In John Bunyan’s classic allegory of the Christian life, The Pilgrim’s Progress, the central character, Christian, flees the City of Destruction and seeks eternal life. During his long pilgrimage he walks on the narrow path of the Hill of Difficulty, down through the Valley of Humiliation, passes through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and eventually reaches the Celestial City. Along the way he meets the characters Mr. Worldly Wiseman, Hopeful, and Faithful. At one point on his journey, Christian narrowly escapes the Doubting Castle, which is guarded by the Giant Despair. Thinking that those following behind him might fall into the giant’s lethal grip, he decides to make a sign to warn future sojourners about the giant. The sign he erected read:
Over this stile is the way to Doubting Castle; which is kept by Giant Despair, who despiseth the King of the Celestial Country, and seeks to destroy his holy pilgrims.
Then Bunyan adds:
Many, therefore, that followed after, read what was written, and escaped the danger.
I must not have been paying attention while I was pastoring in Ohio, because I blew right past that sign. During that time my soul was in the grip of the giant. I was miserable beyond description. I was angry, bitter, depressed. I slept too much, ate too much, and withdrew from people. I stopped smiling. This was one pilgrim the giant had no problem overpowering. Then something happened: the more I reached out to hurting people, the more wiggle room I noticed in the giant’s grip. Over time, while throwing myself into the lives of other people, serving them, and loving them, both in our church and outside, each act of love and service brought me a little closer to home.
Do you find yourself in the lethal grasp of despair right now? God has provided a second way for you to hold on during life’s difficult moments. In addition to living in authentic Christian community, serve others. As you serve others in the midst of your pain, orienting your entire mind, heart, and soul around serving others in Jesus’ name, supernatural things will happen that will loosen the giant’s grip on your soul.
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