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Keys to Fighting Despair

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The LORD is faithful to all His promises and loving toward all He has made. —  Psalm 145:13b

Is discouragement ruling your thoughts? Have you despaired at the trials of this deployment?

One of my favorite contemporary Bible teachers, Dr. Stephen Davey, uses the popular old Puritan classic, Pilgrim’s Progress, in his sermon on Job, Chapter Seven, to expound on keys which can unlock a “dungeon of despair”. He gives timeless advice, worth sharing with you who are bearing the brunt of this Global War on Terror.

Pastor Davey reminds us that the author of Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan, wrote this famous allegory from his dark, dank English jail cell in the late 1600s. Having been jailed more than once for refusing to align his church with the Church of England, Bunyan became familiar with discouragement and despair.

Pastor Davey goes on to explain that during an episode of Bunyan’s book, the young disciple named Christian, who has left his home in the City of Destruction to travel to the Celestial City (heaven), is captured along with his companion, Hopeful, by the Giant Despair. They are thrown into a dungeon in Doubting Castle by the merciless Giant. But Christian and Hopeful refuse to give up, and eventually unlock their cell door and outer gate by using a key called Promise. That key had been given to Christian earlier as a gift to open a door when needed. So without force, the pair escapes and is free from Doubting Castle and the Giant Despair.

With this as a backdrop to his sermon, Pastor Davey goes on to list six “keys of promise” which we can use to defeat the Giant Despair in our lives which might be threatening the spiritual freedom of our souls:

1. First, in seasons when you conclude God is not present—He is.

“I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5b

2. Secondly, in times when you feel life is hopeless—it is not.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

3. Thirdly, in afflictions when you believe God does not care—He does.

“Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” I Peter 5:7

4. Fourthly, in situations when you are certain you know better than God—you do not.

“As for God, His way is perfect; the word of the LORD is flawless. He is a shield for all who take refuge in Him.” Psalm 18:30

5. Fifthly, in despair when you believe God has not heard your cry—He has.

“ . . . You who seek God, let your heart revive. For the Lord hears the needy and does not despise His who are prisoners.” Psalm 69:32b-33

6. One more key, sixthly, in circumstances in which you do not feel loved—you are.

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39

So often we can give in to discouraging thoughts, and can feel trapped as if in a dungeon, hopeless. The truth is as Christians we belong to a God who is ever-present in our lives; has a perfect plan for our lives; cares deeply for us; hears our every cry; and loves us enough to send His own Son to die for our sins. Those are promises—straight from Scripture, spoken by the Holy Spirit directly to our hearts.

Is it easy to forget that you have these promises from God? Sure. In Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian almost forgot. It was only after much prayer with Hopeful in the dark prison that he exclaims, “What a fool I am . . . to lay here in a stinking dungeon, when I could just as easily walk at liberty!  In my coat, next to my heart, I have a Key called Promise. I’m persuaded it will open any lock in Doubting Castle.” (p. 154)

Thankfully, Christian and Hopeful decide to post a warning to anyone who might come after them of the dangers found in Doubting Castle—the home of Giant Despair.

We, too, are warned (Psalm 19:11). And there are steps we can take away from doubt, away from despair. If you are struggling,

  • remind yourself of these six “keys” from Dr. Stephen Davey;
  • surround yourself with fellow Christians who can encourage you with the promises of Scripture;
  • spend time with the Lord often–reading your Bible and in prayer;
  • seek fellowship in a local church, or at your chapel;
  • develop a longing for the sacred—in music, in literature, in arts;
  • serve others;
  • pray for strength and courage—and the willingness to heed proper warnings.

If you are struggling with despair, remember that we serve a God of hope. Choose hope.

Work Cited:

The six “Keys” are from the sermon “Escaping the Dungeon of Giant Despair” preached by Dr. Stephen Davey on April 22, 2007. Pastor Davey’s sermons are archived on his website

Bunyan, John. The Pilgrim’s Progress in Modern English (Alachua, Florida: Bridge-Logos, 1998).

Questions to Share:

1. Share with your spouse a time when you experienced how one of God’s promises quoted was true in your life.

2. Pray for each other to trust in God’s promises for your future.

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