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When You Wrestle with Despair

September 13, 2021

The Psalms speak realistically about tough situations, with the inspired writers venting their emotions on full display. God often shows up in unexpected ways—not every psalm ends with “happily ever after.” Authentic descriptions of problems show you can trust in God’s prescriptions.

One of the instructions in God’s Word says that in times of deep despair, when everything is going wrong, you should stop giving in to negative voices and instead command yourself to hope in God. We see this in Psalms 42 and 43, where the psalmist repeats this accusatory question: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” (Ps. 42:5, 11; 43:5). And each time, he repeats word for word a command to hope: “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (Ps. 42:5–6, 11; 43:5).

This is an important prescription for despair.

The psalm’s author reveals his deep hopelessness in many ways, including feelings of abandonment. Many people put the first verses of Psalm 42 in sweet songs and on pretty posters: “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (vv. 1–2). The visual is of a dehydrated deer dying in the woods, desperate to touch his wooden tongue to water. This is how the psalmist describes his desperate relationship with God.

His only food has been hot, salty tears. People insult his distance from God (see v. 10). Memories of former times with God mock his present loneliness (see vv. 3–4). He feels utterly forsaken, like God has forgotten him (see v. 9).

When you feel alone, what do you do? You know God must be the answer, but honestly, his absence is a big part of the problem. In Psalm 42, adversaries start directing the psalmist to turn against God, but that isn’t right.

Here is where the author of the psalm brings his surprising solution: Tell yourself the truth about God. Hope in God. In spite of how far away the Lord seems to be, he is with you under your pile of problems.

You feel hopeless, helpless, and abandoned by God. Although that is how you feel, those feelings aren’t accurate. They are not the whole story. Don’t give in to them! Instead, speak truth to your soul—hope in God! Lift your eyes to heaven. He is worthy of your praise. He is your God.

Get your ears away from the voices of fake friends and of your own weakened heart. Remember what is true about God. Your fallen, fickle feelings may let you down, but God will not.

In a world plagued by sinfulness, you cannot always trust your heart. When your heart tells you wrong things about God and your dark circumstances, you must tell yourself the truth from Scripture. The end of this story will result in praises to him.

Reflect: Are your negative thoughts on a continual loop? Stop! Insert God into your thinking now.

Act: Write examples of what you have been telling yourself. Next to each negative thought, write a God-centered replacement thought. Hoping in God includes using self-control to think these new thoughts instead of the negative ones when they try to return.

This excerpt comes from Hope: Living Confidently in God by John Crotts and is published by permission of P&R Publishing. 

John Crotts is the Pastor-Teacher of Faith Bible Church in Sharpsburg, Georgia, just south of Atlanta ( He and his wife Lynn have been at the church in Georgia since 1995. The Lord has blessed them with four children. John grew up in a Christian home in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He graduated from Liberty University in 1990, and received his MDiv degree from The Master’s Seminary in Los Angeles, and his DMin degree from Southern Seminary in Louisville. He served as a board member of FIRE (The Fellowship of Independent Reformed Evangelicals) for many years. John’s books are Mighty Men: The Starter’s Guide to Leading Your Family, Craftsmen: Christ Centered Proverbs for Men; Tying the Knot Tighter: Because Marriage Lasts a Lifetime co-authored with Martha Peace, Loving the Church: God’s People Flourishing in God’s Family, Upsetting the World: Following Paul’s Example of Frontline Evangelism; the Bitesize Biography on John Newton; and Graciousness: Tempering Truth with Love.



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