When in the middle of a terribly difficult trial (to which I’ve referred in previous articles), we received a visit from a person who had been a friend to us in earlier days. My wife’s and my hearts were eager for encouragement and support, but that visit had little to do with any of that sort of thing. As it turned out, he felt a great need to instruct us… without the benefit of taking time to learn more about the situation. It seemed that he was afraid of what we might choose to do next in response to the hurt we had received and felt we were in a position to do significant harm to others if we chose to.
“Actually,” he said in closing, “if you really want to obey God, you’ll move away from here.” Diane, my wife, left that conversation and turned towards me, tears welling up in her lovely eyes, her face unnaturally pale.
We felt terribly alone. Worse yet, no matter how much Christian love we sought to share with others and no matter how hard we sought to not react to others with a vengeful spirit, the hits kept coming. In this instance, our brother-in-the-Lord apparently acted out of fearfulness and inadvertently contributed to our sense of rejection and displacement. He did not intend to hurt us. He did not mean to exacerbate our feelings of abandonment. He did not plan on fueling a pervasive feeling of hopelessness within us. But he did.
Despair fell upon us like a ton or razor-sharp rocks tumbling into our lives like an avalanche. We were cut by unjust criticisms. We were crushed by failed friendships. We were suffocating under a load of doubt. The feeling of hopelessness was overwhelming.
The idea that he posed to us was one we took seriously however. What did God want of us? Was He closing doors? If so, where in the world was the open one? And even if we had thought we had an open door before us, how could we step through it and risk investing ourselves once again in an attempt to be God’s servants by helping others to know Jesus and to grow in Him?
There were no clear open doors before us however. No clear direction was presented to us and we struggled to know what to do. We examined ourselves in the light of God’s Word, prayed, fasted, and did our best to wait. All the while, the message that some others had presented to us echoed in our ears that, “You have no place here.” The few Christian brothers and sisters in whom we could truly confide were as confused for us as we were. Our sense of hopelessness seemed to only grow.
We learned a few things from the experience, I am glad to say. One thing that we learned is that hopelessness is a paralyzer. When it descends upon us, it has the effect of wrapping us in chains. The chains of fear of trying, of failing, and of being rejected can so enmesh a soul that he cannot make a move. It stings the heart with the poison of confusion as he wrestles with the question, “What’s the point?” and it leeches from his soul the will to try, move, and even live.
Another thing we learned is that no one, no matter how good his intentions, can take the place of God in your life. While we should value the input of others inasmuch as they share out of love for us and an open heart to the Lord and His Word, it is up to each of us to cultivate in the context of godly community a personal relationship directly with the Lord Jesus Himself with His Bible and personal prayer as the primary modes of interaction. In our situation, we did not feel that we were hearing from God Himself (even when one or two people told us that they were speaking on God’s behalf). In our devotional time in the Bible, we were drawn again and again to God’s admonishment to “stay put” until He said otherwise. So, in the end, we stayed put.
In staying put, we learned that final lesson that the Lord had or us. It was to put our hope in Him and Him alone. Sometimes our hope can be put in the wrong thing such as our own strength, ingenuity, or physical resources. Sometimes we place our hope in people other than God like friends, family, the government, or even the church. As wonderful as these things can be (one would like to think), none of them can be our final source of hope because each of these things has limitations that prevent it from being capable of being everything we need in every situation. Therefore, we must take care to put our hope in Christ. If it is so, we can take such provisions from Him as He sends our way (like good health, a good mind, or good financial situations) and we can be thankful to Him for them. We can enjoy the blessings of good friends, good family relationships, benevolent government, and great things happening at church as we joyfully praise the good Giver of such good gifts.
But if our hope is in God Himself, then when He allows such things to be taken away, we can still rejoice, give thanks, and move forward because He Himself is our hope. While we like the gifts, we are most thankful for the Giver of the gifts.
By God’s grace at work in us, we were able to keep our eyes upon Him and become more deeply planted where He placed us. Because of that, lives have been touched and changed by the power and grace of God at work through us. He gave hope to several because He renewed our hope. And He renewed our hope because He Himself was - and is - our hope!
“O LORD, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! Behold, You have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before You. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Surely a man goes about as a shadow! Surely for nothing they are in turmoil; man heaps up wealth and does not know who will gather! And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in You” (Psalm 39:4-7 ESV).