Praying into the Abyss of Despair
By: Dr. Stephen R. Crosby
Sometimes our circumstances make us feel like we are standing on the edge of a dark and bottomless abyss of hopelessness. We pray, do all the things we know to do, have been told to do, trained to do (and then some), and nothing changes or things get worse.
The pressure can lead us to the brink of madness. Cliché Christian answers and the insensitivities of cheap canned theology of fellow Christians don’t help. Rather than identify with us in the darkness of the mystery of our circumstances, “Job’s comforters” type of Christians heap guilt, shame, introspection, fear, and anxiety upon us with: “There must be sin in your life” or “You just don’t have enough faith,” or this would not be happening to you. Both are lies.
Prayer is an activity that takes a lot of courage.
Sometimes the essence of prayer is little more than throwing our self into free-fall of the abyss of our hopelessness. We have no assurance of anything other than darkness. We can’t stay on the edge any longer, and what is in front of us is nothing but darkness, hopelessness, and despair. The cowardly turn from the precipice, give up on prayer and accommodate their present reality. The courageous throw themselves, heart and soul, into the abyss.
Once they do, they discover that fearful free-fall turns into flight when the Spirit gets a hold of the courageous faith we have shown by praying into the darkness. Those who refuse to face the abyss of their hopelessness can never know the experience of having free-fall turn to flight by the Spirit. Ezekiel spoke of waters where we can no longer touch solid ground–waters so deep that we cannot control anything, even our own survival. Those who insist on the security of the shoreline, where everything is safely neat, predictable, understandable, and manageable, will never know the dynamic of the real prayer of faith.
The Spirit of the Lord came to me a while back and strongly impressed on me how much the Father appreciates the “faith” of those who, in the face of their impossibility and no answers, throw themselves into it any way. It’s corny and cliché, but He appreciates it in ways that we cannot truly fathom.
There is an intimacy with the Father, and a fraternity with the Son, that can only be subjectively experienced when we have stared at the darkness and thrown ourselves in. It is what Jesus did at Calvary and in the grave, facing it, going there willingly with nothing other than hope in a promise: “You will not leave my soul in Sheol, nor allow me to see corruption.” Until resurrection morning, all is darkness, and we can’t “faith confess” our way out of it. For the children of Israel, the last minute of the last hour, of the last day of the 39th year of wilderness wanderings looked exactly like every day that had preceded it . . . but then . . . resurrection dawn.
I get discouraged as much as anyone, but somehow, if I must fall, I have learned to fall forward, or more recently, “fall in.”
If you are struggling, or seem to have no strength, or if the thought of engaging in prayer excites you as much as a toothache, don’t give up. Don’t let a lack of results deter you. Faith is more than getting results/answers. Faith is saying to the abyss: “This will not have dominion over me, and if I must perish, I will, but I will throw myself and my hopelessness right into the mouth of gaping despair with the testimony of my God on my lips, where my only hope will be, God taking my free-fall and turning it into flight, where it is His supernatural resurrection life . . . or it is nothing.
It has been a recent burden of mine, that as long as the Lord has given me life, breath, health, and strength, it is my spiritual, moral, and kingdom “reasonable service” to use it on behalf of those who might not be as fortunate, in any circumstance of life. The great mystery of free-fall into the abyss is discovering that the buoyancy of faith doesn’t have to be mine! When I am weak, the faith of others, who love me and with whom I am in relationship, taken and animated by the Spirit of God, becomes: the air beneath my wings! My only job is to jump into the abyss. My contribution of faith is to admit that I don’t have any! Then, “in faith” throw myself in! This is overcoming prayer. This is overcoming faith. This is faith that stares death in the eyes and prevails.
If God has given me strength, or a season of favor and prosperity rather than adversity, it is my moral duty to my brothers, sisters, and the world to fulfill my priestly ministry: to enter into their suffering and impossibility, and release my faith when they have none. I sincerely pray that I will be able to live the rest of my days in this way. I pray every day: “Lord, you have given me life and strength and health, please, let my life amount to something today for your purposes in your saints. May my existence be more than the delusions of American cultural priorities of self-interest.”
I hope you would join me in this prayer and that each of us would more fully awaken and respond to our priestly calling to represent Christ to the world, and the world to Christ.
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