For years, I’ve read through the book of Psalms every month. It got so that the day of the month became synonymous with me for the first few words of, or a verse from, a corresponding Psalm.
But this year, wanting to mix up my reading a bit, I took a break from Psalms for a few months. It’s hard, though, to leave such a well of worship, so I’m back to reading through Psalms monthly. (I’ve include the schedule I use at the bottom of this post.)
As I reentered the daily intake of Psalms, what surprised me anew was the intensity of David’s emotions. Whether it was in his longings for God, adoration of God, cries of fear, resolve to praise, or any other expression of his heart, he articulated them with acute intensity.
And where it surprised me first, was in Psalms 42–43.
You are probably familiar already with a few verses from these Psalms. We often quote these either as delightful expressions of hunger for God or joy in Him:
As the hart panteth after the water brooks,
so panteth my soul after thee, O God.—42:1
Yet the Lord will command his lovingkindness in the daytime,
and in the night his song shall be with me,
and my prayer unto the God of my life.—42:8
O send out thy light and thy truth: let them lead me…
Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy:
yea, upon the harp will I praise thee, O God my God.—43:3–4
But what you may not be as familiar with, is that verse 1—for which we have the song beginning with the phrase, “As the deer panteth for the water, so my soul longeth after thee”—is followed by cries of desperation in verses 2–…well, the rest of the psalm:
My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God:
when shall I come and appear before God?
My tears have been my meat day and night,
while they continually say unto me, Where is thy God?
When I remember these things, I pour out my soul in me:—42:2–4
It’s just not always quite as idealic to thirst for God as we picture.
Sometimes the emotions that accompany our thirst for God are messier than we imagine.
I don’t want to present a Bible study or exegesis of Psalms 42–43 here. (I’d direct you to The Treasury of David by Spurgeon for that.) But I would like to share six observations I jotted down as I read these chapters—when my own heart felt similarly thirsty:
- It is possible to have a spiritual thirst and unruly emotions at the same time. If you ask God to give you a hunger for Him, be prepared that there may be some unexpected intensity of emotion attached to that. And if your emotions feel crazy, don’t assume it is because your thirst is empty.
- Unruly emotions are not usually brought in line with a single decision. Sometimes we have to preach the truth to ourselves repeatedly. David knew that what he felt didn’t correspond with what he knew to be true about God, thus he counseled his heart, “Hope thou in God, for I shall yet praise Him!” You can hear the resolve in his words. But his emotions didn’t immediately fall in line. He repeated his self-counsel three times in these two chapters.
- It is possible to truly believe truth while feeling different than you would expect. David’s heart was sincerely hungering after God, but he wasn’t feeling the joy. He had no sense of God’s presence and missed seeing God’s power. Although he believed that God’s lovingkindness was in action and that God could give songs in the night, he couldn’t see or feel any of it.
- God is honored when we bring our raw emotions to Him. I don’t know what David’s conversations to others were like at this time in his life. But God has given us a glimpse of what David’s conversations to God were like. David didn’t pretend he understood what he didn’t or hesitate to bring his painful emotional disconnect to God in prayer.
- Praise doesn’t always immediately change your emotions. I think it is simplistic to suggest that every time a psalmist began to praise God it changed how he felt. (I’m not suggesting that this was never the case, just that it wasn’t always.) Remember, it was three times in these chapters that David asked himself, “Why art thou cast down?” and urged himself, “I will yet praise Him.” And the final time was at the end of Psalm 43. Did David feel differently at the end than he had in 42:5 or 42:11? I don’t think we can know that he did—and that’s okay. What if our goal wasn’t to feel better but to discover more of God? That leads us to…
- God is still worthy of our praise. One of the awesome byproducts of praise is how, by focusing our hearts on God, it often lifts our spirits. But the goal of God-centered praise isn’t to make us feel better. It is to express the truth of who God is independent of our feelings. (Would Paul and Silas’ prison praise in Acts 16 have been “wasted” if God had not released them with an earthquake? Neither is yours when praise doesn’t immediately bring deliverance.) We don’t use praise as a way to manipulate God or wrestle our feelings; we use it as an expression of thanks for the unchanging goodness and grace of our God because He is worthy.
Although I enjoy the song, “As the Deer,” I find humor in the fact that it pulls the opening phrase of this psalm to build a song expressing extreme delight in God…when David used the opening phrase of this psalm as a starting place to express extreme desperation for God.
Could David have known as he penned these inspired words what tremendous truths he was relaying even in his cries of anguish? I don’t know.
But I do know that you and I can remember that God’s truth is truth—regardless of how we feel. We can anchor our hearts to it. And when our emotions don’t immediately sense the strength of that anchor, we can tie the knot a little tighter as we again bring our heart back to a decision to praise our God.
Why art thou cast down, O my soul?
and why art thou disquieted within me?
hope in God: for I shall yet praise him,
who is the health of my countenance, and my God.—43:5
Schedule for Reading through Psalms Every Month
There are 150 chapters in Psalms and 30 days in most months. Thus, if you read 5 chapters each day, you’ll read through the entire book in a month.
The basic idea of the schedule I follow (which was shared with me by others) is that if you divide the 150 Psalms into 5 “books” and read one chapter from each book each day, you read through all the chapters in a month.
To calculate your reading, simply begin with the day of the month, and add the number 30 four times.
So for instance, if today is the 28th, you would read:
Psalm 28 [+30], Psalm 58 [+30], Psalm 88 [+30], Psalm 118 [+30], Psalm 148
If it is easier for you to have a pre-typed list, here you go:
- Psalm 1, 31, 61, 91, 121
- Psalm 2, 32, 62, 92, 122
- Psalm 3, 33, 63, 93, 123
- Psalm 4, 34, 64, 94, 124
- Psalm 5, 35, 65, 95, 125
- Psalm 6, 36, 66, 96, 126
- Psalm 7, 37, 67, 97, 127
- Psalm 8, 38, 68, 98, 128
- Psalm 9, 39, 69, 99, 129
- Psalm 10, 40, 70, 100, 130
- Psalm 11, 41, 71, 101, 131
- Psalm 12, 42, 72, 102, 132
- Psalm 13, 43, 73, 103, 133
- Psalm 14, 44, 74, 104, 134
- Psalm 15, 45, 75, 105, 135
- Psalm 16, 46, 76, 106, 136
- Psalm 17, 47, 77, 107, 137
- Psalm 18, 48, 78, 108, 138
- Psalm 19, 49, 79, 109, 139
- Psalm 20, 50, 80, 110, 140
- Psalm 21, 51, 81, 111, 141
- Psalm 22, 52, 82, 112, 142
- Psalm 23, 53, 83, 113, 143
- Psalm 24, 54, 84, 114, 144
- Psalm 25, 55, 85, 115, 145
- Psalm 26, 56, 86, 116, 146
- Psalm 27, 57, 87, 117, 147
- Psalm 28, 58, 88, 118, 148
- Psalm 29, 59, 89, 119,* 149
- Psalm 30, 60, 90, 120, 150
*I generally save Psalm 119 to read on the 31st of a month.