Hope in Seasons of Adversity

hope_despair

It’s not a matter of if we will face adversity; it’s only a matter of when we will, so the question now becomes what will we do when faced with challenges and trials of life?

How will we be able to maintain our hope when life seems to be falling apart at the seams and instead of breakthroughs all we experience are breakdowns? Who will we turn to and what will we do when faced with impossible situations?

Remember what Paul said in Romans 8:24: “For we are saved through hope, but hope that is seen is not hope, for why does a man still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” Patience leads to perseverance!

The last thing Satan wants is for us to persevere and that’s why he will do whatever he can to steal our focus as we strive to serve Christ.

I love what Phil Daniels says, “Satan can’t defeat us, but he can hinder us by using: accusations, deception, distraction, and discouragement.”

The very things in our life that the devil tries to use to discourage us or make us think God can’t or won’t ever be able to use us are the very things God will use to bring about restoration and wholeness in our life, when we surrender them to the Lord.

Romans 8:28 promises, … That God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them.” (NLT)

There are times in each of our lives where we are instructed in God’s Word to have faith and to maintain our hope, by simply trusting in God’s will and His timing.

It doesn’t matter what has happened in your past, present, or future; God is bigger than anything we will ever face, but we have to put our hope and faith in Him and then allow His will to unfold in our life.

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1 (ESV)

F. F. Bruce explains how, “The author of Hebrews first encourages his readers further by reminding them of examples of faith in earlier days. In Old Testament times, he points out, there were many men and women who had nothing but the promises of God to rest upon, without any visible evidence that these promises would ever be fulfilled; yet these promises meant so much to them that they regulated the whole course of their lives in their light. The promises related to a state of affairs belonging to the future; but these people acted as if that state of affairs were already present, so convinced were they that God could and would fulfill what he had promised. In other words, they were men and women of faith. Their faith consisted simply in taking God at his word and directing their lives accordingly.”[1]

This passage of Scripture is the only place in the Bible that clearly defines faith. It describes faith as being an act of both the mind and heart.

Essentially, our heart and mind both believe something and we then have the assurance and conviction that it is true.

So what we put our hope and faith in drives our very being.

I tell you this because many of us are either currently in a season of despair and drought, or the effects of that season still fester like open wounds. Who or what is the ointment that will bring relief?

How can we get back to a place where we put our hope and trust in God while we are in the valley of the shadow of death and how can we restore our fellowship with Him as we wander aimlessly in the desert?

It begins with prayer.  (Great pastor, what are you going to tell me next? Is step two reading the Bible?) Yes, and diet and exercise will make you healthy!

This may sound so basic, but it is!

One of my favorite books of the Bible is Daniel. This book of Scripture came alive to me as I studied it and reading how God acted showed His complete sovereignty and His compassion towards those who put their hope and faith in Him.

In Daniel chapter 6 king Darius had risen to power and his officials, in an attempt to rid themselves of Daniel, came up with a plan to prevent any subject from making any prayer or petition to any god or man for thirty days, except to king Darius. This of course would prevent Daniel from dropping to his knees three times a day in order to pray and give thanks to God.

I don’t know about you, but I want the Lord to be familiar with the sound of my voice, so that every time I pray to God it’s not in some sort of crisis mode.

Praying to God is our lifeline and connection to God and it’s crucial in maintaining our fellowship with Him. Daniel understood this truth and would not let the king’s edict prohibit his dedication to this practice.

As a result, in verse seven we read, Then these men came by agreement and found Daniel making petition and plea before his God. Then they came near and said before the king, concerning the injunction, “O king! Did you not sign an injunction, that anyone who makes petition to any god or man within thirty days except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions?” The king answered and said, “The thing stands fast, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be revoked.” Then they answered and said before the king, “Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or the injunction you have signed, but makes his petition three times a day.”
Then the king, when he heard these words, was much distressed and set his mind to deliver Daniel. And he labored till the sun went down to rescue him.
Then these men came by agreement to the king and said to the king, “Know, O king, that it is a law of the Medes and Persians that no injunction or ordinance that the king establishes can be changed.” Then the king commanded, and Daniel was brought and cast into the den of lions. The king declared to Daniel, “May your God, whom you serve continually, deliver you!”
Daniel 6:11-16 (ESV)

Gleason Archer describes the dilemma for Daniel was whether, “he was going to please man or obey God. Daniel had to choose between loyalty to his Lord and obedience to a sinful government commanding him to perform idolatry. So he was willing to risk his life for the Lord, trusting him for deliverance even as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had been delivered years before.”[2]

Daniel cast himself on the Lord, in fact in verse ten the word prayed is found only two places in Scripture.

Hebrew word: ‏צְלָה‎

Transliteration: ṣelâ.           Phonetic Pronunciation: tsel-aw’

The word carries the sense of bowing but also means to “limp as if one-sided.”[3] On his own strength, Daniel knew he would not be able to walk the path laid before him and only by casting his burdens on the Lord would his hope remain.

Like the manna from heaven, God will supply exactly what we need exactly when we need it.

He gives us what we need for the step in front of us, which teaches us reliance upon God and trust in His plan.

Remember, some of God’s greatest gifts have been unanswered prayers.

For many of us, we have not because we do not ask. Even as a pastor, when I read Daniel prayed three times a day, I’m like man Daniel sure prayed a lot!

What I want you to know and what I want you to get in the habit of doing to talking to God and not being afraid of asking Him for help. It doesn’t have to be out loud and it doesn’t have to be in front of people, but I promise you as you become readers and doers of the Word and when you begin to commune with God through prayer, you will begin to see breakthroughs in your life.

The Word of God, the Sword of the Spirit is the only offensive weapon we have against the principalities of this dark world, but when we harness prayer with God’s Word, we become more than conquerors.

Jesus in the desert: Matthew 3:13 – 4:11

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.

And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple

and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.

And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”

Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.

I don’t know exactly what Daniel prayed, but I know I would have been terrified at the prospect on dying in a lion’s den.

One of my favorite parts of this story is how God chose to act by closing the lion’s mouth because it was not likely the prayer Daniel lifted up or sort of help Darius had hoped Daniel would receive.

Having the edict overturned or praying to have the courage to die bravely for the glory of God would have seemed like an answer to prayer, but instead, God miraculously chose to shut the lion’s mouth, which shows God acts in such a way that He will receive the most glory.

The world in which we live is a lion’s den. There are people in our life like the high officials of king Darius who would seek to have us taken out. There are jobs and circumstances of life that make us feel like we are living in captivity like a modern-day Babylon.

But, there is also the God who awaits our prayer and plea for help who can save us from whatever and whomever we face. Victory can be ours when we walk according to the will of God and keep our hope in His plan.

Hope takes the word impossible and allows us to say I’m possible.

Helen Keller, who accomplished much in her life, did so not in spite of her blindness but because of it. When asked what would be worse than being blind, she said having eyesight but no vision.

It can be very easy to allow our flaws or past mistakes in life to snuff out any sense of hope. The moment we think we see light at the end of the tunnel, we fall to our knees in surrender when we find out that light is just another speeding train on an intercept course. Wave after wave of disappointment breaks down our resolve as we struggle to keep our head above water.

When God miraculously shows up, He does so in a way that declares His sovereignty and brings Him the most glory.

Maintaining our hope in season of despair, especially when our previous mountaintop experiences feel like a lifetime away is a skill we must master.

Several years ago, I heard a story that was triggered in my mind, when I was reading about Daniel praying and how that word praying was translated as limping as if being one-sided.

The story involved a family that was involved in a serious automobile accident. The mother and father were in the front seat and their 5-year-old boy was in the back. The mother and father escaped with just minor injuries but their son required immediate surgery. When the surgeon finally emerged, he said he had good news and bad news. The good news was their son was alive, but the bad news was their son’s left arm had to be amputated.

For many of us the thought of losing a limb you certainly test the limits of our hope and for me being an avid runner the thought of not being able to do what I love anymore is hard to imagine.

Despite the adversity and challenges that this boy was now forced to face, he did not let it slow him down. In fact, he became fascinated with martial arts especially Bruce Lee, so much so that he convinced his dad to let him take lessons. The father told the son mastering martial arts was hard enough to do with two arms and that he shouldn’t get his hopes up.

After visiting several dojos, they finally found a sensei willing to teach the boy if he agreed to do two things: 1) Don’t ask any questions and 2) Do exactly what he was told to do. For days, weeks, and months the boy practiced only one move, which became very frustrating because he saw newer students learning different takedowns and combo moves. This was hard for the boy to understand, but he remembered the promise he made to the sensei so he kept practicing.

After a year had passed, the sensei told the boy he was going to be enrolled in an upcoming regional tournament. Surprised, the boy said, “But sensei, I only know one move,” to which the sensei replied, “if you perfect this move you will never need another.” When the tournament finally arrived, he saw the competition and grew very anxious, as did his parents.

To his surprise, he won his early matches and advanced to the semi finals. With each match, the opponents grew larger and more skilled, but he remembered his training and stuck to his one move. He would eventually advance to the finals, which looked like a David vs. Goliath scenario. The boy’s opponent quickly scored some early points in the match after landing some hard blows. Shaken, the boy looked over to his sensei and then to his parents in the stands and he got back up. The next time his opponent launched an attack the young boy did his one move and pinned him, making him the champion of the tournament.

After the match, the young boy couldn’t believe he won and he asked his sensei if the competitors took pity on him because he only had one arm. “No,” the sensei told him. He then went on to tell the young boy that the move he had been practicing for the last year was one of the hardest moves in judo to master and that the only known defense was to grab the opponents left arm, which he did not have.

You see, the greatest weaknesses in our life have the opportunity to become one of your greatest strengths, when we trust the Lord and put our hope in Him. When we do, we only need one move. In the case of Daniel, his one move was prayer because he knew those persevere recognize their limitations, but focus on their strengths. Our strength comes from the Father and the same power that rose Jesus from the dead dwells inside every believer. When we pray, Jesus who is seated at the right hand of God, takes our petitions and intercedes on our behalf.

The word sensei is an interesting word. It means those who came before and each of us has a role to play in the body of Christ, the church. The circumstances of our life and the hurts, habits, and hang-ups of our past allow us to speak life and truth into peoples’ lives that are going through similar trials. The time has come to stop allowing yourself to be defined by the mistakes of your past. The very things or accusations the devil uses to make you think you aren’t good enough or that God could never use you are lies straight from the pit of hell and they are in fact exactly what God wants you to use to minister to other people, so they can find restoration and wholeness and so God will receive the honor and glory He so richly deserves.

[1] F. F. Bruce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Hebrews, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 276.

[2] Gleason L. Archer, Jr. and Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 7: Daniel and the Minor Prophets, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1985), 79.

[3] James Strong, Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary, (Austin, TX: WORDsearch Corp., 2007), Under: “6739”.

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