By Day and By Night: Hope for the Downcast Soul

Maybe it was an over-full schedule, jammed with writing and speaking and jet-lag.

Maybe it was an over-long winter, the kind that won’t go away, like when you hit Unsubscribe but it doesn’t.

Or maybe it was just…me.

Whatever the reason, I found myself confiding in my friend Beth, when she asked how I was. “Meh,” I said, “I am tired. A little discouraged. Maybe even depressed–although I don’t have a good reason why.”

Beth and I were in party-prep mode (she was hosting; I was speaking; 50 guests were about to arrive), and we didn’t have time to go deep. But that was okay. Beth said she’d pray–and then pointed me to Psalm 42.

Which I looked up, later that night.

One of the things I love about the psalms is how raw and honest they are. It’s like the writer doesn’t know or care that his words will still be read in 3,000-plus years; he just puts it out there: Joy, fear, sadness, exultation, despair. Everything–every thought, question, or doubt–is fair game.

And if you’ve ever had a case of the blues (and who hasn’t?), you’ll appreciate what Psalm 42 asks:  Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?

As I sat there reading the psalm (click here to see the whole thing), I sympathized with the writer–his thirsting for God, his weeping at night, his remembering the good old days when he used to be one of the Joyful Praise People–and I kept coming back to one thought. The entire psalm is one big admonition to “put your hope in the Lord”…but what, exactly, does that look like? Like, how do you do that?

I decided to ask God.

I’m a gal who likes a plan, and if I was going to “put my hope in God,” I wanted some action steps. And (as so often happens, when you sit there with God’s Word in your lap), a verse just sort of jumped off the page:

By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me—a prayer to the God of my life. (Psalm 42:8)

Looking at those words, I remembered what our tour guide told us in Israel (and sorry if you thought I was done with the Holy Land stuff; the nuggets might pop up now and then). They said that to the Greeks (and to most Western thinkers), the word “Torah” means Law. But that’s not, actually, how the Hebrews see it. To the Hebraic mind, “Torah” means direction, instruction, and guidance.

It means Love…and it flows out of God’s Word.

Alrighty then. My Daytime Plan for putting hope in God would be to let myself be directed by his love. I resolved afresh to start each morning tapping into the Bible, letting its wisdom shape my thoughts, words and deeds. That felt do-able.

But what about the night?

Nights can be tricky. Your defenses are down, and things like worry and fear seem to thrive in the dark. Lies, too–the kind that say You can’t do it. You blew it. You stink. What’s the strategy there? How do you fight back against those nasty things?

Back to verse 8.

At night his song is with me—a prayer to the God of my life.

I read that verse again. And again. And I felt like God said: “At night, your strategy is to let me sing over you. When you wake up in the dark, or if you can’t sleep, find joy there, knowing that I take delight in you, and that I am singing.”

Which is, of course, God quoting himself. Zephaniah tells us that God is with us–and that he sings over us, with joy. It’s a passage I’ve marked up time and again in my Bible:

I love the Zephaniah promise. And I love it that Psalm 42:8 calls God’s song a prayer. The psalmist says it is “a prayer for my life.” In other words, when God sings over us, he is praying. Is that not just so cool????

Okay. If you can’t tell, I’m not all that downcast anymore. Because it’s been nearly two weeks since I read Psalm 42, and even though I wake up almost every night (yes, I am OLD), now I do so with joy. Because I wake up…and I picture God singing.

Over me. Over you. Over us.

What joy!

Heavenly Father,

When ____ feels downcast (or even, as the psalm says, “forgotten by” you), would you please remind _____ of your love? Let us trust you by day, looking to your word for direction. And at night, may you quiet us with your love, singing your prayer-song to our hearts. (Psalm 42:8 and Zephaniah 3:17)


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