Tag Archives: despair

Tempted to despair…

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Tempted to despair…

I suppose it is pretty natural to have times when each of us is tempted to despair.  Life’s trial hurt – badly.  Sometimes the pain is so bad that we begin to lose sight of any way out of it.  We begin to wish that we might die rather than go on living – enduring – what we are facing.  

 

I have certainly felt that way, and I’ve talked with enough other people who have experienced real pain to know that I’m not alone.  In fact, I think it’s a fairly normal human experience to have at least a few of these dark valleys during our lifetimes, if not many more.

 

But what do we do when the circumstances of life seem to press in so hard that our chests ache with the heaviness of it all and there is not even a pin-point of light that gives us hope that it will soon be over?

 

We need the LIGHT of truth as desperately as we’ve ever needed it in those times, and yet, if you’re like the countless others I’ve talked with about these tunnels of darkness reading your Bible, praying, or even listening to sermons is more than your numbed mind can manage.

 

How do we cling to the things we know to be true when nothing about our experience helps us believe them?

 

I’ve been in such a time.  Recently.  As in, right now.  But I’ve been in times like this before, too.  I’ve learned a few things along the way and I’d thought I’d share them.  When my eyes are shrouded by darkness I need help to know that the light is there even though it is hidden from me.   Sometimes a friend is able to remind me of what I already know is true, and that is really and truly wonderful when it happens.  But friends are busy with their own lives and the fight against this darkness is a minute-by-minute struggle.  What then?  How do we get through in a way that glorifies God and doesn’t give in to the lies of the evil one?

 

Below is a document I have begun for myself.  It’s still a work in progress – I keep adding to it.  It is a call from the truths of scripture to endure – knowing that even this trial is a gift from a loving heavenly Father who wants me to know him to the depths as well as to the heights.

 

I hope it helps you – or someone you know who is struggling.  I’d love to hear what you might add.

 

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When I am tempted to despair, in an effort to take every thought captive to the mind of Christ, be anxious for nothing, be thankful in all circumstances, and rejoice always I will:

 

    1. Remember whose I am:
      1. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have received from God?  You are not your own; you were bought with a price.  Therefore, glorify God with your body.”  I Cor 6:19-20
      2. “Looking unto Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.  For consider him that endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you will not grow weary or fainthearted.”  Hebrews 12:2-3
    2. Remember who I am:
      1. “And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?  ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him.  For the Lord disciplines the ones he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.’”  Heb 12:5-6
    3. Remember how I am loved:
      1. “God demonstrates his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  Rom 5:8
      2. “Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us, that we should be called the children of God; and so we are.  The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.”  1 John 1:3
      3. “In my Father’s house are many rooms.  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”  John 14:2-3
    4. Remember that I am valued:
      1. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your father.  But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.  Fear not, therefore; for you are of more value than many sparrows.”  Matthew 10:29-31
    5. Remember that I am not alone:
      1. “It is the LORD who goes before you.  He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you.  Do not fear or be dismayed.”  Deut 31:8
    6. Remember the faithfulness of God:
      1. “I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry.  He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire.  He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along.”  Ps 40:1-2
    7. Expect Him to be faithful again:
      1. “Yet I am confident I will see the Lord’s goodness while I am here in the land of the living.  Wait patiently for the Lord.  Be brave and courageous.  Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.”  Ps 27:13-14
    8. Ask for wisdom and clarity:
      1. “If any of you lacks wisdom let him ask of God and He will give it generously to all without reproach.”  James 1:5
      2. “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path”  Ps 119:105
    9. Remember my blessings and how I enjoy them:
      1. “…what do you have that you have not received?…” 1 Cor 4:7
      2. “O, give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.  His love endures forever.” Ps 118:1
      3. “Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to all mankind.  For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things…. Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things; let them consider the steadfast love of the Lord.”  Psalm 107:8-9, 43
    10. Remember that this is normal for the believer:
      1. “We are experiencing trouble on every side but are not crushed; we are perplexed but not driven to despair; we are persecuted, but not abandoned; we are knocked down but not destroyed, always carrying around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus might also be visible in our body.”  2 Cor 4:8-9
    11. Remember the lessons I have learned:

 

  • “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”  Rom 8:28

 

    1. “That according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith – that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that suprasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.  Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within, us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.  Amen.”  Eph 3:16-21
  1. Praise God for His goodness and mercy:
    1. “For you are my hope, Lord God, my security since I was young.  I depended on you since birth, when you brought me from my mother’s womb. I praise you continuously.”  Ps 71:5-6
  2. Ask God to help me:
    1. “Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you.”  Matt 7:7
    2. “Therefore, let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”  Hebrews 4:16
  3. And after I have done all of this, I will fasten on the belt of truth, put on the breastplate of righteousness, and as shoes for my feet put on the readiness of the gospel of peace.  I will take up the shield of faith and the helmet of salvation, I will hold tightly the sword of the Spirit and pray in the Spirit.  And after all of this, I will stand firm.  And when the time is right, I will do the next thing that God has set before me to do in the race that he has set me on, knowing that his good and perfect will is neither to be trifled with nor railed against.  God help me.

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Fighting for joy…

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Acrylic on paper by James Winn

Acrylic on paper by James Winn

I’ve referenced the above painting before by my friend James Winn  – it’s one of my favorite possessions.   While the bleak mid-western Winter imperceptibly creeps slowly, oh so slowly toward Spring, it takes a lot of faith to believe that things will ever look differently than they do in this painting.  Winter is long and hard – brutal at times – on the plains.

Intellectually we know that Spring will come – it always does.  But there are days, cold, dark days, when it is difficult to believe it.

I don’t live on the Plains anymore.  In comparatively balmy Delaware, Winter just isn’t that bad.  But the painting continues to lift my thoughts to higher things.

Some days – weather aside – that long-endured battle to be warm grips my soul.  The grass is green, the humidity and temperatures are high, and flip-flops are still the norm, but lurking in the corners of my mind are the dark days of endless, frigid, face-numbing cold and the struggle against it when feeding animals out in our barn or shoveling 4-ft snow drifts just to go to work.

As I struggle to replace that feeling of dread with truth I am reminded how easy it is to believe a lie.

It’s all too easy to believe my emotions, or gut, or whatever you want to call it, and dread the coming months, believing they will be filled with hardship and struggle – simply because that’s how they have been for so long.

My experience wants to rule, which is understandable, but false.

Faith is the same way.

Sometimes what I have lived wants to dictate what I believe.

Experience tells us to look at a certain set of circumstances and presume the outcome:

“This will always be this way…”

“She’ll always do these things…”

“He’ll never change…”

“This is what I can look forward to…”

But faith says,

“Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow has enough care for itself.”

“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord, ‘plans for a future and a hope…’”

“For I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard until that day that which has been entrusted to me.”

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good…”

I’ve been kicking around the phrase “The Joy of the Lord is my strength” for the past few months and have been wondering, “What does that mean – really?”   What does the Joy of the Lord look like?  Is it the happy “season’s greetings” kind of “joy” that tv, or hallmark, or Hollywood puts forth?  Is it supposed to be that 30- or 60-minute contrived, happy-ending kind of gladness, that is somehow meant to mysteriously last longer… if you just get a few things right?  I don’t know anyone who really lives like that – do you?

As is often the case for me, turning the phrase around a little bit has helped me to think about joy from a different angle.  Rather than a church-y cliché that people sometimes use to mask the struggles they are really having, the Lord’s Joy is something altogether deeper and more meaningful than silly jingles or whatever dumb choruses might conjure up for us.

The Lord’s Joy is my strength.

Think about that.  The Lord’s joy – not mine, or yours – is given to us.  Far from the “find it inside yourself” “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” kind of joy that we try to manufacture, the joy of the Lord isn’t something we come up with at all!

The perfect, full, rich, abundant, and over-flowing joy that the Lord possesses has been given to us.  How much joy does God possess?  Infinite amounts.  What kind of joy does God have?  The very best of perfectly complete joy – and nothing less.  What is he joyful about?  In a word, Christ.  And, inconceivably, that includes you and me.  We are his and he delights in us.  All of creation has been racing toward one fantastic fulfillment – redemption!  That is you and me living for eternity in sweet, joy-filled fellowship with the Father because of the Son.  Wake up!  That is the great news!  We get to be there.  FOREVER.  If that doesn’t fill you will the Lord’s Joy, what can?

What is meant by joy strengthening us?  If all this joy is ours, why do we need to be strengthened at all?

Because sometimes, often times, My experience wants to rule, which is understandable, but false.

Life can be unimaginably hard.  We have trials.  We have pain.  We have searing disappointments and heartaches.  These things can threaten to undo us.  They can cause us to want to give up.  They can cause us to question the goodness of God and the purpose of his will.  They can gnaw at our confidence in Christ’s work on our behalf and they can attempt to grind our faith into dust.

The Lord’s Joy is our strength.  It’s there.  It’s already been freely given.  But sometimes it is so buried under our circumstances that we have to fight to hold onto it the way Jacob clung to God in the wilderness and would not let him go until God blessed him.

Sometimes we have to fight for the joy that already belongs to us.  We have to tell ourselves the truth – that we don’t know what the future will look like, but that we can trust the One who loves us and gave Himself over for us.  That we can depend on him for everything we need in the face of whatever circumstances we find ourselves in.  And that, in the end, everything, he puts before us is both for our good and His glory – even the trials.

The world may be looking a bit like that painting above – bleak and cold and dark.  But that is not the whole story.  Strength is growing under those furrows.  Perseverance and character and hope are being produced there.  Hope for the things that we know but remain as yet, unseen.

And just as winter always yields to spring and reveals what has been covered under cold and dark layers, the seen will yield to the unseen and we will see what we already know to be true: that every hardship, every tear, every lament has a purpose for good.  Nothing is aimless, nothing is a waste.  It is all making us fit in ways we can’t imagine, so that through them we will be made like the One we love.  Perfected.  Righteous.  Pure.  And most of all ready.   Jesus is gathering his people to himself and preparing us to live forever with him in beautiful, wonderful, perfect joy.

In the meantime, fight for joy.  It is already yours.

Beauty in the Bleak

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Spring is in full force around here – it’s even feeling a bit like summer the past couple of days.  But in my den I have a painting of the dark, frozen, desolation of a Midwest mid-winter.  It’s bare and twisted trees on a back drop of cold sky and frozen earth remind me of the despair I often felt in the midst of those long, cold winter days.  There isn’t even any snow in it to make it at least look a little brighter.  It’s bleak.

So why would I want a painting like that in my den?

One day, while my children were being given the gift of an art appreciation lesson from our friend and the very accomplished artist, Jim Winn, he also showed us some of the paintings he had tucked away in his cupboards and drawers.  He showed us this one among many and said, “I can’t sell it because it’s not happy enough.”  I said, “Well, Jim, why don’t you paint some crocuses or something at the bottom of those trees to give people some hope?”

And his reply was this, “Because, Laurie, that’s not what was there.”

I didn’t say this, but I thought, “So??  Artists re-make life all the time.  Put something in there to sell the painting.”

I’m glad I didn’t say that out loud.

That painting (and the conversation) haunted me.  I couldn’t get the image out of my head, and I couldn’t understand why Jim wouldn’t change the scene since he could.

Then, after months of wrestling with both the picture and the words, the weight of the truth of it all broke through – sometimes, that’s how it is!  Sometimes everything looks dead and cold and depressing.  Sometimes there is zero evidence that anything good is out there – life looks and feels and even is cold and hard and unyielding.

But for the believer, is that ever really the whole truth?

The Psalmists knew the experience of looking around and seeing no evidence of God:

Ps 42:5  Why are you in despair, O my soul?  And why have you become disturbed within me?

Ps 42:6  O my God, my soul is in despair within me…

Ps 57:4  My soul is among lions; I must lie among those who breathe forth fire, Even the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows, And their tongue a sharp sword.

Ps 63:1  My soul thirsts for Thee, my flesh yearns for Thee, In a dry and weary land where there is no water.

Ps 88:3-4  For my soul has had enough troubles, And my life has drawn near to Sheol.  I am reckoned among those who go down to the pit; I have become like a man without strength

There are a lot of these passages – you get the idea.  And no doubt, you can relate.  We have all had times when we look around at our circumstances and see nothing but unrelenting, hard, depressing, bleakness.  That’s how it is.

But things are not always what they seem.  Just like the painting captures a moment in time, so our minds see just a brief and incomplete view of reality.  Sometimes we don’t see the hints of Spring on the horizon, but that does not mean they don’t exist.

And so it is with God.  Sometimes we don’t see or understand what He is doing through those hard and painful circumstances, but that does not mean He is not at work in and through them.

How do we get through it?

Just like we get through winter.  We remind ourselves that every year, around the same time, God sends warmer weather.  He has nourished and sustained the flowers and trees through the worst of it.  He has sheltered birds and animals (and us) through a wide variety of protections.  God proves his faithfulness – again – and we rejoice.  We know he will do it again because he is trustworthy and true.

Through the dark and unrelenting bitter cold, we remind ourselves that God will be faithful and bring Spring and it gives us hope to face the remainder of the winter days.

And so it is when we despair.

We remind ourselves that while we may not be able to see any evidence of God at work, we know that God never leaves us or forsakes us.  We know that he has plans that are for our good and for His glory.  We know that nothing – that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We use eyes of faith to see past the cold, hard, ruthless toil of today to see that God is lovingly active in our lives in those things, through them, behind them.  And just like the sure hope of tiny flowers in Spring, we wait and watch with confident anticipation of God’s faithfulness through the bleakness.

A few years went by between having that conversation with my artist friend and getting the painting into my den – but it is now one of my most cherished possessions.  It reminds me of my friend and his sweet wife, yes, but mostly, it reminds me of God’s faithfulness.  Sometimes, life really looks that bleak.  But God is never absent even then.  God has proven Himself to be faithful over and over and over again.

Now, when I look at the picture, and when I face dark times, he reminds me of his faithfulness.  He helps me through recalling his promises.  He helps me through recalling his word.  He helps me through recalling how he has been faithful to me in the past.  And he helps me through watching him care for my friends.

I am thankful and content, for he has taught me how to see beauty in the bleak.