Hope For the Hopeless
In hopeless times we need to put our trust in that which is fully reliable:
We live in exceedingly dark times. It seems wherever you look, wickedness and evil are in the ascendency, and it seems that this darkness is covering the whole earth. It can be overwhelming at times. One wonders if there is any way out of all this. One seeks for respite and a reprieve, but that seems to elude us.
The Christian is realistic. We know that sin abounds in this fallen world. Evil will always be with us. But we also know that there is hope, because God is not finished with us yet. God is working out his purposes, and one day all evil will end, and all darkness will disappear.
But right now we live in between the first and second coming of Christ. What Christ initiated 2000 years ago is now being partially realised, but will not be fully realised until he comes again. So we will see some victories, some breakthroughs, some real encouragement now, but we will also experience some losses, some setbacks, and some disappointments.
And as things get darker, it is so easy to concentrate on that darkness, and get our eyes off God. I know this is true for me. One of my main prayers of late has been to actually repent of my lack of faith, my lack of trust. I feel so overwhelmed at times, and the encroaching evil seems so palpable. I can focus too much on what is happening around me, and not on the one true God.
So I am asking God to help me increase my trust and my faith. I am praying the prayer of the father of the child healed by Jesus who said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). It is so easy to get discouraged and to lose all hope. And at times like that, when we take our eyes off the Lord, we can too readily look to other sources of hope.
We can look to the next election, or another politician, or a different set of laws, or a reformed education system, or a cleaned-up media, or a better country, or a more godly culture, and so on. Now do not get me wrong: all these things are important indeed. I have been working in all these areas, and we need to be engaged in this way.
But the trouble is, if we put all our hope and faith in these things, instead of God himself, then we will get our spiritual priorities all wrong, and we will end up looking to men and not God to be our deliverer. As I say, fighting in the culture wars and the like is vital, but at the end of the day we must put our full trust in and dependency on the only one who is worth leaning on: God himself.
This was a lesson ancient Israel kept needing to learn afresh. They so often found themselves in a real bad way, but instead of turning fully to Yahweh for help, they looked to others for their deliverance. That is why we have so many passages such as the following:
Psalm 20:7 Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.
Psalm 33:16-17 No king is saved by the size of his army;
no warrior escapes by his great strength.
A horse is a vain hope for deliverance;
despite all its great strength it cannot save.
Psalm 118:8-9 It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man. It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes.
Psalm 146:3 Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save.
Yet Israel so often did just this: they looked to other nations to help them out. They tried to make foreign alliances to keep them safe. In Isaiah 31:1-3 we read about this very thing:
Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help,
who rely on horses,
who trust in the multitude of their chariots
and in the great strength of their horsemen,
but do not look to the Holy One of Israel,
or seek help from the Lord.
Yet he too is wise and can bring disaster;
he does not take back his words.
He will rise up against that wicked nation,
against those who help evildoers.
But the Egyptians are mere mortals and not God;
their horses are flesh and not spirit.
When the Lord stretches out his hand,
those who help will stumble,
those who are helped will fall;
all will perish together.
Raymond Ortlund’s comments on this passage are worth sharing here. He opens his chapter with these words:
Heartbroken people gathered in a field in Pennsylvania where United flight 93 crashed on September 11, 2001. It was a memorial service. Lisa Beamer, widow of one of the men who led a revolt against the hijackers, was among them. She later wrote:
“I couldn’t help but compare this service to the one in Cranbury the day before. Todd’s memorial service had been so uplifting, so inspiring, because the emphasis had been on hope in the midst of crisis. On Monday, as I listened to the well-intentioned speakers, who were doing their best to comfort but with little if any direct reference to the power of God to sustain us, I felt I was sliding helplessly down a high mountain into a deep crevasse. As much as I appreciated the kindness of the wonderful people who tried to encourage us, that afternoon was actually one of the lowest points in my grieving. It wasn’t the people, or even the place. Instead, it struck me how hopeless the world is when God is factored out of the equation.”
Sincere clichés are not enough. We need God. If we factor him out of the equation, we strip ourselves bare before the blast of life’s cruelties. But if we factor God in as our hope, we can face anything.
The prologue in 31:1-5 is the key to the whole passage. And the question here is obvious: What’s wrong with going down to Egypt for help? Why is God offended? The Assyrian army was threatening little Judah. Why not form an alliance with Egypt?
The first problem is that Judah was not looking to their Holy One or consulting the Lord. They believed in him, in their way; but they weren’t looking to him. Their real faith was in human power. Isaiah understands that some “helps” are inconsistent with God. If you need money, for example, it isn’t wrong to get a job. But it is wrong to steal. You can work and trust God at the same time. But you can’t steal and trust God at the same time, because stealing factors God out, as if he doesn’t care. And God wants us to trust him in ways that count, so that he can prove himself to us in ways that count. He wants reality with us. But any so-called help that diminishes our experience of God always turns out to be just another Egyptian slave-master.
We can think of “Egypt,” then, as a cipher for anything I think I need outside the promises of God. And that’s why Judah was wrong to go down to Egypt for help. God had declared his commitment to them. Their Biblical creed was, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God” (Psalm 20:7). But now, going down to Egypt for the help God had already promised them, they were going back to the bondage he had saved them from in the first place. They were throwing their salvation into reverse gear and holding God’s love in contempt. They expected nothing from him. He was a theory — a beautiful theory — while their modus operandi for real life said in effect, “Whatever gain I have in Christ I count as loss for the sake of the world. I have suffered the loss of Christ and count him as rubbish, in order that I may gain the world” (cf. Philippians 3:7, 8).
We all feel vulnerable. But Christ means it when he says, “Let not your hearts be troubled” (John 14:1). He means it when he says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). What do we need to understand to experience his serenity? We need to understand that the “Assyria” threatening us is not our real crisis. Our real crisis is our own unbelief in God. Our real danger is not when we’re exposed to the brutalities of life; our real danger is when our hearts are not filled with a sense of God. What we most need is not to find a way to cope with our distress. What we most need is reality with God, so that we can live out of the inner fullness he gives, whatever life may bring.
Judah’s first problem, then, is that they weren’t living by faith in God. They didn’t sense that “the battle is the LORD’s” (1 Samuel 17:47). The second problem with Judah’s alliance with Egypt is the flip side. They were trusting in chariots “because they are many” and in horsemen “because they are very strong” (Isaiah 31:1). In other words, they were impressed with what human minds and human skills can control, manage, and understand. But trusting in many chariots and strong horsemen never works. It only compounds our feelings of nakedness because we’re always left wondering who has more chariots and stronger horsemen. When we step outside the promises of God, we only find more uncertainty.
Quite right. And I repeat: seeking to make our culture, our laws, and our governments better is not in vain, and we should all work toward such things. But we dare not put all our hope in this. At the end of the day our only hope is God. Without him we are toast. No amount of cultural transformation will get us very far if God is not in the very centre of all our efforts.
I trust that the words found here will be of help to my readers. But the truth is, I wrote this piece mainly for myself! I for one need to keep learning these truths over and over again. My faith is far too weak. I am far too overwhelmed by the diabolical darkness sweeping over the whole earth. I need to learn to trust God more fully. I need to learn to keep my eyes on him alone.
I need some hope right now. Please pray for me that I will be a man of faith and trust.
32 Replies to “Hope For the Hopeless”
Wow, thank you so much for this word, Bill! Only half an hour ago I posted a little piece on my blog which seems to follow a similar theme to what you have written here. I saw your article pop up and it encouraged me a lot… so I hope you receive encouragement in return!
Many thanks Olivia. I just looked up your piece – good stuff indeed. Here it is for others to read:
Dear Mr Muehlenberg,
Please be encouraged!
Very, very much is being worked on behind the scenes at this time to restore good in our world, by those inspired and raised up by our Lord to fight and overcome terrible evil. I received a long call from such a truth warrior in England last night, full of hope and encouragement.
I am nowhere near as sophisticated as you, however have felt prompted by the Lord to start a simple website entitled ‘Darkness to Light’, to shine light on darkness and bring truth and hope.
Thank you very much for allowing me to mention this here. It will be active soon.
God bless you for your faithfulness,
Thanks so much Lily. Blessings.
Thank you Bill – God bless you! Your writing never ceases to bless, challenge and encourage me. Keep on keeping on, brother.
Much appreciated Michelle!
I’m praying for you Bill. We need people like to give us light in these dark times.
Do you know anyone who has received Word about what the near future might bring? We certainly seem to be heading for apocalypse very quickly now.
Im with you on this bill
Thanks SO much Bill
Very timely word!!!
Thanks Argets, George and Janette.
You are in my prayers Bill, and this post I will forward to all my children. Right at this moment they are all struggling with the weight of things, and not only are you are not alone, but your words speak to the heart of the situation.
Praise God who gives you wisdom and strength,
Much appreciated Mark.
As Luther said ‘ where the battle rages the fiercest, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved’.
My brother Christ Jesus, know that you are a good soldier of Jesus Christ, a man of Issachar and watchman on the wall, because you have created this ministry and therefore stepped out of the boat despite the fierce waves of adversity that surround you. How many of God’s people throughout history wrestled with doubts, feelings of weak faith etc?
You have sown many many seeds, that God will cause to germinate and grow even unto harvest. His Name is Faithful and True. May God send you many Barnabas’. In Christ Jesus. Nigel Mohammed
Many thanks indeed Nigel – bless you.
I am so grateful for your work – so spirit driven.
I also find your readers responses to your posts remarkable and the links supplied so beneficial.
I too find myself weeping for our Nation. Then your timely posts arrive which reminds me to put my trust, faith and hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
It is lonely with division everywhere within Families, friends even our Church – when Fear begins to grip me my mind goes to Jesus our redeemer.
I listen to three prophets, Robin D Bullock, Hank Kunneman and Bo Polny to keep my faith strong. Prophets are supposed to tell us what God is saying for this time or ahead of time. If they don’t then they are false prophets.
I’m so encouraged by your post. I had actually stopped reading your blog because it was so dark and negative which I understand is just a reflection of the evil time we live in. I too feel the darkness unfolding around us and I too struggle with trusting the Lord that all of this is under His sovereign hand. As believers I don’t think we should live with our head in the sand but we can still find joy and peace. But most of all we need to be encouraging one another and building each other up in the faith. So be encouraged dear brother.
Thanks for that Debbie.
Dear, dear Bill.
One of your closing sentences above so strongly resonates with me: “I am far too overwhelmed by the diabolical darkness that is sweeping the whole earth”
I have been married to my wife for 47 years. We have 3 children, 2 are married and we have 6 grandchildren. All our children and spouses are strong committed Christians and as parents they too are raising their children and instructing them in the Lord.
I know I am appointed by God to be the main one in our family to always encourage, pray for and always point them to Jesus, especially as a number of them are feeling the weight of the sentence quoted above and so too am I, to a lesser degree.
I committed my life to Christ on the 4th April 1977, some 44 years ago and in all honesty have never felt a sense of evil darkness enveloping the whole world. I have a basic understanding of the scriptures but believe the time we are living in now
is described in 2 Thessalonians 2 v 11 where our precious Lord is realising a strong delusion to expose the wickedness of mankind.
I have said all of the above Bill to lead me to my final conclusion.
I came across CultureWatch some 4 years ago and can honestly say my faith today, standing strong, in many ways is because of “your ministry” that God is using mightily to bless many, many people around the world, not the least being my family.
I feel a physical closeness to you and your family as I believe you live not far from Koorong Book shop in Blackburn and I live in Gisborne, an hour and half drive by car.
I have left an anonymous donation at the book shop at Koorong to encourage you to keep reading great books and made a number of donations on your website and pray regularly for you and your family.
We are all redeemed sinners washed by Christ’s blood and are also blessed to be led by strong and articulate warriors like you Bill.
Many many blessings; Terry
Many thanks indeed Terry – bless you heaps! It sounds like I better get to Koorong – except I can’t: Dictator Dan has it locked down once again, along with most of the entire state. Blessings to you and your family Terry.
Destruction accomplishes his goals as much as construction. Remember Ancient Israel was EITHER to be so blessed people knew they followed God OR so cursed that people knew God had done this because of they left him. BOTH were options and BOTH glorified God. Sometimes it is the downfalls that truly stick out to people the cursed nation that was once blessed that has the big impact. National, and even the West, destruction simply means he has shifted from one phase of dealing to another. Still when you have to live through the cursed phase it isn’t pleasant. Jeremiah worked hard in his country’s cursed phase and it was no stroll in the park but I’m even he found some few moments here and there to enjoy.
One way or another the West, and those who look upon her, will know HE is God and there is no other.
Praying for you, Bill. Keep up the good work!
Thank you Mike.
That’s great encouragement and rebuke at the same time. Our human side can get the better of us sometimes, so thanks for the timely reminder that indeed our trust is in God, not man. The battle is on, so we keep fighting, trusting God to use us in anyway He chooses. Thank you for your faithful ministry all these years. God bless you Bill. His will be done!
Many thanks Tim. Bless you.
Hi Terry I am reminded of a quote “we are surrounded by signs and portents and I feel a darkness pressing at our backs”. Lately though it seems more to be shoving than pressing!
Jeremiah may be able to give us the best inspiration now. Certainly there are books on Jeremiah that would prove useful right Bill???
Thanks Paul. Well, I just finished reading Jeremiah recently, and have penned some new articles on it, such as this recent piece: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2021/08/23/scripture-government-submission-and-resistance-part-one/
And yes there are many good books one could mention here. I mention a bunch in this piece: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2020/12/12/bible-study-helps-jeremiah/
Of them, one new book that I very much like is this one:
Goldingay, John, The Theology of Jeremiah: The Book, the Man, the Message. IVP, 2021.
So grateful that you continue to be a voice in the darkness. What you have been feeling is part of the war against control and manipulation which is witchcraft. In a practical sense, and you know this already, put the worship music on and rise up into the secret place. I keep being told this: go higher psalm 91. I dream it too. Praying for you dear brother, you are doing so well as you fight for the church and the nation.
Many thanks Gerrie. Bless you.
The “hinge-pin” of Lamentations is Chapter 3. The prophet, God’s “strongman”, seems to be pulverised beyond degree by verse 20. However, from then on, the word “hope” and its causes in the compassions, the acts of lovingkindness and faithfulness of the LORD keep bursting irrepressibly through the gloom that was for Jeremiah and his people a cataclysmic national catastrophe. Even when in the deepest of pits, Jeremiah heard the LORD answer his cries with “Do not fear!”. – Lamentations 3:57…
Thanks John. Yes the linchpin of Lamentations 3 would be verses 21-26:
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”
The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.
See my discussion here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2015/10/22/the-book-of-lamentations/