Everything in scripture tells me to hope in the Lord. I am told to present my requests to him “in everything” or “in every situation”. Jesus tells us basically to live in each day, not “worrying” about tomorrow. But if I’m not concerned about tomorrow, then why would I need to have hope? What is hope, if it is not the desire and the belief that tomorrow can be better than today?*
Well, first of all, Jesus is speaking in the context of having our physical needs met. But maybe the wording is also important. Being concerned or desiring a different future might be different from worrying, or being anxious about the future. Of course I am concerned about my future, my family’s future, and so on. Of course I have things that I’m asking of the Lord and I have much hope that he will answer in the future. I even believe I am asking him, and trusting him for, and hoping in him to bring things that he himself has put into my heart as desires! I have much hope in the Lord to answer and fulfill all he has promised!
But I’m really struggling with the idea of having hope for a different future and being content at the same time. These two states of being seem to me to have irreconcilable differences.
I have two family members who are also going through intense times of trial and testing. At least one of them keeps going through a similar process to what I am going through. I keep thinking that I am seeing the Lord answer my prayers. It keeps looking like deliverance is about to be here. Sometimes, I even get head faked by certain misleading headlines and think that my deliverance has actually come! But so far, these have all been false starts. They often turn out to be much less than I had hoped, and more often turn out to be nothing good at all. But, for a while, my hopes get really high. I get really excited. Then I get let down. This happens over and over and over. That process has been going on for about 3 years now in one form or another.
At first, I thought the major lesson was to stop assigning any relevance to anything I can see. We are called to walk by faith, not by sight. Later, I realized I was already doing that. I’m not making decisions based on what I can see. In fact, everything I can see tells me that many of the investments have a high probability of ending up worth nothing. Everything I can see tells me that I have wasted the last 3 years working on something that has failed. But I am still here. So, I am already walking by faith.
The reason I get excited is not because I am walking by what I can see. The reason I get excited is because I have hope in the Lord to answer my prayers! Therefore, I wait expectantly and I watch for his deliverance. I have confidence that it will come. So, I watch and I wait and I pray and I trust and I hold on to every one of his promises. I hold on to the things he has said to me. I go back and look at those things and analyze them and say, “What did he actually say and what did I infer?” Then, I make sure I’m holding on only to what he actually said. I am walking by faith. I am trusting in his word.
But just like Elijah, I am checking to see if he is answering my prayer. One thing to note from the linked passage is that Elijah’s focus and energy are definitely on prayer. In fact, he doesn’t even go out himself to check for the answer, but instead sends his servant. But he does check every so often to see if the Lord has answered, or is answering his prayer. The Lord gave me that passage right in the midst of me struggling with this question. So I know that he told me it is proper to watch for the answer, provided that I have put prayer first.
But that still does not tell me how to be content. I don’t know about you all, but when I am praying and crying out to the Lord, I often feel anything but content. If I were content, why would I be asking him to change my situation?
Now I think we’re getting somewhere. Being content does not mean just accepting my circumstances, at least not in the way humans think about that. One of the family members I mentioned recently went through this right around the time I was just about getting there myself. I was ready to accept total destruction and failure as just being what the Lord had seen fit to give me. He was ready to accept that deliverance was not coming for him, even though he believed many months ago that the Lord told him clearly that he was going to deliver him from his present situation. We are made of flesh. We get tired of getting disappointed. We get to a point where we find it emotionally unbearable to keep hoping for things to change. We find it emotionally easier to just accept our circumstances. It hurts sometimes to keep hoping in the Lord. Amen?
But right as we were both ready to accept our present circumstances, just a few days apart, the Lord saw fit to give us one of the biggest signs of hope and deliverance we have seen in a long time. Obviously, he does not want our hope to die! He won't let it die! He doesn't want us to walk according to our fleshly nature, which determines that after enough time and disappointment, it's best to just give up hope.
This human nature can protect us in other situations. Human beings do not keep their promises. I heard a pastor point out recently that we do not even keep promises to ourselves. “I’m so tired of this gut. I’m not eating anymore chocolate this week.” Later that night, what are you doing? You’re eating chocolate. Because you are unfaithful. You do not keep your promises. Neither does anyone else. I’m not saying we can’t try our best to be faithful. I’m saying that in general, we’re not very good at it.
Think about the spouse or family member of a drug addict or alcoholic. The addict that first decides to try to beat his addiction will normally make promises to family members. They have the best of intentions. The family will often derive a lot of hope and joy in seeing the sincerity, the determination with which this person is making those promises and attempting to keep them. But the addict cannot keep those promises. Eventually, the family members will start to say, “Yeah, I’ll believe it when I see it. Until then, I’m not listening to anything you say anymore.” It becomes too emotionally painful to keep putting hope in that person.
But here is the great difference between that situation versus trusting in the Lord. God is faithful! He is always faithful to his promises! We will go through disappointments because we expect him to answer in a particular way or at a particular time. But we cannot treat the Lord like we would treat a drug addict who never delivers on his promises. God is not a man that he should lie. Not one word of his promises will fail! We must continue trusting in him, even when it hurts! Godliness with contentment is great gain. But, there is nothing godly about losing our hope in the Lord or deciding that it's too painful to keep trusting in him. We cannot simply resolve ourselves to accept our present circumstances.
If being content meant accepting my present circumstances as God’s will for my life, then I would never pray for anything different. Rather, I think being content means accepting my present circumstances as God’s will for my present, while maintaining my hope that he is going to make my future different.
Maybe someone out there is still skeptical of this concept. Let’s use an example which makes it really clear. If a new Christian is married to an unbeliever, is that a circumstance they should just learn to accept? Should they be asking the Lord to change that situation? Should they have hope that he will answer? Yes! Of course they should be praying for their spouse’s salvation! They should be praying that the Lord will radically transform their spouse, their family, and as a result, their own daily life and circumstances. But they might have to learn to be content each day with the fact that he has not seen fit to answer them that day, all the way up until the moment he answers.
Obviously, it’s important that we are praying for things that we believe are according to the Lord’s will. It helps tremendously if we are praying for something that we believe he has specifically promised us. But that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. Right now, I am praying for the Lord to deliver some things that I believe he has led me to pray for, and assured me would come to pass. However, when I was praying for the Lord to restore my marriage and family, I never got a word from him that he was going to do it. I was just hoping and praying that he would. Eventually, he did and it was more wonderful than I could have ever imagined. So, no matter what your situation is, please resist the temptation to accept your present circumstances as being permanent! Please keep hoping in the Lord!
Last but not least, please pray that he will teach you and me the secret of being content in any and every circumstance, while maintaining a vibrant hope and faith in him! I do not pretend to understand this great mystery yet. I do not claim to have achieved it. I just know that it requires strength beyond my own. It requires supernatural strength that only Jesus can provide!
“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” – Philippians 4:11-13, ESV
In Christ's Name,
*NOTE: I wanted to add a note here to clarify something. Yes, our ultimate hope as Christians is in eternity. But God builds our faith by having us hope and trust him for things in this life as well. Faith in Jesus for eternal life with him is definitely the anchor of my soul. I know that no matter what happens in this life, I will be with him forever in the next life! Absolutely, that is the source of our greatest hope. But in this post, I am trying to address the concept of hoping in the Lord to answer prayers for us in this life. He uses that to build our faith. Most of us, after being saved, don't struggle too much with the concept of whether or not Jesus will actually take us to heaven when we die. We see that as a done deal, because that's exactly what it is. But for some reason, we struggle to believe him to answer prayers for things that will happen while we're still alive. It's the old struggle of "I trust Jesus with my eternity, but I'm having trouble trusting him to help me pay my light bill this month."