When Despair Comes Knocking

Despair is running rampant in our society. A feeling of hopelessness grips many, leading to what has been called “an epidemic of self-harm.” There has been a sharp rise in emergency room visits by children, teenagers, and young adults, and not because of the flu or a broken nose. They’re coming to the ER because of mental health-related reasons.

The Center for Disease Control has data indicating that up to 1/3 of teenage girls considered suicide in 2021. Ponder that for a moment. For every three high school girls you might know, one of them may have dealt with enough hardship, depression, and despair that they wanted to take their own lives.

I’m not going to offer any simplistic solution, but I do want to address a factor that could offset any feelings of hopeless or despair.

Faith and a connection to a community of faith.

One study makes a strong connection between the loss of religion and the rise of despair. In the most generic sense, religion or a faith in God points to something beyond ourselves—something greater than ourselves. It gives us something to live for, something beyond the dreariness of this life. As a follower of Christ, though, I contend that religion and faith (which has so many different meanings in different religions) are not enough. Faith has to be in the right object, and that is in Jesus Christ. In Jesus, we have the assurance of an eternal life of joy, purpose, and contentment that no other belief system can offer.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Pet. 1:3-4).

While a daily walk of trust with Jesus can help us ignore the knock of despair, God does not intend for us to walk this path alone. We need His church—the body of Christ—the family of other believers.

This is not an option. Let me borrow three truths stated by Adam Carrington.

  1. Without church, we lack full communion with God.
  2. Without church, we lack full knowledge of God.
  3. Without church, we lose out on authentic, restored human community.

God certainly speaks through His Word, but He also chooses to speak to us as He works through other believers. We are missing out on ways God might want to teach us, encourage us, or challenge us through the words and experiences of other Christians. As a Christian, you are a part of the body of Christ, but you cannot fully function as you should if you’re ignoring the rest of the body.

Carrington wrote, “Our church community stands with us as we continue to struggle against our foes—the world, the flesh, and the devil.” And in a unique way, we experience the presence of God when we gather together.

“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there among them” (Matt. 18:20).

But let me be clear. Watching an online service is not the same as going to church or getting connected with a body of Christians. Far from it. And even attending a church is not enough. God is doing some great things through so many of the mega-churches, but a large church also makes it easy for a person to sit in a crowd of a thousand people and be just as alone as if they watched online.  It’s vitally important to not just attend but get connected to a group of believers. Build relationships. Let them encourage you. Let them walk with you. As followers of Jesus, we need each other.

Get involved in a small group. Whether the church calls it Sunday School, a life group, small group, or whatever, get connected to a smaller group of believers where you can study and discuss God’s Word together … where you can pray for one another … where you can help one another … where you can love one another … where you can rejoice together in the sure hope of eternal life in Christ.

“And let us consider one another in order to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching” (Heb. 10:24-25).

In a setting like that, there is no room for despair.

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