The older I get the more I find I talk to myself. A while back, I was carrying in groceries with my wife. I was heading through the door as she was returning to the car for another load. She must have noticed my lips moving, all I recall is her abruptly asking, “Are you talking to yourself?” Feeling that there was no way of denying what was extremely clear, I nodded a “Yes” and kept walking. Evidently I’ve become so prone to talking to myself, I sometimes do not realize I am even doing it. Can you relate? If not, please don’t encourage my wife to have me committed. I’m finding I’m never in a better place in life than when I’m speaking to myself, and I’m not alone. Let me show you in scripture so you’ll stop thinking I’m off my rocker, and perhaps one day you will join me.
God recently directed me back to the Psalms. As a worship Pastor, I’m never far from the collection that David put together, but it had been a while since I’d read the book in it’s entirety. When I say “God directed me,” I mean to say I stumbled across a new leather bound printing of the ESV book of Psalms on its own. As my lifelong best friend and fellow worship leader said, though condescendingly, “Sounds like a Worship Pastor’s perfect bible.” Sometimes we wait for God to part the heavens and deliver a message, all while he has something in plain view He is desperately trying to draw our attention to. Little did I know that a week after picking up this copy of the Psalms, me and my congregation would go through a tremendous tragedy. We would soon need David’s collection to remind us of why we worship.
The Psalms are a beautiful collection, filled with beauty, fear, anger, delight, hope, turmoil, confusion, tragedy, and redemption. If it is a human emotion, you can more than likely find a song written or collected by David to speak to where you are. We find David on the top of the mountain in certain songs, while finding him in the darkest nights of the soul at others. Most of our congregational worship songs only reflect one of the many elements of the Psalms, and while I feel that most Sunday worship gatherings should be filled with songs of Hope, Love, and Joy, I feel we do a disservice as “people of the book,” not to dive into everything that David has collected in our daily readings. After all, if there is no night, there can be no morning, and thanks to that 90’s classic worship song, we all know, “Joy comes in the morning.”
David found himself as we do in some pretty dark moments, it is in these moments where I think it’s the most important for us to learn to talk to ourselves. Prayer, as in you talking to God, is paramount, but sometimes God has said all he is going to say on a matter, and it’s time for us to “speak into ourselves.” Do you still think I’m crazy, let’s look at Psalms 43. This section of Psalms was written by the Son’s of Korah and collected by David, this particular Psalm begins with a cry, almost a demand, for help from God.
“Vindicate me, O God and defend my cause
against an ungodly people,
from the deceitful and unjust man
For you are the God in whom I take refuge;
why have you rejected me?
Why do I go about mourning
because of the oppression of the enemy?
Send out your light and your truth;
Let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy hill
and to your dwelling!”
Psalms 43:1-3 (ESV)
The desperation and agony are palpable. We have moments where we can all relate to the overwhelming cry of desperation we find in these verses. There is an insistence for God to do something. The verse that follows takes this demand a step further, like we tend to do, by placing a “then” at the beginning of the next sentence. “If you (insert prayer request), I will (insert a Christian principle we neglect), or, “God if you do this for me, then I will finally do my part.” Who hasn’t prayed a prayer like that before?
“THEN (and only 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.”
Psalms 43:4 (ESV, emphasis added)
We make deals with each other all of the time. I tell my children “if” they clean their play room up, “then” I’ll take them to get a treat. I tell my wife “if” she goes with me to see a movie she doesn’t care to see, “then” I will take her wherever she wants to eat for dinner. We even broker deals with friends or co-workers, “if” you don’t tell my boss that I was late, “then” I won’t have to tell them about the day you left early. This kind of “let’s make a deal” mentality seems to come natural to us. However, a side from a few extreme moments in scripture, this is not the way God wills us to interact with him.
I often find it very intriguing how different a passage of scripture can seem when you take it out of context. We have short attention spans, so we typically like to end where our modern versions break the text with a new heading. Other times we stop where a chapter number was inserted long after a passage was written. When we read Paul’s letters it would benefit us to read the entire text as a single letter, after all this was how it was intended to be read. Sometimes we like to stop reading where it seems best in our minds to end a passage so we can take what we want away from the passage.
The last instance could be very damaging to our reading of scripture, we don’t get to choose where the text ends. As one preacher put it, “I’m just the messenger; I have to give you what’s in the message.” If we were to stop at verse 4, we would leave this Psalm with the feeling that it was encouraging us to make deals of this nature with God. We would think it perfectly find to demand like a child that God answer our request or we will refuse to worship Him in return. Thank God, for us all that the passage doesn’t end there.
There is nothing in the text to imply that God did anything in response to the prayer before the final verse was written. The first three verses plead with God, the fourth attempts to make a deal with God, then the fifth and final verse appears, and we find this Son of Korah turn the conversation inward. Yes, he begins to talk to himself, as we all should. Verse five reads:
“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.”
Psalms 43:5 (ESV, emphasis added)
Do you see what he did there?
Now I believe in prayer, I’ve seen first hand evidence that prayer changes things. The more we speak to God, spending time drawing near to Him, the more he speaks to us, the more we become like Him. So by no means do I want to downplay our time praying, even pleading, with God. But, I have to say; sometimes we need to learn to stop talking to Him, just long enough to say a few words to ourselves.
It is like the author of this Psalms finally comes to his senses after an intense prayer, and realizes that the answer to prayer has already come, he just needs to remind himself. He spent three verses telling God just how bad his circumstances were, then he realizes that things aren’t as bad as they seem. Why? Because the God he is crying out to is right there with him.
It might do us all some good from time to time to remind ourselves that God is still with us, so no matter how bad things seem, they aren’t as bad as they could be without Him. “Why are you so depressed?” we can ask ourselves, try it, say the words out loud if you need too, I sure do.
“Hope in God!”
Hope is a powerful thing we should remind ourselves to do when we feel low. After all:
“Hope deferred makes the heart grow sick.” (Proverbs 13:12)
David takes this author’s meaning to heart when he later penned a Psalm of his own, talking to himself like I so often do. We sing it often in our congregations without realizing what we are even doing. We are collectively talking to ourselves when we sing the heart of Psalms 103 in the line “Bless the Lord O My Soul.” You get that it is us speaking to our souls in that decree.
“Bless the Lord O my soul,
and all that is within me
Bless His Holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not ALL HIS BENEFITS!
Who forgives ALL your inquity,
who heals ALL your diseases.
Who redeems your life from the pit.
Who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy.”
Psalms 103:1-4 (ESV, emphasis added)
So let us all learn to follow in the footsteps of the Son’s of Korah, in the Psalmist David himself, and start talking to ourselves. When we are low, know that God is near, and if we are throwing ourselves a little pity party, maybe a little pep talk like these Psalms can open our souls to see, if God is with us, it isn’t all that bad. That if we hope in Christ, he will come through for us, and that should give us reason to worship, even before He does a single thing.
Grace and Peace to you.