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).
When God’s glory manifests, it reveals His distinction from us—His purity, holiness and almightiness. Even the celestial beings in His presence see Him as separate and full of majesty. Right now multitudes of angels are in God’s presence, and they never stop praising Him day and night. Their nonstop song is, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:12). That is the effect of God’s holy nature: He invokes our praise at all times in all things.
Amazingly, this holy God tells us, “The world won’t see Me—but you will.”
The Jewish leaders knew the separateness of God but they couldn’t see His tenderness, and they were outraged when Jesus called God His Father. They saw it as blasphemy and wanted to kill Him for it. Yet Jesus took this audacious teaching a step further when He told the disciples, “Not only does your heavenly Father care for you, but He’s going to make His home in you.”
“If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23).
Picture yourself as one of the disciples in the Upper Room when Jesus said this. You were taught the same as your elders, that no one could see God and live. You knew that righteous Moses was able to behold only a small part of God and survive it. So when you heard Jesus’ teaching, you would have thought, “There’s no way God can make His home in me. He’s too holy, too awesome, too other. It can’t be!” Yet Jesus has entrusted to us these incredible twin truths: God is indeed holy and pure—and He seeks to dwell in us, His creation.
Think about what Jesus taught His fledgling church that night. He began by saying He would leave to prepare a home for us. And He ended by saying He would make His home in us. There is the paradoxical beauty of our God—holy and pure, yet intimate and caring. He is above us and with us—and He gives us peace we could never find on our own. That is a God worthy of our confidence in and through all things!
I am certain that it is the desire of every believer to love the way Christ does—to live what the Scripture says, to go the distance that Jesus was willing to go for lost humanity. And so we set out to obey His commandment to love others as He loves us . . . until we, like Peter, meet the limitations of our own ability to actually do so.
After all, opening your heart to other people always involves a risk. Many have loved deeply, given generously, opened their heart, and ultimately been stabbed in the back. Yes, sometimes these things happen. People may run away and deny they ever knew us; others who once leaned close and said they loved us end up taking off in our moment of need. But will we let that stop us from being given for them?
Jesus once said to His disciples, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). There is no way you can take up your cross and escape the betrayal. There will come a point when people will spit in your face, but as a follower of Christ, you must continue to love them.
When Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you,” it was not a suggestion but rather a commandment. However, we must also understand that He was actually adding another commandment to a series of commandments that nobody had been able to keep. The Law and the commands of God were meant to highlight the hopelessness and futility of our trying to become godly in our own strength. Therefore, I think you will agree with me that the great need of this hour is another outpouring of the Holy Spirit. We need the love, compassion, and benevolence that marked the early Church, and it must be birthed and sustained in us by God.
It all starts with the willingness to say, “God, pour out Your Spirit, and help me to love like You do. I thank You for the blessings in my life, yet I am aware that they have been given to me for a reason—so don’t let me be blind to that purpose. Don’t let me simply take everything and use it for my own benefit. Oh, God, open my eyes and my heart; give me the courage to care. Take me where I cannot go in my own strength. Enable me to follow You to the place where You went—where You were poured out for others!”
Carter Conlon joined the pastoral staff of Times Square Church in 1994 at the invitation of the founding pastor, David Wilkerson, and was appointed Senior Pastor in 2001.
Nobody can come under Christ’s lordship until he faces the demands of the cross of Calvary.
I realize this truth every time I stand up to preach. Each week as I gaze out from the pulpit into our congregation, scattered among the faithful believers I face nonbelievers who’ve walked in for the first time. Some are successful, self-made, hard-driving businesspeople. Others come from all kinds of walks of life. Yet all are laden down with secret sins. These people are living as they please, not under any spiritual authority, but they’re empty and disillusioned. They’ve become sick of pursuing pleasures that never satisfy.
I could preach all kinds of sermons about principles and rules of behavior, or how to cope with stress, or how to deal with fear and guilt. But none of this kind of preaching gets anyone “out of the world.” It doesn’t change anybody’s heart.
I simply have to tell the nonbeliever that his self-will, self-reliance and stubborn struggle to do everything his way will destroy him. And, in the end, it will bring him everlasting torment.
If I don’t give him this message, then I have forever shut up the heavens to him. And I have made him a twofold member of hell. His condition will be worse than before he came through our doors.
I have to bring that man face to face with the message of being crucified to his independence. I have to show him that he must come out of his deluded world of self-goodness. I have to tell him there’s no way to peace in this life except through full surrender to King Jesus.
Otherwise, I have deceived this man. And I’ve committed the horrible sin of the worst kind of pride: I have counted him as a “convert” to make myself look good. May it never be!
As a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ, I am obligated to speak His truth to everyone who truly repents: “All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12).