Life is full of challenges but one of the most difficult times we face is when the bottom falls out and you wonder how you’re going to keep going. It’s easy for people to think, “I just can’t go on.”
But you can.
After all, everyone has trials. Even the big names of the faith whose stories we read in the Bible often struggle.
For Instance, the Apostle Paul found himself alone at the end of an incredible career. He was a prolific church planter. He wrote about 1/2 of the New Testament. But he came to the end of his life alone & discouraged.
How did he respond? The key for him was the presence of the Lord.
Even David in Psalm 23 talks about this when he experienced his deepest, darkest times. He, too, was reassured by the presence of the Lord. His hope is expressed in the phrase, “You are with me.”
It’s life changing to know God is there. He is present in your life.
You may still go through the valleys, but when you have the assurance that God is there, that will make all the difference.
God is with you. You are not alone. The Creator of the Universe is by your side.
What does that look like for you?
Well, you may need to make some adjustments to give God a place in your life. You may need to find a good local church and start attending regularly. You may need to get on a Bible reading plan. You may need to make prayer a part of your thought processes throughout your every day.
You don’t have to become a spiritual giant overnight. But you do have to take some steps to take care of your inner self and give God room so He can be right there with you.
And that will make all the difference.
Joseph in the book of Genesis sat in a prison cell for well over a decade, but he eventually became a ruler in Egypt.
In the 1600s, John Bunyan sat in a prison cell for twelve years because of his preaching, but it was there that he wrote one of the greatest Christian classics of all time, “The Pilgrim’s Progress.”
And there are perseverance examples outside the church world.
In history and archaeology, King Tut was almost not King Tut. What I mean is today he is known around the world…but only because one guy persevered.
In 1904 at the age of 31, Howard Carter had no job and no money, so he left the field of archaeology. In 1907 a series of fortuitous events got him connected to the wealthy Lord Carnarvon.
At the same time another archaeologist, Theodore Davis, assumed there was nothing to be found in his search and gave up his rights for his digging area. Carter took over the spot and began years of digging.
In 1922 Lord Carnarvon told Carter he was done. You have to have money, so Carter pleaded with him to reconsider.
Carnarvon agreed to ONE MORE SEASON.
So on November 1 they started digging again. And on November 4 they found the stairway that led to King Tut’s tomb!
One of the greatest discoveries of all time was made possible ONLY BECAUSE OF PERSEVERANCE.
In the Bible. So let’s get started, using the acrostic H.O.P.E.
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
Which means we need to go back to the Old Testament and read some Bible stories. And you thought Bible stories were for kids.
Hang with me. One of the great treasures in the Old Testament are the stories. Stories of hope. Many who lost hope experienced miraculous turning points. And chances are if you need hope, you need a miracle.
We will come back to that thought, but for now let’s go back some 3,000 years. 1 Samuel chapter 1 gives us the details. Hannah is married with no financial worries. Her husband attends church with her, and to top it off he loves her unquestionably.
Now you may be thinking, “Must be nice. So what could possibly be her problem?”
In spite of all this, she was deeply depressed.
In her culture it was not uncommon for a man to have two wives. The other wife had no problem getting pregnant and flaunted all of her kids.
Hannah could not get pregnant. She is not the first barren woman in the Bible, but you need to feel her deep emotions.
Get the picture. The husband loved Hannah, which no doubt did not sit well with the second wife, Penninah. So you can imagine how Penninah loved to talk about all her kids. And how many times did Hannah have to hear “I’m pregnant again!” Or “Look at all the kids running around the house.”
Hannah felt hopeless.
She lived under a continual cloud of depression.
Now what? Things looked bleak. Can you identify?
History is helpful especially when you think your situation is unique. Perhaps.
In my next post we’ll get to the last three letters O.P.E., because Hannah did find hope, and so will you.
You even wonder what it would be like to not need hope.
While all may need hope, some are in desperate need of it.
What’s the difference?
You desperately need hope when you feel…
Helpless. You don’t have the answers or the resources to alleviate your current pain.
Overwhelmed. You feel like you are drowning in debt, emotional pain, or on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
Paralyzed. How many times have you sat and thought for hours only to realize that you have not accomplished anything? Pain affects our productivity.
Exhausted. You are at the end of your rope and you know it.
You are not alone. In my next post I want to share a story from the Old Testament where we will meet a woman who was in need of hope. Her pain was about to do her in. She wondered if life would ever change.
Recently a compelling story and its photo went viral. Apparently, an autistic boy just started middle school as a sixth grader. In case you have forgotten middle school, students can be downright cruel. So this boy found himself eating alone during lunch.
While the rest of the students were all wrapped up in themselves, eating with their friends, a Florida State University football player named Travis Rudolph entered the lunchroom and looked around.
When he noticed the boy eating alone he grabbed some lunch and went over and ate with the boy. We can all imagine what kind of impact this one compassionate act had on the boy, and his mother has posted publicly about the tremendous impact it had on her. Being sensitive to the less fortunate is an undervalued value in our society.
Actually this should be more widespread among Christ-followers. Romans chapter 14 talks about being sensitive to those who are weaker (in the faith specifically, but the application goes far wider). But for most of us, this is an overlooked aspect of worship.
The apostle Paul added that this is an excellent way to engage in an act of worship. “Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.” (verse 18 ESV). The word for serve is the word for worship in the New Testament.
In other words, you honor God and participate in worship when you care about the less fortunate. Perhaps because it reflects on the nature of God, Who is described as merciful and gracious.
You may find similar opportunities to worship at work. Recently my son, Gabe, who works in produce at Harris Teeter, had such an opportunity. A man came in wanting some fruit cut up a particular way. Come to find out his wife had cancer, and he needed the fruit to take back to her hospital room. Gabe spent a few minutes talking to this man, relating how cancer had also stricken his aunts. Then he went into the back and brought out the fruit cut just the way the guy wanted.
My son did not think at the time that that was an act of worship, but it was.
You may have a similar opportunity at work. The question is, “Will you worship at work?”
There are two things about human nature that are universal. We want any pain to cease immediately. And if we do something right, we want to be rewarded immediately
After all, that’s how we train our animals. Do this and there is immediate gratification.
In our dogs’ case, that equals food, pleasure.
When it comes to our piety, our faith & devotion, we tend to feel as if we should get some kind of hall pass on pain. After all, doesn’t God want us to be happy? I want my pets to be happy. But then I’m not trying to build character into my dogs.
Can you imagine a world in which God rewarded piety immediately? Sports would be non-existent. Because you can’t have two winners at the end of a game. What if both teams held a Bible study and prayed before a game? God would be in a pickle.
Ultimately we would become selfish and slaves to all of our prurient interests.
But it’s still a hard concept to shake. When God sets out to be build character in us, He includes suffering.
To be clear there is nothing wrong with asking God to remove the pain in your life. And we should expect God to bless our spirituality. That is pretty much the theme of Proverbs.
Let’s just not put God on a timetable. Perhaps a better solution is to make Proverbs 3:5-6 a daily reality:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths (ESV).
Let’s trust God to decide when it’s time to reward our piety.