Is it Well with Your Soul?: Psalm 63

The Psalter has been likened to a spiritual cardiograph. it provides a means for checking our spiritual healthy. The more at home I am with the psalms as they reflect the full range of human reactions and emotions, the fitter I am likely to be. I must be very concerned for what is in my head, namely truth, but also for what is in my heart. The old and rather sentimental hymn “When peace like a river attendeth my way” ends each chorus with the words “It is well, it is well, with my soul.” St Chrysostom used to read Psalm 63 every day saying “it enflames our souls with a mighty power of devotion”: so a study of it provides a good test for an answer to the question “Is it well with my soul?”

The writer is a king (v.11). He is away from home in a weary land (v.1) and he longs to be back in the sanctuary. His enemies seek his life (v.9) but he is confident in their overthrow and rejoices in God. it could fit the time of Absalom’s revolt.

1. The first mark of a healthy soul is that it thirsts for God. v.1

Many think it is the non-Christian who is seeking God. That elevates man and is derogatory to God, as though He was playing hard to get, a sort of spiritual hide-and-seek. On the contrary the natural man is hiding from God who comes looking for us. The language of seeking after and thirsting for God is used of the believer (Psalm 27:4, 143:6, Philippians 3:8). This is not the groping of a stranger but the eagerness of a friend or lover who is deeply restless without God. Or perhaps the feeling of an engaged couple counting the days. I guess that this is a million miles from what most of us feel. We have lost that thirst, that appetite for God. We may still be religious, but are we panting for Him? If we are clergy, our task is to create that appetite in others. We are to rekindle their thirst, to spread the dish so that they begin to salivate for God.

2. The second mark of a healthy soul is that it is satisfied v.5

There is no contradiction with v.1 and this proves to be the melodic line of the psalm. Verses 3, 4, 5, 7 and 8 are full of praise and thanksgiving, revealing a deep note of satisfaction.

So the healthy soul sings in the desert, in prison, in the hospital ward, at the job centre, in old age, with a dwindling congregation or a near-empty church. David is in the wilderness (vs.9-11), not in the cloistered existence of a church weekend, Spring Harvest or Walsingham, but in the real world of rejection, misunderstanding, dashed hopes, unrealised dreams, the parting of friends, family tensions, Absalom’s betrayal… and mercy (v.3). His heart if very grateful, supremely for God’s covenant mercy (v.3) My old vicar used to say “Dead is the soul that has ceased to be amazed with wonder at the love of God as seen at Calvary.”

3. The third mark of a healthy soul is that it clings to God v.8

This is a very special verse. David has found a good occupation for the watchful hours of night when sleep fails, v.6. Charles Wesley reflects this when he sings “Hangs my helpless soul on Thee, still support and comfort me.” The fundamental sin is a declaration of independence. Attempting to do what the Prodigal Son and his elder brother tried to do, namely to enjoy the Father’s gifts without the Father, thinking and acting as though He was irrelevant and we could get on without Him. The sure sign of a healthy soul is continuing clinging and dependence on Him. It is essentially a mind-set, an attitude that can’t be measured in hours, but will be reflected in our prayer life. It is Jacob saying “I will not let you go unless You bless me.” Or the hymn writer singing “I cannot do without You, O Saviour of the lost.”

Is it well with your soul?

Jonathan Fletcher is a minister in the leadership team at Emmanuel, Wimbledon.