Some time ago, I stumbled across some of prosperity gospel preacher Kenneth Copeland’s writing on the Internet in which he recalled a time when he was “in desperation … squalling out to God about something.” He wrote that God does not hear the prayers of his people when they cry out in desperation. Desperation is for sinners, he declared, while faith is for the child of God. If you feel like you’re in a sinking ship and are tempted to cry out to God in desperation, don’t do it, he urged. Instead, “Cry out to God in faith and say, ‘Lord, I’m not going to panic. I’m not going to despair. I’m going to be of good cheer because your word says you’ll deliver me from this situation.’”
Sometimes, Christians live in a space in which they have accurate, but inadequate, information about God. Much of what Copeland says is accurate. In times of despair, we should cry out to the Lord. We should avoid the temptation to panic and despair. Unfortunately, his information is inadequate, for the Bible does not promise deliverance from every earthly trial we face. Nor does it forbid us from bringing our despair to the Lord in prayer.
Copeland counsels us to not cry out in desperation to the Lord. Apparently, the psalmists never received this message.
Consider, for example, the words of David in Psalm 6, who pleaded with the Lord to not discipline him in anger. “I am languishing,” he cried. “My bones are troubled. My soul also is greatly troubled.” He wondered “how long” the Lord would delay his kindness to him (vv. 1–3). He flooded his bed with tears and his couch with weeping (v. 6). He knew what it was to waste away in grief (v. 7).
That certainly sounds like the language of desperation. And what did David do with his desperation? He prayed. Copeland claims that, in his moment of desperation, the Lord told him that he does not hear the desperate cries of his people. In his desperation, David wrote, “The LORD has heard my plea; the LORD accepts my prayer” (v. 9).
David’s prayer reflects the reality of life with God daily. It shows that life with God includes moments of indescribable pain and desperation, but also times of sweet certainty—often in the midst of desperation! It highlights the truth that the Lord hears the desperate prayers of his saints. Triumph and joy are often mixed with pain and grief. That is the reality of life with God daily.
The consumeristic brand of Christianity that Copeland and his ilk promote has little space for suffering. Suffering is an anomaly, which must be avoided at all costs. This very unchristian approach to suffering often seeks to numb pain with chemical or psychological distractions if it cannot be completely avoided. The Bible presents a very different view of pain: one in which suffering is a normal part of life with God in a fallen world—and in which pain, through the gospel, can be redemptive.
And yet pain is not all there is to live with God daily. Yes, there is pain, but there is also the assurance that the God with whom we walk hears our pleas and accepts our prayer. As Skye Jethani notes, the Christian’s “relationship with God is the source of his peace, rather than the material distractions of the world.” And his ultimate hope is that God will use all things—even pain and desperation—to make him more like Jesus Christ (Romans 8:28–30).
So, what do you do in times of desperation? Don’t bury it. Don’t put on a plastic smile. Embrace the desperation, bring it to God, and rest in the confidence that he hears your pleas and accepts your prayers in Jesus Christ.