Hope in the Face of Suffering

I was sitting in church one day a few years ago, trying to gather hope and confidence around me like a pillow fort.

In that moment, the enemy shot an arrow of doubt into my mind. I instantly felt foolish for trying to hope in the face of suffering. As quickly as the arrow came, the Lord raised the shield of scripture in my mind, the shield of Romans 5:5.

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Romans 5:3-5 (emphasis added)

Hope does not put us to shame. What an encouragement at that moment that looking to the Lord and hoping in His word would not put me to shame. I didn’t need to feel foolish for hoping for what I could not see. Not long after that scripture moment, I published a blog post focusing on the last part of the verse, which you can read here if you want. But when I revisited this passage this summer, it doesn’t take long to see that the hope does not come first. It comes after enduring painful circumstances:

  • Suffering
  • Perseverance
  • Character
  • Hope

Hoping for something often means you are waiting on something else: waiting on test results, waiting to have children, waiting to see if your marriage turns around, waiting to see if your finances balance out, waiting to see if ministry opportunities will open up.

Sometimes the Lord may give you a directive, a step to take that’s super clear. And that’s great. If you have been given a clear directive from the Lord, then you should follow it up with immediate obedience. But sometimes in the absence of a clear directive, we put far too much emphasis on picking an exact right next step and miss the fact that God is focused on who we are becoming and there is often more than one right “next” step that we could take. More than a prescriptive formula for what to do in these verses, we do actually see an emphasis on who we are becoming.

I’ve always cringed a little at this progression because let’s be honest, it doesn’t look like fun. (First stop: suffering). Let’s look a little closer though.

Suffering is the great initiator to this holy process, which we will all cycle through at different times throughout our life. Can’t go around it, can’t go under it, you got to go through it (Extra points to whoever can tell me what children’s book this is from).

Perseverance is next and it doesn’t grow in the sun; it grows in the shade. Suffering provides you the set of circumstances with which to build perseverance. Difficult circumstances build perseverance because you don’t get the zing of immediate gratification with answers or with control. You instead have the opportunity to practice delayed gratification of being content with no or different answers, and leaving control with who it actually belongs to: God.

This in turn builds character because you become someone who can have patience, who can trust the process, who doesn’t have to have all the answers, who does the right thing even when no one else notices or cares. That’s what character ultimately is: who you are and what you do when no one else is around to hold you accountable or give you an award.

But how does character lead to hope? Because as you become who Jesus wants you to be, you become more and more acquainted with who He is. And understanding and embracing the presence of God in our lives is indeed what gives us hope. It gives us hope when in the midst of transition, when we are struggling, or when our lives explode before our very eyes. And that is true hope that cannot be shaken.

If we stick with the process, if we press into God’s presence, hope is born from character, which is born from perseverance, which often is born of suffering. So if you are in the midst of suffering, first of all, I am so sorry. But I would also encourage you to take some time to reflect on what God may be doing in your life. I don’t know all that the Lord is wanting to develop within you in this season, but I would encourage you to shift your focus onto who you are becoming through the process rather than on specific outcomes. I don’t know about you, but whenever I have been able to do that, the God of hope meets me every time. He will do the same for you.

Hope in the Face of Tragedy

What strength do I have, that I should still hope?  What prospects, that I should be patient?

Job 6:11

These are indeed strange times we are living in. Collective grief and trauma, huge unknowns, uncertain economy. We live in the tension of knowing our hope is secure in the Lord and yet the circumstances are anything but secure. How do you keep going?

Maybe you’ve heard voices that like to whisper to your vulnerabilities in these moments. I know I have.

Isn’t it foolish to keep going down this way? Doesn’t common sense beg for this action or that action?

In the words of Job, why precisely should we be patient? Sometimes our questions take on the tone of a pleading victim. Other times we are the prosecuting attorney with Jesus in the hot seat. We are certain our well-crafted arguments will slice and dice the creator of the universe into giving us what we want. We are impressed with our pain. We are above hope; we are realistic.

But that is a dangerous place to stay. In those moments, I am learning to abandon my own store of grit and gumption, and just cling to God himself.

So many of us ruminate over what we would do in this spot, being out of strength to hope. We do our best to avoid this position. But the Bible tells us this that this is not a place to breeze past, but one in which we can become stronger than ever.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

When we are weak, then we are strong. How is this even possible?

We were never meant to live by our own strength as a new creation. That’s one of the beautiful parts of being a child of God is that we have access to peace that surpasses all understanding, hope that truly can’t be shaken, and strength that defies weakness.

But it’s easy to say all of that when everything is going great. What does this look like lived out in the face of truly trying times? Because we have all experienced the shaking that tragedy brings. What would it look like then to still have hope in the midst of a tragedy? One image comes to mind.

For many years, I classically trained as a dancer. Ballet was my favorite style. But in all the styles, part of our warm-up exercises often involved balancing on one leg with the other in a passe position, meaning the foot was at the knee of the supporting leg.

While you indeed had to stay focused and build up muscle in your feet, ankles, and legs to be able to balance, what really held this position together was your core, your abdominal muscles. If my core was strong, I had a much better chance of balancing. I could actually sway a bit or move my arms, but because my core was laced tight, I didn’t lose my balance.

That’s how I envision hope working in my life. It’s the core. It’s the strong core that allows you and me to flex and sway and respond to life but not collapse in ultimate despair.

I don’t know what tragedies or traumas have marked the landscape of your heart. I don’t know what losses have caused you to sob aloud or weep in private. But if you are a believer, you can depend on your core, the core of hope even in those lowest moments.

The secret is Christ in me, not me in a different set of circumstances.

Elisabeth Elliot, Keep a Quiet Heart

If you aren’t sure yet if you have access to that kind of hope, I’d love to talk about it with you. Send me a message today!

Trusting the Promises of God

What do moving a safe and trusting the promises of God have in common? More than you might think…

Not too long ago, my husband and I were moving a large safe from the front of the garage to the back of the garage into a storage room. Kurtis asked me to help tip the hulking piece of metal onto a dolly and then he would wheel it to its new home. On the first try, I was too hesitant because I was afraid the momentum of the massive safe would push the dolly out. I was afraid my husband couldn’t brace it.

But he assured me he was ready and that I needed to tip it and not be timid. This time, I pushed with the full assurance he was ready for the weight of the safe to shift to him. And it worked. It shifted to the dolly and he easily rolled it into its new spot.

What made the difference? The second time, I could “push through” because my husband promised he could handle the weight. I had a promise I could lean into and trust.

Some famous verses from Joshua highlights this truth.

Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

Joshua 1:6-9

A little bit of context for this passage: Joshua was a new leader leading a new generation into the land God had promised the older generations. Their victory was promised, but there were still battles and choices ahead. There would be many opportunities to be discouraged. Within the first nine verses, God exhorts Joshua to not be afraid or discouraged three times. Why three times? In The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Old Testament), the author notes that Joshua is assured of three different things with each admonishment to be strong and courageous. He’s assured by God’s promise, His power, and His presence.

Trusting the promises of God

There was no need to fear because God’s promise had assured them of their inheritance. The nation could brace themselves in that. In fact, these words from Numbers might have come to their minds.

God is not human, that he should lie,
not a human being, that he should change his mind.
Does he speak and then not act?
Does he promise and not fulfill?

Numbers 23:19

Where they were unfaithful, God was faithful. Where they broke their promises, God kept His.

There was no need to be afraid because God’s power would be their source of strength. This generation would’ve seen miraculous things as God provided for them in the wilderness. And they would’ve heard their parents’ and grandparents’ stories of the plagues in Egypt, the Red Sea escape, and the demise of Pharaoh’s army. There was no doubt as to if God’s power would be able to deliver them. The evidence had already been collected.

And there was no need to be discouraged as they entered a new land and faced new obstacles, because God’s presence would never leave them. There would be many times when the Israelite army would be outmanned, but over and over we see that God’s presence was the tipping point for their victory.

The encouraging news for you and me is that we can depend on those same things today. During this time of quarantine, we’ve had plenty of opportunities to test these promises. So if you’re wondering if you can really lean into God’s promises, if you’re wondering if he can catch the weight of your finances, your kids, your health, or your relationships, the answer is a resounding yes.

We can brace ourselves in God’s promises and trust His power and presence, no matter what is on our horizon.

A Simple Prayer for Midweek

Dear Lord, we come to you and offer this simple prayer for midweek. Our strength and creativity may be flagging. So where we are tempted to trust in our own resources, let us lean into your strength and trust you for support (Psalm 20:2). Where we are tempted to focus on the negative, let us rehearse your goodness in our minds (Psalm 145:7). For in rehearsing your goodness, your faithfulness, and your love, our minds and hearts are strengthened against the attacks of the enemy.

At midweek, Sunday can already seem so long ago. Let us not forget how you spoke to us on the weekend. Let us not forget how you moved in our circles, our state, our country. Let us not forget how you answered our prayers yesterday, last week, or a decade ago. (Psalm 118:17)

Renew our hope and renew our energy, so that we can soar on wings like eagles (Isaiah 40:28-31). Let the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing in your sight (Psalm 19:14). In Jesus’ name, amen.

A Simple Prayer for Midweek

In case you missed it:

A Simple Prayer for Sunday