How to Find and Maintain Hope in the Dark Seasons of Life

 

Some time ago, I listened to a sermon based upon Isaiah 45, part of which focused on the fact that God is the One who “forms light and creates darkness,” the One who “makes peace and creates calamity” [Isa 45:7a]—He says “I am the One who does these things” [Isa 45:7b]. This to me was amazing, since we do not typically think that God has anything to do with the darkness we often face—only the light in which we live. But there it is—our God declares that He is even in the dark chaos of our world, and for this reason we can take heart and maintain hope, for all is well with Him in charge.

What the prophet Isaiah is saying in this passage is that if bad conditions exist in our life, they are not there because some evil god has thwarted the good intentions of a kindly but ineffectual god, who would like us to have good conditions but cannot bring them about.

The darkness or calamity may be present in our life because we have sinned against His natural and moral laws, like [Sowing & Reaping], they may be there because by their means we can become more like Him, or they may be there for reasons that He cannot explain to us. But they are not there in spite of God.

What do we need to know?

Ask ourselves: Is it possible that we can gain blessings in our times of darkness that we cannot gain in the times of light?

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2 ESV

Greek word for testing is: δοκίμιον “or” dokimion translates as testing by trials.

Dross is the word silversmiths used for the impurities that would rise to the top as they were trying to make the silver as pure as possible.

Our testing Leads to Purification & Trustworthiness.

Jeremiah 29:11 is a life verse many people have claimed over their lives: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV) Understanding the context is key!

The problem we run into is when we approach this passage of Scripture as a security blanket: believing simply that God has a plan for me that is good, so clearly any suffering I’m going through will end soon and then my flourishing will begin! But that is not at all what God was promising to the Israelites, and it’s not what He’s promising us, either. The heart of the verse is not that we would escape our circumstances, but that we would learn to thrive in the midst of them.

Here’s the context: the Israelites were in exile, a punishment from God as result of their disobedience. The prophet Jeremiah confronts the false prophet, Hananiah, who had boldly proclaimed that God was going to free Israel from Babylon in two years.

So Jeremiah calls out Hananiah’s lie, and then states the promise we read in 29:11. God did indeed have a good plan for the Israelites, and it was a plan that would give them hope and a prospering future. Sounds good, right?

The thing is, before he shares this promise, he gives them this directive from God found in verse 7: “Seek the peace and the prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” This means we are to pray for our enemies, especially during seasons of captivity and persecution.

This of course was not at all what the Israelites wanted to hear! They wanted to be told that they were going to go home. They wanted to be told that their suffering was going to end. Instead, God’s plan was for them to stay right where they were, and to help prosper the very nation that had enslaved them!

And then came the biggest blow of all. In verse 10, God says that He would fulfill this promise “after seventy years are completed in Babylon.” This meant that none in the current generation of Israelites would ever return to their home.

So, yes, of course God knows the plans He has for us. And ultimately, He will give us a glorious future. But, what we must remember is that the best growth comes through persevering in our trials, not escaping them entirely. And when we can learn perseverance, we will find surprising joy. Even if…

*** I believe there are seeds of greatness in each of us – dreams, goals, talents, and potential that will only come to life in the dark places of our life.

Like a caterpillar that must form a cocoon to undergo the metamorphosis to become a butterfly, what are we willing to go through to become what God intended for us to be?***

So, today I want to encourage especially those of us who are feeling as if it’s dark right now that our God is not as far away as we often imagine. He is right there in the dark with us, and the darkness will give way to the light of day. Seasons prepare us for what God is calling us to do.

Why do we need to know this:

To escape a season of darkness, we can’t be in faith about God doing something in our life and then go around talking and acting like it will never happen.

Key Point: Right now each of us can make a conscious choice to remain hopeful. This is important because our feelings will eventually catch up with our decisions & actions. Happiness not guaranteed but our joy is. This choice is as simple as turning on a light switch.

God has a great purpose for your life. He wants to use you powerfully to impact the people all around you. But in order to step into His purposes for your life, you have to actually take a step, even if that step leads into a season of darkness. Every time we step into another level with God, it is preceded by a choice we make. Each of us has the opportunity to be a catalyst for change in our own life & in the lives of those around us

I love what Job 8:13 demonstrates, “Those who forgot God had no hope.”

“The forgetting of God was not a mere lapse of memory, but the willful decision to live with no regard either for God or for His precepts.”

If you want to be free from deception, you have to precede it by taking the action of obeying God’s Word.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (James 1:22)

If you want your life to be filled with stability & purpose instead of drama & turmoil, it must be preceded by putting Jesus’ teachings into action.

Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. (Matthew 7:24)

Even the times when God tells us to be still, it still requires action on our part. Hardest times! When God tells us to be still, He does not want us to be apathetic, but to do the hard work of trusting & waiting.

“Cease striving/Be still and know that I am God; for I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:10)

How many times are we waiting for God to do something that He’s already given us the power to do? Ask Him what action steps He wants you to take. It’s always darkest just before the dawn and our Night of Misery can instantly turn into our Day of Blessing!

The problem we run into is we have a limited and finite understanding of our infinite God.

For me in life, it’s often like this: You walk along in faith, doing the next right thing you know to do, then all of a sudden you get a moment of clarity. The mist lifts, and you get a little glimpse of what God is up to. Or, you find out that the light at the end of the tunnel is a speeding train…

Regardless, God’s purposes for your life are so much better than anything you can imagine, and He has the passion and power to bring them to pass. Our job is to co-labor with Him by quieting our heart, so we can hear His voice and then obey quickly. Even if it’s a whisper, God’s voice must be the loudest in our life!

Key Point: If you are in a foggy spot on the journey, don’t give up. Keep pressing in and moving forward. That’s what faith is all about. If you’re going to magnify something, don’t magnify your problems; magnify your God.

I love the story of the Conquistador Cortes when he sailed to Veracruz to take on the mighty Aztecs. His first order was to burn the ships they had just sailed on. He understood that retreat is easy when you have the option. In life, we can’t always be looking for a Plan B; we should instead strive only to follow God’s will for our lives.

The Christian life is a journey along a narrow road. Sometimes the road is straight, while others, it’s hard to see very far ahead. We may get glimpses and impressions of what lies ahead, but in order to discover what’s really there, we have to keep moving forward.

“When we can’t take anymore & darkness overtakes the righteous, light will come bursting in.” Psalm 112:4

I have regularly hit patches where I realize that everything I’ve been doing up until that point, has simply been in preparation for what’s ahead. All of the digging in to learn new things and the relational stretching isn’t really about those things in themselves, it’s about where God is taking you on the journey.

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)

Our circumstances don’t change the power or the promises of the Lord. If we truly believed this, we wouldn’t reinforce or listen to what the devil or the world says about us. Our identity and our worth is found solely in Christ Jesus. We are priceless!

On issues like this, God doesn’t always need to speak when He’s already spoken and often in times where it feels darkest, Corrie Ten Boon illustrates the Lord is simply hiding us under the shadow of His wings and it only feels dark because He is so near.”

And sometimes, the path set before us causes us to walk through dark times, but it is in these life-transforming moments when you can find Jesus veiled in the darkness. “Bold faith stands on the shoulders of quiet trust and our worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow; it empties today of its strength.” Corrie Boon

If I’ve learned anything in my walk it’s that God can use anyone & anything to accomplish His plans.

In Judges 6 & 7 we see Gideon being used by God to do something significant, despite him being fearful and questioning that if the Lord had truly been with them then why had all the bad things been happening.

And Gideon said to him, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” Judges 6:15 (ESV)

God tells him to do the very thing he was terrified to do: “Go into the enemies’ camp.” Now I don’t know about you, but if I was afraid of my enemy, the last thing I would want to do is confront them with only my servant by my side, especially at night! However, if we ignore or question what God is calling us to do, we’ll miss out on His blessings because there are a great many things we cannot attain when we remain in a place of safety.

Sometimes, by focusing on our own comfort, we actually prevent access to the very thing(s) we are asking for. Gideon would receive his courage in the very place he was so afraid to be, & he would hear of his enemy’s dream & fear of the Lord. In the natural, it may not seem safe, but in the supernatural & when we are sent by God, He makes it safe.

What Do We Need to Do?

Ask ourselves what have we kept ourselves from that could quite possibly lead to the breakthrough we have been praying for? What or who is holding us back? Sickness, Pain, Doubt, FEAR

Each of us has anchors in our life and we have previously talked about hope being the anchor of our soul and that without hope, we cannot have faith, since faith is the evidence of things hoped for.

So, when the trials and circumstances of life seem to overwhelm us, the natural tendency is to pull up our anchor and take over control, but if we would instead keep our anchor down and keep our faith and trust in the Lord, we would never be lost or disappointed.

While there are good anchors in our life, there are also bad anchors that we need to cut away because if we don’t, we’ll drift away from God and fall into a life of anger, bitterness, & doubt due to our circumstances.

Zechariah 9:12 puts it this way, “Return to the stronghold, you prisoners of hope. Even today, I declare I will restore double to you.” NAS translates it as “prisoners who have hope.”

The word prisoner generally has a negative connotation in modern-day culture, but to be a prisoner of hope means we are confined by the promises of God and cannot escape them.

Joseph is the perfect example. He was betrayed by his brothers, thrown into a pit, falsely accused, and imprisoned, but because he remained faithful, he was eventually vindicated, promoted, and ultimately put in charge and used by God to save the people and even his own family from the famine.

Being a prisoner of hope means you can’t get away from it. It’s believing if God is for us, then who can be against us? There is nothing and no one that can snatch us out of His hand, when we remain prisoners of hope.

Key Point: Some things we can only learn in trials of affliction, our character is refined in these fiery trials & our character is much more important than our talents.

No matter what circumstances we are facing, God can turn them around. God’s answers are: “yes, not yet, or He has something better in store,” so we have to get to a place where we trust that His grace is sufficient, that His strength is made perfect in our weakness, and that His mercy endures forever. For every trial we face in life, we will either be delivered from it, through it, or by it.

Abraham and Sarah are also good examples. Romans 4 explains, “All human reason for hope being gone, Abraham hoped on in faith.” It took nearly 20 years for the promise of Isaac to be fulfilled, so just because your promise hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean it’s not on its way. Keep praying and seeking God!

The bad breaks we face in life don’t disqualify us from fulfilling our purpose and destiny, but they can surely distract us, causing us to take our eyes of Jesus. God wastes nothing and what He starts, He always finishes!

Key Point: We must never let other people talk us out of promises and dreams God has placed in our heart. Even when things don’t seem to be happening on the outside, doesn’t mean God isn’t working behind the scenes. Also, keep dream-killers out of your circle and don’t just go through trials; learn how to grow through them.

Drifting causes us to lose our passion, it causes us to worry, and be stressed out! When this happens, all we must do is put our anchor back down in God’s hope and remember that when bad breaks and circumstances do happen, it is because there is an enemy of our soul who doesn’t want to see our destiny come to pass.

An anchor also serves a second purpose, specifically when ships are going through storms. When it is lowered, it provides the vessel with more stability, much like outriggers do, as the waves crash against it.

Key Point: If we are not anchored to hope, we will find ourselves anchored to something else so keeping the right perspective is key. For example, when we look at the story of David and Goliath, we assume Goliath was sent to destroy David, but God’s divine plan unfolded by David receiving a promotion when he defeated Goliath. Tests turn into testimony and our messes become our message.

In a like manner, whatever we are facing today isn’t meant to stop us; it’s meant to move us towards our divine destiny. You see, when we are not hopeful, it physically makes us sick on the inside, so we must stay hopeful, especially in our seasons of drought.

Whatever we are facing in life can either become our excuse or it can become our purpose. The enemy doesn’t want us to live free and nothing is a surprise to God. Being anchored to anything besides hope will keep us from our destiny and from fulfilling our purpose, so sometimes we must cut the line to our worldly anchors.

Those with the most hope have the most influence!

The ache of the heart always is hope. What I mean is this: biblical hope is much different than worldly hope. Worldly hope is wishing something would happen, while biblical hope is the joyful anticipation of good or the excitement before something actually happens.

This biblical perspective allows us in the middle of our adversity to have hope. Even while our circumstances may attempt to deny or delay the very promises God has made to us, our hope anchors us to God’s joy and eventually to our breakthrough.

Any area of our life for which we have no hope is a lie! There is no situation we will ever face that we are not prepared for and that God doesn’t have the answer for. Remember, God’s hand is on the thermostat. He controls just how hot the fire gets and how long the trial lasts, so just remember the longer and hotter the fiery trial, the purer the outcome will be.

It’s interesting, when God delivered the Israelites out of Egyptian captivity, it was far easier to get Israel out of Egypt, but it proved much more difficult to get Egypt out of Israel. There are many times in life when we want God to do something our way, but the Lord often has a much better way, because only He can see things in us that we ourselves cannot see.

Often, God creates detours around battles we are not yet ready to face. This is one of primary reasons a six-day journey to the Promise Land took the Israelites 40 years. Complain and you’ll remain, but praise and you’ll be raised!

Emotions like fear, doubt, anxiety, and intimidation are not sin; it’s only sin when we start partnering with these thoughts that we begin to sin. It’s when we begin to embrace these feelings that we lose sight of all the tools God has given us & what He wants to do in/through us.

Key Point: The offspring of fear is hopelessness! And anything you need to have in order to be happy can be used by the enemy to discourage and distract us, so hold firmly to what God has placed in your heart, but hold loosely to how He brings those promises to pass.

God has given each of us tools and giftings and sometimes He gives us an acorn instead of an oak tree.

He has a tendency to answer large prayers with small answers to see if we have the stamina, character, and focus to steward the answer He has revealed in small form.

Why Do We Need to Do It?

To become what God intends us to be, He engages us in a process, and He is trying to grow us into the person who can understand the answer without it destroying us. God uses our circumstances to wake us up so we’ll listen and obey.

C.S. Lewis said it best: “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, He speaks in our consciences, but He shouts in our pains. It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

An interesting thing I have found in Scripture is how the demonic realm continually looks for dry places to rest. These dry places are our seasons of pain, isolation, drought, and wilderness wanderings. However, throughout Scripture, we also see rain, rivers, pools, and springs all referring to the work of God and the Holy Spirit.

Zechariah 9:11, “Because of the blood of your covenant, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.”

Luke 11:24, “When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places seeking rest.”

One of my favorite stories is Jesus casting the legion of demons into a herd of pigs found in Matthew 8:30-37; Mark 5:1-20; & Luke 8:27-38. Broke chains. When the demons begged Jesus to let them go into a herd of pigs, He gave them permission. They entered the pigs, rushed down the steep bank into the lake, and were drowned. Jesus thereby made known His authority and thwarted whatever evil purpose the demons had. Satan seeks to destroy, or counterfeit all of God’s creation.

In the middle of our conflicts, we must remind ourselves that we belong to the Lord & that the most hopeful people are those who remain close to God.

Restoration of God: Job lost everything, and God restored twice what he had lost, the temple of Solomon was destroyed, but when it was rebuilt by Herod; it was twice the size.

Key Point: The concept of restoration in Scripture should make us all hopeful when we experience loss.

If you are in a season of drought and are not getting answers to your prayers:

  1. Talk to God about something He wants to talk about. Sometimes we must first get reacquainted with His voice to allow our heart to burn for what burns His. Begin and end your day with God. Prayer/Praise/Bible
  2. Pray for what God is already doing. Ask for rain, while it’s raining, which aligns your prayer life with His activity and positions you for the next thing He wants you to do.
  3. Praise Him before you get an answer; this is where strength is found. There is an entire generation amongst us waiting to see revival and the power of hope and praise, so they can live a joy-filled life.

We Must Be Prisoners of Hope: Over the years, I’ve learned how to lock myself up in a prison of hope, knowing that God has nothing but His best planned for me. Hope is what has helped me hold on in those seasons when it seemed like His promises would never come to pass.

Hopeful Anticipation: When things don’t seem to be happening, it can be very easy to develop a very negative outlook on life, which then leads to speaking negatively about it. This was a painful way to live life before I learned how to become a prisoner of hope. As I grew in my relationship with God, I learned how to trust Him, how to stand on His Word, and how to stand my ground in prayer when it got tough.

Double for Your Trouble Now: I do realize there are many things in life that can happen to us that aren’t so enjoyable. These seasons can make it difficult to grasp the idea of enjoying life. So, think of it this way: What are you hoping for? What are you expecting in life? What are you looking forward to? Focus on these things; not the past. Don’t forget past; learn from it.

I went through a season where my negative outlook was due to my attitude about all the bad things that had happened in my life. I was stuck in the pain of my past, so I didn’t believe anything good could/would happen in my future. With of all of the negative things that had happened, I was programmed to believe that negative things would always happen. As a result, I lost hope. Remember to draw from your past, but don’t let it draw from you.

But, God was there, and He knew that and over time He kept loving me and dealing with me, promising me what Isaiah 61:7 says: Instead of your shame you will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace you will rejoice in your inheritance. And so you will inherit a double portion in your land, and everlasting joy will be yours (NIV). That’s a promise for us all…a promise of double for your trouble! Double the blessing!

Hope: I want to encourage you to make a decision to cultivate an attitude of hope in your life. Speak positive things about your future and refuse to be negative. You may not always feel hopeful but don’t give in to your feelings. Catering to bad feelings feeds and empowers them. But standing our ground and not giving in to negative feelings starves them and causes them to lose their power over us. By feeding the Spirit, you starve the flesh. Just ask the Holy Spirit to lead you. Line your will up with His and get excited about serving God. Hope releases the power of the Holy Spirit in these times. God is the Source & the Holy Spirit is the Supply of our Hope.

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