Finite Disappointment, Infinite Hope

Most of us are in the midst of a very real struggle. Though our trials may have many flavors, one commonality unifies: the temptation towards hopelessness. Broken relationships. Devastating diagnoses. Prodigal children. Financial crisis. Infertility. Internal battles that no one may ever know or understand. All threaten to suck the life out of us, to lure us into defeat. They whisper lies about us and our circumstances that can render us paralyzed. How do we stand and fight this enemy of our souls when our arms are up, ready to wave the white flag of surrender?

I believe that Martin Luther King’s life gives great insight into this pressing question. He had to have been one of the most resilient men to ever live! I love listening to audio recordings of his speeches, pondering what it was that made this man press on despite all of the resistance he faced. He was undoubtedly brilliant, but not just because his mind was filled with knowledge. No, he was brilliant because he had trained himself to rise above temporary circumstances and fix his attention on the promise God had given him. With this vision, he pressed on through excruciating setbacks. He is quoted as saying, “We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope.” His life backed these words.

I believe ours can, too.

On the night before his assassination, he gave a speech in Memphis called “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”. In the days prior, he’d faced extreme difficulty and numerous death threats. His final public words give great insight into how he was able to stand unwaveringly despite all of this:

“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land! And so I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!”

This mountaintop reference is symbolic of Moses’ encounter with God on Mount Nebo. God showed Moses all of the land surrounding him and made a promise that his descendants would possess it. MLK, like Moses, speaks of a similar mountaintop experience with God where he had been given the promise of success for his people.

Martin Luther King’s unshakeable confidence, his fearless resolve, came from his encounter with the Promise Maker. One brush with God- one experience of His glory- one word from His mouth- and suddenly fear was defeated. Discouragement was buried under a mound of hope. Doubt was swallowed up by belief.

Charles Spurgeon once said, “I have learned to kiss the wave that slams me into the Rock of Ages.” May our struggles cause us to draw near to the Lord. May they make our ears attuned to a promise from His Word that will bring renewed hope, belief, and resolve. Seek Him through His Word and prayer. He will never turn away those desperate for His presence.

“My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” Psalm 51:17

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21


When Believing in God Doesn’t Change You

I’ve believed in Jesus for as long as I can remember. As a little girl, each time my family and I went to church, I’d repeat the salvation prayer with the pastor at the end of the sermon. I guess I wanted to make sure it took the first 10 times! Even with this intellectual belief, though, there was no real life change. My heart still desired the same things and my mind still relied on its own way to get them.

Last Saturday morning, my eyes were opened to new meaning behind a well-known account in the book of Genesis. A man named Jacob, a child of God and heir of the covenant promise, also had an intellectual belief that hadn’t changed his behavior. He habitually relied on manipulation and deceit to get what he wanted. As was common in this day, his life reflected the meaning of his name: “he deceives”. How’s that for an omen?

What I find interesting, though, is what God used to change Jacob. Here’s what happened in a nutshell: Jacob is met by a man that wrestles him all night. The man couldn’t overpower him, so he gives Jacob a dislocated hip. The man changes his name, and then it dawns on Jacob that the man was actually God. Weird. But what does this have to do with life change? Here are some things I believe are worth noting:

  1. God brought Jacob to a point of exhaustion. A typical collegiate wrestling match lasts only seven minutes, but by the time it’s over, these tip-top athletes are panting and dripping with sweat. Jacob wrestled God All. Night. Long. In effect, God wore him down. God had to first rid Jacob of his own strength before true life change could be birthed.
  2. God gave Jacob a weakness. Even after all of this wrestling, Jacob still refused to submit to his Contender. So scripture says that God “touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man.” Since Jacob wouldn’t give up through exhaustion, God stepped it up a notch and gave him a weakness that encouraged submission.
  3. God prompted Jacob’s repentance. Giving another person your name during Jacob’s time was an act of yielding. God asked his name, and Jacob finally surrendered and admitted his sin of self-reliance. “Deceiver (Jacob)”, he answered.
  4. God changed Jacob’s name. After God exhausted Jacob’s self-reliance and prompted his confession, the soil was ready for God to plant a new seed in Jacob’s life. He changed his name to Israel. In doing this, God changed his trajectory from deceiver to overcomer. No longer would he rely on control, manipulation, and deceit to obtain a blessing; his reliance would be on God alone.

If you, too, are worn out from your own way, I encourage you to hear God’s loving invitation from James:

James 4:6-10 (Amplified)

Therefore, it says, “God is opposed to the proud and haughty, but[continually] gives [the gift of] grace to the humble [who turn away from self-righteousness].” So submit to [the authority of] God. Resist the devil [stand firm against him] and he will flee from you. Come close to God [with a contrite heart] and He will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; and purify your [unfaithful] hearts, you double-minded [people]. Be miserable and grieve and weep [over your sin]. Let your [foolish] laughter be turned to mourning and your [reckless] joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves [with an attitude of repentance and insignificance] in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you [He will lift you up, He will give you purpose].

How to Encourage Yourself When No One Else Will

Our culture is obsessed with self-esteem. I often find myself caught up in the hype, especially when my kids are involved. This past fall we signed our four-year-old son up for soccer. Between the coach reprimanding him for playing with pretend airplanes on the field and him missing almost every goal he attempted, my heart broke at the thought that he may feel badly about himself and his abilities. In an effort to undo any hits to his confidence, I found myself saying “Great job, buddy!” and giving him an enthusiastic thumbs up every time he so much as glanced in my direction. I used to joke about the “every kid gets a trophy” mentality, but now I understand. The struggle is real!

Despite this struggle, I do believe it can be hugely beneficial to call out another’s God-given gifts and potential. (In fact, my church offered a sermon series on this called Shout Out that I’d highly recommend if you haven’t listened yet.)  I have benefitted greatly from people blessing me with their gracious words, and I believe we can halt the enemy’s attack over our minds by speaking life over people in these ways. God’s Word even tells us to honor one another and consider how to spur one another on towards love and good deeds.

But what do we do when our shortcomings, weaknesses, or inadequacies are exposed? When no amount of compliments or others pointing out the positive can overcome the painful reality that a certain weakness may never be removed from our lives? For some, this weakness may be a physical or mental disability. For others, maybe it’s a mental illness or disease that you’ve struggled with for years. Our weaknesses can take many forms, but there is one common denominator: they can render us hopeless if we choose to dwell on them.

I believe there is a way to build ourselves up that leads to lasting peace and confidence- even when we have glaring flaws. God is seen throughout the Bible using this method to encourage His people, and this is how I’ve learned to effectively encourage myself.

In the book of Exodus, God calls Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. This was no small feat- there were 600,000 of them, and this number didn’t include women and children. I’m not sure about you, but I would have had my fair share of reasons for God as to why I was NOT the person for this job. And so did Moses- one of which was his stuttering problem. Can you even imagine leading a charge of that many people with a speech impediment? We look to leaders who are confident, eloquent, charismatic, sure of themselves… and here was Moses.

Now let’s picture God saying to Moses (or Gideon or David or Jeremiah, for that matter) what we might be tempted to say: “Oh Moses, you can do it! Great job, buddy (insert enthusiastic thumbs up)! You definitely have what it takes to lead these people. Keep up the great work!”

It’s almost laughable! Why? Because there is no way that he could do what God had asked him to do without some SERIOUS divine assistance.

And the same is true for us.

So what did God tell Moses and Gideon and Jeremiah and David when they were afraid and unsure of themselves? I’ll summarize it for you: God highlights the fact that His power in us is not limited by our weakness. It’s magnified. (See Exodus 4:12, Judges 6:16, Jeremiah 1:7-8, Psalms… just Psalms!) God strengthened these men by reminding them of His help and power. If God is for us, who and what can be against us?

What if the next time we were unsure of our abilities, we reminded ourselves of God’s? Instead of worrying about the way we may appear to others, let’s remind ourselves that God establishes and defends our reputation. Instead of concerning ourselves with whether or not we are fit for our current occupation or calling, let’s remind ourselves that God can and will provide everything we need for the task to which He has called us. Instead of worrying about how our physical ailments may limit us, let’s remind ourselves that He is perfectly able to show Himself strong in our weakness.

With every revealing of our lack there is a corresponding revelation of God’s abundance. I encourage you to consider where you feel unsure and inadequate and allow God’s Word to fill you with unshakable confidence in His power and provision.