~ Losing Hope? ~
In a recently posted article, Don't Explain It Away: God's Will is Yes, we examined the critical connection between waiting on the Lord and Christ's repeated promises to fulfill prayers offered in His Name. This Reflection will concentrate on the interplay of another critical element, one of the "big three" listed in 1 Corinthians 13, that of hope.
Emotional and spiritual despair and hopelessness is more common than appreciated. In the U.S.A. and many other developed nations, suicide rates second in causes of death among youth. The popular notion that despair and hopelessness cannot be part of a devout, Christ-embracing, spiritually mature person causes the experience of hopelessness to be a source of shame and is often kept secret from his or her brothers and sisters in Christ.
The experience of spiritual hopelessness and despairing waiting is so prevalent yet rarely the subject of an in-depth study in sermons or Bible study classes. Solomon recognized the importance by writing, "Delayed hope makes one sick at heart, but a fulfilled longing is a tree of life." (Proverbs 13:12) The Psalms are saturated with this issue. The great king, warrior, and servant of God, David, along with the other writers of the Psalms, wrote eloquently of the spiritual challenge of hopelessness: "The enemy has pursued me; he has ground my life into the dirt... That is why I begin to lose hope and my heart is in a state of shock... Answer me quickly, O Lord, my spirit is worn out." (Psalm 43: 3a, 4, 7a)
The beauty and power of the Psalms, the Bible's prayer book, is in the boldness and strength of the prayers, even those of desperation. David and the other writers don't grovel and beg, as in "Please Lord, maybe You could find it in Your mercy to please help me out..." Rather, Ethan wrote: "How long, O Lord? Will You hide Yourself forever?... Remember how short my life is!... Where is the evidence of Your mercy, Lord? You swore an oath to David on the basis of Your faithfulness." (Psalm 89:46-49)
Notice the combination of sarcasm, challenge and respect in this prayer. It also carries a common element, that of reminding God (so to speak in human terms) of His promises. Consider this prayer: "My soul is weak from waiting for You to save me. My hope is based on Your word. My eyes have become strained from looking for Your promise. I ask, 'When will You comfort me?'... What is left of my life? When will You bring those who persecute me to justice?" (Psalm 119:81-82, 84)
Some may be unaccustomed to this manner of praying. Keep in mind, however, the Psalms were often quoted in the New Testament, were very familiar to all the Jews of Jesus' time on earth, and remain intact for our use, inspired by the Holy Spirit. In many Psalms there is a tension, as it were, between bold challenge and blunt reporting to God and submission and respectful petition. The hopelessness is expressed, not hidden or denied, followed by a quick switch to acknowledgment and praise of God's sovereign mercy. Asaph wrote, "I sigh as I remember God. I begin to lose hope as I think about Him... My spirit searches for an answer:... Has His mercy come to an end forever?... It makes me feel sick that the power of the Most High is no longer the same... O God, Your ways are holy! What god is as great as our God? You are the God who performs miracles..." (Psalm 77:3, 6b, 8a, 10, 13, 14a)
Similarly, David wrote, "How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever?... How long will my enemy triumph over me? Look at me! Answer me, O Lord my God! Light up my eyes, or else I will die and my enemy will say 'I have overpowered him.' My opponents will rejoice because I have been shaken. But I trust Your mercy. My heart finds joy in Your salvation. I will sing to the Lord because He has been good to me." (Psalm 13:1a, 2b, 3-6)
"Waiting upon the Lord" is a well known dynamic in the spiritual lives and practices of the prophets and saints for thousands of years, exemplified in such familiar scripture verses as Isaiah 40:31. But you are also in the great company of the saints when you feel the wait is getting too long and you start to lose hope. St. Paul addresses this by reminding us of perseverance and what hope really is: "Who hopes for what can be seen? But if we hope for what we don't see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance." (Romans 8:24b-25)
However, after a while, the eagerness fades into despair. The writer of Hebrews (6:11-12, 15, 18a, 19, 20a) addresses this in a more practical way: "We want each of you to prove that you're working hard so that you will remained confident (hopeful) until the end, then, instead of being lazy, you will imitate those who are receiving the promises through faith and patience... So Abraham received what God promised because he waited patiently for it... God did this so that we would be encouraged. God cannot lie when He takes an oath or makes a promise... We have this confidence (hope) as a sure and strong anchor for our lives. This confidence (hope) goes into the holy place behind the curtain where Jesus went before us on our behalf."
Christ knew our hope could be battered through repeated delays of prayer response, so He assured us many times that the Father hears and will respond positively to prayers in Christ's Name and in faith. In addition, He provided us the Holy Spirit who "helps us in our weakness" by praying for us in powerful intercession (Romans 8:26-27) The Spirit inspired Paul to declare, "But I thank God, who always leads us in victory because of Christ. Wherever we go, God uses us to make clear what it means to know Christ." (2 Corinthians 2:14a)
Therefore, consider the repeated promises of Christ that whatsoever we ask through Him will be done; that the Father wants to give His children gifts; that we can do all things through Christ; and that the reason for these many assurances is to sustain our hope and confidence during the needed delays from request to manifestation of prayer. These promises of Christ are not just encouragement's, they are His very word, and thus constitute God's will! When we pray for God's will to be done, we are praying that He fulfill His promises to us! So we stand on His promises with hope, confidence and faith. We never give up. That is His will!
Hear the Psalmist's wondrous declarations: "Remember the word you gave me. Through it you gave me hope. This is my comfort in my misery. Your promise gave me new life. Arrogant people have mocked me with cruelty, yet I have not turned away from your teachings. (Psalm 119:49-51) Those who fear you will see me and rejoice, because my hope is based on your word. (v. 74) You are my hiding place and my shield. My hope is based on your word. (v. 114) I got up before dawn, and I cried out for help. My hope is based on your word. (v. 147) I have waited with hope for you to save me, O Lord." (v. 166) Yet in the same Psalm, we read the characteristic bold declarations from man to God: "My eyes are strained from looking for you to save me and from looking for the fulfillment of your righteous promise. (v. 123) It is time for you to act, O Lord." (v. 126a)
That last declarative prayer is often repeated throughout the Psalms: Please hurry and help! Answer quickly! Don't delay any longer, Lord! Our spiritual mentors are offering even their frustrations over God's delays as prayers. Of course, God will hear and fulfill these also.
This declarative, almost demanding style of prayer is also exemplified by Jeremiah: "I call your name from the deepest pit, O Lord. Listen to my cry for help. Don't close your ears when I cry out for relief... Plead my case for me, O Lord. Reclaim my life. Look at the wrong that has been done to me, O Lord. Give me a fair verdict. Look at all their malice all their plots against me." (Lamentations 3:55-61) The Scriptures teach us to approach God's throne with boldness, in expectation of mercy, and we will find help. In the following prayer (Lamentations 3:21-26), Jeremiah combines the elements of waiting, hope, and God's love in a wonderfully eloquent way. Let's pray it as though it were our own:
"The reason I can still find hope is that I keep this one thing in mind: the Lord's mercy. We were not completely wiped out. His compassion is never limited. It is new every morning. His faithfulness is great. My soul can say, 'The Lord is my lot in life. That is why I find hope in him.' The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to anyone who seeks help from him. It is good to continue to hope and wait silently for the Lord to save us."
Note to readers: Bible quotations are taken from God's Word," a copyrighted work of God's Word to the Nations Bible Society, 1995. Quotations are used by permission.
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services
Weekly Reflections © May 5, 2001
"God's Word" is a copyrighted work of God's Word to the Nations Bible Society. Quotation are used by permission.
Responses are welcome at: Reflections@prayergear.com
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