Saturday, January 7, 2012

Looking For A Way Out Of Dark Emotions

In times of trouble what do you do to encourage yourself or do you allow yourself to be pulled down into the darkness of despair? It would be great to think that every New Year brings with it a clean slate, but it doesn't. All the baggage we were carrying on December 31st follows us into January 1st. There is no magic to it and we usually realize that within the first week as the baggage makes itself evident. We can't avoid our problems. We may put them off for a bit of time but eventually we are going to have to face them. So what do you do to encourage yourself during these times or do you just slip into the darkness?

It is something the psalmist of Psalm 77 had to make a decision on. We have no idea what he was facing but it had brought him to that dark place:

When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
   at night I stretched out untiring hands
   and my soul refused to be comforted.
I remembered you, O God, and I groaned;
   I mused, and my spirit grew faint.
(vv. 2-3)

I wonder how many of us could have used those words, "my spirit grew faint", to describe how we felt as the darkness tugged at the corners of our reality and threatened to overwhelm us completely. The psalmist seemed to try to encourage himself with God, "I sought the Lord", "I remembered you":

You kept my eyes from closing; 
   I was too troubled to speak. 
I thought about the former days, 
   the years of long ago; 
I remembered my songs in the night. (vv. 4-6)

It sounds good but the psalmist better describes what we was actually doing:

 My heart mused and my spirit inquired:
 “Will the Lord reject forever?
   Will he never show his favor again?
Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
   Has his promise failed for all time?
Has God forgotten to be merciful?
   Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”
(vv. 6-9)

The psalmist mentioned it a couple of times, he "mused". There is a difference between musing and trusting. He was dwelling on his problems and remembering things of the past. He was remembering with no real conviction. It was like longing for "the good old days" when things seemed to be easier. He remembered and thought about God but there was no action to it, it produced nothing in him. It would be like looking at old photographs and then closing the album and continuing on with no change to anything. But then the psalmist made a decision that did change things for him:

Then I thought, “To this I will appeal: 
   the years of the right hand of the Most High.” 
I will remember the deeds of the LORD; 
   yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. 
I will meditate on all your works 
   and consider all your mighty deeds. (vv. 10-12)

Instead of confining himself to musing he decided he would remember and reflect on the character of God and the actions that character provoked in God. It's one thing to acknowledge God's unfailing love but it's another thing entirely to reflect on the actions this provoked in the past and believe it for the present:

Your ways, O God, are holy. 
   What god is so great as our God? 
You are the God who performs miracles; 
   you display your power among the peoples. 
With your mighty arm you redeemed your people, 
   the descendants of Jacob and Joseph. (vv. 13-15)

It is great that we try to encourage ourselves by seeking God but the real difference happens when we remember who it is that we are seeking. So many call out to God with no expectations because they call out to a concept and not the person of God. They do not know who he is. They have no idea what power they are trying to call upon. They seek him with some vague hope, without the confidence of knowing his character and his promises. When we know him we ask with confidence, boldness and expectation. It is one thing to hear that God's love is unfailing but it is another thing to actually swim in it.

If you are looking to encourage yourself as you walk through that "valley of the shadow of death", start by remember who God is, what he has done, and what he has promised. This alone will bring the light back into your heart and will put your problems in perspective. Don't call out to emptiness but instead reach out for the comforting arms of our Father. Jesus has made it all possible and for God nothing is impossible. Dance, sing, rejoice as you praise our God who has chosen you as his object of affection.

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1 comment:

Ashley Ormon said...

Hi Pastor Paul. Thank you for this encouraging message. It most certainly helped me in a discouraging time. I'm so glad God placed this message on your heart to share. God favor you.