When My Soul Feels Bleh

“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. My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.”  (Psa 42:5-6 ESV)

The verses above were not from my morning Scripture reading. I wouldn’t be writing this post if they had been. Because my morning reading was from Jeremiah 49-50 (following The Gospel Transformation Bible reading plan). Those chapters, full of pronouncements of judgement upon Ammon and Edom and Babylon, might be inspired but I didn’t find them very inspiring. So what do we do when our private times in God’s Word are not inspiring? Feeling “bleh” is not a new thing for Christians. Nor is it abnormal. That’s why I quoted from Psalm 42 above: it’s one of my favourite passage in which the Psalmist recognizes his soul feels bleh, or worse, despairing, and he turns back to God to fuel his joy. “My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you…”

This morning, as I struggled with feeling bleh, I was reminded of of something I had read from John Piper just a few days earlier. You see, Piper showed that we can find motivation to meditate on the Scripture when we acknowledge our desperate need for God, repenting of our sin. So, aware of my sin and my need, I sit down and open the Bible to study the words of life. Great. What then? If we leave it at that, we just end up with knowledgeable souls that still feel bleh. The next thing Piper mentioned we need to do is pray. Commune with God over what we read; meditate prayerfully on the promises we find centred in Christ throughout the Bible so that we hope in Him. But what I remembered about what I had read in Piper’s book was from the life of George Mueller, who had himself realized that Bible reading and prayer by themselves were not sufficient to cure his soul from spiritual boredom. When he discovered this, he made it his goal to have his soul “become happy in the Lord.”

Here’s the whole excerpt from John Piper’s book. The same book I quoted in my last post. The credit and source is at the bottom.

George Mueller is noteworthy for his great faith in the work of his orphanages. In his autobiography, he has a section entitled, “How to be Constantly Happy in the Lord.” He complains how for years he used to try to pray early in the morning and found that his mind wandered again and again. Then he made a discovery. He records it like this:

The point is this: I saw more clearly than ever that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was to have my soul happy in the Lord.

The first thing to be concerned about was not how much I might serve the Lord, how I might glorify the Lord; but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man might be nourished. . . Before this time my practice had been at least for ten years previously as a habitual thing to give myself to prayer after having dressed in the morning. Now I saw that the most important thing I had to do was to give myself to the reading of the word of God and to meditation on it, that thus my heart might be comforted, encouraged, warned, reproved, instructed; and that thus, while meditating, my heart might be brought into experimental communion with the Lord. I began, therefore, to meditate on the New Testament from the beginning early in the morning.

The first thing I did, after having asked in a few words the Lord’s blessing upon his precious word, was to begin to meditate on the word of God, searching as it were into every verse to get blessing out of it; not for the sake of the public ministry of the word; not for the sake of preaching on what I had meditated upon; but for the sake of obtaining food for my soul.

The result I have found to be almost invariably this, that after a very few minutes my soul has been led to confession, or to thanksgiving, or to intercession, or to supplication; so that though I did not, as it were, give myself to prayer but to meditation, yet it turned almost immediately more or less into prayer. When thus I have been for a while making confession or intercession or supplication or have given thanks, I go on to the next words or verse, turning all, as I go on, into prayer for myself or others, as the word may lead to it; but still continually keeping before me that food for my soul as the object of my meditation.

The result of this is that there is always a good deal of confession, thanksgiving, supplication, or intercession mingled with my meditation and that my inner man almost invariably is almost sensibly nourished and strengthened and that by breakfast time, with rare exceptions, I am in a peaceful if not a happy state of heart.

Now that God has taught me this point, it is as plain to me as anything that the first thing the child of God has to do morning by morning is to obtain food for the inner man. As the outward man is not fit for work for any length of time, except we take food, and as this is one of the first things we do in the morning, so it should be with the inner man. We should take food for that, as everyone must allow. Now what is the food for the inner man? Not prayer, but the word of God; and here again, not the simple reading of the word of God, so that it only passes through our minds, just as water runs through a pipe, but considering what we read, pondering over it, and applying it to our hearts.

By the blessing of God I ascribe to this mode the help and strength which I have had to pass in peace through deeper trials in various ways than I have ever had before; and after having now above forty years tried this way, I can most fully, in the fear of God, commend it. How different when the soul is refreshed and made happy early in the morning, from what it is when, without spiritual preparation, the service, the trials, and the temptations of the day come upon one!

From “The Marks of a Spiritual Leader“, by John Piper. (Desiring God, 2014.)