A Response to Hopelessness

One of the greatest callings in the life of a pastor is to be asked to help in time of need. It is especially significant whenever a person has reached a point of desperation. Whether it is because they trust me or because they lack better options, in God’s sovereignty he has appointed pastors to be the person his people can turn to when they don’t know what to do – when they are hopeless. Maybe the person is deep in the throes of sin and has hit rock bottom, or perhaps they simply have lost their way and need help seeing clearly again. No matter the exact reason, the experience of being trusted is nearly overwhelming. I most often feel, as it’s been said, like a beggar telling other beggars where to find bread. Psalm 143 provides challenging, comforting, and life-changing wisdom for all of God’s people and it is quickly becoming my most commonly turned-to passage.

Being thirsty describes a body with a craving. A person was once satisfied, they are no longer satisfied and desire to be filled again. A right understanding of the Bible and the truth of life is that we were created by God and for God (Colossians 1). There is a great hope that exists in knowing that the creation story of Genesis 1 and 2 is not a fairytale, but the opening chapters of sixty-six books which go on to describe God’s incredible love, intentional design, and undeniable purpose for each of our lives. Yet, as Adam and Eve did in Genesis 3, so too do we choose sin and self over a right and holy relationship with God – we now know hopelessness. We once were satisfied with God, we now choose to drink from empty, poisonous wells. God accurately describes us in Jeremiah when he says, “…my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13).

I’ve been there. I’ve felt distant from God because of my own choices. I have chosen to drink deep from sin’s offerings, then to repeatedly draw from their same toxic waters. Or perhaps you have committed sin, yes, but your hopelessness is more significantly from the sins that have happened to you. You have come to the point where you feel you can no longer trust God, you feel you have lost your taste for his river.

So what then are we to do? Whether overwhelmed by an addiction or convicted of spiritual drift, David has wise words to believe and follow in the midst of our hopelessness.

v. 1-2 David starts where we all must start: with humility. David recognizes that it is the LORD, alone, who can help. Not “seven highly effective habits,” Orpah’s latest book club, or the most sought-after therapist in town. He asks God to hear his prayer. He knows God is the source of forgiveness, freedom, and healing. He recognizes and believes God does not owe him anything, nor does God have to give his constant attention to David, as he does. How easily we take God’s omnipresence for granted – that we presume on the fact that God does have his loving eye on us each and every day. Yet we, like David, should come to God in the posture of humility. The starting place for all heart change is a humble and contrite heart. The Bible teaches that we are to choose a posture of humility before the Lord (2 Chronicles 7:14, James 4:10, 1 Peter 5:6). David asks the LORD to hear his prayer and that prayer begins with a cry for mercy. I’m convinced an element of our experience in heaven will include being shown how the true extent to which God’s mercy towards us was applied. With new minds, we will be able to comprehend all the times he was physically, emotionally, and spiritually merciful to us – not giving us what we truly deserve. Long before we should ask for help, we must choose humility before a holy God.

v. 3-4 There are powerful verbs in these following verses. David describes himself as being, “crushed” and “made to sit in darkness.” His spirit faints and his heart is appalled. There is little doubt we have all been there. Whether of our own making, sins committed against us, or tragedies in this life, we will have these feelings. A feeling of being crushed comes whenever it seems that no matter where you turn, the evidence of your sin is there. Maybe it is a besetting sin or addiction – it can feel like that craving is a thousand-pound gorilla that jumps on your back and wrestles you to the ground. Or maybe because of the words or actions of others, you feel as though there is a dark rain cloud slowly and steadily beating you down, crushing the life from you. As you think about what you’ve done or what you are going through, it seems as though you are sitting in a dark room. Not only do you not know where the light switch is, but you have no way of seeing to find it. Any and all efforts you’ve made to quit the addiction, outrun the temptation, or walk free from anguish, leaves you feeling exhausted. You know what it is like to feel physically tired, but of late it is your very spirit which faints and feels lifeless. Your heart is shocked, unwilling to truly believe how foolish you could be to keep committing the same sins over and over again. Maybe you are in complete disbelief that someone you loved and trusted would be so cruel or say such hurtful things – you feel as if your heart can’t even comprehend it.

It is entirely understandable how life experiences can cause these feelings. It is so very common for these feelings to cause us to run to something or someone other than Jesus to heal our pain or satisfy our desires. In our humanity, we are prone to wander. A quick fix is always easier to reach for than a steady trust in Jesus. But the good news is that the gospel offers hope in the midst of our feelings. While our feelings may be understandable, they are never going to satisfy – nor are the things they tempt us to do or say going to bless us. Jesus promises that, “…whoever will drink from the water that I will give him will never thirst again” (John 4:14). So how does this happen? What good is trust in Jesus if our faith only remains lofty and abstract and not sincere and practical? David gives great encouragement.

v. 5 In an almost word-for-word response to the emotions described in the previous verses, David encourages us as Christ-followers to remember, meditate, and ponder. Whenever we feel crushed, overwhelmed, ready to give up, it is necessary that we remember the days of old. Satan does all he can to tempt you to keep your focus on today. He lies to you about what the present is, and what the future will be like. What Satan cannot re-write are the days of old. Satan is powerless to erase the rich history of God. For generations before you God has been on his throne and unchanging (Hebrews 13:4). His love for his people is deep and knows no limits. His character is immutable. There is no variation or shadow because he has changed his mind or decided to be a different kind of god (James 1:17).

The concept of meditation is focusing and processing. If we reduce God down to a “what he has done” vs “what he has not done” dichotomy, we will truncate his awesomeness. It’s been said, worry is praying for you what don’t want to happen. In the same way, we can be tempted to define God by what he is not doing. He won’t take this craving away, he won’t change my husband, etc. Our feelings towards God are thus created by a self-centered perspective. A shallow understanding of what he has done and why he has done it will cause a person to overlook the purpose of God’s work in your life. Instead you run to the things you can understand and feel, most often sinful actions or ungodly emotions. To meditate on what God has done is to choose to take your eyes off what you think he hasn’t done or isn’t doing and to focus your attentions on the work he has accomplished.

This is a beautiful, two-sided coin. On the one side, meditate on the wonderful work of God in your own life. He has blessed you with blessings in your life in the past. He has answered your prayers. He has been with you and he has given you his peace and comfort, both when you were aware of these blessings and even when you weren’t. The other side of the coin is his accomplished work on the cross. Even if you never “received a blessing” a day in your life, that you have days in your life is a blessing. He died so you can have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). His sacrificial death on the cross overcame the penalty of sin (1 Cor 15:3; 2 Cor 5:21) and his supernatural resurrection from the grave overcame the power of sin (1 Cor 15:4).

v. 6 There is something incredibly powerful about lifting your hands towards someone. It is both a literal posture of need and a symbolic posture of surrender. One of my fondest memories of fatherhood is anytime either of my sons came running towards me, hands raised – not needing to say a word, yet I knew they needed me, wanted a hug. Or those times you’ve reconnected with a dear friend, having not seen them…in like, forever…and they get off the plane or out of their car and throw their hands in the air. This posture of David comes full circle to mirror the posture of his heart in verse one. To God, alone, should our arms be stretched out. May you abandon your desires to stretch out your hands to the hopeless and hollow pleasures of this world. That you and I would close our fists, turn our eyes from such vain temptations as comfort in sin. In the words of the classic, 1990’s youth group worship song, “…let us not lift our souls to another…”

Whether it is sin you are committing, sin that is happening to you, or if you find yourself in the throes of addiction – there is hope. The hope you need is not found in a process, a plan, or by pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. Instead, Christ alone is your only hope. Who he is and what he has done will transform the hopeless life.