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In the Slough of Despond

Wisdom for the Heart / Dr. Stephen Davey
The Truth Network Radio
April 18, 2024 12:00 am

In the Slough of Despond

Wisdom for the Heart / Dr. Stephen Davey

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April 18, 2024 12:00 am

Have you ever found yourself in a state of despair? King David did. He experienced circumstances that caused him to fall into deep despair. He made a desperate appeal to God while working through the emotional turmoil his despair caused. Looking at what David said about despair can teach you invaluable lessons about both the crippling effects of despair and the comforting effects of devotion to God. This is Wisdom for the Heart. Today, your Bible teacher, Stephen Davey, looks at this issue that plagues so many and offers help and hope from the Word of God.

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See, when he asks how long, O Lord, that's a recognition that God not only determines the depths of your trials, but that God determines the length of your trials. So even in his despair, David is implying here in this text that he knows God is still in control, that God knows how deep this pit is, and he knows how long it's going to last. So even though David here is at what we would call his worst, he's still clinging to what he knows best. Have you ever found yourself in a state of despair?

King David did. He experienced circumstances that caused him to fall into deep despair. He made a desperate appeal to God while working through the emotional turmoil his despair caused. Looking at what David said about despair can teach you invaluable lessons about both the crippling effects of despair and the comforting effects of devotion to God.

This is Wisdom for the Heart. Today, your Bible teacher, Stephen Davey, looks at this issue that plagues so many and offers you help and hope from God's Word. I think I mentioned to you that I recently reread John Bunyan's classic work, Pilgrim's Progress. You may know a little bit of this, but he wrote this while in prison.

He would refuse to stop preaching without a license and would spend about 12 years in prison over the course of time, a total of 12 years. While in prison, he dreamed one night, perhaps a series of dreams, but they vividly played out of this vast storehouse of biblical knowledge that he had. This metaphor, this allegory evolved and he wrote out his thoughts in a form of an allegory and Pilgrim's Progress was the result. The basic idea is that Christian, this man, leaves the city of destruction believing the prophecy that it will be destroyed and he begins a journey toward the celestial city. Bunyan writes this, he says, Now I saw in my dream that they drew near to a very miry slough, S-L-O-U-G-H, that was in the midst of the plain and they, heedless, did fall suddenly into the bog.

The name of the slough was despond or despair. Christian launches into a rather panicky rant, for lack of a better word. He wonders why the slough despond is even allowed to exist. In fact, he says, Why doesn't the king, the emperor of the celestial city, cover it over for the pilgrims who come this way?

Why does he allow it to remain? Why hasn't, Bunyan writes, Why hasn't it been mended? And help responds by saying, It cannot be mended, it must be traveled through. The slough despond is an ever-present danger. In fact, discouragement is one of the chief tools of the enemy, the enemy of pilgrims as they journey through deep and unchartered valleys. Discouragement can lead to all sorts of unbiblical conclusions and spiritually discouraging misconceptions that harden the soil of the heart and dry up anticipation and joy.

So let's address it in this series. I want to show you a couple of men who battled this enemy in their walk with God. Turn first in your Old Testament to the book of Psalms where David is mired down in the slough despond. In chapter 13, the context here is David is running for his life from Saul. He's misunderstood by his nation, his family. He's hiding out in order to stay alive.

What a pit this would be. In fact, he's going to make and he's going to write with total transparency, which is one of the reasons you're so glad as well as I am that the Psalms exist, aren't you? They put into words, he puts into words what we feel. But he's going to make the same four conclusions that every believer makes if instead of traveling through it, we miss the stepping stones and we get mired down and caught up in it instead.

Conclusion number one, I'll give it to you and then we'll get into the text. I have been forgotten by God. I have been forgotten by God. Notice verse one. How long, oh Lord, will you forget me forever?

Is that a great way to start a song? How long are you going to forget me? I guess it's going to be forever. In other words, God's so busy with people. He's so busy with world events and major stuff. He's evidently, apparently forgotten about little old me. In fact, David sort of throws in his somewhat hard-hearted editorial comment, even though he's just beginning the Psalm, he's arrived at the conclusion, you're going to forget me and I know it's going to last forever. Why write anything further?

Period. Frankly, that's how long it feels, doesn't it, when you're stuck in the mire of despond, when you're afraid or confused. Time just sort of stretches out, fear and panic make things last an eternity. See, David is waist deep. He's hiding out. He's hungry.

His life is at risk. He's in the slough despond and when you're in the slough despond, days seem like years, months seem like an eternity. That's why he writes, you're going to forget me and it seems like you're forgetting me forever. That's how long it feels. He's reached the conclusion that God's forgotten. He's even around.

Secondly, it's actually worse than that. David reaches the conclusion that God has intentionally abandoned him. It's a short step, but it's a long leap here, deeper into the slough despond. He believes that God has actually intentionally abandoned him. How long, notice the next phrase, will you hide your face from me? In other words, I know you're out there. I know you can see me, but I guess you don't care. You have abandoned me.

You are hiding from me. That's worse, isn't it? It's one thing to forget your child at church or at a restaurant. It's one thing to be forgotten. It's another thing to believe you have been purposefully abandoned. That hurts. Did you know that a baby or a young child is abandoned in the United States at the tune of about 100 a day left in a public space, in a mall, in a hospital?

Not by accident, but on purpose. That's the conclusion David has reached here in verse one. How long will you hide from me? In other words, I know you're out there.

I know you can see me. How long are you going to abandon me in the slough despond? David concludes that he's been forgotten by God. He's made a second wrong conclusion that he's been abandoned by God. Thirdly, would you notice his despair leads him to make another wrong conclusion, and that is this, that wisdom is no longer available from God.

Look at verse two. How long must I take counsel in my soul that is all by myself and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? In other words, life's gone from bad to worse. I have no idea what I'm supposed to do to get over or to get past this. Saul is hunting me down.

I think I've got a crevice in this cave or a cleft in this rock or some stump or rock or tree, some forest. We don't know, but maybe I can survive, but how do I get out of this? I'm surrounded by people, you notice he implies this, who do not love me, do not want to help me. If anything, they will long to be able to point out the fact that my life is a mess.

They can't wait. Maybe you're there right now. It might be related to a family relationship or relationships. It might just be the challenge of family. The carefree days, perhaps early in your marriage where there was little stress, although you didn't realize it until you now are older and look back at it. Just enough money to spare to maybe buy another bundle of diapers. I can remember as a seminary student when our twins were born, we would literally scrape together some change until we could come up with enough and I'd go downstairs in our apartment complex and I'd buy a diet Dr. Pepper and Marsha and I would split it.

That was so good. We thought those were the expensive days. Perhaps you're at a stage where you're struggling with conflict or difficulty, maybe good times have changed to rebellion or antagonism, everybody suffers through it and nobody has any fun anymore. What do you do now? Maybe it's your work. In the early days of your business, perhaps things went along well and successfully maybe things have leveled off. Frankly, maybe right now your business or your job is in jeopardy.

What's your plan now? It can happen in our spiritual lives as well. There were days in the past perhaps where you could sort of chart your growth, you know, one victory after another and that seemed to taper off too into a slump and when you're in that slough, here's how it feels. David is expressing it. God isn't all that interested in me evidently. He's hiding from me. He's abandoned me. Maybe he's cut off wisdom from me too.

Maybe I'm not worthy or maybe he's gone looking for somebody a little more disciplined or a little more faithful or a little more interesting to him. When David writes here in verse 2, how long must I take counsel in my soul? He uses a Hebrew term take counsel which means to plan for yourself, to adjust to life for yourself. So what David is saying is I've come to a point God's forgotten me.

It's worse. He's abandoned me and now I've got to adjust to my life. I have to make plans for myself to somehow get out of this and he isn't offering any wisdom.

He must have turned off the spigot. That's even more dangerous by the way to believe this of God because you tend to stop asking for wisdom. There's nothing more dangerous than discouragement when you come to the conclusion that since you seem to be facing the tough stuff one author called it of life that you've got to be the one to figure out your next step.

The problem is the slough to spawn seems to have an undertow, doesn't it? And it pulls you deeper in and what you hear while mired down in there are thoughts like that's right. When God doesn't care about my plans, I got myself into this mess perhaps, I'm going to have to figure out how to get out of it all by myself and there's no one named help that seems to extend the hand and you conclude you must not deserve it. God's wisdom is for someone better, more faithful. William Carey, the man we call the father of modern missions used wonderfully in India for decades. If all you knew about him were the things that might be in a sermon illustration or a Sunday school lesson, I would encourage you and I do to so many people that I know to read their biography.

It'll give you a realistic view of the Christian experience. He wrote these words, in fact he wrote often in his journal as he had bouts with despair and discouragement. He wrote this on one occasion, I am defective in all my duties. In prayer I wander.

I am too formal and I soon tire. Devotion languishes and I do not walk with God. In another entry he writes, I have reason to lament over a barrenness of my soul and am much discouraged for I am so dead. How can I expect to be of any use among the lost for God? Wait, this is the father of modern missions.

Again he writes dated 1794 in his journal. My soul is a jungle when it ought to be a garden. I can scarcely tell if I have the grace of God or not. I am perhaps the most inconsistent cold creature that ever possessed the grace of Christ. If God uses me, none need despair.

Those are the words of someone waist deep in the sloughest pond. Well David's not found the bottom yet, by the way. He makes a fourth wrong conclusion. He concludes that a solution will never appear from God.

Look at verse three. Consider and answer me, O Lord my God. Light up my eyes lest I sleep the sleep of death. In other words, I'm going to take this to the grave I guess. Lest my enemy says I have prevailed over him, lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken. In other words, he says my enemies are already planning a banquet to celebrate my demise and collapse. Now if you haven't already, you ought to get out a pencil or pen and you'll notice that David says something four times. Let me just state it once more quickly.

You see it there? So far in what we've read, four times. How long? How long? How long? How long?

We get discouraged and life seems to turn out the lights and we grope around in the dark and what do we say? Lord, how long is this going to last? How long, O Lord?

Now let me point out something and then I'm going to take you to one other text quickly. Even though David is caught in what we'll call the undertow of discouragement, even though he's implying some pretty harsh things about the character of God. At the same time, he's still hinting at his ultimate trust in God.

Where do you see that? Well, you'll notice he is saying in verse three, did you catch that? Consider and answer me, O Lord, what's the next word? My God.

Circle that. He's still saying, O Lord, my God. He's also implying something about the sovereignty of God. See, when he asks, how long, O Lord? That's a recognition that God not only determines the depths of your trials, but that God determines the length of your trials. So even in his despair, David is implying here in this text that he knows God is still in control, that God knows how deep this pit is and he knows how long it's going to last. So even though David here is at what we would call his worst, he's still clinging to what he knows best. For you, let me encourage you, when you're waist deep in discouragement, the very fact that you complain and you will and demand and you will and question and you will, how long, O my God, O Lord, is actually a declaration of faith in the glorious sovereignty of God, who not only determines the depths of your trial, but he determines the length of your trial.

Even in your anguish, as you ask him how long, you are demonstrating faith in his sovereignty. If you remember John Bunyan's allegory that I quoted earlier wrote that there were steps through the Slough of Despond, but they were difficult to see. There are three steps that will take us through the Slough of Despond offered by David in his closing comments. The first one, let's just engrave each stone with one word. We'll engrave on the first stepping stone through the Slough of Despond the word recalling.

Recalling. And I'm using that tense because it's something we have to do over and over again. Look at verse five. But I have trusted in your steadfast love, my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. And now, in other words, in spite of what it looks like, in spite of the undertow of my circumstances that want to bury me, your love, oh God, I'm recalling, it's steadfast.

I've seen it at work in the past. I've trusted it. It's been steady and firm. I have my salvation from you.

It's been yours to give and you've given it to me. By the way, would you notice the first word of verse five, it begins with that little word, but. In other words, nothing around David has changed. Saul's still hunting for his life. He's still on the run.

But you know what? You know, as I sit here and think, God's love for me, it's been steadfast. I think I'm going to write that into my poem. Even when God seems invisible, God is still involved. He's steadfast.

Even when he seems absent, he is aware he is still God. The first step out of the mire is recalling. Recalling. The second step is recommitting. Verse six, the first phrase. If you can believe it, David writes, I will, I will sing to the Lord.

Remember, nothing's changed, so you're supposed to start singing. Well, even though David's circumstances didn't change, his attitude did. In fact, what David is revealing for us is that stepping, a stepping stone doesn't avoid the slough to spawn. Remember, these stepping stones don't take you around it.

They take you through it, but on firm ground. When David writes, I will sing to the Lord, it's the stunning truth that even if outward circumstances don't change, my inward attitude can. That God is telling the truth when he says, my grace is sufficient for thee. For my strength, God says, is made perfect.

That is, it makes progress through your weakness. 2 Corinthians 12, 9. Take the step of recalling, it'll lead you to the step of recommitting as you rehearse the truth of God's nature.

Thirdly, take the stepping stone marked recalculating. Notice, David ends by writing, he has dealt bountifully, bountifully with me. I've overlooked present blessing, but you know, as I stop and think about it and look around, there are blessings.

I've allowed the blinders of discouragement to obscure them from my sight. I recall your glory and your steadfast love. I recommit to this and then recalculate my life. And I have to say, as I recalculate it, you have dealt bountifully with me. So recalculate. Sounds like your GPS, doesn't it?

But it is a good illustration. You get off the wrong path and you might need to stop and make a legal what? U-turn. Recalculating is a part of getting back on the right path. And you notice now how differently David summarizes his life. No longer is he saying, you've forgotten me forever to, you know, you have dealt bountifully with me. What's changed in his life? Circumstances.

Nothing his attitude has. Once your mind and heart retrace God's goodness and you make a recommitment, you will recalculate God's ministry to you and through you. Several years ago, Max Lucado wrote about a young man he knew who at the age of 32 was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and over the 16 years after his diagnosis, which would cost him his career, it would cost him his mobility and eventually his life. Because of MS, he couldn't feed himself or walk eventually.

He transparently battled depression and fear. Through it all, his church, the assembly, his believing friends watched him as he walked through that, so to speak, never losing this sense of ultimate gratitude. On one occasion, as friends saw his health failing, they asked him to compile a list of requests so they could intercede for him more specifically. His response was to compile a list of six concerns for which they were to be prayerful. But then he added 18 blessings for which he wanted them to join him in praising God. His blessings outweighed his concerns three to one.

It might not be a bad exercise to get out a sheet of paper and do some recalculations. He referred in that same context to a leper on the island of Tobago. A short term missionary met her, this leper woman, while on a mission trip.

He writes, on the final day he was leading music and a service there in the leper colony. He asked if anyone had a favorite hymn they wanted to sing. When he did, a woman turned around to face him and he saw the most disfigured face he'd ever seen. She had no ears, nothing for a nose, her lips were gone, and her hands were stubs without fingers. But she raised her fingerless hand and asked, can we sing Count Your Many Blessings?

Name them one by one. This short term missionary started the song but Lucado wrote he couldn't finish it without tears streaming down his face and someone later commented to him, well I suppose you'll never be able to sing that song again. To which he responded, oh yes, I'm going to sing it again, just never in the same way. When you're waist deep in the slough of despond, look for these stepping stones, recalling, recommitting, recalculating and you end up trusting and with David singing with just another measure of fresh faith that comes from obedience that is encouraged by gratitude, begins with, you've forgotten me. It ends with, you are an incredible blessing to me. We all face times of discouragement in one form or another. God wants to help us reshape our perspective toward Him which results in renewed faith, gratitude and joy.

I hope this time in God's Word has encouraged you today. This is Wisdom for the Heart with Stephen Davey. This current series is called Breaking Up Stony Ground.

Stephen is looking at several issues that can become deeply rooted in your heart if you're not careful. If this series has been a blessing to you so far and if you'd like to own it as a set of CDs, we have it available. Give us a call today at 866-48-BIBLE and we can give you information. That's 866-48-BIBLE or 866-482-4253. If you missed any of the previous messages from this series and you'd like to get caught up, they're posted on our website. You'll find those at wisdomonline.org. Visit there anytime to be encouraged by our biblically faithful teaching. We're glad to have you with us today and I invite you back here next time on Wisdom for the Heart. We'll see you next time.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-04-18 00:08:45 / 2024-04-18 00:17:52 / 9

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