Verb Tenses in the Wilderness

A Psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah.

1 O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
2 So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.
3Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.
4 So I will bless you as long as I live; in yourname I will lift up my hands.
5 My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
6 when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
7 for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
8 My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.
Maybe it is the elementary teacher in me, maybe God was just trying to show me something, but when I read this Psalm a couple of days ago, the first thing that jumped out at me was the verb tenses.  Weird, huh?  Verb tenses don’t normally jump off the page at me like that.
Past Tense Verbs:
have looked upon you
have been my help
These are looking back to God’s faithfulness in the past.
Future Tense Verbs:
will praise you
will bless you
will lift up my hands
will be satisfied
will praise you
will sing for joy
These look forward with anticipation to a time of future joy.
Present Tense Verbs:
I seek you
I thirst for you
my flesh faints for you
I remember you
and meditate on you
My soul clings to you
These verbs offer an honest appraisal of what David is feeling at the moment.  There is no pressure to put on a good face or to just dive in and pull himself up by his bootstraps.  There is no chastisement that he would get over it if he would just serve the Lord more or better.
There is one more verb that has not been addressed yet.
God’s verb:
your right hand upholds me
When studying the Bible, it is said that when God repeats himself you had better take notice because it’s important.  Considering how God spoke to my heart when I was studying Psalm 42 a couple of weeks ago, I think I’ve gotten the message.  When living through a time in the wilderness, look back and remember God’s past faithfulness, look forward and anticipate a time of future joy, and just hang on.  It is God’s part to uphold you.  I want to be very clear that I am not talking about clinical depression.  That is a medical illness that requires medical treatment and to neglect that aspect of taking care of yourself would be as foolish as someone with diabetes neglecting to take their insulin.  Sometimes we are just faced with a wilderness, a time of prolonged grief and sadness that is not biochemical, but you can’t just get over either.
I love that we have a God who says to Hagar “I see you and I hear you”when she was in the wilderness. (Gen. 21)  I love that when Elijah was ready to give up and die, God did not tell him to snap out of it; but rather tended first to his physical needs for food and rest and then to his emotional need for encouragement. (1 Ki 19)  I love that Jesus fully knew that he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, but cried at his funeral anyway (John 11)  I love that we serve a God who tenderly cares for those who are hurting without pretense or expectation to put on a good show.  This is only more powerful because He is not the one dimensional, feel-good God-who-is-only-love; but that He is also the righteous, holy Judge and omnipotent Creator of the universe and still chooses to tenderly care and comfort me in my distress.

Psalm 42:1-6 (Revisited)

I have a confession to make.  I have not always been a huge fan of Psalm 42:5.  “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.”  This is in part because it has always felt a little like an accidental weapon people use when someone is hurting. It’s kind of like saying, “Be well, be happy, put your hope in God.”  Not particularly helpful.  The other reason is due to the happy worship song of the same words.  When my soul is downcast, happy little worship songs are (again) seriously not helpful.

The Word of God never changes, but I do.  Each new season of life brings a new perspective and a different understanding to the Bible. In this light, I have had occasion to revisit this Psalm, spend some time considering these verses, and gain a new appreciation for them.  This morning, I wrote them out in my own words and John thought I should share them here.  They are not a translation or even a paraphrase but more like C.S. Lewis’ “supposal” of what these words might look like played out in my life.  It is our hope that they may be of encouragement to someone.

Psalm 42:1-6 (Revisited)

I remember…

I remember when it was not like this; when I delighted in the Lord and in the fellowship of His people.  I remember the deep satisfaction and joy in using my gifts to serve Him and the holy moments when it was not me, but Him working through me to touch the life of another person.  I remember those times and I long to return to them.  I am so thirsty for joy.  But instead of joy, I drink my own salty tears that were not invited or welcome and only make me thirst more for the joy I had in Him.  They sap me of my strength when I long to be filled with His power.  but even now, this I know to be true.  I will yet again praise Him.  This too, shall pass.  This season of grief is not welcome but it is just a season and it will in time come to an end.  While I am waiting, I will remember God’s faithfulness and put my hope in Him.