Holding onto hope in hopeless places

Our new house has stairs and that means I’ve been practicing a new and heretofore undeveloped skill—yelling up those stairs to my kids.

My voice lacks the resonant quality needed to get their attention most of the time.  After all, I’m competing with earbuds, closed doors, radios, their own conversations, iTunes, and the like.  So, they don’t always hear me.

There are other culprits also.  Like the distance from the front of the minivan to the back of the minivan and all the ambient noise in said minivan while I’m trying to talk.

Or there’s simply my son’s natural talkativeness.  He can’t hear me very well when he’s trying to tell me a story at the same time.

Whatever the culprit, I spend a lot of time as a mom just trying to be heard.

All of this has been nudging my heart a little with a question:  What gets in the way of me hearing God?

Busyness, distraction, noise, inattentiveness, me not taking time to listen—all of them are to blame at times.

But there’s something else, too.  Sometimes heavy-heartedness, sadness, and discouragement throw us into a pit of darkness, and it’s so hard to hear God’s voice in that place.

There are times God speaks hope to his people and  even though hope is truly what we need, we can miss His message.

This is where Israel was in the beginning of Exodus.  Slavery trampled on more than their physical freedom.  Over time, it had beaten them into hopelessness.

That’s when God sent Moses with these words:

I have heard the groaning of the people of Israel….
I have remembered my covenant….
I will bring you  out from under the burdens of the Egyptians….
I will  deliver you from slavery.
I will redeem you…
I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God…
I will bring you  into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. (Exodus 6:2-9).

The promises are stunning. The assurances are powerful.  These are the grandest, greatest, most extravagant declarations of God’s abiding love for His people and His determination to rescue them.

But they didn’t throw a block party when they heard Moses’s news, nor did they pack their bags and start planning for departure.

Instead, Exodus says:

“they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery” (Exodus 6:9 ESV).

They didn’t listen.

They didn’t listen because they couldn’t listen.  Their perspective had been damaged over time. God seemed distant and unreal, unhelpful and uncaring and words didn’t penetrate through  that wall of hurt and bitterness.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been in places where hope is hard.

David had been there, too.  He wrote:

Look to the right and see; For there is no one who regards me; There is no escape for me; No one cares for my soul (Psalm 142:4 NASB).

What he needed was to know that someone cared for his soul.

Just like Israel, David felt abandoned, alone, and hopeless with no chance of rescue.  But there in the middle of that place of pain, he recalled the promise and the truth:

The righteous will surround me,
    for you (God) will deal bountifully with me. (Psalm 142:7b NASB). 

God’s people would  be there for him and God would come through for him.  That’s what David knew.

That’s what we need to  know, too, when we feel forgotten or abandoned, alone, or without hope.

God’s people  are there for us.  God will come  through. 

But we’re not just receivers of that message;  we’re messengers of hope to others.

How can we share about God’s love and keep sharing? Remind others of God’s promises and keep reminding them?  Speak truth in love and keep on speaking  that truth even when we’re ready to give up?

Some of us right now are loving  someone who is traveling through hard spaces: the valley, the wilderness, the pit, and that’s a messy kind of ministry.

We can be poured out and depleted when caring for the hurting. It requires deep compassion, supernatural patience, and near-constant trips into God’s presence for  our own renewal and refreshing.  Otherwise, we’ll be crushed underneath someone else’s burden.

Only the Holy Spirit can do that deep healing work in any of us.  Only the Holy Spirit can open blinded eyes and deaf ears.

So the pressure is off of us to make others hear or understand or change their minds.

Here’s what we can do: We be present with them in the pain.  We stick with them in prayer.  We keep holding onto hope, and we trust God do the greater work that He alone can do.

 

 

 

 

 

Bible Verses about Diligence (for the days you feel like giving up)

  • Deuteronomy 4:9 ESV
    Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children—
  • Deuteronomy 6:17 ESV
    You shall diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, and his testimonies and his statutes, which he has commanded you.
  • Proverbs 10:4 ESV
    A slack hand causes poverty,
        but the hand of the diligent makes rich.
  • Proverbs 12:14 ESV
    From the fruit of his mouth a man is satisfied with good,
        and the work of a man’s hand comes back to him.
  • Proverbs 12:24 ESV
    The hand of the diligent will rule,
        while the slothful will be put to forced labor.
  • Proverbs 13:4 ESV
    The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing,
        while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.
  • Proverbs 14:23 ESV
    In all toil there is profit,
        but mere talk tends only to poverty.
  • Proverbs 21:5 ESV
    The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance,
        but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.
  • Jeremiah 31:16 ESV
    Thus says the Lord:
    “Keep your voice from weeping,
        and your eyes from tears,
    for there is a reward for your work,
    declares the Lord,
        and they shall come back from the land of the enemy.
  • Romans 12:8 NIV
    if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
  • 1 Corinthians 15:58 NIV
    Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
  • Galatians 6:9 ESV
    And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.
  • 2 Thessalonians 3:10 ESV
     For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.
  • 1 Timothy 4:15-16 NIV
    Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. 16 Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.
  • Hebrews 6:11 NIV
    We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized.
  • 2 Peter 1:10 ESV
     Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.
  • 2 Peter 3:14 ESV
    Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.

The Grace God Gives for the Wearied Soul

psalm 51-12

I could recognize the discouragement. The perpetual fatigue in the face and in the slumping of the shoulders, not extreme, but ever so slightly burdened down low.

It was clear in the mechanical activity, not the joyous friendliness of cheerful service like before. Now my friend moved from point A to point B, task one to task two, not smiling, just doing because doing is what needed to be done.

I recognized the discouragement because

I

Have

Been

There

Before.

We who have been weary can see the signs in others, the trudging, the exhaustion, the worn out soul fraying at every edge and held together with patches and slipshod stitchery.

So we come alongside our friends, our Christian sisters and brothers, those whose burdens we’re supposed to remove so they can walk free and unencumbered for a time.  We remind them of God’s goodness, His grace.  We encourage them in their efforts, cheering them on with reminders to persevere and not give up and yes, there will be a harvest in time, and no, it isn’t all in vain.

How do we know?  That’s what they might ask.

Oh my friend, how I know.

Because contrary to what you might have heard or expected, the Christian life isn’t all easy and Christian service isn’t all joyfully inspiring and pouring out to others out of an overflow.  Sometimes we’re emptying out the last few drops from our own parched souls, not knowing what to do when we’re dehydrated and depleted and still others hold out needy hands for more.

Yet, we know this also.

We pour out…everything….and He pours in anew.

You might think you’re alone in this, stumbling over your own weaknesses, serving to exhaustion, not seeing the reward or the gain or the purpose or the point.

Yet, the prayers of saints long before teach us that others have desperately needed to be renewed, revived, restored.

The Psalmists prayed:

Will You not revive us again
so that Your people may rejoice in You?
(Psalm 85:6 HCSB)

and

Restore our fortunes, Lord,
as streams renew the desert.
Those who plant in tears
will harvest with shouts of joy.
They weep as they go to plant their seed,
but they sing as they return with the harvest  (Psalm 126:4-6 NLT)

and

God, create a clean heart for me
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
 Do not banish me from Your presence
or take Your Holy Spirit from me.
 Restore the joy of Your salvation to me,
and give me a willing spirit (Psalm 51:10-12 HCSB).  

Their prayers would be unnecessary, meaningless even unless they felt the need for the renewing, the reviving, the restoring work of God in us.

We need the grace again, the joy again, the steadfast spirit again, the life again.  That’s what they asked.

That’s what we need, too.

Eugene Peterson wrote:

Nothing suffers from time quite so much as religion.  The skeletal structure of obedience becomes arthritic, and the circulatory system of praise becomes sluggish.  The prayer ‘revive us again’ keeps the body of Christ youthful and responsive to every new mercy and grace in God (Praying With the Psalms).

So we offer to help carry the cross for a time through this valley and we remind them of the hope and the promise as we travel along together.

We tell the fullness of our testimony, not just the revival, the renewal, the restoration after the fact…not the destination without the journey or the end result without the in between.

No, we remember that we were worn out and limping and God renewed us.

We were dead and hopeless and God revived us.

We had lost everything and God restored us.

God did this for me, that’s what we say.  And He will do this work in you, too.

And we pray, of course we pray.

We ask God to fill them right up again, fill their own parched souls so they are overflowing. We ask for strength anew and energy for each day, for reminders of the vision and reassurance of the harvest.

God’s plan isn’t for us to walk through discouragement alone, not any of us. How could we ever survive it, after all, if we thought we were the only ones and that somehow we must be here because of our own fumbling and faltering?

But to know others have been there, have made it through, and have traveled back to tell us the good news and to pray for us along the way…that’s the grace God gives for a wearied soul.

Renew, Revive, Restore Us Again

I could recognize the discouragement. The perpetual fatigue in the face and in the slumping of the shoulders, not extreme, but ever so slightly burdened down low.

It was clear in the mechanical activity, not the joyous friendliness of cheerful service like before. Now my friend moved from point A to point B, task one to task two, not smiling, just doing because doing is what needed to be done.

I recognized the discouragement because

I

Have

Been

There

Before.

We who have been weary can see the signs in others, the trudging, the exhaustion, the worn out soul fraying at every edge and held together with patches and slipshod stitchery.

So we come alongside our friends, our Christian sisters and brothers, those whose burdens we’re supposed to remove so they can walk free and unencumbered for a time.  We remind them of God’s goodness, His grace.  We encourage them in their efforts, cheering them on with reminders to persevere and not give up and yes, there will be a harvest in time, and no, it isn’t all in vain.

How do we know?  That’s what they might ask.

Oh my friend, how I know.psalm51

Because contrary to what you might have heard or expected, the Christian life isn’t all easy and Christian service isn’t all joyfully inspiring and pouring out to others out of an overflow.  Sometimes we’re emptying out the last few drops from our own parched souls, not knowing what to do when we’re dehydrated and depleted and still others hold out needy hands for more.

Yet, we know this also.

We pour out…everything….and He pours in anew.

You might think you’re alone in this, stumbling over your own weaknesses, serving to exhaustion, not seeing the reward or the gain or the purpose or the point.

Yet, the prayers of saints long before teach us that others have desperately needed to be renewed, revived, restored.

The Psalmists prayed:

Will You not revive us again
so that Your people may rejoice in You?
(Psalm 85:6 HCSB)

and

Restore our fortunes, Lord,
as streams renew the desert.
Those who plant in tears
will harvest with shouts of joy.
They weep as they go to plant their seed,
but they sing as they return with the harvest  (Psalm 126:4-6 NLT)

and

God, create a clean heart for me
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
 Do not banish me from Your presence
or take Your Holy Spirit from me.
 Restore the joy of Your salvation to me,
and give me a willing spirit (Psalm 51:10-12 HCSB).  

Their prayers would be unnecessary, meaningless even unless they felt the need for the renewing, the reviving, the restoring work of God in us.

We need the grace again, the joy again, the steadfast spirit again, the life again.  That’s what they asked.

That’s what we need, too.

Eugene Peterson wrote:

Nothing suffers from time quite so much as religion.  The skeletal structure of obedience becomes arthritic, and the circulatory system of praise becomes sluggish.  The prayer ‘revive us again’ keeps the body of Christ youthful and responsive to every new mercy and grace in God (Praying With the Psalms).

So we offer to help carry the cross for a time through this valley and we remind them of the hope and the promise as we travel along together.

We tell the fullness of our testimony, not just the revival, the renewal, the restoration after the fact…not the destination without the journey or the end result without the in between.

No, we remember that we were worn out and limping and God renewed us.

We were dead and hopeless and God revived us.

We had lost everything and God restored us.

God did this for me, that’s what we say.  And He will do this work in you, too.

And we pray, of course we pray.

We ask God to fill them right up again, fill their own parched souls so they are overflowing. We ask for strength anew and energy for each day, for reminders of the vision and reassurance of the harvest.

God’s plan isn’t for us to walk through discouragement alone, not any of us. How could we ever survive it, after all, if we thought we were the only ones and that somehow we must be here because of our own fumbling and faltering?

But to know others have been there, have made it through, and have traveled back to tell us the good news and to pray for us along the way…that’s the grace God gives for a wearied soul.

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her upcoming book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, will be released in the Fall of 2013!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2013 Heather King

Two steps forward and two steps back (or so it seems)

This was an unfortunate setback.

A few weeks ago, my husband gently suggested that it may be time for a serious attempt at potty training my two-year-old.

Now, to understand how I felt about this I first have to tell you potty training my two older girls was no easy task.  In fact, it’s fair to say that I’ve never felt as much like a failure in my life as when I was pleading with a toddler just to sit on the potty chair.

I laid awake at night designing reward charts and incentive plans.
I prayed for help from Almighty God so that my kids would be ready for preschool.
I bought books, movies, stickers, M&Ms, toys, and more to bribe them into success.
I avoided all moms who proudly announced their genius 18-month old had been perfectly trained with absolutely no effort in all of a day.

But my husband is a good husband and I’m a good wife.  So, when he asked me to start potty training my toddler, I plunged into what I was sure would be months and months of misery, stress and clean-up.

I pulled out the trusty movie, Potty Power.  I explained underwear to my daughter.  Every 15 minutes, I picked her up and carried her to the bathroom.

And a miracle happened.  A real live, genuine miracle of God.

She figured it out.  She wanted to learn.  She graduated to underwear in a matter of days.  I bet God never had anyone thank Him so much for help potty training her child.

And then.

Then there was the setback.  One week of sickness kicked my baby girl back into Pull-Ups and made her absolutely terrified of a trip to the bathroom.  Now my sanity is loosely held together by a can of Resolve and a bottle of Febreze.

I was discouraged.  She was scared and confused.  We’re baby-stepping our way forward, hoping to regain lost ground.

Have you ever encountered a setback that left you dazed, uncertain, and full of fear?

Perhaps you stepped out in obedience to what you believed was God’s call, but circumstances shifted, obstacles arose, and you’re not reaching the goal.  Perhaps you’ve even begun to question whether you heard God clearly and made the right decision in the first place.

Sometimes God’s plan just doesn’t make sense to us.

For the Israelites leaving slavery in Egypt, the most logical route to the Promised Land was straight along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea.  After a few battles with the Philistines, the Isrealites thought they’d march right into Canaan after no more than a month-long journey.

God had other plans.  Exodus 13:17 tells us: “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, ‘Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.'”

Sometimes God takes us the long way around for our own benefit.  In her book One in a Million, Prisicllar Shirer writes that “the wilderness is often safer than the alternative” (p 73).  God chose the wilderness for His people.  Maybe He’s chosen it for you, as well, for your protection and personal growth.

Even after the Israelites followed the pillars of cloud and fire in the direction God had chosen to take them, there were still setbacks.  In Exodus 14:2, God said, “Tell the people of Israel to turn back.”

Turn back?

God led them one way only to turn them around and march them off in a different direction?  Did it seem like God had momentarily lost His compass in the desert?

And yet, this turning back placed the Israelites on the banks of the Red Sea and the only way across now was through His miraculous deliverance.

He turned them around so that He could save them.

So, what do we do as we make confusing desert tracks in the wilderness in our efforts to follow God’s lead?

We could give up.  We could question our listening skills.  We could doubt God’s leadership.  We could stomp off and follow our own course.

Or we could remain focused on our goal and the passion God has placed in our hearts.  That’s the only way the Israelites made it to the Promised Land.  It’s the only way we’ll receive all that God has promised us.

It’s also the only way Nehemiah saw the walls of Jerusalem rebuilt.  Kelly Minter in her book Nehemiah: A Heart That Can Break, writes:

“After verbal assaults, physical threats, discouraged laborers, abuses of power and economic distress, Nehemiah never diverted his focus from the wall.  The process may have been slowed and altered as a result of enemies and wayward citizens, but the goal never changed.”

In fact, Nehemiah himself writes, “I also persevered in the work on this wall” (Nehemiah 5:16, ESV).

He continued to build despite threats, fear, confusion, discouragement, distractions and disappointments.  He continued to build despite setbacks.   He never stopped placing brick on top of brick on top of brick in obedience to God.

What has God asked you to build?  Choose today to place another brick on this wall instead of giving up because of obstacles and disappointments.  Choose to “persevere in the work on this wall.”

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King