In the past several weeks leading up to my graduation ceremony, I have often been tempted to despair, to doubt about what the Lord is doing in my life now, and what lies ahead as far as staying in Dallas and job possibilities. I have seen and have had many friends come to me in despair with this sort of “wailing and knashing of teeth” as if their world was falling apart. Questions have been thrust at me like angry fists: “Rachel, what is God doing with my life?!” or “Nobody would want me” or “I would screw up in this relationship anyway” or “I’ll just be alone and jobless for the rest of my life.”
Now some of those questions are asked in the emotion of the moment and are simply “words for the wind” as Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes. But there is often a deep-rooted heart issue. What happens when those words turn into a mindset and choke out any ounce of joy, causing us to harden our hearts towards God? The author of Hebrews tells us, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.”
Some of you might be thinking at this point, “What?! No way, Rachel! I believe in God. How dare you even think that a possibility in my life?!”
Well, the writer of Hebrews certainly saw this as a danger. Certainly the Holy Spirit thought it important enough to be put in His Word. I know it’s a danger in my life. It’s so easy to be caught up in the desires of this culture and define our life choices by it instead of our calling in Christ Jesus.
The trap of Despair
All the events happening in my life and in others around me have made me think of Giant Despair and Doubting Castle.
What the heck? Who and what?!
Come on. You have to know this. John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress? If you’ve never read it, read it! It is considered the best book after the Bible. Anyway, Giant Despair and Doubting Castle are a part of the story where Christian and Hopeful want to rest their feet from the stony, dusty, hard, straight and narrow road (an analogy of the straight and narrow path of the Christian walk towards heaven). They hop over the fence next to the road to walk on the soft, luscious, green grass because Christian convinces Hopeful that it will be fine because it follows right alongside the narrow path. Well soon enough and oh so subtly (key word) it takes them away from the narrow path. They then get caught by Giant Despair and thrown into Doubting Castle.
After Giant Despair beat Christian and Hopeful to within an inch of their life, “he withdrew and left them, there to condole their misery, and to mourn under their distress…when morning was come, he goes to them in a surly manner…perceiving them to be very sore with the stripes that he had given them the day before, he told them, that since they were never like to come out of that place, their only way would be, forthwith to make an end to themselves, either with knife, halter, or poison.”
Christian: Brother, what shall we do? The life that we now live is miserable: for my part I know not whether is best, to live thus, or to die out of hand. ‘My soul chooseth strangling rather than life,’ and the grave is more easy for me than this dungeon: Shall we be ruled by the Giant?
Hopeful: …I was a fool that I did not try before; but however, my brother, let’s be patient, and endure a while…but let us not be our own murderers.
Power of Prayer
“Well, on Saturday about midnight they began to pray, and continued in prayer till almost break of day. Now a little before it was day, good Christian, as one half amazed, brake out in this passionate speech: What a fool, quoth he, am I thus to lie in a stinking dungeon, when I may as well walk at liberty! I have a key in my bosom called Promise, that will, I am persuaded, open any lock in Doubting Castle.”
Well good for them, Rachel. So happy they got out; I can now sleep peacefully at night. My situation is a lot different since I can’t physically see a way out.* How do I escape?
They began to pray. Wow. How often do we rely on ourselves to fix a bad situation? Or, if we do go to God, we pray selfishly for what WE want Him to do in OUR lives? What we should be praying for is for Him to do His will in our lives so that we might grow in our faith to become more like Christ. God is not the happiness guru. Everything He does and that we should do is for His glory alone. Only then can we experience true joy and freedom. As John Piper is fond of saying, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”
Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Do not be anxious about anything but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Thanksgiving helps you see the key of Promise
I DOUBLE DOG DARE YOU – when you’re experiencing the shackles and darkness of Giant Despair’s Doubting Castle, to start reflecting on the PROMISES God has undeservingly blessed us with through His Son Jesus Christ and has revealed to us in Scripture. Think about what you have been given. Start giving thanks and marveling at it and I promise you with that mindset and heart change you will escape from all the locks in the dungeon of Doubting Castle.
Rachel B. Duke
*Note: Bunyan meant everything to be a spiritual analogy to the trials and warfare that a Christian experiences in their walk towards heaven.