Summary: Sometimes, even faithful people can experience heartache to the point of losing hope. God knows what we're going through and He has a plan for us all.
Opening and Introduction
In our text today, Paul has a summary of one of his travels, and how it affected him. There was a time when things were so bad, that he lost all hope, and despaired of life itself. Despair is one of those words we don’t use every day. We talk about feeling down, sad, or even depressed. Despair is a whole different level.
Tonight, we’re going to look at despair and how it may be problem for us, or for those that are around us. We all experience problems in life that can bring us down. Some of those problems might bring us into a really dark place. How do we work through those difficult times?
Tonight, we’re going to look at the Apostle Paul’s experience that caused him to despair.
We’ll also look at how we might fall into our own pit of darkness.
Finally, we’ll examine a few ways that can get us away from despair, and restore our hope in God, and life itself.
Paul’s difficulties in Asia
In our text today, Paul talks about troubles in Asia. He doesn’t add many details in our text today, but he does in the book of Acts chapter 19. It’s there that we hear about how his journey to Asia went. (Acts 19:23-41)
Paul’s travels brought him through the town of Ephesus, located in modern-day Turkey. In that town, as with so many others, Paul preached the Gospel to the Gentiles.
Ephesus had a patron deity, the Greek goddess of the moon, Artemis, and a thriving trade building idols and shrines to that goddess. Paul’s missionary work must have had some impact because a local silversmith named Demetrius was threatened that his livelihood might go away if less people worshiped their goddess.
He gathered a bunch of craftsmen skilled in making the idols, and got them worked up, and built anger among the crowd. Soon, the whole city was in an uproar and a riot formed. The people seized two of Paul’s companions, and brought them to the city’s amphitheater.
Paul tried, but couldn’t get in. The town clerk was finally able to regain control, and the crowd disbursed. But, the threat on Paul and his followers was real. They had a reason to be concerned about their lives.
But there was more to Paul’s list of problems. In 2nd Corinthians, Paul lists the problems he’s faced:
“Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.” (2 Corinthians 11:24-28, ESV)
This is an awfully long list of trials. Being caught up in so many disasters. People out to hurt him. Nature seems against Him too. Not able to provide for himself all the time… and worrying about his job, which was the church.
Paul faced resistance from a world that didn’t want to hear about Christ, and wanted to stay with their sinful lives. Many times, Satan looks for ways to slow down the faithful, and limit the message of God. Sometimes, we feel the impact on our lives. The impact of failure, of sickness, and of loss.
Along the lines of all this loss, our text today says that there was a time that Paul was anxious, and fearful. Paul wrote, “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.” (2 Corinthians 1:8, NIV 2011)
If the Apostle Paul, who lived and breathed God’s word, who was called directly by Christ… if even he can fall into despair, any one of us could find ourselves losing hope at some point.
That’s what despair is. It’s the complete loss of hope. It’s being filled with only negative thoughts, and feeling like nothing good, and only bad things will happen, and there’s nothing that can be done to make a really bad situation better.
There’s going to be a time in our life when we’re going to face problems. Paul faced a whole list of bad situations. We’re going to face something too. When we do, we’re going to deal with those problems in different ways.
Some of those problems, we’ll bounce right back and they won’t impact our life too much. Others, may live in the back of our brain, and cause us to fall into a pit of depression. If things get really bad, we might find ourselves slipping into despair, and feeling the emotional pain of total loss of everything good in our lives.