Tag Archives: Hope

The Balance between Despair and Hope

 

In a previous post, we looked at the tendency of believers faced with the circumstances of affliction who despair to the point of asking the familiar questions, “Why this happening?” or “Where is God?”.  There we suggested that although this was the course and pattern of Job’s response to his affliction, perhaps he lamented too far and too long, reaching the point of failing to properly recognize the consistent and righteous character of God in his afflictions.  It was not until God’s extended discourse in reminding Job that it is He who orders His creation as He sees fit, even those things which on the surface might seem contrary to nature and even those things which might seem impossible to the natural mind, that Job’s eyes were opened to properly stop asking why and start asking Who.

Lest we should walk away from that post thinking that our response in the face of affliction and despair should be one of resignation or stoicism, in this post we want to add balance to argument by looking at the much neglected practice of lament.  The Psalms provide for us this balanced approach through its inclusion of numerous laments.  Here we find that pouring out our hearts in agony and anguish before God, may indeed be a proper response to our most difficult circumstances, i.e. afflictions.  It may even be that God is working in our hearts to draw out the marrow of lamentation.  However, we must be reminded not to linger here, lest despair overtake us and doubt of God’s goodness begin to enter our minds.

Psalm 13 provides a typical pattern of a lament, maintaining the balance between despair and hope.

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
    and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
    light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
    lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
    my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me.

The breaks above, provided by the ESV translators, highlight the transitions of the Psalm.  In vs. 1-3, we hear the words of the lament through a series of questions, much like the aforementioned, Why is this happening? and Where is God?  In vs. 4-6, there is a shift towards an appeal by the Psalmist to God for a response to his situation.  Then, in the last two verses we see the psalmist rest in the character of God, namely His goodness.

Entering into a lament shows a dissatisfaction with our circumstances; a recognition that things are not supposed to be this way.  Ultimately it is a desire for God to reconcile all that has been corrupted by sin.  It is toward this hope of reconciliation that our minds must then turn if we are to undergo lamentation properly.  If we linger in our despair, if we allow our minds to sink with the waves of doubt and depression, we show evidence of lacking faith as Peter did when walking on the water to our Lord.

The duration for how long we allow ourselves to lament over our afflictions, in order to maintain this proper balance, cannot be answered with any certainty, as it depends on a number of factors, not the least of which is the person and circumstance.  Nevertheless, universally, we must continually give ourselves over to prayer and continually fix our minds on the hope that is set before us knowing that our circumstances are only temporary and one day Christ will return to establish an eternity in which there will no longer be any crying; one in which He will wipe away all tears.

In closing, we need only to look at the life of our Lord to realize that lament has a proper place in the life of a believer.  Turning to the Scriptures, we find that Christ lamented over the death of Lazarus.  He lamented over the hardheartedness of Israel.  He lamented over the the pressing reality of experiencing the cup of God’s wrath.  And He lamented with outpouring  cries at the temporary abandonment from the Father as He bore the sins of many.  Yet all the while, He knew a better day was coming when sin would no longer exist, darkness would be engulfed by the light, and death would no longer reign over man.

When the time comes that we must navigate the darkness of despair, let us follow this pattern of our Lord by shining the light upon the hope of glory.

Where does your hope rest?

With start of the New Year in 2009, this time last year, the U.S. was inundated with the slogan “Hope and Change” that had been carried throughout the presidential election into the New Year.  Without moving into a political tangent, I want to merely point out that the hope that was bandied around last year was a man-made slogan designed to generate hope in something or someone that simply has no guarantee, no promise of delivering on that hope.  Regardless of your political views, hope can never be placed in man, government, ideals, or ourselves.  When hope is misdirected into one or more of these fallible objects it will inevitably fail and lead to disappointment or feelings of hopelessness.  This past weekend, CNN released a poll entitled: Americans Less Hopeful About Future.  Results showed that in 1999, 85% of Americans were hopeful about their personal future while 68% were hopeful about the future of the world.  The new polling data shows that the number is now significantly reduced to 69% who are hopeful about their own future and 51% who are hopeful about the future of the world.   Unfortunately this poll does not divulge information about where or what the hope of those interviewed lies in, but rest assured it is not placed in the hope that the Word of God speaks of.      

 

The Bible speaks explicitly about a true hope in which we are to rest.  The psalmist defines where our hope is to be directed in Psalm 39:7 ESV, “And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you.”  Again in Psalm 71:5 ESV we read, “For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O LORD, from my youth.”  We begin to see that our hope should be in God, but what exactly does that mean?  Let’s look to the Psalms once more to read, “I hope for your salvation, O LORD, and I do your commandments.” Psalm 119:166 ESV Keep in mind here that the salvation mentioned is not that which comes at the moment of justification by placing your faith in Jesus.  Instead this is a salvation hoped for, in other words, a future salvation from the wrath of God, at judgment, given to all those who have been justified.  This fits perfectly with our definition of hope being a confident expectation of future blessings to be received from God. (Grudem, Systematic Theology)

 

So far we’ve learned hope is placed in God for something He will provide, namely salvation from His own wrath.  The Apostle Paul, in his Roman epistle gives us more insight into this hope and just how it is obtained.  “Through him [Jesus] we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” Romans 5:2 ESV This passage starts to put the pieces together of just what this hope is.  If we break down this verse into a logical order of events we can see that ‘by grace through faith in Jesus we can rejoice in hope of the glory of God.’  The glory of God Paul refers to here is speaking of future glory when all believers will be united with God in heaven, essentially equivalent to the “salvation hoped for” we read of in Psalm.  This is the full picture of salvation just as we read in the familiar passage from Ephesians 2:8 ESV, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” Hope then becomes tied to our faith in Jesus, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1 ESV  Trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior and have faith in Him and in that faith is the assurance for those things in which you hope, namely salvation and rejoicing in the presence of God’s glory.  How then can you not be 100% hopeful for your personal future?  The world around us might ebb and flow like tides of the sea, but it matters not, as long as your hope is in Jesus.

 

Let’s not be deceived and expect this hope to come easily or without its own shares of ups and downs.  If we get lured into this mindset, our hope would fade just like those mentioned in the poll earlier.  This hope isn’t merely a fleeting emotion or a wavering feeling, it’s a hope obtained by grace through faith that’s promised and secured  by Jesus Christ.  I Timothy 1:1 ESV says, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope.”  This hope in Christ is one by which we are redeemed, by which we are saved, “For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” Romans 8:24-25 ESV This reaffirms what we learned about our hope for glory resting in Jesus, yet we now see it requires patience.

 

Not only does hope necessitate patience, but Romans 5:3-4 ESV tells us that when things get tough, hope is the outcome of our trials and tribulations, “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.”  Think of this passage like the process of baking a cake.  God has provided all of the ingredients for your faith, the batter.  When that faith is tested, placed in the fire, it rises and becomes authenticated, or to continue with our analogy, true cake.  Once this faith is pulled from the oven, a nice layer of icing or hope is placed all around it. 

 

Hope requires faith, patience, endurance, character, yet it does not disappoint like the hope placed in man because it is a product of love, “and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:5 ESV It simply cannot disappoint or shame us because the love of God has been poured into our hearts when we trust in Christ.  As Christians we should “rejoice in hope of the glory of God” that is secured by faith in “Christ Jesus our hope” which “does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out” by the Holy Spirit in our hearts providing the assurance on which our hope rests.

 

With the beginning of 2010 and a new decade, hope should be inspired by a fresh start, a chance to make this year better than the last, an opportunity to begin this year with hope placed in something that cannot fail.  Do you need someone to place your hope in?  Are you one of those polled who’s hope has decreased?  Or has your hope become even stronger knowing that with each day we get closer to rejoicing in the glory of God?  Hope can only rest in the God of Salvation and His Son Jesus Christ, all others will fade away and disappoint.

 

Hebrews 6:11-12 ESV And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

Romans 15:13 ESV May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

All our hope is in you God.

Heaviness of Soul

I was flipping through a collection of readings by John Wesley early this morning, and came across a message that fits in perfectly with the post I made yesterday.  His sermon is based on I Peter 1, in which Peter discusses various trials and temptations that befall us.

I Peter 1:3-9 3Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade-kept in heaven for you, 5who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7These have come so that your faith-of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire-may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Here is the message from Wesley on that passage:

There is a near relationship between the darkness of mind in the wilderness state and heaviness of soul, which is more common among believers.  The resemblance is so great that they are frequently confounded together.  But they are not equivalent terms; far, far, from it.  The difference is so wide and essential, as all the children of God need to understand, to prevent them sliding out of heaviness into darkness.

The manner of persons to whom the apostle Peter wrote the above words were believers at that time.  He expressly says (I Peter 1:5) you are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.  Again (I Peter 1:7), he mentions the trial of their faith; and yet again (I Peter 1:9), he speaks of their receiving the end of their faith, the salvation of their souls.  So, though they were in heaviness, they were possessed of living faith.  The apostle prays (I Peter 1:2) not that grace and peace may be given them, but that it may be multiplied. 

They were also full of a living hope.  For he speaks (I Peter 1:3) of their living hope of their inheritance that fadeth not away. In spite of their heaviness, they still retained a hope full of immortality.  And they still rejoiced (I Peter 1:8) with joy unspeakable and full of glory.  Their heaviness, then, was also consistent both with living hope and inexpressible joy!

Our God is good.  It’s through this message by Peter that God tells us we are kept by His power through our faith unto salvation.  No matter the burden, trials, temptations, or sins, Christ died for us once, for all. I Peter 3:18 Satan wants the burden of our sin to cast doubt with our faith to lead us into darkness, but we are given the living hope through Jesus and as such we should be rejoiceful, not disheartened.