Dealing With Disabling Despair Psalm 42
Do you find yourself at the place of despair because of some uncontrollable circumstance in your life? I am sure you are not alone. Perhaps together we can take courage from one who found himself in the pit of despair, yet managed to overcome in spite of the circumstances. Despair has to be one of the most crippling conditions we face in life, and the temptation to despair is a prevalent and powerful seducer of the human spirit. In Psalm 42 the Psalmist teaches what it is, what it does, and what to do about it..
Firstly, through his response in the first few verses we get a vivid description of the nature of despair.
I. What Despair Is.
In verse 6 the Psalmist cries out, "O my God, my soul is in despair within me." The word translated "in despair" literally means "sunk down." "My soul is sunk down within me." Despair has a tendency to bring about that familiar sinking feeling in our hearts. In our despair we see no hope of any relief. No prospect of help. Most of the time, it is the result of our reaction to the undesirable circumstances of life.
Psalm 42 is a song of exile, of captivity, of separation from the beloved city of Jerusalem and the Temple of God. As the Psalmist tries to deal with that undesirable situation, he struggles against the onslaught of despair. He doesn't want to be in this situation. Separated from loved ones, held against his will, tormented and persecuted. He is used to something quite different. But he could change nothing.
Most of us can identify with his situation. Ours may even be worse. An incurable disease. A broken heart. A financial crisis that robs us of all status, style and security. Like a ravenous vulture, waiting to swoop in to devour the kill. Whatever it is, how we react to it determines whether or not despair becomes the ruler of our lives. It may do this in several ways.
II. What Despair Does.
Despair does nothing good for the situation. It will take it's toll on our families, our relationships, our health and our reason.
A. Despair Distorts The Facts.
1 "As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants for You, O God. 2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God; When shall I come and appear before God?" This seems like a noble pursuit. Thirsting for God. But that is not the psalmists meaning. What the Psalmist says actually represents a serious deception in his life. The picture is of a deer who is thirsting for water but there is no water to be found. The famine in the land has dried up the water source. The deer longs for water, but there is none. So the Psalmist succumbs to the distortion that God is missing. Despair assumes hopelessness where hopelessness does not exist. The despair of the Psalmist assumed the absence of God, when God wasn't absent at all. His despair assumed that until his circumstances changed, he would always be cut off from the presence of God.
Deep down the Psalmist knew that this was not true. He had too many memories of God's presence and power in the past, so asks himself repeatedly, "Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me?" (v. 5). In those moments he knew that despair was only a blurring of the facts.
Regardless of what our circumstances may be, despair is never the right choice. Only by reminding ourselves of the truth can we experience the freedom of life even in the midst of undesirable circumstances. Despair always distorts the facts, producing an outlook of utter hopelessness.
Recently I was at the funeral of a mother whose teenage son had been killed while working under his truck. It seemed such a pointless event and certainly would throw many of us into total despair. Many at the funeral were that way. But not the mother. In spite of her sorrow, she had a quiet confidence that her God had a purpose and that He was still in control. During that funeral service, 51 of Jon's friends accepted Jesus as their Savior. Linda now leads a dynamic discipleship Bible Study for those young people who have an insatiable appetite for God's Word. Linda could have shaken her fist at God in her despair, but instead she reminded herself in spite of everything, God was still in control. Her faith was not shattered. She was not holding it; it was holding her. And by that same faith she was still able to place her confidence in Him. By that faith she still belonged to the same unshakable Kingdom and the same unchanging Person. This would not have been so if Linda had believed the lies of despair.
B. Despair Dominates Our Feelings.
The Psalmist says in verse 3, "My tears have been my food day and night." You know you're in the midst of an emotional nightmare when you have no appetite for nourishment and your tears are your only food. What he's describing here is his emotional life so controlled by despair that sorrow is the only emotion he's capable of expressing.
What despair does is to take control of a person's emotional life by keeping his attention focused on the distorted facts of his undesirable circumstances. If all he can do is think about his troubles, the only emotions he can experience are sorrowful.
C. Despair Denies Our Faith.
Look at verse 10: "As a shattering of my bones, my adversaries revile me, While they say to me all day long, 'Where is your God?'" The Psalmist has no ready answer for the taunting question of his captors when they ask, "Where is your God?" His downcast spirit and his sense of hopelessness were a poor reflection upon his God. His enemies had seen God's power demonstrated in his life and in the life of his people. But now there was evidence of neither power nor presence. When we allow despair to consume our lives with distorted facts and unreal responses, we deny God's power to overcome the circumstances in our lives, and our witness suffers. Had Linda shaken her fist at God at the funeral, or even openly questioned God in despair, her witness would have been diminished.
Despair is not the exercise of faith, it is the exclusion of faith. Paul Harvey says, "If you don't live it, you don't believe it." When we do not exercise our faith, we exclude our faith. When we do not turn to God, we turn from God. Despair does several things in our lives, but none of them are good. It distorts the facts, dominates our feelings, and denies our faith. But the Psalmist does not leave us up in the air as to what to do about it. He pulls himself out of the situation, giving us the will to do the same.
III. What To Do With It.
There is always the temptation to give into despair, but there is an answer The answer is to keep on hoping steadfastly in God. Verse 5: "Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him For the help of His presence." Then again in verse 11: "Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance and my God."
What the Psalmist is saying is that we cannot continue to allow the tormentor to oppress us and to keep our minds captive with distorted facts. We may not be where we want to be at that moment, but we cannot dwell on that. We have to look again the God who has been faithful in the past and will deliver us into the future. We have to hope in Him and believe that He is able, and praise Him in spite of the circumstances. Then despair will flee. After Jon's funeral my wife walked up to Linda to comfort her and as she looked into Linda's teary eyes, Linda simply spoke three words. "Isn't God awesome?" It was obvious that Linda's God was alive and well and that her "streams of faith" had not dried up.
Cicero once said, "It is foolish to tear out one's hair in grief, as though sorrow would be made less by baldness." Have you ever been in despair? Are you in despair even now? The answer is simple. Quit dwelling upon your circumstances and look at God. A pessimist finds a problem in every opportunity, but an optimist finds opportunity in every problem. Don't despair, for God is the answer.