There is a stanza in the song “Before the Throne of God” that begins like this, “When Satan tempts me to despair and tells me of the guilt within…” The song rings true in the experience of many believers. We are tempted to despair, and many times this crushing reality completely darkens our life, causing incredible personal anguish in our own life and in the lives of our loved ones. How do we deal with the pain of despair?
Despair? Depression? Discouragement? Derangement?
What is this malady of the soul? It can go by a variety of names — depression, discouragement, soul sickness, etc. There are times when we simply don’t feel right. We may be physically healthy, but from a spiritual perspective, we are concerned, disappointed, sluggish, and sick. It’s difficult to push through these times, because we feel totally exhausted and drained emotionally and spiritually. We want to give up. Perhaps we experience incredible temptation to sin.
Please note that some people experience clinical depression with medical causes. If you believe that you are experiencing such a condition, please seek out a competent medical professional.
Feeling Down? You’re in Good Company.
Throughout the ages, countless Christians have felt the same way. From the Apostle Paul to Christian heroes such as Martin Luther and Charles Spurgeon, many have felt the painful experience of depression. These experiences can be intense spiritual battles. Satan infiltrates our souls with questions, dark thoughts, and the allure of sin. We question our ability to lead or to preach the Word. We wonder if we are even a true believer. To sum up, we are a crumpled, whimpering mess of despair.
When Luther wrote about his struggles with discouragement, he wrote this, preserved for us in the hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”
Though devils all the world should fill,
All eager to devour us,
We tremble not, we fear no ill,
They shall not over-pow’r us.
This world’s prince may still
Scowl fierce as his will,
He can harm us none,
He’s judged; the deed is done.
One little Word can fell him.
Many through the ages have had these discouraging experiences. In Psalm 69:20 we read, “Reproaches have broken my heart, so that I am in despair.” This Psalm referes to what Christians often experience, and it may even refer to the anguish that Christ experienced on the cross. Christ himself faced the agony of discouragement.
Sadness Is Not a Sin.
It’s important to remember that being said, being discouraged, and being depressed is not a sin. Of course, there may be sin involved in any phase of life. We may need to stop wallowing in a heap of self-pity, or giving in to our temptations. But we must also realize that the darkness we’re experiencing is not itself a sin.
Paul wrote about the frailty of our human bodies, admitting that we are “jars of clay” and will experience affliction, perplexity, and forsakenness. But Paul triumphantly declares, “We do not lose heart!” Our day-to-day earthly experiences cloud our vision and prevent us from seeing the things that are eternal — that true reality that we’ve missing (see 2 Corinthians 4:7-18).
Breaking Back Into Joy
There is no simple three-step solution to restoring the joy in your life. As you travel through your season of discouragement, don’t give up on your relationship with God. He is the only one who can guide you through, and he wants to do so in order to create in you greater strength and character.
Guide your mind to Scripture. Force yourself to consider God. Meditate on the beauty of Jesus Christ, and the glorious redemption he has accomplished for you. Jesus has defeated your sin on the cross. He has given you a home in heaven. He has promised to be with you at all times. Though our feelings fail, the glorious truth persists: Jesus reigns! He is Lord. Our Redeemer lives!
Our song can go on:
When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin.
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free.
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me
(“Before the Throne of God Above,” Charitie Bancroft)