Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Drought and Drowning

Leslie Basham: When you feel desperate or overwhelmed, maybe that’s right where God wants to meet you. Here’s Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: You’ll never experience all that there is to know of God until you have found yourself in a place of drought, in a place of desperation, in a place where you think you’re drowning. In the midst of those most desperate circumstances, you’ll be driven . . . In that little boat of yours on that overwhelming sea, you’ll be driven to the place that is your only true hope, and that is in God.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of The Quiet Place, for Tuesday, April 9, 2019.

This week Nancy's bringing us a series called "Dealing With Depression and Doubt," as part of our month-long theme on tackling tough issues.

Nancy: Have you ever felt like you were out in a very stormy sea and you were trying to make it to shore but the waves just kept coming upon you and upon you and upon you, and you felt as if in your life the waves were so strong and the current so great that you just couldn’t make it back to shore? I live near Lake Michigan, and we have some real strong undercurrents there and some stormy days. Each year there are deaths in Lake Michigan—people who just can’t fight the storm or the weather or the waves.

There are days in life when we feel as if that sea, that lake, that ocean is going to overwhelm us. I’m so thankful that the Scripture gives to us stories of people who identify with what it is to feel almost swallowed up by life.

I talk with a lot of women. I read a lot of emails. I get a lot of mail and voicemails and hear stories and look into the eyes of women who are feeling overwhelmed by life. Maybe the reason I recognize it when I see it is because I’ve been there so many times myself, feeling . . . with good things. It’s not always just bad things that are happening. But sometimes with just the fullness of everything that is going on in life, it’s just too much, and I feel overwhelmed.

Well, thankfully, the Scripture gives us insight into how to walk through those seasons of life, how to walk through the storm and come out on the other side. I’m also thankful that the Scripture is really honest with us about great men and women of God—men we look up to and respect as Christian heroes of our faith. But it also lets us know that they had times of real struggle, so they weren’t up on a pedestal there, like they weren’t real people.

We’re told that Elijah, for example, who’s this great prophet of God, was a man like us. I mean he was a real flesh and blood person. He had to learn what it was to pray His way through the circumstances of life and to have times when he looked around and He could not figure out what God was up to. He had to trust anyway. Saints—Isaiah and Jeremiah—who walked through times of great darkness in their culture and in their own hearts and couldn’t see what God was up to. Job—incredible, excruciating suffering. In the honest telling of those stories, we’re given light and hope and understanding about how we can walk through those dark, stormy times of our lives.

There’s a particular passage in the Scripture that has been very encouraging to me in such times and has been to countless people for thousands of years in the history of the faith. I want to ask you turn there today. It’s in the Psalms. It’s actually a pair of psalms—Psalm 42 and 43. These psalms were probably originally one psalm. In fact, many of the older Hebrew manuscripts have them as one psalm. You’ll see that this passage—the two psalms—break down into three stanzas, and each one has a chorus or a refrain. We see in verse 5 of chapter 42 the first time that that refrain appears.

Let me start by reading the chorus. That’s not usually where we start in singing, but as we get into this psalm, I want us to start by reading the chorus. Verse 5 of Psalm 42:

Why are you cast down [or bowed down], O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance.

Then you come to verse 11 of chapter 42—the last verse of that chapter—and you see the chorus repeated. “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God.”

Then the last verse—verse 5 of chapter 43—repeated once again: “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God.” What happens in these stanzas that leads the Psalmist to pray those choruses three times with very much the same words?

Over these next several days, I want us to examine these psalms. First we’re going to see the condition in which the Psalmist found himself. Then we’ll look at the circumstances that created that condition. Why was he in that condition? What was going on around him? Then finally we want to look at the choices that he made when he was faced with those circumstances and when he found himself in that condition.

Now, to discover the condition in which the Psalmist found himself, his emotional and mental frame of mind when he wrote these psalms, there are two word pictures in this passage. Rather than reading straight through the psalms, I want to pick out some verses that help us get the flow of what he’s thinking.

Two word pictures that emerge. The first you will find in verses 1 and 2 of Psalm 42, and the second you’ll find in verse 7. There are two words I would put with these word pictures. The first is the word “drought.” The second is the word “drowning.” That’s what the Psalmist is feeling as he’s in this season of life. First, that it’s a time of drought. Then he changes the metaphor, and he says, “What I really feel like is that I’m drowning. I’m in that Lake Michigan or that ocean that’s stormy around me.”

Let’s look first at the word picture of drought in the first two verses. Here’s a man who is thirsty. He’s longing; he’s desperate for God, and he feels like he’s living in a desert land, like he doesn’t have the fulfillment that he longs for in his spirit. So he says in verses 1 and 2,

As the deer pants [or longs] for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?

Some of your translations my translate that last phrase, "When shall I come and see the face of God?" He’s thirsty. He’s longing. He’s desperate. He realizes that the deer can’t live without water, and he says neither can my soul live without God. What he’s really longing for is communion with God.

One of the greatest discoveries you'll ever make is that the inner thirst that is in all of our hearts is not really a thirst for people or things or life to go well. We think that's what it is. Ultimately, it's a thirst for God. It's a longing for God. And it's a longing that can't be satisfied apart from God. 

His thirst is for God—not for a religious experience, not for church services, not for anything that God can provide, but ultimately for God himself. He wants nothing more, nothing less. He’s saying, “I can’t be satisfied with anything else or anything less than God.”

By the way, could I remind you that that kind of thirst is an evidence that you’re a child of God? That’s an evidence of true conversion to have a heart and a hunger for God. If you don’t have any internal longing in your spirit for God—ever—chances are that you may not be a child of God at all. You have good reason to question if you really are a child of God if you have no hunger for God. The Psalmist is saying without God’s presence, our hearts are thirsty. I’m in this drought.

So that’s a word picture that describes the condition. I’m longing. I’m desperate. I’m thirsty for God, and I need Him. I can’t go on without Him.

Now, there’s another word picture found in verse 7 of chapter 42. That’s the word picture of drowning. He’s feeling overwhelmed. He says in verse 7,

Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls [or Your water spouts, some of your translations say]; all Your waves and billows have gone over me.

There’s a picture here of this . . . This is the man in Lake Michigan or in the ocean, and it’s in a stormy sea, and he’s feeling overwhelmed. He’s drowning. There’s the noise of Your waterfalls and Your waves and billows that have gone over me.

Now, as you pick apart this verse, you see that the waterfalls . . . He says there’s the noise, the loud noise of Your water spouts. I think that’s a picture of—in a literal sense—a torrential downpour coming from the sky. It’s as if the Psalmist is picturing himself in this little boat, this little rowboat maybe, on this sea where the heavens have just opened up and there’s this downpour from the sky. He’s getting soaked, and it’s making his boat toss and turn.

He says not only is this water coming down from above, but then he says, “All Your waves and Your billows have gone over me.” That’s a picture of the sea itself. It’s tumultuous. It’s stormy. The storm is raging. So he’s in this little craft, or maybe not with a craft at all—just out there swimming in the water, and the water spouts are pouring down from above. The waves are rising up from around him. He’s in a major storm.

He uses that word picture to describe this season of his life where problems and pressures are coming from every direction. He feels like he’s drowning. He can hardly breathe. He’s just trying to keep his head above water.

You ever been there? Some of you are there right now, and you’re just thinking, I don’t know that I’m going to make it.

I think of a couple seasons of my life when I had the sense of being in that little craft in a very stormy sea, just overwhelmed by life. I think of a time when a very close friend and the founder of our ministry went home to be with the Lord as the result of a brain tumor in his forties. I had walked with that family, had served with that family for many years in ministry together. We had walked through the months of that illness that ultimately claimed his life.

Very early in the morning the day that he finally died, I was with some friends (other staff in our ministry). I remember as we were riding home from that hospital, we sat in the car (finally stopped), and sat in the car together and just . . . I felt this wave upon wave of grief just overwhelming me. I can remember just sobbing. I mean sobbing just uncontrollably, just this sense of the waves that had been months of waiting and not knowing what was happening. We were physically and emotionally tired, but there was just a sense of the sea is coming into my boat and it’s taking it over.

Now, I want to have us look today into these psalms and see how David responded to that sense of drought and drowning. There are two natural responses we’re going to look at today and then later in this series, we’ll see the supernatural responses and the choices David made to respond God’s way. But there were two natural responses that we all have in seasons of drought or drowning or where we think we’re drowning. These responses are natural not only to the Psalmist, but to us.

First, we see that there was the response of depression. Depression. His soul is cast down. You see that in verse 5, in verse 6, in verse 11, and then in the last verse of chapter 43 as well, where he says, “My soul is cast down.” The marginal reading there in my Bible says, “literally bowed down.” You just see a man who’s got the weight of the world on his shoulders—or so he thinks.

But it’s not just his shoulders. It’s one thing to carry a heavy load on your back. It’s another thing to feel that your soul is carrying a load that is just too great. I think one of the most common things I sense among women today is that their soul is cast down. Their spirit is heavy. They’re bowed down. They’re weighed down.

Here’s a man who is discouraged. He’s depressed. And you see in these psalms a number of the symptoms of depression. He’s emotionally distraught. He can’t sleep at night. There’s a loss of appetite. The cloud just won’t lift. Some of you know exactly what that’s like. You relate when the Psalmist says in verse 3, “My tears have been my food day and night.” “I just can’t stop crying. I mean, life is just too heavy; it’s weighing me down.”

He’s really ultimately grieving the loss of communion and intimate fellowship with God. There’s a lot happening in his life. In tomorrow’s session we’ll see what some of those things were that were going on in his life, but ultimately what he’s really missing deep in his heart is a connectedness to God, intimacy, communion with God. So there’s this depression.

Then there’s a struggle with doubt. That’s another natural response to times of drought and times of feeling that we’re drowning. And that’s to doubt—to doubt ourselves, to doubt God, to doubt others, to doubt everything that we maybe were so sure of. I can remember after one major season of loss and grief in my own life, there was a period where I honestly doubted almost everything that I had been so sure of in relation to my faith since I was a little girl. All of sudden, it felt like it was all up in the air—all up for grabs.

And the Psalmist says to himself in verse 5, “Why are you cast down, O my soul?” That’s the depression. Then he says, “Why are you disquieted within me?” He speaks to his soul, “Why are you disquieted within me?” That’s the doubt. That word disquieted . . . One commentator says you could say that word is “tumultuated.” Now that’s not an everyday word we would used, but you get the picture. “Why are you tumultuated within me?” It pictures the tossing, the turning of this tempestuous sea and the surging waves, not only outside his life, but even harder within his heart.

You know what I mean when I talk about that surging of the sea within your heart? That sense of being disquieted? That feeling that the storm is not only raging outside me, but it’s raging inside my heart? You begin to doubt with these roller coaster emotions in the midst of the stormy sea. He’s plagued with questions, with doubts.

In between these two psalms—Psalms 42 and 43—there are thirteen questions. Ten of them are the question, “Why?” He asks himself; he asks God. Why? There are many unresolved questions in his mind—things that don’t make sense. You know why? Because he’s down on this little ocean in this little boat. He can’t see the big picture.

All he sees are the waves and the water pouring in his boat. He can’t see what God sees, and that’s how he’s going to encourage and counsel his heart as we move into this psalm—by getting out of his own perspective and getting into a little bit of God’s perspective.

Apart from that perspective that comes from God, he’s experiencing depression and doubt. Now, humanly speaking, this man has good reason to be depressed and to doubt. There’s a lot going on around him that really is stormy and troubling. Humanly speaking, some of you have a lot of reason, either now or a season of past times in your life, to be overwhelmed, to feel depressed, to doubt.

Let’s talk about what some of those reasons are that surface in this psalm. The first one is that he has found himself in a place where he has been removed from the place of worship and from the people of God. He’s far away from the place that he’s been accustomed to worship and from the people with whom he’s enjoyed fellowship in the past.

The Psalmist (probably David) is far removed from the place where he always used to go to worship God: Jerusalem. Now he’s living, according to verse 6, in the northern part of Palestine. There’s some references there. He says, “I will remember You from the land of the Jordan, and from the heights of Hermon, from the Hill Mizar.”

These are places that are in the northern part of Palestine. Now, where is Jerusalem? It’s in the southern part of Palestine, isn’t it? For some reason, he’s had to leave and he’s not able to make the pilgrimage to the house of the Lord. He’s been forced to leave the place where he was accustomed to meeting with God, and he’s not able to be with other believers who worship God.

If the Psalmist was David, we know this could have been in a season of his life when he was driven away from his home, either by King Saul’s persecutions or by his son Absalom’s rebellion, when he had to leave the palace in Jerusalem. As a result, he’s cut off from worship. He’s banished from the house of God. He’s missing the Ark of the Covenant, the token, the symbol of God’s presence.

He’s struggling with how to maintain an intimate relationship with God when there are no visible means of support. How to have a close walk with God when he’s cut off from the visible means of fellowship and encouragement that he received spiritually from being at the house of the Lord in times past.

It’s my missionary friend saying, “I’m out here on this mission field. I know I’m here because God put me here, but it’s lonely.” This gal comes from a strong evangelical church where there’s lots of fellowship and great teaching of the Word, and now she’s in a place where she has very little of that.

We’re accustomed to having our church, our fellowship, our small groups, and I wonder sometimes if we take those for granted—the privilege that it is for most of us to have around us a means of support for our faith. We do experience times when some of that is taken away. Then we are challenged in our faith.

Maybe you work in a place that’s a really ungodly environment; and when you’re there, you feel like you are just totally separated from all means of grace. You think, How do I stay connected to God in this environment where people swear, where there’s filthy language, where they just have no fear of the Lord? It’s hard.

Maybe you come from an unsaved family, and there are no believers in your family and you go home to family gatherings and you feel so cut off. You say, "How do I spend holidays with this family that has no concept of spiritual things and still try to keep a close relationship with the Lord myself?" Maybe you’re at a season of life where you’re in your home with a lot of little children, and you feel cut off. There are days when you think, If I could just talk with a grownup—just have some meaningful conversation. For you there is a season of life where isn't much of that.

It may be due to a physical illness. Maybe you've had a season of being hospitalized or are home-bound. There just wasn't a lot means of spiritual support available to you at that time.

You may be new to this area, as I was not too long ago. I found myself feeling at times kind of high and dry. I knew God had put me here. God allowed me to quickly plug into a church that's been such a blessing. But there were times that I just felt like, I don't know anybody. I feel alone. I haven't connected yet and established relationships. At the time I was feeling this.

You've been there. Who's there to support my faith? Who's here to encourage me in my walk with the Lord? You may have been here for a long time but some of the friends you look to for spiritual encouragement have moved away, or they have died and there is not the closeness you once had.

Matthew Henry says that,

Sometimes God teaches us effectually to know the worth of mercies by the want or the lack of them, and He whets our appetite for the means of grace by cutting us short in those means. We’re apt to loathe that manna when we have plenty of it, which will be very precious to us if ever we come to know the scarcity of it.

You know, it’s actually a mercy of God—perhaps a severe mercy—that He does allow us to move into times where we are removed from visible means of support for our faith because, once again, that may be the time and the place when we discover the nearness and the presence and the reality of our heavenly Father in a way we did not realize to that same extent when we had so many other props and crutches and helps around us.

So if you find yourself in that kind of situation, feeling that you’re alone, that there’s no means of support for your faith, or not as much as you would like, know that God is wanting to do a work of grace in your heart. Again, we come back to the refrain of this passage. “Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance.”

Let's pray. Thank You, thank You, Father, for loving us enough to push us out of our comfortable nests; to push us out into those stormy seas at time, and to put us in a place where we are more keenly aware of how empty we are apart from You and how great is our need for You.

Lord, I just want to give You thanks that in every season of my life—when I felt distressed, depressed, in doubt, as if I were drowning . . . I look back at over fifty years of walking with You in some of those seasons and I can see that every single time You revealed Yourself and Your heart and Your ways to me in a precious and life-giving and life-changing way.

So why do I fear? Why do I dread being out on that sea, feeling so alone at times? Oh Lord, the nearness of God is my greatest good. We give You thanks that Your presence is very real—even when all other visible means of support is taken away. You are God. You are near. So we hope in You. By faith we will say we will praise You for the help of Your countenance. We pray in Jesus' name, amen.

Leslie: I think everyone goes through times like that—when we feel alone and depressed. Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has been taking us through Psalm 42 and 43 to help us know how to handle those moments. This series is called “Dealing with Depression and Doubt.”

These Psalms compare the rough seasons of life to a surging sea. When I feel that way, I need a reminder to trust in the Lord, wait on Him, and to be still. Memorizing and meditating on Scripture is an excellent way to let the truth sink deep into your heart.

And of course, we need to also prepare the next generation for the storms they’re going to face. So we are really excited to partner with the National Bible Bee. This is an organization Nancy really believes in.

As you may know, once a year young people come to a national contest to compete at the National Bible Bee in front of cameras. But there’s way more going on than what you see on stage. The groundwork for the National Bible Bee begins now.

Families across the country are signing up to study and memorize God’s Word together. Some of them will go on to quiz nationally, but most will benefit just from spending time together, getting God’s Word into their hearts. Now is the time to sign up for the summer study. You’ll get an eight-week Discovery Journal to help you know the Bible like never before.

And when you sign up now, we’d like to send you a discount code. Revive Our Hearts listeners get 10% off the Discovery Journal. Just use the code ROH19 when you sign up. That code is ROH19. You can come to our site, ReviveOurHearts.com, for a link to the National Bible Bee.

Does it ever feel like God is far away? Nancy will help you understand a little bit of what’s going on during those times and help you know how to handle them. That’s on tomorrow’s program. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is helping you experience communion with God. It's an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the NKJV.

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