I didn't grow up watching Hee Haw. In fact, I didn't grow up watching anything, at least not on TV. My entire life as a kid, we didn't have a television. But, apparently (before I was born) my father must have watched Hee Haw. I can remember him singing what Google tells me is a Hee Haw tune: "Gloom, despair, and agony on me. Deep, dark depression, excessive misery. If it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all. Gloom, despair, and agony on me." (He sang in his best southern drawl with added squeaks, squawks, and momentary higher octave jumps for effect).
Laughing at our sorrows and "misfortunes" is a common and somewhat effective coping mechanism. But the truth is, our problems do get to us eventually. Any one of us can be driven to despair.
It is my contention that we often respond with resilience and fortitude to some of the largest catastrophes of life. Yet the littlest demons can drive us to despair. Maybe it's because we see the inevitability of the ultimate problems. In other words, it appears that (since we can't do anything to avoid them) we often accept our plight with the endless cycles of wars, political manipulations, natural disasters, and death. But the persistence of smaller problems—which should be solvable, at least theoretically, but instead remain annoyingly present—can eat at us until we wonder if we can even keep holding on to our own sanity.
And Satan uses these "little foxes" constantly. In fact, I wonder if they aren't his most effective tool.
I've been fighting a broken wisdom tooth for a few months. This morning I finally broke down and went to the dentist to have it extracted. But, I haven't been to the dentist in such a long time that they don't even consider me to be their patient anymore. They flatly declined to see me.
I was not happy.
Then I got home and went looking for my daughter's car keys. I had wanted to take her car to the dentist, but couldn't find the keys. I had them last. But in MY world, that is bad news. Not good news. I lose things constantly, and often can't remember even the simplest of things. Those keys could be anywhere. I've looked everywhere I know to look.
Now, while I'm airing my grievances (Happy Festivus), I also have cubital tunnel syndrome in my left elbow. This makes my ring finger numb. That makes hitting and holding chords accurately on a regular 6 string guitar rather difficult.
And, for weeks I've had a swollen and sore knuckle on my right thumb (where the metacarpal bone connects to the proximal phalange, and yes, I had to look that up). I have no idea what is causing it. Arthritis? It hurts when I play the 4 string bass guitar, makes me too weak with my right hand to do things as simple as squeeze finger nail clippers, and even aches when I'm simply scrolling or typing on my phone with it.
Oh, 1st world problems.
Ultimately my insignificant difficulties are bothersome to me because they remind me of my mortality and of the impending evaporation of my independence. As a pastor I sometimes get to witness these realities up close and personal. In other words, I get to see strong and dependable people age until they become the weakest and most dependent people around. While in such circumstances the grace of God is often apparent in glorious displays of saintliness, so also is the fallenness of even the best and most noble of individuals and families.
I heard a story years ago that comes drifting through my memory now. I can't remember the time, the place, or the names. But as I recall, the narrative was about an old preacher who lay on his death bed suffering greatly. He was drifting in and out of lucidity. But when he would have moments of clarity, he would begin to cry softly and meekly. He knew that he was losing control of his own faculties. And, although I can't rehearse for you exactly what he supposedly said, I remember that he was so concerned that in his pain and disorientation he might say something unkind, or vulgar, or blasphemous.
At least he cared. Some old souls forget to care. Some become increasingly bitter, hostile, and miserable until they ultimately destroy the compassion that others could otherwise have on them. They let despair rob them of everything. It happens.
Of course, despair is a dangerous imp at any age. Despair is the loss of hope. Despair makes us desperate.
The apostle Paul knew what real trouble was all about. Above all the other apostles, he was called to a life and ministry of suffering. In 2nd Corinthians 4:7-10 we read his testimony of how he handled troubles. He wrote, "But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body."
Paul was perplexed. That is, he was out of resources and out of ideas. He didn't know what to do. Yet even in those moments, he avoided despair. Now, not always. After all, he was human. We find him in despair in 2nd Corinthians 1:8 (just 3 chapters earlier). But when he was listening to the Spirit, he always retained hope.
Still, he was perplexed. He felt like there was no hope, but he still believed there was hope. He couldn't see any hope, but he kept waiting and working in anticipation of the arrival of some evidence of hope. Somehow he avoided absolute exasperation. He allowed the Spirit to keep him from becoming so frustrated and irritated that he would be driven to giving up and quitting.
I'm a football fan. I've watched hundreds of football games in my life. Mostly college games. There comes a moment in most games when the losing team realizes that they are out of time. While there is still minutes on the clock, they know that even with all their best efforts, all the right luck, and even with great errors on the part of the opposing team, a loss is certain. When that happens, they start playing differently. They start playing lazy, or stupid, or angry. Or in some cases they stop playing at all. They may go through the motions as if they are putting up a valiant last effort, but they aren't. They have despaired of any hope of coming back. The losing team concedes defeat. They know they are losers and that any future effort is pointless. Coaches scream and stomp and push, but it makes no difference. The losing team just wants to get out of the stadium. They just want to escape from the shame of defeat. They are in despair.
This happens in life too.
We start looking for a way to escape. A new location; a different church; a new job; fresh friends; anything to distract us from our past and present reality and to give us something new and inspiring to pursue.
But be careful. These are opportune moments for Satan to strike. The devil has ZERO compassion. He doesn't fight fair. Every time, he will kick you while you're down. Of all the times in life that we need to be looking up to our Savior in faith, and love, and loyalty―our moments of intense frustration and annoying difficulty are the most significant.
Think about the low point in the lives of some of the greatest of God's servants.
See Noah drunk and naked? See him wake from his stupor with anger and shame?
See Abraham groveling weakly before both Pharaoh and then Abimelech? "She is my sister," he mumbled with puny fear.
See Sarah laughing at the great promise of God, and then denying with embarrassment that she had laughed or doubted?
See the mighty warrior David running from his own king and being threatened by the misfits whom he called his own band of men? See David scratching on the inside of the doors of Achish's courtroom like a mental patient, while drooling intentionally all down his own beard?
See Elijah the prophet running from Jezabel? See him complaining about his loneliness, and praying for God to kill him?
Do you hear Jeremiah crying out to God; complaining that God wasn't honest with him when He called him into the ministry (Jeremiah 20:7)?
Read Job's hard words of desperation. Could a man get any lower than that?
See Peter weeping bitterly in the shadows after having denied his Master right in front of Him?
Being bent low under the burdens of life is as common as the sunset. There are always storms brewing somewhere. There are always lives being snuffed out, lovers being spurned, valuables being lost, hope being eroded. But when the pain is rumbling close to home, we forget the promise of hope and a future. The commonality of trouble gives us little relief. We naturally fixate on the gloom and misery and end up adding to both.
So what is the solution?
Believe it or not, success and blessings are not sufficient. Solomon's life teaches us so. In Ecclesiastes we find that even a continual experience of security, industriousness, and productivity is not enough to prevent the thinking man from peering over the cliff of despondency into the sea of despair.
As long as we live in a world that is polluted with sin and covered by the curse, despair will always be lurking. So, it's not really a solution that we need today, it's a strategy. Not that there is no solution. There is, but it involves the total eradication of all existing matter and the annihilation of the current paradigm (which we call "human history.")
"But," you will say, "Isn't Jesus the solution?" Yes. Of course. But that answer is lacking in some details. The cataclysmic apocalypse that I described in the preceding paragraph is part of the Jesus answer. He came (the 1st time) to die on the cross in order to redeem us and rescue us. True and grand! But most men are not regenerate. Most are degenerate. And God being holy and all, there must be a consequence. The apocalypse is not just the end of all earthly things. It is that. But it is the REVELATION or uncovering of God's glory. The full wrath of God will be seen at Christ's 2nd advent just as His full mercy and grace was revealed and uncovered by His 1st advent.
"But we are under the blood; safe and secure." True and amen! Yet I teeter on the brink of despair. Hence a strategy.
The strategy? Trust God anyway. "Trust and obey, for there is no other way to be happy in Jesus." Despair declares that obedience is futile. Faith denies that lie. Despair tells us to quit. Faith demands that we continue. Despair gives us a license to mope and sulk. Faith writes us a citation and then cheers us on to victory. Faith moves us to rejoice in the promise that we are known by the Father. Faith motivates us to praise Him in the middle of our storm. Faith reminds us that all of our pains and inconveniences are merely temporary distractions.
The strategy for fighting despair is to invest our current moments in (and only in) kingdom interests. We abandon the priorities of this life wisely when we spend ourselves exclusively on the invisible priorities of eternity. Quite literally, heaven―that is, the Lord of heaven―is the only nemesis of despair. Only His light can drive out the shadows of despair from every nook, cranny, and corner of our dark hearts.