Desperate Is Normal
A Field Manual for Overwhelming Anxiety
The normal Christian life is embattled. It’s full of strange and difficult conflicts with sin and weakness within, and strange and difficult conflicts with spiritual and human adversaries and a world subjected to futility and frail brokenness without.
These experiences typically feel anything but normal. Battles with our sin, our frailty, other people, demons, and a broken world infected with evil can, at times, feel surreal, making us feel desperate. They trigger emotions connected to our particular fears, past hurts, sinful pride, griefs, and hopes that are distracting and sometimes debilitating.
That means a crucial and significant part of the normal Christian life is learning the humble discipline of casting our anxieties on God, who deeply cares for us. Even, or especially, in the heat of battle and the fury of the storm, so that “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard [our] hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (1 Peter 5:6–7; Philippians 4:6–7).
The Bible is a field manual for the normal, embattled, desperate Christian life. God has mercifully packed it not only with examples and teaching, but also with songs and prayers for our trials. And we need songs and prayers to provide us words for the chaos, when anxiety and confusion fragment our thoughts.
Psalm 27 is that kind of song. David states his confidence in God, but he also confesses his anxiety and bewilderment and desperation. It’s a song for the normal Christian life.
Your Source of Hope
David begins with the source of his hope:
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalm 27:1)
“The Bible is a field manual for the normal, embattled, desperate Christian life.”
By “light,” David means the same thing written in Psalm 119:130: “The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.” By “salvation,” David means God is his hope to rescue him from his greatest dangers (Psalm 34:6).
This is our song too. For God must be our hope, our light in a dark world, and our salvation from the most fearsome things.
Your Source of Courage
Next, David declares the source of his courage:
Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me, yet I will be confident. (Psalm 27:3)
David was under frequent threat from treacherous countrymen (Psalm 27:2), and from enemy nations. We too are under spiritual attack (Ephesians 6:12). And these attacks can be fierce — spiritual forces of wickedness are out to destroy us (1 Peter 5:8).
But if God is our hope, then these “adversaries and foes [will] stumble and fall” (Psalm 27:2). Singing or praying this truth when fear rises reminds us of why we have good reason to be encouraged and provides us words to quiet our fear and squash the intimidation.
Your Source of Delight
Then David describes the source of his delight:
One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple. (Psalm 27:4)
David’s deepest desire — his one thing — is not for safety, military dominance, or prosperity. David wants God — to be near God, to see and be satisfied with God’s glory, and to live by God’s wisdom and guidance.
In the embattled, desperate moments of the normal Christian life, when our felt needs can be focused on being delivered from particular troubles, it is helpful to have words ready to remind us of the only ultimately necessary thing we need (Luke 10:42).
Your Source of Help
After David declares his confident hope and deepest delight in God, then he shifts the tone of the psalm to reflect the desperate moment he’s experiencing:
Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud; be gracious to me and answer me! (Psalm 27:7)
“It is helpful to have words ready to remind us of the only ultimately necessary thing we need.”
Even though God is his source of hope, courage, and delight, at that moment, David is feeling some fear-induced perception that God doesn’t want to answer him, perhaps is even angry at him (Psalm 27:9–10). His needs feel very urgent and he’s pleading with God for help and comfort.
This is exactly how we feel in embattled, desperate moments. Our emotions are not in sync with our beliefs about God, and it’s okay to tell him. David’s words give us a prayer to One who understands exactly what we’re experiencing and invites us to come to him for help (Hebrews 4:15–16).
Your Source of Understanding
David’s confusion and desperation make him aware of his ignorance, and so he then turns to God as the source of understanding:
Teach me your way, O Lord, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies. (Psalm 27:11)
David didn’t know the plots of his enemies, which made him feel vulnerable. But he knew that God knew. And he knew that if he walked in the obedience of faith with God, it would be the safest place.
We don’t need to understand all the complexities of our trials. Neither do we necessarily need to deep dive into our psychological labyrinths to figure out all our fears (though in certain cases this is necessary). What we need to know most is God’s way, and then we must follow it.
Your Source of Certainty
Lastly, David applies his strong confidence to his weak desperation in a firm exhortation to his soul:
I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! (Psalm 27:13-14)
David is declaring the source of his certainty while living in an uncertain world. And it is a beautiful, strengthening way to end his psalm.
This is also a healthy climax to the song of the normal Christian life. Regardless of the way things appear or feel, we will know the goodness of God in the land of the eternal living! We do not need to panic; we need to be strong. And we need to tell ourselves: Soul, don’t cow to intimidation, don’t wallow in hopelessness, and don’t cave in to fear. Wait for the Lord and let your heart take courage.
Fourteen Verses to Memorize
“Your normal Christian life doesn’t always feel normal, but the Bible teaches us that this is, in fact, normal.”
Your normal Christian life doesn’t always feel normal. It is frequently hard, embattled, and desperate. But the Bible teaches us that this is, in fact, normal. And the Bible not only teaches us about these trials, but also equips us with songs and prayers to help us keep our heads and find our bearings.
Psalm 27 is one of God’s precious equipping gifts to us. And, at only 14 verses, it’s worth memorizing, because, in the heat of the fight for faith, it can be brought out quickly as both a “sword of the Spirit” and as a shield from “the flaming darts of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16–17).
Let it be a short song for your normal Christian life.