I have become increasingly suspicious over the years of preachers, teachers, and so many other people within the Christian universe who proclaim, either by word or inference that their lives are lived on cloud nine and that they never experience failure, doubt or indeed any kind of problem or issue whatsoever. Their answer to any genuine question as to their welfare is met by a ‘Halleluja brother – all is well!’ I know we all have the tendency to the standard reply of ‘fine’ – but I am not talking about that here – rather the constant presentation of life apparently without any of the problems or issues faced by a mere mortal like me. TBH I cannot connect with such people anymore.
That is not to say the opposite is always the case – but we desperately need honesty and openness. If not, people like me become isolated, wracked by self-doubt and guilt – always wondering why we do not float on the same perpetual high cloud.
I have even seen such people who, when they do face serious issues in life, hide away just in case their weakness or need is exposed. This results in all kinds of hypocrisy – even the denial that they could ever need the concern, love and prayers of others – even though they believe others are in need of their prayers.
A couple of days ago an email entitled ‘God Loves People With Flaws’ popped into my inbox. Part of that brief article read –
‘Elijah was suicidal. Job wished he had never been born. David understood deep depression. Moses was anxious. Hannah was barren. Jonah was angry. Paul was lonely in his prison cell. Noah got spectacularly drunk. Abraham lied. Jacob repeatedly deceived others. Samson lusted. David committed adultery and was a murderer. Peter denied Christ.’
Quite so – and yet all of the people mentioned above are considered by Christians today to be giants of the faith. Bryan Lowe, who wrote the short article I have referred to, went on –
‘Why does God favour and love people who are so disturbed? Honestly, none of us measure up. It seems He uses the weak to carry out a plan and a purpose of redeeming others and establishing a Kingdom. He takes messes and gives them His message. Messed-up people of faith become instruments and vessels of grace to other messed-up people. We carry a treasure that is not ours. Sometimes it takes years to see this.’
While all that Brian says is true, and worth repeating in the context, it does not quite scratch where I am itching right now. I have been a follower of Jesus for most of my life, have preached in multiple churches over the years and, at one point even helped lead a church. However, if I am honest, today, as I look around the world, the church and at my own life, I lose heart. I lose heart at a personal level because so many of my hopes, as the writer of Proverbs says, have ‘been deferred’ to the extent that, as I see things in the moment, there is little light on the horizon.
And yet – and yet, having learned a long time ago that my feelings, my being unable to see the light, my doubt and my sense of hopelessness, although all very real and hard to bear – are not the full picture either.
I love the honesty of the biblical sages in all this – they were much more willing than many of us to tell it like it was for them. Their honesty is almost, at times, too brutal –
‘Our days on earth are as a shadow, and without hope.’
1 Chronicles 29:15
‘My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, And are spent without hope.’
‘He breaks me down on every side, And I am gone; My hope He has uprooted like a tree.’
‘And I said, “My strength and my hope Have perished from the Lord.”’
But for all the statements of hopelessness we find in the Bible they are outnumbered 100 to 1 by messages and statements of hope – at times faint hope, to be sure – feet still slipping hope, but hope nonetheless! But here is the thing – it is the focus of their hope that is the most striking thing to me! My hope has focused too often on seeing change in situations and people – biblical hope is focused almost exclusively on God –
‘Let Your mercy, O Lord, be upon us, Just as we hope in You.’
‘And now, Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in You.’
The above are only two brief examples of so many statements of hope we find throughout the Bible. However, there is also a hope that sees beyond what we have, on occasions, to admit are truly hopeless situations – and I think we do, at times, have to come to a point where we accept that. Sometimes what we hope for will simply not happen, situations will not change –
‘And I will wait on the Lord, Who hides His face from the house of Jacob; And I will hope in Him.’
The context of this statement by Isaiah – the most hopeful of the OT Prophets is, for me, of great significance. We do not have the time or space to look at this in detail – but he had come to a point in his ministry where things were not going to change – despite his hearing from God and sharing God’s message with the people. It is at the point of this realisation that God clearly spoke to him –
‘For the Lord spoke thus to me with a strong hand, and instructed me that I should not walk in the way of this people ..’
He is then told, effectively, to cease from his public ministry (for a time), turn inwards and, with a few close friends, wait with hope in God. I think sometimes the same can be true for us – only in waiting on God, cultivating his presence, and refreshing ourselves in the quietness and safe place of Divine Love, can anything in our personal lives, the church and the world be reconciled. Please note I use the word ‘reconciled’ not changed. Some things will not change – no matter how hard we try and work towards that goal. Lost friends may remain lost friends, old beliefs that once bound us to a church or denomination are forever gone, our reputation, if we ever had one, may never recover, people who once called for our council and knocked on our door may never call again, opportunities for involvement and ministry may have vanished forever in the approaching darkness – indeed the time may come when you feel totally alone – but we must never forget at such times to cry out with the Psalmist –
‘My flesh and my heart fail, But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever!’
It is only in that place of trust and resignation that the things that cause us to lose heart can be seen from their true perspective. I remember many years ago coming to a place of the loss of much I held dear as far as my involvement in church life was concerned. I will never forget standing alone looking out the window of our house that day with a sense of emptiness. In a moment I will never forget I heard distinctly that rare, but beautiful, ‘still small voice’, asking me ‘Am I enough?’ I said ‘Yes Father’ then – and I say it again today. I believe his promise to Abraham so long ago, in the place where he was losing heart, is still mine today –
‘I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.’