Good morning brothers and sisters!
I love how real and practical the Bible is for our lives. When we look at Isaiah 35:1-2, we see the truth that life can be dry and hopeless like a desert wilderness at times and ripe with celebration at other times. Sometimes it can seem like life is a three-phase cycle of going into a hard time, being in a hard time, coming out of a hard time, etc.. However, as long as we have true hope, we can endure these cycles with some grace. Without hope, life itself can seem very dark and foreboding. Today, Christmas is eleven days away. Some people are excited and looking forward to this holiday. If this where you’re at, praise God! However, others are in a dry place where even hope for joyful times seems elusive. I’d like to offer some encouragement to this group here.
Know that God has not abandoned you! The Bible confirms that it’s possible to have a healthy relationship with God and struggle with our emotions and feelings of despair. This isn’t a sign that God has rejected you or that He doesn’t care about you (See Romans 8:37-39). Sometimes these “dark nights of the soul” can be a very productive time spiritually because God is working deep inside us. Other times our bodies do things to our minds we cannot control ourselves. So we need to be courageous and figure out what’s really going on inside of us.
God doesn’t intend for you and I to camp out in hopelessly dry places forever. Yes, we are called to be patient (James 5:7-8). And yes, we are equipped to be patient (Galatians 5:22-24). But we’re also called to move forward. In John 14:27, Jesus gives us this blessing: “Live in peace; don’t let your minds be conflicted and lacking courage” (my paraphrase). Walter Brueggemann reminds us that God is the “Agent of an alternative life” (Theology of the Old Testament, p. 209) and He intends for us to live a life of daily salvation:
- instead of deathly chaos, ordered life;
- instead of despair, possibility for a future;
- instead of oppression, dancing freedom
- instead of absolutizing autonomy, obedience in viable community
- instead of wretched abandonment, nourishment and care.
This coming Sunday we’re going to dig into what Emmanuel, “God with us,” means in our daily lives. Jesus tells us what Emmanuel means and he gives us a clear path forward – I invite you to join us to help discern if God might be at work in your dryness and hopelessness.
Alternately, there may be something not of God at work in your life. There are a couple of practical things you can try if you’re in a dry place where hope seems hard to come by. First, talking through how you’re feeling with a safe person can help. When we feel hopeless, our own thinking can be distorted. So test your thinking with a trusted friend, a pastor, or a even a professional counselor. Sometimes our minds can become so troubled we need the help of a trained expert to help us work through what’s going on inside us (We have a good relationship with a local Christian counseling group – let me know if you’d like me to help you connect with them). Needing help and encouragement from others is not a sign of personal weakness; we are told to encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 4:18).
Second, sometimes the dry, hopeless times in our lives are caused by a traumatic event. Another productive way to move to a more fruitful, hopeful place can be reading a book that helps us reframe out thinking on that event. Here are some books that might catch your attention and be productive:
- A Grief Observed, by C.S. Lewis.
- Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, by Timothy Keller.
- Evil and the Justice of God, by N.T. Wright.
- Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace, by Miroslav Volf.
- No Future Without Forgiveness, by Desmond Tutu.
If you are feeling the weight of oppression or if you feel afflicted right now, check out Psalm 31. Even though the psalmist seems to feel overwhelmed with hopeless, he proclaims:
7 I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love,
because you have seen my affliction;
you have known the distress of my soul,
8 and you have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy;
you have set my feet in a broad place.
Be filled with God’s everlasting grace, mercy and peace this day.