Sunday, July 31, 2022

Overcoming Discouragement

Do you ever feel sorry for yourself or downhearted without being sure of the cause?

Apparently David did. He asked himself twice in Psalm 42, “Why are you cast down, O my soul?” Then he prescribed an effective remedy for himself: “Hope in God”, he said, for he had good reason to believe he would yet praise the one he called the health of his countenance and his God.

David was not whistling in the dark to dispel his distress. It was not merely good psychology; it was an act of faith. He knew he would “yet praise him”, and thus he put his hope in God.

A Disclaimer

I have experienced each of the three distressing conditions that follow to some degree, but not a fourth (pain) on which I will not presume to write. I have known pain, but never continuously. However, I have spent many hours visiting with believers suffering in this way, and a few very dear friends are currently enduring this kind of trial. I will only say I am amazed at the grace they display.

About to offer my sympathy, I once heard these words from a hospital bed: “He knows, he loves, he cares. Nothing this truth can dim. He gives the very best to those who leave the choice to him.” To rest in the love and care of one who sometimes permits his choicest servants to undergo such experiences is a miracle of grace (Job being an example).

I will confine myself to touching on other circumstances in which I have learned to give thanks for “the help of his countenance”.

1/ When Lonely

In Psalm 120:5-7 David cries out, “Woe is me”, then points to the reason for his discomfort: he was living among those who were determined to be at war with him while he was all for peace.

Sometimes a Christian is the only believer in his or her family. Jesus reminded those who wanted to be his disciples that “a man’s foes will be those of his own household”. When that happens, the new convert may be tempted to either compromise for the sake of peace or stop showing any natural affection or respect due to family members; he isolates himself. “Woe is me”, he says, for he is terribly lonely. He must learn to draw strength from the one whose own half-brothers did not believe in him, and to put his hope in the Lord, knowing he will yet have reason to praise him.

2/ When Sorrowful

Other prophets too had reason to voice a “Woe is me”. Isaiah and Micah, when describing deep distress, began with such words. Jeremiah, often referred to as “The Weeping Prophet”, thought his anguish was unique when he cried out, “Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow, which was brought upon me, which the Lord inflicted on the day of his fierce anger.” A variation of that may be behind words we may have often heard, “I don’t know why God let this happen to me.” That has an accusatory tone to it. As long as we insist on asking for an immediate answer, we shut the door on the consolation the “God of all comfort” wants to supply.

Sorrow does not wait for an open grave; it can come because a living loved one rejects the Savior and us. But whatever the cause and consequences of joys or sorrows in this life, we know that “the time is short ... the present form of this world is passing away.” All tears, rightly shed in this present hour, will soon be wiped away by God himself; we shall yet praise him. Meanwhile, he is ready to be the health of our countenance and our God.

3/ When Learning More of My Sinfulness

Isaiah had been faithfully delivering God’s message to his nation for some while. But there was moment he would never forget; he could pinpoint it. In the year that the king died he found himself in the presence of a thrice holy God. It was not that he felt he had to take back what he had previously proclaimed so boldly; that was God’s truth. But now it would be delivered in a new tone. He knew himself “a sinful man”, as sinful as those to whom he spoke. Not in the same ways perhaps, but nevertheless unbearably sinful, “a man with unclean lips” dwelling “in the midst of people of unclean lips”. In the presence of such holiness there are no comparisons to be made in our favor.

The things the Old Testament saints went through were written for our learning. We do not have to have Isaiah’s experience in order to benefit from it; the word of God and the convicting power of the Holy Spirit are sufficient. Why was Isaiah not completely demolished and his ministry terminated? Instead, he entered into a deeper understanding of divine forgiveness. He had already anticipated Calvary by preaching a pardon for the evil committed by repentant sinners among his people. He had faithfully proclaimed, “Though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.”

Now he learned (in a symbolic way of course) that when God’s Son would be laid upon the altar, provision would also be made for guilt realized by God’s servants. His sinful lips were touched by a burning coal from the altar. Not only would his sins be dealt with but his inherent sinfulness (iniquity) — that which would disqualify him for future service — would be taken away in Messiah’s sacrifice. The due condemnation due he felt so keenly would be borne by another. Instead of resigning, he volunteered to be recommissioned and sent!

Consider this well, all you servants of the Lord who have learned your own unworthiness; the Lord has further work for you to do!

— Colin Anderson, August 2013

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