Hills and Valleys

Is it realistic for Christians to be joyful always? What happens when we despair, and how do we quickly turn around that mindset?

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Psalm 22:1 – My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? (NIV)

It seems to me that our Christian culture has made it a sin to despair, to question God, to be just downright sad. However, the Bible is filled with mighty men of God who struggled with God, who questioned God, sought their own way, or just had down days.

I don’t feel like Christianity should promote despair, but I also don’t think that it should try to make it seem like everything is awesome every day of the week. This is an unrealistic goal which can cause us to be frustrated when we cannot achieve it or to ignore these thoughts and push them away without dealing with them directly.

Now, before we continue, I am not talking in this post about clinical depression that needs treatment from a licensed clinical psychiatrist, which I am not. Depression is a real struggle for many, and I will not claim to have all the answers to it.

Let’s look in the Bible where men of God questioned God and their circumstances:
• John the Baptist was in prison and questioned if Jesus was the Messiah even after proclaiming it at Jesus’s baptism (Matt. 11:2-3, NIV).

• Habakkuk 1:2 (NIV) – O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save?

• Moses was frustrated with God and the Israelites many times. In Numbers 11:11 (NIV), he said to the Lord, “Why are you treating me, your servant, so harshly? Have mercy on me! What did I do to deserve the burden of all these people?”

• Many of David’s psalms were filled with sadness and discouragement, including Psalm 22.

• In Psalms 73, Asaph questioned God about the prosperity of the wicked.

• After the defeat of the prophets of Baal, Elijah suffered from despair, even wishing to die. In 1 Kings 19:4 (NIV) he said, “I have had enough Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died.”

• Jonah rebelled against God, but after the successful saving of Nineveh, Jonah became bitter, telling God, “Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live” (Jon 4:3, NIV).

Now it’s easy as Christians to quote the Bible where it says “the joy of the Lord is our strength” (Neh. 8:10) and “rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil. 4:4). I’m not saying that these are not good goals, but as fallible humans, we need to understand that we will have good and bad days, we will have strong faith mixed with weak faith, and we will question God or be without any doubt. There are high and low points in our “climb up the mountain” as Christians. Just read Pilgrim’s Progress

Martin Luther, the great reformer, struggled with doubt. It’s one of the key drivers of him questioning the church at the time to lead the reformation. At one point, his doubt led to such great a depression that he wrote, “For more than a week I was close to the gates of death and hell. I trembled in all my members. Christ was wholly lost. I was shaken by desperation and blasphemy of God.”

What is our end goal when we despair? If we question God or have sadness, what do we do? We do not live in that state; we use it to propel us forward and out of it. We seek help, read the Bible, pray to God, and ultimately stand firm in our faith in who God is. It is important to not go through this alone; we need to find fellow believers we can be accountable with and who we can call up when we are struggling.

Feel free to read my post on “Wrestling with God.” God is a big God, and He can handle our doubts, worries, anxieties, fears, and sadness. If we give them over to God, He can handle them where we, in our own strength, cannot. Once we rest in God’s sovereignty, we can realize that we do not have all the answers, and that is ok.

Back to Psalm 73 (my favorite Psalm). The first half is the author’s frustrations with the wicked, but by the end, it brings him to a place of confidence in God and His ultimate plan. How he may not understand everything fully but his ultimate trust is in God.

23 Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.
27 Those who are far from you will perish;
you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.
28 But as for me, it is good to be near God.
I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge;
I will tell of all your deeds (NIV).

May the same be said of us, that we can use our dark times to help illuminate God and His power, that we can rest in the fact that He has everything under control. Our doubts and fears are not sinful in and of themselves; we should not feel unworthy for having them. But after we push through, get everything out in the open, and fall back on God’s sovereignty, we can get back to pursuing God. We can then truly claim that “the joy of the Lord is my strength” (Neh. 8:10, NIV)

Discerning Reflection: What do I do when I am sad, when I question God? Do I pray and turn to Him, or do I turn away from Him? Do I feel shame for having those thoughts? How can I quickly turn around from these thoughts, and who do I need to be accountable with to help me?

Prayer: Lord, help me seek after You in the good and the bad times. Help me understand that I will have high and low points and to not despair but to trust that You have everything under control.


Tim Ferrara

Discerning Dad




This is an updated edition of a post originally published on discerning-dad.com

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About the Author

Tim Ferrara, Founder of Discerning Dad (www.discerning-dad.com). Background in the church all my life. 20+ years of management experience. Current Executive Pastor of LifePoint Church in San Tan Valley. Author of Everyday Discernment and Eyes on Jesus. Host of the Eyes on Jesus Podcast