When your soul is in turmoil, it's hard to see clearly. Fear, anger, sorrow, and despair can distort your perception of reality. It's hard to keep things in perspective. They can actually magnify your troubles.
Often, when you're feeling overwhelmed, what you need is somebody to take you by the shoulders, look you square in the eye, and speak some sense to you. Sometimes that somebody is you.
I get this from the Bible. Listen to the psalmist talk to himself: "Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God" (Ps. 43:5).
This was a man in trouble. He felt threatened and overwhelmed. And in the first part of the psalm, he was doing exactly the right thing by pouring out his soul in prayer to God. But then he stopped praying and spoke directly to his soul.
God is very intentional about what He includes in the Bible. So, when God includes this kind of soultalk in the inspired hymnal for the ages, we're supposed to notice. God clearly intends us to speak to our souls. So, we need to understand why this is important.
When the psalmists talk to themselves, what are they doing? In every instance, whether in desperation or celebration, they are reminding themselves that their hope is in God. Why? Because in a world of tribulation (John 16:33), hope drains away, and they know how crucial it is to feed one's soul.
Hope is to our soul what energy is to our bodies. Hope is the spiritual energy generated in the soul when we believe that our future is good, even if our present is bad. Our souls must have hope to keep going, just as our bodies must have energy to keep going.
Hope is something we feel only about the future, whether it's ten minutes or ten thousand years from now. We're never hopeful about the past. We can be grateful for the past. The past can inspire or even guarantee a hopeful future for us. But all the wonderful things that have happened to us in the past will not fuel our hope if our future looks bleak. We must have hope for the future to keep going.
When we're hopeful, we can endure a lot of present adversity. Think of David when he wrote: "False witnesses have risen against me, and they breathe out violence. [Yet] I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living" (Ps. 27:12–13). But the more hopeless we feel, the more we want to hide or escape. Think of David when he wrote: "Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me. . . . Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would f ly away and be at rest" (Ps. 55:5–6).
When our bodies need energy, we give them food. But when our souls need hope, what do we feed them? We feed them promises— God's promises of "a future and a hope" (Jer. 29:11). Hopeful promises are true soul food.
That is precisely why the Bible is a book of "precious and very great promises" (2 Peter 1:4) made by a loving God who shows that He keeps His covenants. Man was not designed to "live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Matt. 4:4). So, God designed the Bible to be a storehouse of nourishing soul food for His saints.
And if promises are soul food and hope is soul energy, then faith is how the soul eats and digests. Faith is the confidence we have that God's promises are trustworthy— "the assurance of things hoped for" (Heb. 11:1). That is why "the righteous . . . live by faith" (Rom. 1:17). We must eat to live. Faith eats and digests God's promises, and this produces hope.
So, in Psalm 43, when the writer exhorts his soul to "hope in God," he's taking himself by the shoulders, so to speak, and saying: "Listen, soul. What are you afraid of? Have you forgotten the glorious future that God has promised you? Do you believe that your threatening circumstances are stronger than God? Get your eyes off of your troubles and remember the true Source of your hope. Eat, soul. Eat God's promises."
This is what you and I must do as well. When trouble comes and our souls are in turmoil, God does not want us to be passive. We must pray, yes. But sometimes we need to stop praying—stop listening to our souls recite their fears—and preach to our souls. Fear is an indicator that our souls are hungry for hope. And the only foods that will really nourish the soul are God's promises.
In Jesus, "all the promises of God find their Yes" (2 Cor. 1:20). The past graces of His death and resurrection guarantee a neverending stream of future grace for us extending into eternity.
So, eat to the glory of God. And "may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope" (Rom. 15:13).