Oh my soul: Giving yourself a jolly good talking to!

 
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Jesus Plus Nothing Bible Study Commentary

Oh my soul: Giving yourself a jolly good talking to!


by I Gordon

Recently I was reading the Psalms and came across one of those 'Oh my soul' passages. You know the ones... It's a passage where the Psalmist starts talking to himself and tells himself what he should be doing. Now, I'm sure you can relate to this. There are many many times when we allow our souls to talk to us (and sometimes he or she can be a real moaner) instead of telling our souls how it will be. Simply put, there are lots of times when we just need to give ourselves a jolly good talking to! 

So reading this passage got me thinking... are there many times when the Psalmist would talk to himself? If he did, what would he say? Doing a little research I found several instances in the Psalms and wanted to explore some of these with you in this study. I hope you find it interesting and useful because it is right at the heart of where our spiritual warfare and battle comes in. Let's have a look.

A Psalmist with the blues

Let's begin with the main Psalm that references this phrase - 'O my soul'. Some believe it is a Psalm of David but that is not conclusive. What we will see is that the Psalmist is, well, down. He is struggling. So as we read through the Psalm I'll simply list the problems specified by the Psalmist and then the solutions given.

Psalms 42:1-11 For the director of music. A maskil of the Sons of Korah. As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. (2) My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? (3) My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, "Where is your God?" (4) These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng. (5) Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and (6) my God. My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon--from Mount Mizar. (7) Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me. (8) By day the LORD directs his love, at night his song is with me-- a prayer to the God of my life. (9) I say to God my Rock, "Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?" (10) My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, "Where is your God?" (11) Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

So what problems do you see the Psalmist going through?

  • Verse 1-2 'As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants for You, O God.'
    He can't find God!
    Remember how you used to sing that lovely song 'as the deer pants for the water so my soul longs after you...'? It is a song taken from this Psalm and expresses our innermost desire for God. It's a great song. But it doesn't really express what the Psalmist was feeling here. He compared himself to a deer panting for water because he cannot find God. The imagery is of a deer searching and longing for some water in the midst of a prolonged drought. It is desperate for water but the drought is severe and it is not sure where to look. That is how the Psalmist feels. Ever had such an experience?

  • Verse 3 - 'My tears have been my food day and night, While they say to me all day long, "Where is your God?" '
    He is mocked by non-believers. The Psalmist says he has been reduced to tears while those around him mock saying 'Where is your God?' I'm sure that is not the only thing they taunted him with either! Have you felt the sting of mockers? Have you heard the voices saying 'well where is your God now?' Sometimes it can be our own thoughts asking that question!

  • Verse 4 - 'I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving...'
    He keeps dwelling on the 'good ol days.' The Psalmist remembers how things used to be when he had lots of people around him, all worshipping God, going up to the house of God. Argh yes... the good ol' days. But now things seem so much different. He no longer has that support and fellowship. He is alone and those around him just like to cast doubt on the character of his God. Have you dwelt on how good things used to be but now they seem so different?

  • Verse 9-10 - 'I say to God my Rock, "Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?" My bones suffer mortal agony...'
    He feels the oppression of the enemy. The Psalmist feels oppressed. The words of the enemy are sinking deeper into his soul and it is affecting his health. He feels like the words are crushing his very bones! The old saying 'sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me' is a great little saying that just about no-one has ever found to be true in reality! The fact is that words, if we dwell on them, do hurt us. They can stay around for a long time. Maybe you have experienced this?

So all of this plays it's part in leading the Psalmist into a sad state of affairs. I'm sure you can relate to at least some of it. So what is the solution? Let's have a look...   

The turning point - Why are you downcast O my soul?

When I was a young Christian a read a book called 'Spiritual Depression' by Martyn Lloyd Jones. Now if you have heard of him you will know that he was a wonderful Pastor / Teacher and while the title of his book sounds like a bit of a 'downer' it is very very good. The first chapter in his book is devoted to this very Psalm we are looking at and I want to quote some of it now.

"The psalmist David writes, 'Why are you cast down, O my soul' (Ps 42:5) - David was sad, troubled, perplexed, disquieted, unhappy and spiritually depressed - a very common condition; obviously he felt overwhelmed within himself...  When we get depressed it is because we have 'forgotten God' - hence the psalmist says to himself, 'Hope thou in God!' (Ps 42:5)... Notice the psalmist addresses himself - 'he talks to himself,' and herein he discovers the cure.  The main problem in the whole matter of 'spiritual depression' in a sense is this - we allow our 'self' to talk to us instead of 'talking to ourself.'  Most unhappiness in life is due to the fact that we 'listen to ourselves' instead of 'talking to ourselves.'  David, in effect, says, 'Self, listen for a moment to what I have to say - why are you so cast down?'  The main art in the matter of spiritual living is to know how to handle yourself, question yourself, and preach to yourself - you must remind yourself who God is, and what God has done, and what God has promised to do - this is the essence of the treatment in a nutshell.  We must understand that this 'self' of ours - this other man within us has got to be handled; do not listen to him!  turn on him!  speak to him!  remind him of what you know!  So rather than listening to him and allowing him to drag you down and depress you - you must take control!

Note that sentence in bold above - "Most unhappiness in life is due to the fact that we "listen to ourselves" instead of "talking to ourselves". That is the key. What was it that the Psalmist did in the midst of his depression in Psalm 42? He took back control and starting talking to his soul. He began to do what Martyn Lloyd Jones says above - 'you must remind yourself who God is, and what God has done, and what God has promised to do - this is the essence of the treatment in a nutshell.'

So to list it as points, here is the solution that the Psalmist found:

  • Verse 5 - 'Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior...'
    He talks to himself and tells himself what to do! As mentioned above, instead of listening to and allowing his soul to speak to him, he talk to his soul are asks 'O my soul - why are you downcast? Hope in God again'. It is the difference between the new man and the old man being in charge of our being! There is a battle going on between the new and the old creations (you can also call it the battle between the flesh and the Spirit) within the life of the believer. And often we just have to tell the old self nature to stop it! We need to tell our self to hope in God again, to praise God again.

  • Verse 6 - 'therefore I will remember you...'
    He remembers the Lord again. In the midst of the problems the Psalmist specifically makes a conscious choice to remember God again. Remember that quote from above - ''You must remind yourself who God is, and what God has done, and what God has promised to do - this is the essence of the treatment in a nutshell.' Are you doing that in your current problems and circumstances? Very very important!

  • Verse 7 - 'Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.'
    He recognizes that the Lord is allowing the current difficulties and it is for a reason! The Psalmist says 'Deep calls unto deep... all YOUR waves and breakers have swept over me.' He recognizes that the current waves he is facing have come from the Lord and therefore are for a purpose. 'Deep calls unto deep' - the deeper work of God in our lives require (and produce) deeper levels of trust and faith and are often worked in us through these deeper, larger waves that we face in life. But it is a comfort to know that God is in all of this. He will not allow His children to face more than we can bear but holds us up in this times. And they are just for a limited specific time set by the Father.

  • Verse 8 - 'By day the LORD directs his love, at night his song is with me-- a prayer to the God of my life.'
    He speaks truth! In contrast to allowing his soul take the stage and moan out all the things that are, and could possibly go wrong, the Psalmist speaks to his soul in truth. He says 'The LORD will command His lovingkindness in the daytime; And His song will be with me in the night, A prayer to the God of my life.' This is the truth! This is what the soul needs to hear!

A testimony on this...

Many of you would have heard of Joni Eareckson Tada. She is a wonderful Christian lady who has had to deal with a lot of trial and difficulty. To quote her Wikipedia page, Joni 'lived a very active life all through her growing up years. Tada enjoyed riding horses, hiking, tennis, and swimming. On July 30, 1967, she dove into the Chesapeake Bay after misjudging the shallowness of the water. She suffered a fracture between the fourth and fifth cervical levels and became a quadriplegic (or tetraplegic), paralyzed from the shoulders down. During her two years of rehabilitation, according to her autobiography Joni, she experienced anger, depression, suicidal thoughts, and religious doubts.'

Despite this incredibly difficult life changing event, Joni has gone on to be an inspiration for all who hear her story and Christian testimony. I mention her because of a quote I read where she commented on her use and application of Psalm 42. Listen to how she has to literally apply this passage in her own life as she speaks to her soul and brings it into line!

 
There are very few days when my soul does not require a good 'talking to.' On most mornings when pain encroaches, I demand my soul to come into alignment with the Holy Spirit; I order it to stand at attention and take orders from God for the day; that it rejoice in the day that's been made by its Creator; that it ascribe to a holy purpose for living; that it quit being sullen, and be hopeful in Jesus; and that it rejoice in the Lord, for therein lies its strength! Sometimes quadriplegia is just plain tiring - add to it chronic pain, and it can wear on the soul. It's why (when I deal with pain) I often pray, "Why are you downcast , O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God" (Psalm 42:11). ...join me in urging your soul to find its solace, comfort, and encouragement in Jesus Christ!
Joni Eareckson Tada

What to say to your soul? Things to remind your soul of...

There is another Psalm where the Psalmist (this time we definitely know it is David), speaks to his soul and reminds it to not forget the many blessings of God. It is another wonderful Psalm which we can learn from.

Psalms 103:1-18 Of David. Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. (2) Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits-- (3) who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, (4) who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, (5) who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's. (6) The LORD works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed. (7) He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel: (8) The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. (9) He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; (10) he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. (11) For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; (12) as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. (13) As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; (14) for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. (15) As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; (16) the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. (17) But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD's love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children's children-- (18) with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts.

So David again speaks to his soul and tells his soul some essential truth! He starts by telling his soul to praise (or bless) God. He then says to his soul 'O my soul, forget not all His benefits!' And there are many even just in these 16 verses! What problem do you currently have? See if it doesn't fall somewhere in the following list and if so, start reminding your soul of these things!

  • Verse 3 - God forgives ALL the believers sins. That alone is incredible and if that is all that God did it would be enough! There was a man who chose one word for his tombstone - "FORGIVEN". That is the ultimate testimony.

  • Verse 3 - God heals our diseases. He is Jehovah Rophi - the Lord your Healer. He looks after us and provides health for our bodies in the many different forms that that comes. And looking forward, though we live in a fallen body that is breaking down, growing weaker and will eventually die, the Lord has, through salvation, provided a new body still to come that will not experience any type of disease or weakness ever again! Amazing!

  • Verse 4 - God redeems your life from the pit. He has rescued believers from the pit of hell and He rescues his children when, in this life, they face the dangers and snares of death and the many other types of pits that exist. One day, when we are with Him, we will be amazed to see all the times He has acted to keep us, both through and from, the many pits that exist in this life.

  • Verse 4 - God crowns you with love and compassion. Oh the love of Christ! The Apostle Paul prayed specifically that believers would be able to see the vastness of that love which God has towards His own (Eph 3:16-19). He linked knowing this love to being filled with God. 

  • Verse 5 - God gives good things to His children James put it like this - 'Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.' James 1:17. Often we dwell and think of what we DO NOT HAVE. How about thinking of what you do have? It might surprise you!

  •  Verse 6 - God works righteousness and justice - God is just and righteousness. In this world, we can't count on those two but with God we always can. And His greatest act of righteousness and justice was seen at the cross! His justice was met in the death of His Son so that  we could become the righteousness of God!

  • Verse 7 - God reveals His ways to us - He has done that through His word. But also when we are struggling, praise God that He reveals truth and Himself to us in such circumstances! Thank Him for it!

  • Verse 8 - God is gracious, abounding in love -  I had someone write in recently who had been going through a very tough time with family relations. And after a long time of just praising God, this lady said that God just spoke to her, personally and clearly, and showed her how kind He was. What a revelation! One that we all need!

  • Verses 9 - 12 - God has removed our transgressions forever - God has removed the sins of those that are His, as far as the east is from the west! Think on that. How far is the east from the west? Head north long enough and you'll soon be traveling south. move east long enough and you'll never be traveling west. William MacDonald writes in The Believers Bible Commentary 'Just as "east is east, and west is west, and never the twain shall meet," so the believer and his sins will never meet. Those sins have been put out of God's sight forever by a miracle of love.'

  • Verses 13-14 - God remembers who we are - The scripture says that God is compassionate to His children, remembering that we are but dust. I am thankful for that! But we need to remember and not get elevated in our estimation of ourselves! Dr. George Gill writes: 'God remembers that we are dust. We forget it, and when dust gets stuck on itself, it is mud.' But the plus side is quite encouraging - we are but dust. We are not the strong ones, He is. We are not the ones that have got it all sorted. He does. Our praise is of Him. People blowing their own trumpet always leaves a sour note.

  • Verses 15-18 - Our life is transient. God's love and faithfulness is everlasting! If your soul still struggles to find rest in the wonderful revelation given in Psalm 103:1-14 then turn your thoughts to the days of eternity. Your current life is fleeting. Scripture says that like the flowers of the field, you sprint up and quickly fade. That in itself might not be comforting but think of what happens after! This life is just a rehearsal for the life to come. In that life, if we are in God's family, the days of our struggle are over... forever. The days of our tears are gone... forever. The days of loneliness, discouragement and despair are forever in the past... and won't even come to mind. We will be with Him who is love. We will be with Him who is joy. We will be with Him who is creativity and wonder.

Conclusion

Your soul will always be talking to you... and it's not always helpful advice! But sometimes, well quite often, you need to speak back and 'No! Listen O my soul! Forget not all the many blessing and benefits of the Lord. Look not to the darkness O my soul, but fix your gaze on the light once again.' Is that you? Do you need to give yourself a jolly good talking to? Remember the quote from Martyn Lloyd Jones "Most unhappiness in life is due to the fact that we "listen to ourselves" instead of "talking to ourselves". Are you listening or speaking to yourself?

Sometimes we listen to ourselves and then speak to God about our despair when what we need to do is listen to God and then speak to our soul about His faithfulness and blessings! May we hear and then speak saying...

"Praise the Lord O my soul, and forget not all his benefits..."