Hope When All Seems Hopeless

I am usually known for a steadfast faith, which proclaims that God is sufficient through every circumstance. I try to live it; I write about it; I teach about it; but I also recognize that it’s only possible because it is a spiritual gift that God gave me very distinctly. Driving on the freeway one day in 2003, struggling to worship instead of cry; His voice spoke more clearly than probably any other time in my life saying, “I have given you the gift of faith, for without it you would not have survived.” Believe me when I say that any faith I have is from Him!

The Bible is full of faith stories, not the least of which is the summary account of the Old Testament saints in Hebrews 11, often referred to as the Hebrews Hall of Fame. Like them time and again, our faith is challenged; yet we are encouraged through God’s Word, where we are instructed:

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.[1]

I must admit, over the past couple of days it has been awfully hard to keep standing! After a year chock-full of hardships (just like everyone else in the world!), I’d had about all I could take. As if shutdowns and masks, health issues, political unrest, and rampant injustice and unrighteousness weren’t enough, two nights of practically no sleep just about did me in. Like so many others these days, I felt trapped in the sludge of hopelessness and despair. The peace I’ve felt lately, regardless of the fact that everything around me seems negative, was suddenly gone. I didn’t like it—not one bit! Where was God now? The only cry in my heart yesterday was that of the psalmist:

Why are you cast down O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?[2]

It’s a verse that’s repeated three times in Psalm 42 and 43; but wait—there’s more, because as soon as the question is asked, the psalmist continues:

Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God.

I agreed in my heart, but my soul still wasn’t feeling it. My spirit knew without a doubt that I could rest in all of God’s promises, but holding onto hope remained a struggle when all I wanted to do was escape the physical reality of everyday life. Yes, I would hold onto my faith, but there were still the questions that countless other believers have asked down through the centuries:

Why did you bring me out from the womb? Would that I had died before any eye had seen me and were as though I had not been, carried from the womb to the grave.[3]

Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?[4]

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?[5]

Why do you forget us forever, why do you forsake us for so many days?[6]

Thanks be to God that He didn’t leave me hanging there very long, even though those two days seemed interminable. This morning, after a night of blessed sleep, I awoke and everything seemed different. Why? While journaling, I had the thought to do a Logos search of the word, ‘hope’, and was astounded that the very first scripture that popped up was Psalm 33:17:

The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue. 

That got my attention!!! We cannot hope in any person, place or thing aside from God. Even when the plans of man are inspired by God and led by the Spirit, He must always be our ultimate source of hope, for a God-given strategy can easily fail when derailed by a bit of self-will, pride or sin of any. Psalm 33 continues:

Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love, that he may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine. Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you. 

As evil swirls across our land and around the world, what better scripture could there be for the present physical reality? Has there ever been a time closer in history to the second coming of the Lord, that day for which we all hope? No, by if only because with each day that passes His return draws nearer; but however long He tarries, it appears more and more imminent as we encounter all of the things of which Jesus warned in Matthew 24. Fear of such end times threats as well as every other obstacle the enemy can throw at us threatens our peace on a daily basis.

Another thing I often write and speak about is the importance of waiting on the Lord, as we are advised to do time and again throughout the scriptures. All too often though, waiting and patiently trusting Him flies in the face of our desire for quick action; His mysterious ways that frequently seem so slow can challenge our faith. But: 

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. [7]

Continuing my research with Logos:

Hope is the expectation of the future attainment of a desired object or outcome. It is often associated with trust, whether in God or others.

In Hebrew, hope is expressed most commonly with the verbs קָוָה (qāwâ, “to wait”) and יָחַל (al, “to wait”) and nouns related to these. The verb qāwâ conveys a sense of waiting with expectation.[8]

Get that? I suppose I knew that hope involves waiting, but had never put them together in such close proximity. Essentially, hope requires waiting! A hope that has been fulfilled no longer requires waiting for it to happen. Hope is made evident in the waiting—the two go hand-in-hand.

About this time in my research, I was beginning to ponder 1 Corinthians 13:13:

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Then I read this (bolded text mine):

Hope, it would seem, is a psychological necessity, if man is to envisage the future at all. Even if there are no rational grounds for it, man still continues to hope. Very naturally such hope, even when it appears to be justified, is transient and illusory; and it is remarkable how often it is qualified by poets and other writers by such epithets as ‘faint’, ‘trembling’, ‘feeble’, ‘desperate’, ‘phantom’. The Bible sometimes uses hope in the conventional sense. The ploughman, for example, should plough in hope (1 Cor. 9:10), for it is the hope of reward that sweetens labour. But for the most part the hope with which the Bible is concerned is something very different; and in comparison with it, other hope is scarcely recognized as hope. The majority of secular thinkers in the ancient world did not regard hope as a virtue, but merely as a temporary illusion; and Paul was giving an accurate description of pagans when he said they had no hope (Eph. 2:12; cf. 1 Thes. 4:13), the fundamental reason for this being that they were ‘without God’.

Where there is a belief in the living God, who acts and intervenes in human life and who can be trusted to implement his promises, hope in the specifically biblical sense becomes possible. Such hope is not a matter of temperament, nor is it conditioned by prevailing circumstances or any human possibilities. It does not depend upon what a man possesses, upon what he may be able to do for himself, nor upon what any other human being may do for him… Biblical hope is inseparable therefore from faith in God. Because of what God has done in the past, particularly in preparing for the coming of Christ, and because of what God has done and is now doing through Christ, the Christian dares to expect future blessings at present invisible (2 Cor. 1:10)… [therefore] it is not surprising that hope should so often be mentioned as a concomitant of faith…What is perhaps more remarkable is the frequent association of hope with love as well as with faith. This threefold combination of faith, hope and love is found in 1 Thes. 1:3; 5:8; Gal. 5:5–6; 1 Cor. 13:13; Heb. 6:10–12; 1 Pet. 1:21–22. By its connection with love, Christian hope is freed from all selfishness… Faith, hope and love are thus inseparable. Hope cannot exist apart from faith, and love cannot be exercised without hope. These three are the things that abide (1 Cor. 13:13) and together they comprise the Christian way of life.[9]

Looking back anew at my why-are-you-cast-down-O-my-soul complaint from yesterday in Psalm 42-43, and the first verse out of the box today in Psalm 33, the Lord tied it all together in Psalm 42:8:

By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.

It is His steadfast love that makes it possible for us to enter into faith, hope and love:, and my soul in alignment with my heart now sings the truth:

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;  his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” [10]


[1] Ephesians 6:13

[2] Psalm 42:5,11; 43:5

[3] Job 10:18-19

[4] Psalm 10:1

[5] Psalm 13:1-2

[6] Lamentations 5:20

[7] 2 Peter 3:9

[8] Fenlason, A. C. (2014). Hope. D. Mangum, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, & R. Hurst (Eds.), Lexham Theological Wordbook. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[9] Tasker, R. V. G. (1996). Hope. In D. R. W. Wood, I. H. Marshall, A. R. Millard, J. I. Packer, & D. J. Wiseman (Eds.), New Bible dictionary (3rd ed., pp. 479–480). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[10] Lamentations 3:21-24

The New Commandment

Most Christians are oh-so-familiar with Jesus’ familiar words about the first227062-20140710 and second greatest commandments, a teaching that occurred during His final week in Jerusalem, just days before the crucifixion:

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31 ESV)

It is a beloved passage, one that many of us have taken very seriously. But how often have we considered Jesus’ new commandment, which was given a few days later on the eve of His crucifixion as He met in the upper room with the disciples?

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35 ESV)

As I read this passage a couple of weeks ago, late on the Thursday night before Good Friday, I was struck by how many times I’ve seen or heard it—probably hundreds over the years—but have not really pondered very deeply its significance. This new commandment far exceeds what He had spoken about previously! This commandment is to love as He loves, but how often do I/we fall terribly short of that goal? His perfect love is the mark for which we must aim and the Love Chapter, as it is often called, provides a good ‘recipe’ for love.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a ESV)

Did you get that? God’s model of love is patient and kind, never jealous or boastful or proud or rude, doesn’t keep track of the offenses of others, is not happy about the wrongs of others and is very happy when truth prevails. But that’s not all; love never gives up or loses faith in others, it is always hopeful and endures hardships, and it also lasts forever. I believe that this example is only reflective of where Jesus’ love for us begins, because He was also willing to suffer and die for our sins. Anticipating his death the following day, he went on to say:

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13 ESV)

The thing is though, Jesus wasn’t just another everyday hero; you know, the kind we see on the news when a brave soldier saves others at the cost of his/her own life; or, as just happened this week, when a heroic lady at the Jewish synagogue shooting in Poway, CA threw herself into the line of fire, saving the life of her Rabbi and dying as a result. Yes, our everyday heroes do lay down their lives for their friends and that is a great love indeed, but Jesus took it a big step farther. When he willingly went to the cross, he took upon himself the punishment that was due to each of us for our sins; He died not to save our physical lives so we could thrive for a few more years on earth, but to make eternal life with God possible. Eternal life—that means unending life, living happily-ever-after forever and ever and ever—and that’s a whole lot more that anyone’s natural lifespan by a very long shot!

Considering Jesus’ new commandment to love as He had loved, I have to think that the love we think we have for others often leaves much to be desired. As we endeavor to become conformed to His image, we would do well to remember the last phrase of 1 Corinthians 13, …but the greatest of these is love. After all, this is how the world will recognize us as His disciples.