Unfortunately, seeking the Lord wholeheartedly does not exempt us from outside attack. After ten years of peace, Asa’s corner of the world was suddenly invaded by a huge Cushite army for no apparent reason. Asa was Solomon’s great-grandson but his godliness did not guarantee a smooth road for the rest of his life.
In such a moment, seekers after God have built up a reservoir of ready faith to meet new problems. They know exactly what to do:
“Asa called to the Lord his God and said, ‘Lord, there is no one like you to help the powerless against the mighty. Help us, O Lord our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this vast army. O Lord, you are our God; do not let man prevail against you’” (2 Chronicles 14:11).
Asa’s faith was not some kind of instant cake mix stirred from a box. He and the people had already been calling out to God for a decade. Hence, there was no panic. They cried for the Lord to arise—and He did. The Cushites (Ethiopians) were decisively wiped out, despite their overwhelming numbers, “for the terror of the Lord had fallen upon them” (verse 14).
This is a classic example of a principle of God’s dealing with humanity. Hebrews 11:6 expresses it best: “Anyone who comes to [God] must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” I cannot say it strongly enough: When we seek God, He will bless us. But when we stop seeking Him . . . all bets are off, no matter who we are. It doesn’t matter how much talent we have, how many diplomas hang on our walls, what word of prophecy was proclaimed over us, or anything else.
On Asa’s way home from the battle, a prophet stopped him and his army along the road to reinforce what had just happened: “Listen to me. . . . The Lord is with you when you are with Him. If you seek Him, He will be found by you, but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you” (2 Chronicles 15:2).
Jim Cymbala began Brooklyn Tabernacle with less than twenty members in a small, rundown building in a difficult part of the city. A native of Brooklyn and longtime friend of both David and Gary Wilkerson, Cymbala is a frequent speaker at the Expect Church Leadership Conferences sponsored by World Challenge throughout the world.
Scripture shows us that David, Job and other Old Testament saints came out of their dark times by remembering God’s faithfulness to past generations. David wrote that whenever his heart was desolate, “I remember the days of old; I meditate on all thy works; I muse on the work of thy hands” (Psalm 143:5). Indeed, multitudes of godly saints throughout history have emerged from their depression and discouragement in just this way.
It’s a wonderful blessing to remember all our past deliverances. Deuteronomy tells us, “Thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee. . . . Beware that thou forget not” (Deuteronomy 8:2, 11).
Yet, remembering God’s deliverances was more than just a blessing to the Old Testament saints. It was a necessary discipline. The Israelites devised all sorts of rituals and observances to recall the Lord’s deliverances in their lives.
Likewise today, the Church is called to remember God’s past deliverances. Yet, we’ve been given a way to remember that’s much better than in Old Testament times. You see, since the days of David, God has poured out His Holy Spirit. And the Spirit now abides in our human bodies.
The Holy Spirit not only comforts us in our dark times. He doesn’t just bring to our remembrance God’s past faithfulness. The Spirit also gives us an understanding of the purpose behind our fiery trials. And He does this so our faith won’t fail.
Dear saint, God has not forgotten you in your deep, dark trial. I leave you with this encouragement from the Psalmist: “Thou, O God, hast proved us: thou hast tried us, as silver is tried. Thou broughtest us into the net; thou laidst affliction upon our loins. Thou hast caused men to ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water: but thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place…. Verily God hath heard me; he hath attended to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, which hath not turned away my prayer, nor his mercy from me” (Psalm 66:10–12, 19–20).
Paul shows us God’s specific purpose in our deeply trying, dark times: “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.
“For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ. And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation. And our hope of you is steadfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation” (2 Corinthians 1:3–7).
Do you see God’s purpose here? In the midst of our afflictions, the Spirit comforts us. And in turn, we’re able to bring comfort to others who suffer deep afflictions. This is the Spirit’s work: to bring comfort to His people through voices that have been tested. Therefore, we can know that as our own suffering grows worse, the comfort of the Lord becomes even mightier within us.
There are two dear brothers on our ministry’s mailing list named Israel and Jesse. Israel is 100 years old and Jesse is 102. One quit working at 92, the other at 97. They each love the Lord and have been receiving my messages for years.
These men are not only natural brothers but truly are “brothers in the Lord.” Both testify that out of a lifetime of great trials, the joy of the Spirit has deepened in them. They’ve witnessed terrible disasters for an entire century—the Great Depression, two World Wars, terrible droughts—and they’ve suffered personally throughout their long lives. Yet, at their advanced years, these men are able to smile and proclaim more confidently than ever, “Through it all, God has not once failed.” Their testimony after having “seen it all” is a Holy Ghost comfort to the rest of us.
Not even the godly, devoted apostle Paul was immune to times of discouragement. He wrote to the Corinthians, “Trouble . . . came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life” (2 Corinthians 1:8).
The Greek word that Paul uses for despair in this verse translates as, “We could not understand it; we despaired, even to death.” He’s saying, in short, “We longed to die, because we couldn’t comprehend what we were going through. We were pressed beyond our endurance.”
It’s hard to imagine these words coming from Paul. Who trusted God more than this fearless apostle? Who fasted and prayed more than Paul? Who had as many prayers answered? Yet there came upon Paul an hour of despondency such as he had never experienced. What was this condition?
Some Bible commentators believe it was a combination of trials. Among these was a deep mental anguish, caused by people whom Paul loved later turning against him. These close friends not only abandoned Paul but spread lies about him. They defamed his name. In addition, Paul was brought low by violent illnesses. He experienced shipwreck on more than one occasion, and evil plots were hatched against him, aimed at taking his life. On top of these things, Paul had anxiety over the care of many churches.
This would all seem too heavy for one man to bear. Yet even put together, all these things still don’t explain the deep despair Paul felt. He wrote, “I fell into such agony, I didn’t think I would survive. I thought it was going to kill me.”
Of course, Paul was delivered. He came out victoriously. But he never forgot that awful hour of despair.
“Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us” (2 Corinthians 1:10). Paul is saying, “God rescued us and He will rescue us again. We have put our confidence in Him and He will deliver us.”
Have you ever known depression? Have you been so worried and perplexed that you endured sleepless nights? Have you had times when you were so low and troubled, no one could comfort you? Have you been so down that you felt like giving up, feeling your life was a total failure?
I’m not talking about a physical condition. I’m not referring to people who have a chemical imbalance or mental illness. I’m talking about Christians who, from time to time, battle a depression that hits them from out of nowhere. Their condition often comes not from just a single source, but from many. At times they’re hit from all sides, until they’re so overwhelmed they can’t see beyond their despair.
If you can identify with this, then Psalm 77 was written for you. It is meant to point the way out of your distress and fear. This psalm was written by a man named Asaph, a Levite from the priestly line in Israel. Asaph was also a singer, and served as David’s appointed choir director. He wrote eleven psalms and they were so filled with righteous instruction for God’s people that I would call this man a lay preacher.
Asaph wrote Psalm 77 after he fell into a horrible pit of despair. His condition grew so bad that he was beyond comfort: “My soul refused to be comforted” (77:2). This godly man was in such despair, nothing anyone said could bring him out of his anguish. And Asaph himself couldn’t manage to say even a word: “I am so troubled that I cannot speak” (77:4).
Yet Asaph was a praying man. We see this in the same psalm as he testifies, “I cried unto God with my voice . . . and he gave ear unto me” (77:1).
I’m sure Asaph had heard David’s very similar testimony, in Psalm 34: “The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry” (34:15). David says earlier in this psalm, “I sought the Lord, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears. . . . This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles” (34:4, 6).