Excerpts from Chapter 4 of Deserted by God? by Sinclair Ferguson.
Read Psalms 42 and 43.
Spiritual thirst is painful, not pleasant; it may produce melancholy, not melody in our lives.
[There is] a deep sense of the absence and distance of God that drains all our energy and makes each day a superhuman effort just to get through. When we rise in the morning, we feel unrefreshed, energy-less, listless, gloomy; we see and do everything through a cloud; we live life with the shades drawn. Everything is tinged with darkness. We are downcast.
Sometimes well-meaning Christians assume that if someone is melancholic or in low spirits, the solution is all too simple and obvious. They dispense easy medicine for a disease of the soul that is difficult to cure, simple formulas that they assume will deal with every need.
Only when he has discovered the reasons for his discouragements will he be able to prescribe an appropriate antidote.
We too often fail precisely here. In fact, our spiritual discouragement discourages us from analyzing its causes! We yield to discouragement rather than trace back its symptoms to the root. Discouragement does not simply go away on its own account. It must be cross-examined. We must learn to say to it: “Why are you there?” Only then will we discover that there is an appropriate medicine even for our souls.
How important the fellowship of the church is to our well-being!…
Do not be so proud or self-sufficient as to think that you do not need regular exposure to the exposition and application of Scripture in the context of a living, praying group of Christians…
When you are downcast – for whatever reason, minor or life-shaking – it takes more effort to maintain the regular disciplines of the Christian life. Even getting out to church is an enormous struggle…
Ask yourself: “Even if I cannot sense what God is doing in my situation, and cannot understand his ways; where would I be without him?”
Few of us realize how much our sense of significance and worth is tied up to our service and leadership. We often counsel people not to become so absorbed in their service that they lose sight of the One they are supposed to be serving. But if we give ourselves in the service of Christ, who we are becomes so identified with what we do that the two are practically indistinguishable. Our service, after all, is an expression of ourselves; it is an investing of ourselves in others, for Christ. Lose that and part of our very self is lost. Discouragement is often the result.
… [Some] find a small corner, take modest employment, have far fewer material resources than most of their contemporaries. It is easy to feel that the significant parts of life all lie in the past.
Unemployment, of various kinds, can have the same effect…
The same is true in the family context: a mother gives the whole of her life to serving her family for Christ; then they leave home…
The darkest cloud often comes when a mother and wife is widowed…
[The Psalmist] has good reason to feel discouraged; he is experiencing isolation, opposition, and loss of position. To deny that these are reasons to be discouraged would be unhealthy psychologically and emotionally.
The gospel saves us from death, not by removing death, but by helping us to face it in the power of Christ’s victory and thus to overcome it. So, too, with sin. And similarly with discouragement. Faith in Christ does not remove all of the causes of discouragement; rather, it enables us to overcome them. We may experience discouragement; but we will not be defeated by it.
It is true that there are reasons for being discouraged; but there are better and stronger reasons for being encouraged.
“Hope” in Scripture is not wishful thinking. It is confidence based on the promise of God; it is the assurance that we will experience blessings we do not yet experience. That certainty is based on the fact that he is “my Savior and my God.”
A mind well stocked with the knowledge of Scripture is a great preservative from overmuch discouragement; it is like a well-stocked pharmacy in which remedies are always at hand.
It is widely recognized that our own times scorn thinking and emphasize feeling. Sadly, the litmus test of a worship service is often whether or not it makes you feel good, not whether it centered on the Lord. But discouraged Christians need much more than an emotional pick-me-up. They need light that will dispel the darkness.
When we allow discouragement to dictate the conversation, we look inward, downward, and backward. When God’s word dictates it, we look upward, outward – yes, and forward.