H O P E L E S S - In the 2011 NIV there is only one instance in Biblegateway.com's search function where this word comes up. Once. Search for just the word "Hope" and you will see it appear 180 times. Anytime you hear someone utter that word "hopeless", it is usually spoken with a tone of defeat, resigned to NOT seeing their hopes and dreams realized. For some it is the emotional state after years of letdowns and disappointments. For some of us it might be a self defense mechanism so that we don't hurt so bad when we don't get our way. Feeling Hopeless is often a place where our feelings and emotions become numb as the surety of the exact opposite of hope shows up at our door. And for a lot of people it is the default reality of life ultimate life experience. Yet, for many of us who say we're hopeless, we're not really completely hopeless.
Before I really make the point on this, I need to tangent for just a moment, because it's important to the context of this story in Isaiah 57. As I spent time slowly reading through the book of Matthew I started to see how many times human beings tried to build their own kingdoms. Peter did it, Judas did it, James and John did it, James and John's MOM did it. Jesus' Mom did it. The Israelites did it. The Jews did it. I do it. You do it. There is a "kingdom" that we are building in our hearts and our minds and we are actively seeking to accomplish it. Plans are not a bad thing. Planning is good. But if I'm honest, many of my plans are for a better tomorrow - defined by yours truly... ME! The way I think it should go. The way I want my future to be. Confident, secure and comfortable according to Mike. And while we don't always intentionally do this, our sinful nature, the part of us that we have to fight daily, is always building "my" kingdom.
In response to this kingdom building Jesus said to Peter "Get behind me Satan, for you do not have in mind the things of God, but of Man." To Judas Jesus said, "woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born." These are hard words to hear, and perhaps even harder to admit a part of us needs to be reminded just how far off and self centered our kingdom building can be.
The first half of Isaiah 57 is a lament from God about how far away his people have run from him. God calls out the unrighteous and points out their many wounds and transgressions. Most importantly how far they have run after the "gods" of their surroundings that can neither comfort nor save. Their lusting, their sneering, their rebellion and their restlessness. By the end of the chapter God says "the wicked are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud. “There is no peace,” says my God, “for the wicked.” And it is verse 10 that just broke my heart... "You wearied yourself by such going about, but you would not say, ‘It is hopeless.’ You found renewal of your strength, and so you did not faint."
In the culture of today, as it has been before, we have looked to other voices to give us hope when things are going wrong. A "god" is something that we put our trust in to tell us who we are, to give us worth and hope for a better tomorrow. Money does this really well. We can trust what money can get us and the supposed freedom it can provide. Money tells us "we are somebody". Accolades and compliments can become a god along with those whose praise we seek. When life isn't going well we can self medicate to numb our emotions, our hearts and even our conscience. The god of "Control" is ever elusive too. In seeking control, we learn all kinds of manipulation skills as we build our kingdoms and regain our hope. ANYTHING than to come to the place of human hopelessness.
As I thought about how many different things I can turn to when my hopes for this life go sideways, I started to realize that hope in the wrong thing is really no hope at all. Hope in anything other than the God of the Bible, is hope in something temporary, far short of satisfying and ultimately self seeking kingdom building.
On Good Friday, we examined God's grace and mercy in Christ through the eyes of the Thief. Pastor Jeffrey Bonack helped take us through a powerful reflection and ultimately, an immensely personal example of the value of hopelessness (See it on YouTube). The dying thief was perhaps the only one to understand the depth and richness of the love of the dying man next to him on the cross that first Good Friday. As he experienced the imminent end of his own life, there was nothing left to put his hope in. There was no way to control, no change of circumstances, no tomorrow, no getting out of the death he was dying. It was hopeless. And then, the Holy Spirit worked a miracle of faith in his heart. To turn to the dying Savior next to him and lay what life he had left at Jesus feet. "Jesus, Remember Me, When You Come into YOUR Kingdom". To which Jesus replied with an eternal hope. "Today, you will be with me in paradise."
The world without Christ will grab onto any and every replacement hope. It will do everything it can from medication to identity surgeries to worldly wisdom, distractions and addictions galore - ANYTHING to "keep hope alive". But it's all worthless junk. God warns us all, "When you cry out for help, let your collection of idols save you! The wind will carry all of them off, a mere breath will blow them away."
For the Christian, however, we can take hold of Jesus, his words, his promises and by grace through faith we can trust in his forgiveness, mercy and love. Ultimately we can trust our future as we place it in His hands. We can hear the words of God through the prophet "I have seen their ways, but I will heal them; I will guide them and restore comfort to Israel’s mourners, creating praise on their lips. Peace, peace, to those far and near,” says the Lord. “And I will heal them.”
As I've reflected on the value of coming to the place of hopelessness, it has changed the way I think about the future and especially how I pray. I've learned that it is OK to admit that, from my perspective and capabilities, things appear to be "hopeless". I will tell God straight up "Father, I have no hope left, you alone can save." Oh he may not always move in the way we think he should move, but it will always be for our eternal best and God's kingdom.
That relative that you've been praying will kick the addiction. It might be hopeless. That cancer that won't go away. It might be hopeless. That career that won't take off. It might be hopeless. That marriage, that family you want SO bad. It might be hopeless. And when we can admit it and confess it, God is able to move. Because hopelessness for the Christian means we've given up on building our kingdom. Our ego and human nature feels so defeated when we admit it's hopeless. God is saying "When you are weak you are strong". Our dreams die, God is saying "Come to me all who are weak and heavy laden and I will give you rest". Our depression and fear increases exponentially in our hopelessness, God is saying "I've told you these things so that IN ME you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble, but take heart. I have overcome the world".
You say "It is hopeless", God is saying "Now I can bring you healing". Oh there is surprising value in hopelessness. To admit it and say "It is HOPELESS" can be the gateway to the powerful prayer "Thy will be done, Thy kingdom come"... and all the eternal blessing that God unlocks when we trade in our kingdoms, to be part of what God is building in HIS kingdom. The salvation of more souls!
Hosanna in the Highest. To God be the Glory!