During my sophomore year of college, I began dating the girl who has now been my wife 43 years. As summer arrived, she returned to her home in Montana. Email had not been invented, and long-distance phone calls were very expensive. Hand-written love letters kept us in touch that summer.
In 2000, our daughter, who was pregnant with our first grandchild, was confined to eight weeks of bedrest prior to the birth. My wife journeyed to Wyoming and helped out for those eight weeks. Free long-distance and email helped somewhat with our being apart.
Three years ago, our daughter and her family moved to Belgium. A discount phone service, a visual link on the computer and email provided some relief to the longing we experienced in our desire to see them. Despite the advances in technological communication over this 45-year span of time, nothing really took the place of precious time spent together.
In Psalm 42 and Psalm 43, which many commentators believe actually were written as one psalm, the writer finds himself unable to worship at the temple in Jerusalem.
Because the psalmist never clarifies why he cannot worship God in the temple, we are left to speculate as to the cause. Perhaps the reason is as simple as physical distance or failing health. However, the cause could range from being considered “unclean” according to the law or from being pursued by an enemy who sought his life.
Regardless of the cause, the result is the same. His inability to worship the Lord at the temple has left the psalmist with such a longing that despair or depression has begun to settle over him. Three times he repeats the same refrain in these two psalms (Psalm 42:5; 42:11; and 43:5). Contrary to the psalmist’s acknowledgement of his depression, he provides a positive case for his faith remaining strong and intact.
1. His longing for God and desiring to worship him is as strong as a deer (or person) who has gone without water for an extreme amount of time (Psalm 42:1).
2. His mind is filled with memories of how he had worshipped in the past and of the great things God had done (Psalm 42:6).
3. His life has been turned upside down, but he still calls upon God in the midst of this crisis (Psalm 43:1).
Sign up for our weekly email newsletter.
4. His hope still is in God, and his desire is to worship God at the temple and to praise him for who he is (Psalm 43:4-5).
It would be so easy at this point to speak words that would offer the quick solution to the psalmist: “Don’t be so depressed just because you are not in Jerusalem. Don’t you know God is everywhere?”
Another psalmist by the name of David wrote: “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there” (Psalm 139:7-8).
“You can worship God anywhere. It doesn’t have to be at the church or at the temple. You can worship him on the riverbank or at the golf course” (author unknown).
As one reads these two psalms a second time, the easy-to-speak words go unheard by the psalmist because he already knows these things. The psalmist is worshipping God at his isolated location in the midst of his difficult circumstances. He is singing praise to God through the psalms he has composed. He is confessing his sin and presenting his need. He is being open and honest before God. So what is missing still that leaves him in such despair? Is it the same thing we might be missing as well?
While the psalmist is able to worship God during his isolation, his most fulfilling times of worshipping God have occurred at the temple in Jerusalem during corporate worship. In our day, it is the experience of the worship service at church. Is corporate worship really that important?
There is no doubt the writer of these psalms longs for God and desires to worship him, but the context he desires is the temple. It is at the temple he not only praises God individually but also sings his praise along with the presence of many other worshippers.
It is in the temple, surrounded by many other people, that he is reminded he shares a faith with men and women who walk a path similar to his. It is here that he has physical evidence that God has love for those who stand beside him. Here, in the temple, he hears the prayers and praise of many.
In this context, he understands suffering and joy are not his alone. Corporate worship fills a need in his relationship with God that causes him to celebrate and rejoice in the presence of God (Psalm 43:4).
Perhaps this understanding of corporate worship is one of the reasons the writer of the Book of Hebrews would send this message to his readers: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25).
As you and I approach our own worship services at our respective churches, how will the words of the psalmist cause us to consider how corporate worship can enable us to find fulfillment in our personal longing for God?