When Despair Strikes

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Do you feel like you are in despair? Ever find yourself in a situation where it feels like there is no hope – that you’ve come to the end of your rope and have no idea what to do next? When desperation strikes, where do you find your strength?

I had a chance to spend an extended time with the Lord after my recent surgery. I took a lot of time to read my Bible, good books, pray, and listen to some sermons. One of the themes that I continually heard over the course of that week was that

God uses our trials to draw us closer to him. Sometimes we need to come to a point of desperation before we will yield ourselves to God in expectation.

This morning, after another difficult night of sleep, my attention was turned towards the Psalms. In Psalm 119:81-82 we read

81 I am worn out waiting for your rescue,
    but I have put my hope in your word.
82 My eyes are straining to see your promises come true.
    When will you comfort me? (Psalm 119:81-82 NLT)

Ever feel worn out waiting for the rescue of the Lord? Ever cry out, like the contemporary worship song, “I need you Jesus to come to my rescue! Where else can I turn?”

It doesn’t have to be a huge problem to bring us to this point. Sometimes, it’s a series of small things that just add up, and when we reach the tipping point, we either turn to Christ, because we realize that He is our only hope; or we continue in a cycle of choices that will take us further away from the joy and the hope that can only be found in Christ.

When Psalm 119 ends, we are introduced to a new series of Psalms. Beginning in Psalm 120, we see the Psalms of Ascent; a mini-songbook that the worshipers of Jehovah were to sing on their way to the temple. It was a way for worshipers to prepare to meet God. Step by step, the people would sing. They wouldn’t climb one step, until they had finished singing the song of ascent on the previous step.

When our family was in Israel in 2010, we visited the stairs of ascent that led to the temple. Here is picture of that spot.

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Stairs of Ascent at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

As the people sang the songs, they reflected on God’s ability to manage our troubles. I would say that their troubles caused them to seek out the only One who could truly help.

Look at these words from Psalm 120.

I took my troubles to the Lord;
    I cried out to him, and he answered my prayer. (Psalm 120:1)

How about these words from Psalm 121?

I look up to the mountains—
    does my help come from there?
My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth! (Psalm 121:1-2)

Knowing that the temple was a place where the presence of the Lord was experienced in wonderful ways, the people shouted the following in Psalm 122:

I was glad when they said to me,
    “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” (Psalm 122:1)

Guess where the people focused their eyes in Psalm 123?

I lift my eyes to you,
    O God, enthroned in heaven. (Psalm 123:1)

Who helped the people in Psalm 124?

Our help is from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth. (Psalm 124:8)

Step by step, the people sang of God’s faithfulness. They sang of the fact that God was the One in Whom they placed their trust.

Another step another declaration:

Those who trust in the Lord are as secure as Mount Zion;
    they will not be defeated but will endure forever. (Psalm 125:1)

Another step, another memory of God’s past care:

Yes, the Lord has done amazing things for us!
    What joy! (Psalm 126:3)

The worshiper climbs, and as he or she does, the yielding of oneself to the expectation that it is God who protects is once again demonstrated.

Unless the Lord builds a house,
    the work of the builders is wasted.
Unless the Lord protects a city,
    guarding it with sentries will do no good. (Psalm 127:1)

By the next step, the pilgrim is reminded of the joy that comes from following God’s path.

How joyful are those who fear the Lord
    all who follow his ways! (Psalm 128:1)

The memory of God’s work in freeing His children from the bondage of sin is on the next step.

But the Lord is good;
    he has cut me free from the ropes of the ungodly. (Psalm 129:4)

The Apostle Paul asked the rhetorical question in the New Testament:

24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? (Romans 7:24)

The answer of course, is the Lord. When sin so quickly entangles it is God who rescues us. When desperation strikes in any area of our lives we run to God.

The Jewish pilgrim, ascending those stairs continued to recognize that God was able in Psalm 130.

From the depths of despair, O Lord,
    I call for your help.
Hear my cry, O Lord.
    Pay attention to my prayer. (Psalm 130:1-2)

One of the shortest Psalms spoke also of God’s faithfulness. The entirety of Psalm 131 is a declaration of dependence to the Lord.

Lord, my heart is not proud;
    my eyes are not haughty.
I don’t concern myself with matters too great
    or too awesome for me to grasp.
Instead, I have calmed and quieted myself,
    like a weaned child who no longer cries for its mother’s milk.
    Yes, like a weaned child is my soul within me.

O Israel, put your hope in the Lord
    now and always. (Psalm 131)

Three more steps remain. The anticipation of meeting with the Lord continues to grow.

Let us go to the sanctuary of the Lord;
    let us worship at the footstool of his throne. (Psalm 132:7)

Just two more steps. As the worshiper nears the temple, his focus turns on his fellowman. There is joy that comes when the people of God are seeking Him together.

How wonderful and pleasant it is
    when brothers live together in harmony! (Psalm 133:1)

The problems seem a little smaller. Stress is replaced by satisfaction that God has things under control. Issues with brothers and sisters in Christ are minimized as life together, centered on the Lord is pursued.

The final step. One more song. Only this time, desperation has been replaced by hope. The Lord is praised, hands are lifted in worship, and God is remembered for Who He is, maker of heaven and earth. If God could do that, He can certainly handle our problems.

Oh, praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord,
    you who serve at night in the house of the Lord.
Lift your hands toward the sanctuary,
    and praise the Lord.

May the Lord, who made heaven and earth,
    bless you from Jerusalem. (Psalm 134)

Those were the passages that I read early this morning. In the stress of a sleepless night, God gave me peace.

Yesterday, as I was driving to work, I heard this song on the radio. It’s Big Daddy Weave’s version of Rich Mullins’ classic song, Hold Me Jesus. In a way, this song, has been a type of song of ascent for me, ever since college. I love the way Rich wrote the words of this song. Hundreds of times over the past 25 years I’ve sung these words.

Hold me Jesus ’cause I’m shaking like a leaf
You have been King of my glory
Won’t You be my Prince of Peace

When despair strikes, remember who Jesus is!

Enjoy this video:

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There are two types of people in this world — those who love it when a group of people show up to their door to Christmas carol, and those who hate it.

Todd Rhodes had a fun post about caroling on his blog today. He tells the story the Long Hollow Baptist Church worship team, who decided to have some fun with Christmas caroling this year. Check out their humorous videos: