Pullquote: Despair is the loss of hope. Its danger lurks in every realm . . .
Transforming Despair Into Hope
Lloyd lost hope. During his late twenties, he worked the night shift as a security guard, and during the days he was trying to finish school. Hecouldn’t keep up with the frantic pace of life. “I guess I was mad at God for my position in life. I felt He had made a mistake and one day Ithought about suicide. I wore a gun on my job so it would have been so easy. My wife found me distraught, lying on the grass in the back yard.”Lloyd despaired, believing he had failed himself, his family, and God.
The Death of Hope
Despair is the loss of hope. We live in a society dominated by despair. It is the reason the homeless person has given up, the streetwalker has surrendered her character, and the husband and father has abandoned his marriage and his family. Its danger lurks in every realm, regardless of our accomplishments.
I remember my own loss of hope as I ministered to eighty single men and women in my church. When we lost our singles pastor, they reeled, as his mature, caring leadership had built the group. They plummeted in spirit
s and attendance. Another pastor and I stepped in to give some stability, but nothing could stem the tide. Eventually the other pastor left, and my wife Beverly and I shouldered the load alone.
We threw ourselves into this ministry with all we had, teaching, leading, learning, and planning special events. We were full of dreams and anticipation when we began, but after two years of love and labor, the group was weaker than ever, and I could feel internal conflict brewing beneath the surface. In my growing despair, I blamed everybody, especially myself. “I have failed. If only I were more of a charismatic leader. I have failed my group, my church, and most of all my God!” I sought the back door – a way to bail out in some acceptable manner.
Pullquote: I was humiliated by the inroads of hopelessness in my life . . .
The Disease of Despair
After my experience with the singles group, as I taught a men’s bible study on obstacles that men face, I began to discover my own battle with despair. Grappling with the Scriptures and the insights of Patrick Morley in The Man in the Mirror, I faced my struggle for the first time. I realized the disease was not only connected to my singles ministry, but had characterized many periods of my life.
My discovery humiliated me. How did I get here? How does a person handle despair in life and ministry, especially when facing impossible challenges? How can one turn around and find hope in God once again? How can the foundation be rebuilt, or can it? Just as He had during many other times of weakness, the Lord met me with real answers. He pointed me to a study in the Scriptures to shed light on my hopelessness, and to find God’s cure. Maybe what I found will be useful to you too.
Those Who Despaired
Scripture gives many examples of despairing saints.
*Sarah so longed for the child of promise she said to Abraham “The LORD has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her” (Genesis 16:2b NIV).
*Jacob signaled hopelessness in his words to Pharoah: “The years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty. My years have been few and difficult, and they do not equal the years of the pilgrimage of my fathers” (Genesis 47: NIV).
*When Naomi returned to Bethlehem after the death of her husband and both of her sons, she said, “’Don’t call me Naomi (pleasantness),’ she told them. ‘Call me Mara (bitterness), because the Almighty has made my life very bitter’” (Ruth 1:20 NIV).
As I examined the Scriptures, and my own experience, I made many surprising discoveries.
*In many arenas of life I had measured myself by human standards alone relying on my perception of how life should be and what I should accomplish. Rarely did I turn to God for His perspective.
*My hopes had been founded on my own expectations. Our dreams are a sensitive area for all of us, but human expectations not consecrated to God are a slam dunk for disappointment. We must make the Lord alone the God of our plans and our future.
*At times I had placed my hope on material things. I remembered the car I idolized and financed on credit. I loved to look at it and drive it. Then the engine blew up, and I grieved. The Lord allowed me to see this idol as a flawed basis of hope.
*I found that perhaps my greatest despair was with people I had given up on. I remembered those who rejected me, failed me, or blocked my dreams. I wrote off others who I perceived to have injured or betrayed me. I seemed unwilling or unable to see they were not to blame. My problem was my attitude.
*I discovered that at the center of my hopelessness was a focus on 'self.' I was addicted to my dreams, my hopes, my plans, my feelings. When I measured the cause
s of my hopelessness, I found myself at the center, instead of the Lord I said I served.
Pullquote: . . . at the center of my hopelessness was a focus on ‘self’ . . . my dreams, my hopes, my plans, my feelings.
Never Give Up!
Another conclusion that clearly addressed my despair came from a story Jesus told: “Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary’ (Luke 18:1-3 NIV).
He was reminding his children never to give up. The context of the the story of the widow and the judge shows the great resource we have in difficult circumstances. God provides us with the avenue of believing prayer, and He is a God who hears and answers our prayers.
Still my mind screamed. “Why? Where, then do I turn? Do I keep hoping when the situation is hopeless? That seems insane!” I found the solution reflected in a dual experience of the Apostle Paul.
Considering the opposition and trials they were facing, Paul evaluated the likelihood of survival. Using the word despair, he concludes that they would probably lose their lives.
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life (2 Corinthians 1:8 NIV).
But how does this tally with Luke 18:1 where Christ instructed that we never lose hope? That is where Paul’s other use of the word comes in. A couple of chapters later in his book, he gives the balancing factor:
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed (2 Corinthians 4:8-9 NIV).
How in one statement could he say he despaired, and in another say he refused to despair?The second reference has to do with his hope in the Lord. Notice the context of his refusing to despair:
We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the
life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are
always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be
revealed in our mortal body (2 Corinthians 4:10-11 NIV).
Paul could evaluate human circumstances realistically, and sometimes despair on planet Earth, without despairing of Christ. Therein lies the answer. He felt human despair when he saw sin and hopelessness all around him, but he never despaired of his hope and belief in Jesus Christ.
Hope In God Alone
Like Paul, my hope needed a different objective in all the puzzling, frustrating affairs of life. The model of Scripture showed the hope of God’s children is to be fixed on Him alone.
But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you (Psalm 39:7 NIV).
Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God (Psalm 42:5-6a NIV).
For you have been my hope, O Sovereign LORD, my confidence since my youth (Psalm 71:5 NIV).
This was the missing piece of the puzzle. This was the solution for my despair. I need not live in a hopeless state, constantly grieved by dreams that had died. I needed to take the hope I had fixed on human expectations, and place it on God alone. Once I understood this, it brought me to a crossroads. Was I not only willing to forsake despair, but also to forsake my human dreams apart from God?
I remember the moment in prayer when I acknowledged to God that I was now removing my expectation from everything in the human arena and placing it on Him. “Lord, I see it now. Forgive me for displacing you with my own goals and idols. I place my hope in you alone.”
Pullquote: . . . the hope of his children is to be fixed on God alone”
Fruits of Hope in God
In the next couple of days things began to change. I had prayed with no expectations, just trying to yield to the new truth I had discovered. What happened caught me unawares.
When I placed my hope in God alone, with no expectation of return, hope returned to me. Where I had been plagued by unbelief, doubt and despair, now my eyes began to open to God and what He could do. My faith began to grow.
Other steps of growth occurred when deep trials made their inevitable visit. Now, instead of moving toward hopelessness, I began to forge a different path, looking to the Lord alone. Where I had felt trapped, with no way out, I now began to see possibilities. And because this path was a new one, I went slowly, one step at a time, following God’s will and direction.
Other results were a deeper and more joyful walk with my Lord. I was beginning to see more of the life of victory God had intended for his children. I also experienced more confident living in the world of men. Instead of constantly being battered by doubts and fears, I finally had an anchor – God alone.
And as I continued to rest and trust in God for the impossible, I increasingly saw Him working the impossible on my behalf. And even when my eyes didn't recognize progress, I knew God was in charge and all things would work together for good.
I saw that dependence reflected in the life of one of my seminary professors, Dr. Dwight Pentecost. Before class on one occasion, he shared that his wife’s health had improved. One of the students commented “Isn’t God good!”
Dr. Pentecost replied, “Yes, God is good. But be careful. God is good whether she improves or not!”
Our hope is in God alone. And ours must not be a fair weather faith, only trusting when things work to our outward advantage. God is working on our behalf even through great trials and heartbreak.
Hope and Significance
I began the chapter with the story of Lloyd’s despair, and desire to end his life. After finding God’s solution Lloyd had this to say. “Suicide would have been easy. Two things helped. I knew I would be letting God and Pamela (my wife) down, and I knew God loved me and cared for me. I finally realized I was exactly who God wanted me to be and I was where he wanted me. I kept the same job, but when I saw my job as my ministry, life took on significance.”
Because of God and His promises, though we may despair of human circumstances, we live in constant hope in our faithful Heavenly Father, who delivers us and works His victorious will through us.
Think It Through Questions
1. When have you, like Lloyd, battled despair?
2. What forces or voices often discourage you and influence you to lose hope?
3. Read Ruth 1. Despite Naomi’s justifiable sorrow, what incorrect conclusions does she draw about God?
4. As you consider the sources of despair in your own life, what do you discover?
5. Though facing impossibilities on the human scene, in what one way should we never give up?
6. Why are human objects of hope a slam dunk for disappointment?
7. What did the author find was the key to rediscovering hope?