kindergarten stage. But I can usually trace these miserable seasons to some personal cause, and the first thing to do is to attend to that cause, and get into the sunshine again.1
I appreciate Jowett's vulnerability. The good news is that these two songs help us discover how to crawl out of the darkness and back into the sunshine again.
The songwriter begins his Forty-second Song with an image from the wilderness.
As the deer pants for the water brooks,
So my soul pants for You, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God;
When shall I come and appear before God? (42:1–2)
David longs for God like a thirsty deer in a barren wilderness longs for a cool stream. He says he "pants" for the Lord. In Psalm 119:131 he expresses a similar thought when he writes, "I opened my mouth wide and panted, for I longed for Your commandments." God, who was considered by believers "the fountain of living waters" (Jeremiah 2:13; 17:13), was the sole desire of the churning singer. Being a man after God's own heart, David passionately yearned for His presence. And his opening lines suggest that his inner turmoil was a direct result of his having a distant relationship with his God.