WHAT TO DO WHEN HOPES ARE DASHED!
Over the past few weeks, I have been reading through the Psalms. About a week ago, I reached Psalm 44, and I felt it exactly described the situation of a number of different people I have been in touch with recently. It’s a song of disappointment – a ballad of dashed hopes.
It starts off on quite a positive note, recalling how, both in the distant past and in the more immediate past, God had frequently delivered His People from difficulty and defeat. In verse 9, however, the tone changes: “But now, you have rejected us and humbled us”, the writer says – and for seven more verses he bemoans the fact that, in spite of the Lord’s previous record, there were several tricky situations where the deliverance they had looked-for had not materialised.
The psalmist obviously realises that our Heavenly Father can’t fully bless his children if they are not walking in His ways, or heeding His voice. However, he insists that hopes have been dashed in spite of their continued faithfulness: “”All this came upon us though we had not forgotten You…Our hearts had not turned back; our feet had not strayed from your path. But you crushed us…” (vv 17-19).
From time to time, I come across fine Christian folk who seem to be in a situation similar to that in which the writer of Psalm 44 found himself. So far as they (or anyone else) can see, they have not ”strayed from His path”. Nevertheless, their hopes have been dashed. Let me give you a few examples…. In several situations I know of, in spite of the earnest prayers of many, a loved one has died comparatively young. Elsewhere, projects that had the clear potential to bless many needy people, in body or mind or spirit – projects into which a lot of hard work has been selflessly put – have fizzled out and come to nothing. In yet other situations, unsatisfactory family relationships have become more tangled than ever, even though those who were committed Christians within the family not only tried to pour oil on troubled waters themselves, but also pleaded for the loving intervention of Almighty God.
Now, Psalm 44 doesn’t go on to tell us how believers should react when what they had confidently hoped for, from the Lord, doesn’t come about. However, the Bible reveals three aspects of the character of God that go a long way towards explaining this seeming “failure to deliver the goods”. I am convinced that constantly remembering these three characteristics of our Heavenly Father is the antidote to the kind of disappointment I’ve described.
In the first place: Remember that the Lord works to His Own Timing. For the most part, we human beings are pretty impatient. We want things immediately, or, if not that, “a.s.a.p”. The Lord on the other hand is, generally speaking, portrayed in Scripture as a very thorough and painstaking kind of worker – by our standards “steady, but slow”. Peter had to point out (2 Pet 3:9): “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.” The Bible is full of exhortations to believers to “wait on the Lord”, “not to weary in well-doing”, to be “patient” and “persistent” – to let the Lord do His work in His own time. We would save ourselves a lot of heartache if we remembered this.
Some folks I know experienced this a week or two ago. One of the family problems that I referred to above suddenly and wonderfully got sorted out, after almost everyone involved had lost hope, and had written off the Lord’s intervention! In fact, in my own personal experience, there have been so many situations where I have eventually come to realise that the Lord’s timing was best, that I am now prepared to trust Him on that, even in situations where it doesn’t look good to the human eye.
I even go as far as thinking that this applies in the desperately sad situation where someone seems to have been “taken before his (or her) time”. It is absolutely right to persevere in believing prayer for someone who is very seriously ill. Such prayer has surprisingly often been accompanied by miraculous recovery. If that is not the case, however, we don’t automatically need to think there has been a failure of faith on the part of either the sick person or those who prayed – or that the Lord Himself has let us down. Let us remember, even through our tears, that “our times are in His hands”, and His timing is based on Divine Wisdom and Knowledge.
Secondly: Remember that the Lord works to His Own Targets. For the most part, we human beings have amazing confidence in our own targets and our own plans for the future – whether they are personal plans, or plans for the Kingdom of God. We form these plans, and we pray earnestly that the Lord will bless them. Now I admit that there are a few scattered verses in the Old Testament that seem to suggest that the Lord is prepared to bless absolutely any plan or target that we dream up. Generally speaking, however, the Bible emphasises that it is His plans for us that He will back up strongly; it is His targets for our lives in which we can place our hope: ““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 a future and a hope” (Jer 29:11).
I really do have some sympathy nowadays for many sincere followers-of-Jesus within the “Organised Church” system, who, throughout their lives, have put a lot of effort into local churches, only to find that their particular church is now losing numbers drastically, and facing all sorts of setbacks in society. These folk have prayed so earnestly for the Lord’s restoration of church life, but it seems to them that their hopes are continually being dashed. I long to say to them (and sometimes get the opportunity to do so): “Are you sure that the organised style of church, that has existed for so many centuries, is really God’s plan for the Church? Does the New Testament not, by contrast, paint a picture of churches that are ‘organisms’ rather than ‘organisations’? Is His target not, rather, simple ‘extended families’ of believers in any one locality? “ (I might even go on to claim: “I believe the Lord is now, in the 21st Century, moving steadily toward that target of His.”)
Those of us who are outside the system should not, however, be complacent. We ourselves could easily be tempted to aim at our own targets and lay our own plans. Jesus said: “I will build my Church” (Matt 16:18), but so many of us try to be amateur architects! We are impatient to have impressive local groups of highly committed Christians, without the negatives of church life as we knew it in the past. So we make our plans, and ask God to bless them – and then are surprised and disappointed when the Lord does not respond as we expected. Let us walk in daily obedience to Jesus, and leave Him to build His Church. If your hopes about your church life (or for that matter, about your personal life) are being dashed, I humbly suggest it is because they are being placed in your own targets, and not in the Lord’s targets.
Finally: Remember that the Lord works to His Own Training-Programme – and effective training-programmes often involve Tough Testing! People (including, I’m afraid, Christian people) are very prone to want to avoid trouble, pain or inconvenience, and so we plead with the Lord to take these away. Yet, like all good parents, our Heavenly Father wants to train us – to train us to be like Him, to be conformed to the image of Jesus – and He warns us, in various places in Scripture, that this will sometimes be painful; e.g. Hebrews 12: 10-11: “God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness, and peace, for those who have been trained by it.”
If the Lord seems to have “dashed our hopes” when we earnestly asked for some trouble to be taken away, we need to ask Him to show us what we should be learning in the situation.
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To tackle problems of any kind, head-on, is fully commendable. Much of the time it’s acceptable to start off, if at all possible, by doing what we can about the situation ourselves. If our personal contribution doesn’t bear fruit, however, the time has certainly come to ask the Lord to intervene. He has promised to be “an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1), so we can ask with confidence, with expectancy, with optimism, with hopefulness. Personally, I have found that, on countless occasions, He has done “above all that we ask or think” (Eph 3:20 AV).
Nevertheless, there are times when He definitely doesn’t answer as we had fervently hoped. When that happens I don’t think that it is appropriate to feel that “our hopes have been dashed”. We need to see, rather, that the particular hopes that have not been realised need to be redirected, to bring them into line with God’s Timings, or with God’s Targets and Plans, or with God’s Training and Testing.
About ten days have now passed since I read Psalm 44, which triggered off all these comments. Today, as I planned to put the finishing touches to this article, I reached Psalm 52 in my series of morning readings. To my surprise, the closing verse of that Psalm was incredibly relevant; “I will hope in Your name, for Your name is good.” Now, in the Bible, God’s “name” means His character. That sums up all I have been trying to say: “Don’t put your hope in your own desires and wishes. Put your hope in the character of God – a good Heavenly Father, with His own totally wise Timings, Targets and Testings”. If we do that, we will always be able to say with Paul (Romans 5:5): “Hope does not disappoint us”.