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All of us, at one time or another, must deal with despondency. We need to know how to fight it when it rises up. In this message we learn how the Psalmist and Jesus fought despondency in their life.
Putting Despondency To Death
Psalm 42; Matthew 26:36-41
In 1752 William Cowper wrote these words, “(I was struck) with such a dejection of spirits, as none but they who have felt the same, can have the least conception of. Day and night I was upon the rack, lying down in horror, and rising up in despair. I presently lost all relish for those studies, to which before I had been closely attached; the classics had no longer any charms for me; I had need of something more salutary than amusement, but I had not one to direct me where to find it.”
At that point in his life, Cowper was unconverted. 10 years later he was committed to an insane asylum, because he had tried on numerous occasions to commit suicide, though unsuccessfully. Dr. Nathaniel Cotton ministered to the patients there at St. Albans Insane Asylum. After being at the asylum for six months, Cowper found a Bible (not by accident) lying on a bench in a garden. I will allow Cowper to tell you what happened.
“Having found a Bible on the bench in the garden, I opened upon the 11th of St. John, where Lazarus is raised from the dead; and saw so much benevolence, mercy, goodness, and sympathy with miserable men, in our Saviour’s conduct, that I almost shed tears upon the relation; little thinking that it was an exact type of the mercy which Jesus was on the point of extending towards myself. I sighed, and said, “Oh, that I had not rejected so good a Redeemer, that I had not forfeited all his favours.” Thus was my heart softened, though not yet enlightened
Increasingly he felt he was not utterly doomed. There came another revelation and he turned again to the Bible and the first verse he saw was Romans 3:25: “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God.”
Immediately I received the strength to believe it, and the full beams of the Sun of Righteousness shone upon me. I saw the sufficiency of the atonement He had made, my pardon sealed in His blood, and all the fullness and completeness of His justification. In a moment I believed, and received the gospel … Whatever my friend Madan had said to me, long before, revived in all its clearness, with demonstration of the spirit and power. Unless the Almighty arm had been under me, I think I should have died with gratitude and joy. My eyes filled with tears, and my voice choked with transport; I could only look up to heaven in silent fear, overwhelmed with love and wonder”
Now, at this point we expect that Cowper will go on in the strength of the Lord and have victory over his depression. Sadly, that is not the case. Cowper struggled with depression his entire life. He had 4 great bouts of severe depression in his life, almost exactly 10 years apart from each other. He tried to kill himself many times, but was never successful. (Interestingly, in that day it was not called ‘suicide’ but ‘self-murder’.) Later in his life, he believed that he was damned, and there was no hope of salvation for him. In spite of that, he still, occasionally had times when he saw the glory of Christ and the sufficiency of His atoning work, and enjoyed glimmers of hope.
From 1767 to 1800, John Newton became Cowper’s pastor and friend. They even teamed up together to write a hymn book together. Cowper wrote several famous hymns including, “There is a Fountain Filled With Blood”, “God Moves In A Mysterious Way”, and “O For A Closer Walk With God.”
We look at Cowper’s life with confusion, and wonder how the same person wrote such deep, solid, God-glorifying lyrics, and at the same time struggled with despair and died in hopeless dejection!
All of this reveals to us the complexity of what we call depression. At that time it was called “melancholy.” This morning I will refer to it as “despondency.” Why did Cowper struggle so violently with despondency? We have some hints in his early upbringing. His father, John, married his mother, Ann, in 1728. She gave birth to William in 1731, only three years later. But in those three years, Ann gave birth to three children who died in infancy! Then William survives. Then two more children are born and died. Then his mother died, after she gave birth to his younger brother, John. William was only six years old when his mother died. All those years of William’s childhood were pervaded by intense sadness and heartache in the family. Then, when he was six years old, William’s father sent him to a boarding school, where he was tormented by bullies. All of this, no doubt, contributed to his sense of morbid despondency with which he suffered his entire life.
Now, perhaps you have never suffered with despondency to the degree that William Cowper did, but my guess is that most of you have experienced bouts of despondency at least from time to time.
Now, what do we mean by despondency or depression? It is a state of sadness, gloom, dejection, despair, or hopelessness. It is the most prevalent and serious of mental disorders in the United States. Studies show that women are about twice as likely to suffer depression than men. Depression afflicts about 20% of the population at some time in their life. According to one study, about one out of eight people in America will need medical attention for depression at some point in their life. So folks, despondency is very pervasive in our culture, and it is highly likely that you will battle it at various times in your life.
Despondency sometimes runs in families. It can be the result of nutritional deficiencies, physical problems, medications, certain personalities, lack of sleep, or traumatic life events. Whatever the cause for despondency in your life, Satan paints it with a lie. He tells us that we will never be happy again, never be strong again, never enjoy life again, never have satisfaction and purpose in life again. Instead of our despondency being a dark tunnel through which we will emerge, he tries to paint it as a never ending black cave that we will never emerge from. However, whatever the reason for despondency in your life, God has called you to engage in the good fight of faith, and put it to death by the Spirit.
In 1954, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones preached a series of sermons that he later collected into a book called Spiritual Depression. In that book he writes, “The greatest need of the hour is a revived and joyful Church… Unhappy Christians are, to say the least, a poor recommendation of the Christian faith.” My friends, does God want you to wallow in depression?
What is the revealed will of God?
Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!”
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
The revealed will of God is clear. We are to rejoice always. Now, that is utterly inconsistent when we dwell in a state of despondency. Therefore, we must fight despondency, and the way we do that is by faith in God and His promises. Unbelief is the root of yielding to despondency. Unbelief is the reason why we do not make war on despondency with the word of God. So, this morning I want to help you be prepared to make war on despondency when it hits you like a ton of bricks.
This morning we are going to examine how two people in Scripture fought despondency. One is from the Old Testament – one of the sons of Korah who wrote Psalm 42. The other is our Lord Jesus Christ and His excruciating experience in the Garden of Gethsemane.
1. The Author of Psalm 42
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?
3 My tears have been my food day and night, While they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”
4 These things I remember and I pour out my soul within me. For I used to go along with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God, With the voice of joy and thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival.
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.
6 O my God, my soul is in despair within me; Therefore I remember You from the land of the Jordan And the peaks of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.
7 Deep calls to deep at the sound of Your waterfalls; All Your breakers and Your waves have rolled over me.
8 The LORD will command His lovingkindness in the daytime; And His song will be with me in the night, A prayer to the God of my life.
9 I will say to God my rock, “Why have You forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?”
10 As a shattering of my bones, my adversaries revile me, While they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”
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.
The Psalmist Is Despondent. There are clear indications that the psalmist was suffering from despondency. In verse 3 he says, “My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’” 5 he says, “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me?” In verse 6 he says, “O my God, my soul is in despair within me.” In verse 9-11 he says, “I will say to God my rock, ‘Why have You forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy? As a shattering of my bones, my adversaries revile me, while they say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God? Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me?”
The Reasons for His Despondency. The reason why the psalmist is despondent comes out clearly in verses 1-4. He is a lover of God. His soul pants and thirsts for God. He wants to come and appear before God, no doubt speaking about the public worship of Israel at the temple in Jerusalem. In verse 6 we learn that he is far from Jerusalem. He is somewhere near the land of the Jordan and the peaks of Hermon. This would probably place him 75-100 miles away! Now in our day, that would not present a problem. We can drive that distance in under two hours. But in that day, it would take the best part of a week to travel that distance!
On top of the fact that He is far from the public worship of God at the temple in Jerusalem, he must face the taunts of mockers and unbelievers. There are people around him who say all day long, “Where is your God?” In verse 10, the psalmist tells us that his adversaries revile him while they say to him all day long, “Where is your God?”
In verse 7 the Psalmist describes the soul despair he was suffering. He said it was like two waterfalls plunging into a valley, calling to one another with a roar, as if to say that his soul was screaming out in turmoil in this despair. Then he uses the imagery of the raging sea, where the breakers and waves of despair and depression rolled over him.
And, to add to all of this, he tells us in verse 4 that he remembers going along with the throng and leading them in procession to the house of God with the voice of joy and thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival. In other words, his soul has seen happier times, times when he was able to worship with the people of God at the house of God. Times when he experienced joy and thanksgiving. Times when worship was like a glorious God festival! But now, all that is gone. He is secluded, and surrounded by adversaries and mockers and scoffers who question him all day long by asking, “Where is your God?”
So that is where his despondency stems from. Maybe you have experienced something similar. Have you ever been cut off from attending church and experiencing Christian fellowship for a lengthy period of time? Perhaps because of a health issue, you were unable to gather with the church. And, on top of that, you had to endure the company of unbelievers who mocked and scoffed at your God and your faith. That’s enough to bring anyone down.
How He Fought His Despondency. Even though the psalmist was experiencing despair and despondency, he didn’t lie down and let it roll him over like a bulldozer. He fought it. Let’s take a look at how he battled despondency.
- He scolds himself for giving in to despondency. Notice verse 5, “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me?” This is as if to say, “Soul, you shouldn’t be in despair. There is no good reason for you to be disturbed! Snap out of it! Your attitude and actions do not become a servant of the most high God!” When we experience despondency, we must recognize what is happening, and if we have given in to it and are wallowing in it, we must confess that as sin. Scold yourself for giving in to the attack of the enemy.
- He preaches to himself that he must hope in God. When you get down, you are going to need to fight it. The best way to fight despondency is to preach the truth to yourself. And the particular truth that he preaches here is that there is hope in God. You see despondency is really coming to a state of hopelessness. However, there is always hope for the child of God. Not just any hope, but hope in God. No matter how bleak your life is in the natural realm, there is always great hope for you in the spiritual realm. Hope is the remedy for despondency. The psalmist tells himself that he will again praise Him. In other words, he is confident he will again return to Jerusalem and enjoy the wonderful public worship of the people at the temple. All is not lost. All is not hopeless.
- He reminds himself of what he knows to be true. In verse 6 he remembers God from the land of the Jordan. Even though he is far from Jerusalem, and cut off from God’s people, he remembers his God. And what does he remind himself is true about God? Verse 8 tells us. “The Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime; and His song will be with me in the night.” In other words, God has not left me. He has not deserted me or forsaken me. He is right here with me, even though I am far from His temple. He commands His lovingkindness to be poured out on me during the daytime. And in the night my songs of praise go forth to Him. The psalmist pursues communion with God, and reminds Himself that God is a God of lovingkindness. He is a God of love. He is a God who delights to bless His people. Even though he is 100 miles away from the temple, he can still experience God’s presence and love out in the wilderness! My friends, if you are ever cut off from God’s people in some hospital room, or a nursing home somewhere, remind yourself that God is still with you and delights to draw near and bless you with His presence!
- He prays to God his Rock. Not only does he preach to himself, but he prays to his God. The psalmist pours out his soul in prayer. He tells God how he feels. He feels like God has forgotten him. Have you ever felt that way? Did you tell God how you felt? We might shrink back in shame and embarrassment from talking to God like that. But why? We have already thought it. Do you think God does not read your thoughts? If you have already thought it, why not vocalize it? Is it because you feel it is too irreverent? Evidently, this psalmist didn’t think so. He vocalizes his complaint to God. I really think we should be honest with God in prayer. Tell him honestly how you are feeling. He’s got big shoulders. He can handle it. If you are feeling despondent, tell God. Ask Him to draw near and command lovingkindness to you.
What is the outcome? Verse 11 says, “Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God.” This is almost exactly the same as verse 5, except for the final phrase. In verse 5 it is “for the help of His presence.” In verse 11 it is “for the help of my countenance.” After the psalmist scolded himself for giving in to despondency, preaching to himself that he must hope in God, reminding himself of what he knows to be true, and pouring out his soul to God in prayer, his countenance is lifted. Instead of a face picturing dejection, it is now transformed into a countenance of hope and joy.
2. The Lord Jesus
Mt. 26:36-39, “Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to His disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed. Then He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.” And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.”
Here we find the Lord Jesus dealing with the world forces of darkness and the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. In Luke 22:53 He says, “While I was with you daily in the temple, you did not lay hands on Me; but this hour and the power of darkness are yours.” Satan was given permission to wage all ought war against the Lord Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and at Calvary. Satan and his demonic hosts were fighting with all their might against the holy Son of God. This must have been the scene of intense spiritual battles. The flaming arrows of the evil one must have been flying at the Lord Jesus by the thousands on this night.
When the battle raged, how did Jesus feel? In John 12:27 Jesus said, “Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour.” Christ’s soul was troubled. Later in Matthew 26:38 He said, “My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death.” Think about that expression. What would it feel like for your soul to be deeply grieved to the point of death? Don’t you think that would count as a form of despondency? Of course we don’t know for sure what was going through Christ’s mind on that night. But perhaps Satan was whispering thoughts to him like, “It’s not worth it. It’s no use. It won’t work.” Perhaps Satan was seeking to produce such a despondency in Jesus that He would wallow in it and not do what the Father had given Him to do. By the way, this tells me that despondency, in and of itself, is not sin. Jesus Christ never sinned, yet He experienced a soul deeply grieved to the point of death. Experiencing an attack of despondency is not sin, but if we don’t turn on the air-raid sirens, run for the bomb shelter, and man the anti-aircraft guns and fight back, then we sin.
So, how did Jesus fight despondency?
- He chose some close friends to be with Him. Verse 36 says that He took His 11 disciples with Him, and then chose three of His closest friends to be near Him. When you are experiencing despondency, it is usually not healthy for you to withdraw from all people. You may feel like you can’t be around people right then, but the more reclusive you become, the longer it may take for you to come out of your depressed spirits. When Jesus was about to face the most difficult battle of His life, He chose some friends and brought them with Him. We need to do the same. You don’t have to be around tons of people. But find one or two or three trusted close friends or pastors and purposely choose to be around them.
- He opened His soul to them. Notice verse 38, “Then He said to them, ‘My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death.” Jesus made Himself vulnerable. He was open and honest about his soul struggle with these three disciples. We too, should find trusted friends that we can open our soul to and be honest with. Tell them of your struggles.
- He asked for their prayer and partnership in the battle. He said to them, “Remain here and keep watch with Me.” In other words, Jesus was asking them to pray for Him, even as He prayed to the Father. They were to keep watch against the attacks of Christ’s enemies. When you are going through despondency, ask your trusted friends to pray with you and for you, and engage in the battle with you.
- He poured out His soul in prayer to God. He said in verse 39, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me.” Jesus told His Father what His request was. Jesus, in His humanity, shrank from the horrors of the cross. He asked the Father to let the cup pass. So too, after you have asked trusted friends to intercede on your behalf, pour out your soul to God. Just as the psalmist and Jesus, cry to God. Let Him hear your cry.
- He resigned Himself to the Sovereign Wisdom of God. He said, “Yet not as I will, but as You will.” We too, must find peace in knowing that God is sovereign, He loves us, and will ultimately do what is right and best. After you have poured out your soul to God, remind yourself that God is in control, and that He will cause all things to work together for your good.
- He fixed His hope on the Joy on the other side of the cross. Hebrews 12:3 says, “who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus was able to endure the dark and gloomy onslaught of the enemy and bearing the sins of the world, because He fixed his hope on the joy He knew would be His. You and I must do the same. We must fix our hope on God’s precious and magnificent promises.
So, what are some of God’s promises that we can battle despondency with? Let me give you several. I would encourage you to memorize and meditate on some of these this week.
Psalm 3:3, “But You, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the One who lifts my head.”
Psalm 30:5, “For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for a lifetime; weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.”
Psalm 32:10, “Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but he who trusts in the Lord, lovingkindness shall surround him.”
Psalm 34:17, “The righteous cry, and the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.”
Psalm 37:23-24, “The steps of a man are established by the Lord, and He delights in His way. When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong, because the Lord is the One who holds his hand.”
Psalm 40:1-3, “I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me and heard my cry. He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, and He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; many will see and fear and will trust in the Lord.”
John 14:1, “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.”
John 16:33, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”
Rom.8:28 “and we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”
Rom. 8:32 “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?”
Rom.8:38-39, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
James 1:2-4, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Heb.13:5, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.”
My friends, this is just a sampling of the glorious promises God has made to us in His Word. Arm yourself with God’s Word. When you face despondency don’t give in, but fight it by using the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God!
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