Paul Gerhardt, the 17th century German preacher, was also a great composer of hymns, During the “Thirty Year War” that ravaged central Europe, Gerhardt and his family were forced to flee from their home.
One night as they huddled in a small village inn, homeless and afraid, his wife broke down and cried openly in despair. To comfort her, Gerhardt reminded her of God’s promises of provision and protection. Then, going out to the garden to be alone, he too broke down and wept. He had come to his darkest hour. Soon afterward, however, Gerhardt felt the burden lifted and sensed anew the Lord’s presence. Taking his pen, he wrote this hymn:
Give to the winds thy fears;
Hope, and be undismayed;
God hears thy sighs and counts thy tears;
God shall lift up thy head.
Through waves and clouds and storms
He gently clears the way.
Wait thou His time,
So shall the night soon end in joyous day.”
I’m reminded of another day of deep despair nearly 2,000 years ago. That was on Friday when the religious rulers turned into murderers. A Chief Priest became a rogue Judge. And a governor failed to govern, but succumbed to political appeasement.
Hopes were dashed. Hearts were discouraged. Lives fell into despair. The emotional state of the Jesus’ disciples reached its lowest point on the day of His crucifixion. Despair confused them. Scattered them. Paralyzed them.
Despair. Such a heavy word. It hangs over us like a thick fog. It envelops our souls. Blurs our vision. Dampens our spirits. Obscures our thinking. Clouds our focus. Darkens our future.
We all face Friday’s of despair. Sooner or later. It may come in the form of a terminal illness. An untimely death. A natural disaster. A financial collapse. A moral failure. A personal rejection. A bitter divorce. Or unrequited love. Whatever the circumstance triggering it, the despair is real. Painful. Crippling.
Neil Straight was right when he wrote, “Despair is part of our living.” We wish it were not so. But it is. However, Straight, advised, “The despair that besets us when frustration comes can be of two kinds: a despair that causes us to give up, or a despair that makes us go to the depths and draw from our best resources. One kind is futile, the other is fruitful.”
“Despair comes uninvited, but only remains where it is entertained. If it is nurtured through depressive thoughts and fed with pessimistic attitudes, it remains. But when the soul take flight to greater thoughts, despair flees. Hope, faith and a positive will starve despair.”
Ahh, but the disciples’ despair was short-lived. Sunday resurrected hope from hopelessness. Jesus appeared to the disquieted disciples and said, “Peace be unto you!” (Jn 20:21)
The giver of the abundant life, breathed new life in their fainting hearts and breathless souls. The empty tomb dispelled despair. Chased away doubt. Dissipated the fog. Cleared their vision. And renewed their strength. And filled them with a purpose driven mission and message.
You see, while their despair was real they didn’t give up like Judas did. They hung on. Sunday dispersed their despairing thoughts and feelings.
I need to remember that no matter how bad my Friday of despair is, God hears my sighs. Counts my tears. Calms the storm. And clears the way. Jesus is alive! All is well. And I hear His voice, “Be of good cheer. I have overcome the world!” (Jn 16:33)
Friday’s despair is about to give way to Sunday’s joyous victory!
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman