[The following study of Psalm 77 by Pastor Dennis Costella is especially appropriate at this time in the history of the world, the nation, and the church. Many believers are discouraged and overwhelmed by the circumstances that surround them, and yet God’s Word provides guidance and instruction concerning how to deal with such feelings of despair and despondency. Please read the 77th psalm and prayerfully consider how you can apply this God-given message to your own heart, life, and ministry. —Matt Costella]
Overwhelmed with Grief
Everyone has experienced discouragement and sadness, and some perhaps have even felt the depths of depression. Usually a logical cause (physical, financial, marital, interpersonal relationships, etc.) sends a person “down in the dumps,” but sometimes we have no legitimate reason to blame. Believers are often perplexed and discouraged when their inner anguish seems to extend far beyond what would be considered a “normal” response to the problem at hand. Like the psalmist, sometimes we just become genuinely depressed! God had an escape for the author of our text, and He also has one for us today if we will allow the Word to do its healing work (107:17-22). The psalmist could only see his present situation as a “day of [his] trouble” (v. 2). His suffering continued through the night, preventing the healing of sleep; his soul refused comfort. Nothing seemed to help. A state of listless inactivity and melancholy followed, and even talking about the problem seemed useless since words were hard to find: “I cannot speak” (v. 4). He was simply overwhelmed (v. 3).
When we find ourselves in a similar state of despondency, it is crucial we acknowledge the fact that an actual battle is going on within. Satan is pressing the advantage at a time when we are most vulnerable to his attacks. Even though we least feel like doing so, when we are at our lowest point we must avail ourselves of God’s remedy. The psalmist “sought the Lord” (v. 2). The remainder of this wonderful psalm gives the Lord’s answer to the believer’s state of depression and His marvelous provision in life’s darkest hour.
When God Seems Far Away
The psalmist’s line of reasoning reveals that he was walking by sight, not by faith—this is exactly what the Lord wants to change in His children today. We are to trust Him implicitly, no matter what our circumstances may be. In the garden of Eden, Satan introduced the notion that God’s promises are ineffectual, and the psalmist Asaph fell prey to this same doubt: “Doth His promise fail for evermore?” (v. 8). God’s mercy, once so evident and precious, seemed distant to him (vv. 7-8). Even the memories of former blessings and times of sweet fellowship with the Lord only served to intensify his feelings of despair. What he needed the most—the sense of God’s presence and power—seemed terribly far away (vv. 5-7).
The Lord desires for the troubled saint who finds himself in such a condition to realize exactly what the psalmist found to be true. When the writer of our text came to the place where he acknowledged to God that he was incapable of bringing about his own recovery and that the Lord alone could bring him up from the depths of despair, then help was on the way. Sadly, many despairing saints today look elsewhere for relief rather than patiently waiting on God to work in His way and time. Psychology, mood-altering drugs, or other worldly diversions often replace the “diligent search” of the Lord’s will (v. 6). The psalmist needed a change of mind—genuine repentance. He needed to stop thinking that the Lord was “favourable no more” (v. 7) and to start remembering once again that what God had promised, He would also perform. How glorious it is to know that we have the same Lord and His precious promises!
God’s Perfect Work
In verse ten, the disheartened psalmist finally acknowledges to the Lord the underlying problem for his discouragement: “This is my infirmity.” He confessed his personal responsibility for feeling overwhelmed. In reality, the cause of his distress did not come from insurmountable circumstances but, rather, from an unspiritual and faithless condition of his heart. The psalmist realized that his current distress resulted from his own choosing, for he had willingly succumbed to the pressures that had cast him into his deep depression when, instead, he could have chosen to trust God and wait upon Him for sustaining grace. However, the Holy Spirit worked a godly repentance within his heart; blessed fruit always results from such a change in the believer’s mind and actions (see 2 Cor. 7:9-16). When the child of God focuses on the Lord’s faithfulness, marvelous things occur both within and without.
What brought the psalmist out of his state of depression was the realization that the God he served was, in fact, a God of infinite compassion, mercy, and grace. How often when we are at rock bottom we think in our hearts or perhaps even verbalize: “There’s no way out; I might as well give up and quit. Nothing seems to help, not even prayer!” But when the psalmist thought upon the wonderful works of God and how He had proven Himself faithful down through the ages, his attitude changed (vv. 11-14). Remember, those accounts of God’s faithfulness are written “for our learning” (Rom. 15:4). In our time of need we can declare along with the psalmist, “The Lord will do for me what He has done for them; my God is truly a God that doest wonders!”
Remember His Faithfulness
The psalmist’s experience is an example to us regarding what we need to do when our “inner man” is staggering under a heavy load. First, we must confess to the Lord that we are in dire need of spiritual restoration. Second, we must dig into the Word of God to see what He desires to do for us if we will only allow Him, as this psalm illustrates. The psalmist’s reflection upon how the Lord had faithfully redeemed, provided for, and led His people in their time of need helped bring him to the place in which he could praise and rejoice in his God rather than question His care. Just as the Lord provided for His people Israel, He also will enable the believer today to overcome every obstacle that life brings. We must simply allow Him to help us!
Undoubtedly, some will say this approach is just too easy, that reading about God’s care for His people and His proven faithfulness down through the centuries cannot speak to the crisis at hand. Is that correct? Certainly not! That kind of thinking is symptomatic of the lack of faith that brought about the spiritual doldrums in the first place. The Bible abounds with examples of how God always keeps His Word and blesses those who look to Him in their special time of need. Hebrews 11, for example, lists just a few of the many Old Testament saints who believed God’s Word and then stepped out in faith to obey it, even though they were often in dreadfully dismal situations. They pleased God by their faith and were rewarded because of it (Heb. 11:6). Dwell upon God’s faithfulness rather than the current distress, for such remembrance will comfort and encourage the overwhelmed spirit even in the darkest hour. — Dennis Costella