Many of us go through spiritually depressed periods that feel like near-death experiences. On advice, we read the rich biblical texts that have helped so many others, yet our hearts remain as cheerless and lifeless as a cold fireplace. We try all the spiritual tonics, speak to all the wise people, do all the spiritual aerobics, read all the books on the spiritual disciplines, and try the "seven steps" offered by the well-known authors — all to no avail. Our depression deepens, and despair begins to knock on the doors of our hearts.
All those cures are supposed to work! They appear to have worked for other people and churches, why not us? That they haven’t worked for us is a matter of real concern if we are serious about having a relationship with God that pleases rather than grieves him, one that involves our giving as well as receiving. But our prayers and promises — our vows, sworn in blood-red earnestness that we’d be better, speak better, do better, and think better — have all come to nothing. The vows were sincere — at least we thought they were — and they were made in agony. But when the passion cools, we feel that "the summer is gone and we are not saved." Despair or near despair sets in. And why wouldn’t it? We share the poet’s distress:
Weary of passions unsubdued,
Weary of vows in vain renewed,
Of forms without the power,
Of prayers, and hopes, complaints, and groans,
My fainting soul in silence owns
I can hold out no more.
(Quoted in Sangster, The Pure in Heart, p. 51)
And the words of the sufferer become ours, "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?" (Psalm 22:1)
And in our hearts, they aren’t words snarled in bitterness — they’re weary and disappointed rather than angry, because with our track record we can blame no one but ourselves. Still... still... we were hoping that God in his mercy would take sides with us against ourselves and deliver us for his own name’s sake.
"O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent." (Psalm 22:2) And as we complain, we’re perplexed, because the God to whom we make our appeal has a reputation as a deliverer: "Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel. In you our fathers put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. They cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed." (Psalm 22:3-5)
Wonderful stories. Salvation stories. True stories. But all the more distressing because they are true. Others called and were saved. We call and, instead of rescue, continue to see ourselves as worms, and our "enemies" mock us even though we throw ourselves on God for deliverance. (Psalm 22:6)
So we lie down, exhausted, having despaired of ourselves and feeling that God must have despaired of us also. And as we lie in our silent graves with no earthly help that will make any difference, paralyzed by a crushing hopelessness, we hear the whisper of the wind; and the word of God comes to us again through a nation that was dead in sin and beyond all human help.
As a nation they had tried everything to stave off the death they richly deserved. They paid tribute until they were broke, made treaties with foreign powers, and sent ambassadors north, south, east, and west. They fortified cities and studied the ways of war. They even tried religion — they built altars and prayed. But there was no salvation in any of their efforts. They were all just new ways of speeding the death process, and they ended up in a national grave. (Ezekiel 37:1-14)
"Turn to me and be saved... for I am God, and there is no other." Isaiah 45:22
Their bones were more than dry; they were "very dry." And there weren’t only a few of them — the valley, like one giant coffin, was choked with them. The prophet spoke, and bone came together with bone; but there was no life — only a huge ravine full of skeletons. Sinews and flesh wound themselves around the bones, but there was no life — only a mighty gorge filled with corpses, an eerie, silent valley of corpses! Well, not absolutely silent. There was the wind. The man was told to speak the word of God to the wind, and the wind became the Spirit of God entering those lifeless figures — just as on the day of creation — and they were filled with life and stood on their feet, a mighty army. A nation alive from the dead!
And hearing their story, we’re persuaded to trust again — or at least not to not trust again. At this very moment, we may feel a sense of fatigue and despair, but it’s not the end of the story. God — and may it please him to be soon — will give us reason to rejoice as life courses through us, delivering us from one enemy after another. One day we’ll assemble to worship and feel compelled to turn to fellow-worshipers and speak of our deliverance. In the strength and joy of the Spirit of God, we’ll dismiss depression’s view of sadder days and say with the psalmist:
He has not despised or disdained
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.
And we, as our forefathers did, will enthrone God as the Holy One and the praise of our hearts. From him will come the theme of our praise in the great assembly, (Psalm 22:25) and our story will be told as one of deliverance to children not born, and people will trust because we were delivered. (Psalm 22:30-31)
And what is true of individuals can be true of whole congregations, and what is true of congregations can be true of cities and nations! What is true for others can be true for you. What is true for you can be true for me. Weep if you must, and tell him your poor heart’s breaking — but trust, wait, and listen for the wind!
(Quoted by permission from my little book called Where the Spirit of the Lord Is, Permission from Howard Publishing, West Monroe, Louisiana.)
©2004 Jim McGuiggan. All materials are free to be copied and used as long as money is not being made.