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?

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:

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!


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..."