Hope in the midst of hopelessness

For the past 5 years, I have been sharing bits and pieces of my life with you and some of you have come to know me a little through my posts if you did not know me before. So for those of you who have never met me, I am really smart… I am talking high IQ, straight As, top-of-my-class smart but underneath all of that smart is someone who has a lot of anxiety.

Since my childhood, I have harbored irrational fears and worries and I have carried these on into my adult years. Because I have a high IQ, I have found ways to cope which have made me very high functioning- so while others with the same disorder might be crippled with fear, for me anxiety shows up as thinking ahead through multiple scenarios and having backup plans for my back up plans. I am very strategic in my thinking, I am always prepared, I always bring my A-game, and I push the limits of excellence in every thing I do. This is what the world sees. What people do not see is the crippling fear that drives everything I do- fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of death, etc. and the associated anxiety that accompanies all those fears. Occasionally, I have the perfect storm in my life where it all gets too overwhelming for me and I would be in an internal state of despair and hopelessness even if I am functioning normally on the outside- a perfect example would be this very moment as I compose this blog albeit so eloquently and yet internally I am in a state of hopelessness.

Too many things beyond my control came at me so fast this week, my usual mechanism of being able to adapt with a backup plan failed and left me feeling helpless and hopeless. Today, I tried journaling to channel some of the thoughts running through my head at a mile a minute and when my writing could not keep up with my thoughts I just gave it up. In my despair, I picked up my bible and my readings took me to Isaiah 40 and verses 30 and 31 just leapt off the page at me:

Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:30-31 NIV

Feeling hopeless and mentally drained, I saw the promise of strength in that scripture. But the promise comes with a caveat- to hope in the Lord. Huh? I am feeling hopeless and in order to get out of this state, I need to hope? If only it were that easy! So I asked God, I said “Well so what do I need to do to hope in you?” and as I waited impatiently for a response, the answer that came was definitely not what I was expecting. It was something like this:

A lot of times when we pray for or wish for something, we envision a certain outcome and we build our hopes and expectations around that outcome. For example when we pray to God for healing, our hope is built around the outcome that we would be healed and if we are healed then we are pleased that our “expectations have not been cut short”. But if the outcome is different from what we expect, we are disappointed and blame God, blame ourselves for not having faith enough or accept the outcome as something that should not be questioned or we blame others. The problem with this premise of hope is that hope is not predicated on outcomes. Hope is rooted in God, to be more specific in the unchangeable nature of God’s purpose. It is in God’s purpose for our lives that we find hope.

In the same way God, in His desire to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable nature of His purpose, intervened and guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things [His promise and His oath] in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled [to Him] for refuge would have strong encouragement  and indwelling strength to hold tightly to the hope set before us. This hope [this confident assurance] we have as an anchor of the soul [it cannot slip and it cannot break down under whatever pressure bears upon it]–a safe and steadfast hope that enters within the veil [of the heavenly temple, that most Holy Place in which the very presence of God dwells], where Jesus has entered [in advance] as a forerunner for us, having become a High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. Hebrews 6:17-20 AMP

Hope that is built on an expected outcome is not safe and steadfast hope because our desired outcomes may not always be God’s purpose for us which does not fail (Psalm 119:89). So for me to come back to a place of strong encouragement, indwelling strength and confident assurance on days like this, I need to simply trust that He is working everything out to fulfil His purpose for me regardless of my desired outcome. This is what it means to me to hope in the Lord (or wait on the Lord as some translations put it). And as I hope in God, He will restore my strength and transport me from the place of despair and hopelessness as He is doing now.

I leave you with this scripture as my prayer to God:

The LORD will work out his plans for my life [fulfill his purpose for me]— for your faithful love, O LORD, endures forever. Don’t abandon me, for you made me.

Psalm 138: 8 NLT/ESV

Yours Truly

Hope in Lament

Two years ago, I made a commitment to read the entire bible again. However, this time instead of doing it it a year, I wanted to slow it down so I could savor every reading and so I opted for a three year reading plan. For the past month so I have been “stuck” in the book of Psalms and I use the word “stuck” because as much as I love the Psalms, oh boy is it ever so dreary! The first 40 chapters are full of lots of lamenting so much so that I stopped looking forward to my daily readings. In fact I remember telling God how tired I was reading all of these laments because I could not find any fodder for my blogpost from them! You can imagine my great joy yesterday when my reading plan switched gears to the book of Philippians. Despite my relief, I still asked God what lessons there were to be learnt from lament and the answer came today in our Ash Wednesday Service at church dubbed “Hope in Lament”. This is what I learnt:

As Christians, we sometimes encounter situations where there is a disconnect between what we know to be true of God and our reality here on earth. Cerebrally, we know God to be good, kind, and loving and yet we sometimes encounter situations that make us question God’s goodness, his kindness and love towards us. If you are a “good African Christian” you would have been told explicitly or implicitly at some point that to question God and to ask why questions His sovereignty and is an expression of a lack of complete trust in His will and plan. But this is where lament comes in. Lamenting gives us the opportunity to be real with God and to have a safe space and outlet to tell God exactly what we are feeling and thinking without holding back. We can come to God with our raw emotions without censoring ourselves for fear we will offend His majesty. David, the apple of God’s eye, certainly knew the value of being real with God. In the Psalms, he speaks openly to God about his mental health, his physical health, his emotional health and his spiritual health. In his laments, he acknowledges God for who He is, sovereign and all and does not hesitate to lay it all- the good, bad and ugly before His Sovereign King. Jesus himself just before the cross found value in lament- in not letting the anguish he felt in his soul consume him but to find an outlet in crying out that the cup be taken away from him! In one of his darkest moments, he lamented to God.

So today I have learnt the value of lamenting- it is a healthy outlet God provides for his children so we can let out some steam when the world beats down on us. It is not ungodly to lament, rather, it is another way God proves to us that He understands what it is like to be human- that He understands that sometimes our emotions get so pent up within us we feel like we are going to explode and He invites us to lament to Him- no judgements! In fact he encourages it so much that when the bible was being compiled He ensured that there was a whole book called Lamentations to model for us that it’s okay to lament. Now while I am not looking forward to the book of Lamentations, I am grateful for the lesson that I can come to God with any and every thing in my mind and heart without censoring or judgement. There truly is hope in lament!

Yours Truly.

P.S. shout out to Pastor Colin of Living Hope Alliance Church for an awesome service!

What if I am wrong about it all?

I recently read a very compelling social media post about a dream someone had about the rapture. At the end of the post, the writer added, “I could be wrong about all of this but what if I’m not?” to which someone commented “You are right. You could be wrong about all this. And you probably are.” Ouch! such an anticlimactic ending to a great message of repentance and salvation.

For a few years now I have been saying the exact same thing though. I tell people it is better to have served God and go into eternity only to realize that it was all for naught than to get to the other side of life and find out that the bible and everything in it was the real deal! But as I reflect on the comment to the post and on my own statement, I recognize that it is very defeatist. It most certainly does not inspire confidence in anything and anyone; certainly not in the God who made the whole world and in His word which is the only truth in this world where everybody is encouraged to find and speak their truth.

As I reflect, the scripture that comes to mind is

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. Hebrews 10:35 NIV

The entire chapter (Hebrews 10) summarizes salvation and the hope we have in Christ. God in his infinite wisdom knew that there would come a day when I would ponder over my life and this message of salvation and will waver in my hope and so He prepared in advance an encouragement not to throw away my confidence.  God admonishes from his Word:

Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Hebrews 10:22 NLT

I need to hold on to the hope I profess of an eternity living and loving in the presence of God when my life on earth is over. I am not wrong about it all. I cannot waver. And the reason I am not wrong is that God can be trusted to keep his promise! He has promised me that obeying Him and serving Him and living for Him here on this earth will be rewarded. He has promised me eternal life and He will keep His promise. That is the confidence I have.

My encouragement as we come to the end of a year and a decade is this: hold on to your faith, to the hope you profess. Do not throw away your confidence or downplay it. It will be richly rewarded.

Yours truly.

For I know the plans I have for you….

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. Jer 29: 11 NIV

This scripture has brought comfort to many Christians (myself included) during times of uncertainty. Many times I have prayed this scripture when things happen in my life and I cannot explain them or when I am earnestly asking God for a special blessing, I remind Him from this scripture that his plans are to prosper me and give me a future and a hope.

Over the past few weeks, however, I have had the privilege of thinking about this scripture a little more deeply when I heard it quoted at the memorial service of a Christian young man who died very unexpectedly. The question was posed: “Was this God’s plan?” As I pondered the question, a very unusual answer came to me in the form of another question: “What is the future and hope God promises?”

If our hope in Christ is for this life alone, we are to be pitied more than all men. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ, all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ the firstfruits; then at His coming, those who belong to Him. 1 Cor 15: 19-23 BSB

As Christians, our hope and future are not of this world. Our hope, our future, our glory, and crown are in the fact that when our life is over in this world, we will stand victorious before the King of kings, Our God and Saviour Jesus Christ in the next world. If you have made Jesus the  Lord and Saviour of your life then you have a hope and a future and that is God’s plan for you. It is God’s desire that everyone is saved and comes to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2: 4 BSB).

So what about the prosperity promised in the scripture? People have a tendency to think of prosperity only in terms of money, wealth, and possessions but Jesus describes possessions not only as earthly but also heavenly. This is why He encouraged that we store up treasures in Heaven as well. This is not to say that I have prayed amiss all these years or encouraged myself with this scripture in vain. But as God calls me to enjoy a deeper relationship with him, I have come to the realization that this scripture Jer 29: 11 is both relevant for my life here on earth and also has eternal implications. I believe that God’s plan for me here on earth is that I prosper, be in good health, be successful, be happy and be delivered from harm. This is all scriptural. But I have also come to know in these past weeks that my prosperity, my future, and my hope is eternal and it is anchored in Christ the Solid Rock on which I stand while on this earth.

Thus by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be strongly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and steadfast. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus our forerunner has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever in the order of Melchizedek Hebrews 6: 18-20 BSB

As we slowly come to the end of the year, the end of a decade, the question I have for you and for myself is this: “Is your future anchored on the hope that is Jesus?” 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.

Yours Truly.