Fighting Despondency

February 14, 2019 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments

Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement

The author of Hebrews calls his readers to “be subject” to the Father’s discipline (see Heb. 12:9). The discipline of the Lord certainly includes direct reproof and correction of sin in our lives, but it also  includes all suffering, which God uses for our training and equipping. In a very pastoral move, the writer anticipates the natural human responses to pain and suffering, and seeks to confront those. One response is the temptation to bitterness or resentment, the feeling that such pain or suffering is unjust. We considered that response last week when we looked at Hebrews 12:15. 

Another, typical response to pain, trial, and hardship is despondency. The suffering easily can feel overwhelming. We lose sight of hope and promise and resolution. Addressing such despondency, the author says in verses 12-13, “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.” What is the author saying in these verses? 

One helpful insight to these verses is discovering that the author is alluding to two different Old Testament passages. Isaiah 35:3 and Proverbs 4:26.

 In Isaiah 35 the prophet is speaking to a people who have been devastated by the judgment of God. Leaders among the Israelites had turned away from the Lord and done wicked things. Wicked people from the surrounding nations came and ravaged the land. This was God’s judgment on the land for generations of sinful habits. While God used Isaiah to forewarn and announce his judgment, he also used Isaiah to speak comfort to his people. Judgment for the wicked was not the final and definitive word for the people of God. So he says, “Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you’” (Is. 35:3-4). The prophet was encouraging the people by drawing their attention to the final chapter of the story… God saves his people! No matter how dark the middle chapters seem to get. 

By quoting Isaiah 35:3, the author of Hebrews seeks to do the same for his readers. No matter how dark and discouraging the present circumstances seem to be, they are not the final chapter. We fight despondency by holding onto hope in the God of promises and our future glory. 

Proverbs 4:26, “Ponder (or, make level) the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure,” seems simple and straight forward. Plan ahead. Use wisdom. Avoid pitfalls and temptations. But what is the writer of Hebrews doing with this verse? The purpose statement, which is not from Proverbs, is key. Straight paths are necessary so that the lame can gain access to healing. 

I would contend that the readers, you and me, are the lame. We have been crippled by sin. Jesus is the only hope of healing we have. Despondency, and any resistance to the discipline of the Lord, makes our paths crooked and causes us to turn away from the healing Jesus offers. To make straight our paths is to fight against the temptation of despondency, which puts our attention on the weight of the suffering, and to maintain our gaze on the hope we have in Jesus. 

Strengthening knees and making straight paths do not remove the pain and suffering. But they do turn our eyes away from being consumed by the suffering in order to take in all that God has for us through Jesus.


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