“Unbelief & Despondency”   Psalm 42  Matthew 26:36-42    November 11, 2007


SCRIPTURE INTRO:  Two months ago we studied story in Mark 9

   where Jesus cast the demon out of the boy.  Do you remember the dialogue?

Boy’s father said to Jesus:  “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

Jesus said:  “If you can?  Everything is possible for him who believes.”

Man replied:  “I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief.”

   Do you remember that? 


In my study that week I ran across something very interesting and convicting

   that I mentioned it in my sermon. 

All the sins we commit are rooted in unbelief in the promises of God.

   Whenever sins crop up in our lives—whether attitudinal or behavioral—

   it’s a sign of lurking, growing, unbelief in God.

The flip side of the coin, the positive side is that all righteousness,

   all good deeds in our lives come from faith in the promises of God.


Well, that idea of unbelief being the root of our sins

   has stuck with me and I wanted to preach on it.

I ran across a sermon series by John Piper on this very subject,

   listened to his sermons, found them very helpful.

Also, John Piper has written about this in his book “Future Grace”

   as well as a book titled “Battling Unbelief.”


So what I want to do is take a break from Mark until January,

   and with the exception of Christmas Sunday, want us to look at this topic

   of unbelief, sin, and faith in the promises of God.

Each week, what I’m going to do is look at a passage in which

   believers are struggling with certain sins, trace that back to unbelief,

   and then show how faith helps us overcome.


We’re going to look at despondency today, and then

   discontent, lust, bitterness, impatience, haughtiness, regret, and anxiety. 

The list is not exhaustive, there are things we’re not going to cover.

   Some of these will hit home with you more than others,

   but over the course of this study, will see different ways to fight

   the sins of unbelief by faith. 

INTRO:  One of the most famous scenes in Pilgrim’s Progress is when

   the two main characters—Christian and Hopeful get off the path—

   and night comes, and they get lost, and are captured by a terrible giant—

   Giant Despair.

And he takes them to his castle.  Do you remember the name of his castle?

   Doubting Castle.


He throws them in the dungeon without food and water.

   Every day he comes and beats them with a club made out of a crabapple tree.

He says, look at the bones in this dungeon.

   These are the bones of other pilgrims who trespassed on my land.

   Your bones will be here too.


If you know anything about John Bunyan, the author of Pilgrim’s Progress,

   then you know that this part was very autobiographical.

Bunyan was a Christian who dealt with Giant Despair and Doubting Castle

   very often in his personal life. 


John Bunyan could have written Psalm 42:

   He often asked himself the very same questions Psalmist asks himself.

   Why are you downcast, O my soul?

   Why so disturbed within me?

Despair, doubt, downcast, disturbed, depressed, dejected—

   I don’t have any idea why all these words start with “D”

   I’m going to use the word despondency as the catch-all word for this condition.


Look at the way the Psalmist describes despondency.

There is a physical aspect.  “My bones suffer mortal agony.” 

   Is he referring to an illness?  Maybe. 

But it seems more likely he’s saying I’m worn out physically by emotional strain.

   “My tears have been my food day and night.”

When that happens.  When there is such emotional stress there is a

   weariness and fatigue that goes all the way down to my bones.


And there is a spiritual aspect.  “My soul is downcast within me.”

   Did you notice how often he referred to God in both good and bad ways.

His soul pants for God, thirsts for God like a deer pants for water.

   Imagine a deer being chased by hunters. 

   Panting, thirsty, sees a stream and wants to drink—I feel like that about God.

But it doesn’t seem that God is quenching his thirst, or he can’t get to God.

   People say to him:  Where is your God?  And the question shakes him. 

He knows he has to put his hope in God—

   but at the same time, he sees the troubles he is going through and he says:

   all your waves and breakers have swept over me.”

   These troubles sweeping over my life are from God. 


He’s in a dungeon in Doubting Castle, and Giant Despair is beating him

   with a crab tree club and saying—look at those bones, you’ll be there.

Can you identify with that?  Can you identify with Psalm 42, Giant Despair?


Some Christians never have to fight this battle.

   Some of you can honestly say:  I’ve never experienced this.  Thank God for that. 

   As I said a minute ago, I know I’m not going to hit all of you every Sunday. 

But even if you’ve never dealt with this personally,

   you have Christian brothers who fight this and who might be in it right now. 

   So pay attention, there will be some important application for you.


Some of you have experienced this occasionally.

And for some of you, this is the big fight of your life.

   You say, I’ve been there.  I’ve been in Psalm 42, in Doubting Castle.


Let’s look at the connection between despondency and unbelief,

   and see how faith in God is the key.


Look at this subject under three headings.

1.  Two important questions about despondency.

2.  The example of Jesus’ despondency.

3.  Dealing with your despondency.

MP#1  Two important questions about despondency

Questions are this:

   What causes despondency?   Is despondency a sin?

First, what causes it?

   The short answer is:  Many things that are part of living in a fallen world.


As you look at Psalm 42 and other Psalms written by believers struggling with

   despondency, you quickly see that there are many things.   

We just read Psalm 42.  What’s the cause of this man’s despondency?

   It’s hard to tell, isn’t it?  But he does tell us one thing.

   He says that he is oppressed by the enemy.

   My foes taunt me, saying all day long, “Where is your God?”

This is poetry so we’re left to wonder about this enemy, these foes.

   Were these other people, attacking, criticizing, mocking his faith?

   Was the devil throwing lies at him:  Where is God?  God doesn’t care.

   Or is the enemy he’s talking about his despondency itself?  Things telling self?

But whether it is the devil or other people, or himself, it’s an attack. 


It’s helpful to think of other Psalms where believers struggling despondency.

   Psalm 38—it’s clearly brought on by a physical illness.

   Psalm 32—despondency is brought on by guilt over a sin committed.

   Psalm 73—it’s brought on by a financial loss

   Psalm 88—loss of a friend combined with a very gloomy personality

So we have a Satanic attack, being worn down by physical illness,

   guilt over a sin committed, a financial or personal loss, a gloomy,

   introspective personality.


I think that the lesson from this is that we shouldn’t be too quick

   to oversimplify and say that it’s just one thing. 

Secular world quick to oversimplify and say it’s just chemical.

   Church probably too quick to say it’s guilt over a sin.

   But Psalms present a much bigger picture—it’s life in a fallen world.


And the real sense that you get from the writer of Psalm 42,

   is that he really wasn’t sure what caused it.  Yes, he had enemies.

But what does he say over and over?  Why are you downcast, O my soul?”

   Why am I responding this way? 

   He’s perplexed by this despondency.

It might surprise you but this was Charles Spurgeon’s battle.

He was the most brilliant, eloquent, influential preacher of the 19th century.

   But he had recurring bouts of despondency.

In 1858, he suffered the first one at the age of 24.

   “My spirits were sunken so low that I could weep by the hour like a child, and yet I knew not 

   what I wept for.  Causeless depression cannot be reasoned with.

But he didn’t give up.  He did fight.

   “I am sure there is not remedy for it like a holy faith in God.”

Brings us to the second question:  Is despondency a sin?

   The short answer is:  No, but yielding to despondency is.

   Despondency is not a sin, but giving in to it is.

And unbelief is what causes a person to give in to despondency,

   and allows it to control him and crush him. 


That’s an important distinction. 

   As we’ll see in a few minutes, even Jesus went through this,

   but he never gave in to it, because he always believed.

I told you that the basis of this sermon series will be that unbelief

   is the root cause of all of our sins.

The sin is not despondency itself, but yielding to it,

   and refusing to fight it by faith.


The most significant part of Psalm 42 is the way this despondent believer

   responds to his own questions. 

   Why are you downcast, O my soul?

   Why so disturbed within me?

How does he respond to himself?

   “Put your hope in God for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”

I don’t know the answers, don’t know why I’m feeling this way—

   but I’m going to fight it.  I’m going to fight it by putting my hope in God.

   I’m going to fight it by trusting him as my Savior.


And that’s what makes this Psalm so great.

   Yes, he’s in a dark, despondent place—but he doesn’t give in to it.

   He fights it by faith.  He believes. 

He doesn’t allow unbelief to cripple him. 

   And because of that, we have this beautiful Psalm,

   written 3,000 years ago that still speaks to us today. 

And that brings us to another example, even greater example than Psalm 42

   and that’s the example of Jesus’ despondency.


MP#2  The example of Jesus’ despondency

The night Jesus was betrayed he fought the greatest battle ever fought

   in a human soul against despondency.

He was in Gethsemane.  It was night.

It says that he began to be sorrowful and troubled and said to disciples:

   “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.”


Why was Jesus so distressed and troubled?

John’s Gospel records Jesus saying:

   “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? 

   No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.”

In other words, the troubling temptation was to despair

   and fail to carry out his mission. 


It was an attack by Satan, very similar to Psalm 42 but much worse.

   “Where is your God?”  God’s not in this.  It won’t work.

   Calvary is a dead end street.  It’s not worth it. 

Satan wanted to produce in Jesus such a spirit of despondency

   that he would sink in resignation and say—I can’t do this.

   There’s no point in pressing on to the cross any more.


Jesus was a sinless man.  Never sinned in thought, emotion, or deed.

   That means that his emotional turmoil was not a sin.

   It was a fitting response to the extraordinary temptation he was enduring. 

And this demonic thought that Calvary would be a meaningless black hole,

   was so horrendous that it caused a shock in the soul of the Son of God.


It says he was troubled. 

And that’s the same word Jesus uses in another place when he said to his disciples: 

   “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God, trust also in me. 

   Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you.  Do not let your hearts be troubled.”

How do you reconcile that? 

   Jesus tells us, Don’t be troubled, but he was troubled.

   Is this a contradiction?  

No.  What Jesus means is that when the bomb drops in your life—

   whatever it is, illness, or loss, or moral failure, or anything else

   ugly that happens in this fallen world—

And when Satan colors the shock waves of that bomb with black hopelessness—

   Where is your God?  This is meaningless.

Jesus is not saying that the shock wave won’t shake you,

   or that you won’t be ever be downcast, distressed, depressed, despondent.

He’s saying:  Don’t give in—believe!  Fight. 

   Believe in God, believe also in me.

   Unbelief causes you to give in.  Faith is how you fight. 


That’s exactly what Jesus did. 

No one knew better than he did that if he didn’t

   immediately respond with faith then he would be done for. 

Look at the way Jesus responded to the despondency that was surging in his soul.

   He basically did two things:

   1.  He made use of ordinary things.

   2.  He re-affirmed his faith in his heavenly Father.


The ordinary things he made use of were people, his disciples.

Not all of them.  But out of the twelve disciples, three closest—Peter, James, John.

   He said, come with me.  I need you three friends.

And then he opened his heart to them.

   “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.”

   He told them what was going on inside.

And then he asked them for help in the fight he was going through.

   “Stay here and keep watch with me.” 

   Pray for me.  Talk to me.  Just sit with me and show me your support.


Then the second thing he did was re-affirm his faith in his heavenly Father.

He poured out his heart to his Father in prayer.

   He told him exactly what he wanted.

   “If it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.

It’s ok to pray that way.  Father, take it away. 

   It’s ok to ask God to take away bad things and make things right.


But then Jesus rested his soul in the sovereign will of God.

   “Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

   And, of course, that is the ultimate reaffirmation of faith.

It’s saying, Lord I utterly trust you. 

   I believe all your promises that you have good things planned for your people.

   Weeping may remain for a night, joy in the morning.  All things for good.

Now let’s apply this to ourselves.  Brings us to third point.

MP#3  Dealing with your despondency.

You deal with your despondency like the Psalmist did, and like Jesus did.


First, make use of the ordinary things that you need.

Despondency has many causes as we saw earlier.

   If you do know of some of the causes, and there are ordinary things

   you can use that will help you with your despondency, then use them.


If there are physical causes to your despondency then go to a good doctor.

   Follow the treatment and take the medicine that is prescribed. 

Modern biographers of Charles Spurgeon have noted that if he had been

   able to get medical treatment for his gout, which was unavailable in his time,

   then he might have gotten some relief from his depression as well.

If there is a physical or chemical component to your despondency

   that can be helped by medicine, then by all means use it.


If you’ve suffered a loss of some kind—and that has pushed you to despondency,

   then realize that the big thing that you need is simply time.

Time to process this loss, and for the sharpness of it to be mellowed.

   And you may need some healthy diversion, or vacation.


If you have a melancholy, gloomy personality that tends to despondency,

   then you need the thing you probably don’t want—you need so spend some time

   with cheerful friends.  And you cheerful friends, call this despondent friend. 

Bug her.  Make her go out with you for coffee, and tell her good things.


If there seems to be some kind of spiritual attack that is causing your despondency,

   if disturbing thoughts keep intruding your mind, lies that pull you down—

   wise Christians through the ages have all said the same thing—you need music.

That’s what Richard Baxter, famous Puritan minister said.

   Sing some Psalms, that will drive out the lies.

Martin Luther, when he had bouts of despondency would play the guitar

   with his Christian friends, and sing—and drink beer. 


This is my point.  Jesus Christ himself, perfect Son of God, did not try to deal

   with his despondency just by praying to God, he made use of his friends.

But his example is also a warning—his friends weren’t much help.

   Remember, they fell asleep, and then all ran away.

That’s just a reminder that even thought we should use all of the good, ordinary

   things God gives us when dealing with despondency,

   whether friends, or medicine, or music, or vacations—

   but we shouldn’t put all of our faith in them.

Because they are part of the fallen world as well—they can all fail.

   Use them, yes, but don’t put all of your faith in them.

   You have to put your faith in God.


Brings us to the second thing you have to do in dealing with your despondency:

   Reaffirm your faith in your heavenly Father and in Jesus Christ.

To quote the Psalmist:  You have to say to yourself:

   Self, put your trust in God.

Like Jesus, you have to take your faith in the sovereign goodness of God

   and reaffirm it—Father, Your will be done.

   Jesus could say that because he knew his Father’s will is good.


What that means specifically is that you have to believe the promises of God

   concerning your condition.  You have to remind yourself of them.

   You have to preach to yourself and quit listening to yourself.

“Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”

“Humble yourself under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.”

“All things work together for good for those who love God, who have been called  . . .”


When Christian and Hopeful where in Giant Despair’s dungeon,

   at the darkest time, Saturday night, they began to pray,

   as light began to break on Sunday morning Christian said:

What a fool I’ve been, I completely forgot that I’ve got a key in my pocket

   called Promise, that will open any door in Doubting Castle.

Hopeful said, well get it out.  And they did, and the door to the dungeon opened.


Bunyan’s great parable is absolutely true.

   The Lord has given you the key to fighting and escaping despondency—

   it’s the promises of his word—stand on them in faith.  Remind yourself of them.

But the greatest thing of all is that your ultimate hope is in Jesus Christ.

   He knows the awful power of despondency.

   His soul was overwhelmed to the point of death.

   He was left without any ordinary helps—all for you.

So that in him, and through him, you never have to lose hope.