The world today is full of methods and practices to help improve ourselves and feel better. The rise of anxiety, depression, and other mental conditions has warranted the outcry of therapeutic messages that aim at making people feel better, forgive themselves, cut off toxic people, have some self-care time…etc.
We suffer the agony and tragedy of living in a fallen world. After the fall of man, creation was cursed and we now experience the effects. In such a context, there is much that can send us to despair. Broken human relationships, difficult labors and toils, the affliction of our bodies, broken fellowship with our Creator, and futility in all of creation.
Whereas our pain, stress, despair, and destitution are justified, the Christian is to respond differently. We hold to a standard of truth that is different from that of the world. Therefore, the reality of what we feel and go through ought to be perceived and measured against the Bible, our standard of truth.
The nature of our hearts is that when in despair, we focus on our troubles and cares. Though we think wallowing in self-pity will make us feel better, it only magnifies our pain and there is no end to the levels of despair that we may sink into.
I have seen it in my own heart. Whenever I suffer, I quickly shut off every other thing and concentrate on my pain only. I lack the strength and will to work or eat. I could stay in bed all day long. Yet, traveling down the path of self-pity doesn’t relieve any of my pain. On the contrary, it increases my bitterness and resentment. It heightens levels of my anxiety.
A while back I read through Lloyd Jones’ book Spiritual Depression. One of his thoughts in the book stuck with me. He says that many of our troubles are because we listen to ourselves more than we talk to ourselves. He was a doctor and a pastor, hence we can trust his judgment.
Think about it. We have numerous examples of people who were familiar with pain and suffering in the Bible. An examination of their responses to the circumstances they faced can lead us to conclude like Jones that indeed, our troubles become weighty when we allow what we go through and what we feel to dominate us.
Biblical scholars believe that David is the author of Psalm 42. He either wrote it at the time when he faced persecution from Saul or when Absalom (his son) revolted against him. He may have been going through outward affliction or inward distress. Probably, he had run away from Saul and therefore didn’t enjoy the privilege of worshiping God with others. He expresses thirst for God, says his tears had been his food day and night, and that his soul was cast down within him. He feels forgotten and mourns over his oppression by his enemy.
David seems to have a conflict between his feelings and the present reality against his faith in God. In faith, he longs and thirsts for God. But he feels and is aware of the darkness that engulfs him. His tears have been present all the time and they seem to mock him, asking where his God is. David’s soul is dampened by the memory of the past enjoyments in the Lord in light of his present darkness (verse 4). This only makes him feel worse!
Doesn’t David’s situation sound familiar? We face situations that cause outward affliction, inward distress, or both. Our minds know the truth of God’s word but our present situations make us doubt. We only long that the truth we know could become our reality.
Amidst his pain, David does something imitable. He asks, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” (verse 5 & 11) He simply ‘talks to himself’ reminding his soul that God is his hope and salvation. His soul, then, ought not to be cast down.
In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus expresses deep sorrow. He is sorrowful even to death (Mathew 26:36-46). The hour of His crucifixion is about to come. He wishes that the cup of suffering would be taken away from Him, yet He desires deeply that His Father’s will be done. Like David, Jesus grapples with the present reality of His looming crucifixion against His desire and intent to please the Father.
We can choose to concentrate on the troubles we face and give ear to the whispers of doubt and resentment against God, or we can remind our weary and cast down souls that God is our hope and salvation. We can selfishly take in all that we go through and wallow in bitterness and self-pity, or we can pray and trust God to glorify His name through our troubles and sorrows.
Focusing on Christ during turmoil is hard work. It is always easier to look to ourselves and despair. However, the merits of admonishing our souls to hope in God, and to bless His name at all times far outweigh the darkness that covers and dominates us when we do otherwise.
Paul writes in Philippians 4:4-7, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Joy in God is a Christian duty and privilege. We can attain it by meditating upon God’s word, praying and trusting in Him in all situations, and believing His promises for us. The result is that Christ floods our souls with His peace and comfort.