Beliefnet
Mark D. Roberts

Riding the Roller Coaster of Genuine Faith

Why am I discouraged?
     Why is my heart so sad?
I will put my hope in God!
     I will praise him again–
     my Savior and my God!

I am a roller coaster fan. Ever since, as a four-year-old boy, I first
went on the Matterhorn at Disneyland, I have loved the feeling of flying
around in controlled chaos, rising and dipping, being flung to the left
and then to the right. Give me a big drop and my face will glow with
delight. (I must admit, however, that I did feel rather queasy on the
High Roller in Las Vegas. It was perched atop the 900-foot high tower of
the Stratosphere Hotel. That was a little more height than I needed!)

Genuine faith in God can be like a roller coaster sometimes. We see
this in Psalm 42. It begins the extreme longing for God, as a deer longs
for water (42:1). Then the psalm moves into lamentation, confessing
that the only water the psalmist has tasted is his own tears (42:3). His
heart breaks as he remembers his former joy in the Lord, a joy that has
turned to sorrow (42:4).

At this point, the psalmist pauses to speak to his own soul: “Why am I
discouraged? Why is my heart so sad?” Then he exhorts himself: “Hope in
God!” (following the original Hebrew of 42:5). In a moment of genuine
hopefulness, he adds, ” I will praise him again – my Savior and my God!”
(42:5-6).

But this optimistic moment fades, as the psalm writer once again
laments, “Now I am deeply discouraged” (42:6). Yet as he remembers the
Lord, the psalmist affirms: “But each day the LORD pours his unfailing
love upon me” (42:8). Does this mean it’s time for celebration? Hardly.
Rather, the profession of God’s love leads to further complaint, “O God
my rock . . . Why have you forgotten me?” (42:9).

Finally, Psalm 42 ends by repeating the refrain sung earlier in verse
5: “Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in
God! I will praise him again – my Savior and my God!” (42:11).

You’ve just ridden the roller coaster of genuine faith: from longing to
lament to sorrow, from sorrow to hope and praise, then to
discouragement and a recognition of God’s love, back to lament,
finishing with hope and praise. And all of this in only eleven verses!

When I read Psalm 42, I am encouraged by the utter reality of the
psalmist’s faith. There is no pretending here, only open authenticity, a
testimony to faith hangs on to the Lord in the twists and turns of a
living relationship with him.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Does your
relationship with God every feel like a roller coaster? Why do you think
faith can be like this? What helps you to hang on to the Lord in times
of lament and doubt? What helps you to have hope in God?

PRAYER:  Dear Lord, how thankful I am for the
authenticity of this psalm. The honesty of the psalm writer encourages
me when I struggle in my relationship with you. It reminds me that faith
is not a static thing, but a living encounter with the living God.

Thank you, Lord, for keeping me safe as I ride the roller coaster of
genuine faith. Without your grace, I would truly run off the rails. But
you are with me always, watching me, holding me, helping me.

Psalm 42 doesn’t pretend that faith in you is all smiles, Lord. Yet it
doesn’t get stuck in the muck of despair, either. Help me to pray like
this, to cry out to you honestly when I am in despair, and to confess
your faithfulness.

Today, Lord, may I put my hope in you. May I praise you in word and
deed, remembering that you are my Savior and my God! I pray in the name
of Jesus, Amen.

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Here’s how . . . . This devotional comes from The High Calling: Everyday Conversations about Work, Life, and God (www.thehighcalling.org). You can read my Daily Reflections there, or sign up to have them sent to your email inbox each day. This website contains lots of encouragement for people who are trying to live out their faith in the workplace. The High Calling is associated with Laity Lodge, where I work.

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