When I meditate I feel discouraged
When I remember God, I moan;
when I meditate, my spirit faints. Selah
Psalm 77:3 ESVUK
When I meditate I feel discouraged. Words from the Good News Bible from the above verse, and for a lot of my time in the last 14 years also my experience. Following an accident, not my fault, I went through a difficult time in my relationship with God and particularly with other Christians, whose advice consisted of little more than victim-blaming. “You should pray more.” I was praying. I was meditating, and it brought no relief. In hindsight, I was probably depressed. If I had been advised to seek psychiatric or psychological help things could have been better, but I wasn’t given that advise, and things did not get better for a long time.
‘God knows what he is doing. Don’t be discouraged by your closed doors. If God wants a door to open you can be sure that it will open. All the forces of darkness can’t stop it.’ Is typical of the advice I got. What if God isn’t going to open a door yet? Where is the answer to that?
Things are no better when you look beyond Christianity. Buddhism has similar sayings about the benefits of meditation on the soul, it is not meant to make things worse. I have not looked in this very deeply but this shallow stuff is what searching the internet with this blog title and Buddhism brings up. Basically, they say that discouragement when meditating is because the self is deluded so we must lose the self.
The wellness answer is that if we focus on the positive then the negative will go away. Sadly Christians said this to me too. Look at that statement and consider how it relates to other things. Brexit won’t happen if we concentrate positively on the EC or We won’t remain if we think about Brexit. ‘Send some positive thoughts.’ What good is that when what is needed is positive action? This Wellness stuff, along with a lot of motivational stuff does not really help more than a brief feel-good moment.
Psalm 77, according to the introductory words is the fifth of eleven consecutive psalms written by Asaph. Asaph was one of the three top musicians in the Temple commissioned by David for when it was opened. Can you imagine a church giving the job of worship leader to someone who had written a worship song that contained the lyric, ‘When I meditate I feel discouraged,’ do you think they would get the job? I doubt it.
You can become discouraged even when things are going well. In the September 10th episode of the Channel 4 reality series Sink or Swim for Stand Up for Cancer, James ‘Arg’ Argent was doing well in the river swim when he was overtaken by disabled TV presenter Alex Brooker. Arg became disillusioned at being overtaken, and the disillusionment spread to Brooker when he saw someone who was improving as much as Arg ready to throw the towel in. Disillusionment is contagious. The pep talks to Arg were about looking back at how well he was doing, being a strong swimmer starting from nothing at all, and Arg ended the episode qualifying for the next stage, the relay swim of the English Channel.
This is what Asaph does in this psalm, he looks back at what God has done in the past, which brings no conclusion, the psalm ends with this list, but before the list Asaph asks if God has forgotten his promises, has his love ceased or forgotten to be gracious. The answer to these rhetorical questions is implied to be no. But although there is a hope for the future here the present situation is still uncertain.
I have always loved the psalms. Before the accident that disabled me, I loved the Songs of Ascents, Psalms 120–134, songs of praise for approaching the Temple. The first if these also has little hopefulness in it. The psalmist was distressed, feeling like a foreigner in his own land, like Asaph here. Being a Christian on Earth is like being a stranger in a strange land. We are citizens of Heaven living in exile waiting to go back to our homeland.
The difference between the Songs of Ascents and the psalms of Asaph is that the Songs of Ascents look forward to a future, in the short term worship at the Temple in Jerusalem and long term being with God forever. Asaph, on the other hand, is not looking forward but telling it like it is for him now. The Songs of Ascents are aspirational, Asaph’s psalms are about what he is going through. In the book of Psalms, there is room for both these views of worship.
It is not about feel-good sayings, it is not about losing ourselves, it is about finding God in a place that is not our own. We are on a journey from a place where we do not belong. Along the journey, things can be hard for us and the end whilst inevitable may not yet be in sight. We travel through dark places, some of them very dark, when the going is very hard prayer and meditation can be really difficult, and this is not our fault. We need to find where God is in dark places and worship him there. We need more worship leaders like Asaph.