“Don’t be jealous of sinners; instead, always fear the Lord. For then you will have a future, and your hope will never fade.” – Proverbs 23:17-18.
It is so easy to become burdened and to feel hopeless. I’ve got to be honest, I can think of three specific times in my life when, even as a Christian, I just felt like there was no hope at all. The weight of my current tribulation was seemingly too much to bear. I thank my God that He gave me the long-suffering to come out of those trials. But every time I look back on them in retrospect, I am amazed at my unbelief and a little ashamed that I thought so little of my God and His divine omnipotence.
The English language is loaded with idioms that are supposed to give us encouragement in difficult times: “Keep your head up.” “When life gives lemons, make lemonade.” “It’s all in your head.” “Hang in there.” Etc, etc, etc. But when you’re in the lowest pit you can possibly imagine and the proverbial walls are “closing in on you,” these cute little word pictures are far from helpful. Have you ever been there before? Where you’re just so low, you can’t imagine getting any lower? Future fading… hope depleting?
When we find ourselves at that point, we very often employ tunnel-vision as a means of coping. We focus on the problem so much that even if the solution were right beside us, we wouldn’t be able to see it… because our gaze is fixed on what is pressing, evident, and traumatic. Everyone does this. Many times, these trials that we find so debilitating last only a short time. In those cases, the problems themselves fade by way of external circumstances (orchestrated by the hand of a providential God). Other times, however, the debilitating problem is one that will stay. It is a life-changing event or reality. “Normal” as you have known it will no longer be an option. That doesn’t mean that “normal” can no longer exist for you – it just means that “normal” will be a new normal. In counseling, we call this the “Preferred Future Context,” or “PFC.” What do you want your future to look like from this point on? How will you know when this new normality has been constructed? What mile-markers have you placed for yourself along the way? Because if you don’t know what you’re looking for, you surely will never find it. That doesn’t mean you have to forget what normal used to be like. But developing a new goal requires backing up from tunnel-vision and using the full range of your vision, including peripherals, to see the possibilities. Sometimes, when we start really looking into the PFC, we discover that the new normal can be much like the old normal, only missing a few things, or with the addition of a few things. Many times we find that the aspirations we projected in our old normal are still viable possibilities in our new normal.
But where do we start? Going back to the proverb above quoted, we see that future and hope on this side of heaven must be rooted in a fear of the Lord, and free from the coveting of worldly gain. No doubt biblical “hope” in its purest, most relevant sense is the hope of eternal life that can only be found in Christ Jesus (Hebrews 6:17-20, Acts 4:12). That hope is predominant. It is the only hope that can fill the deepest need of one’s soul. But then there is the kind of hope mentioned in this proverb… hope for the future of our life in the flesh. A hope that expects things and wants things. A hope that constructs a desired outcome (a PFC), sets parameters in place that will guard it, and builds roadways that will make it accessible. What kinds of things do we hope for in this way? A strong marriage… A better career… Deep personal friendships… Godly children. God’s desire for your life does not stop with salvation. Your future on this side of heaven matters to Him. But it starts with a “fear” of the Lord. A holy respect and an attitude of awe toward Him. A recognition of His supremacy not just in the cosmos, but in your personal life as well. A relinquishing of jealousy over what the ungodly may have or achieve. A commitment to His Supreme Lordship over your life.
Once that is settled… … … are you there yet? … … … Once we establish that firm relationship with the Lord, in a holy fear of His headship, and once we relinquish the desire for jealous worldly gain, then we can start constructing our PFC and believe the principles in this proverb – that we “will have a future,” and our “hope will never fade.”
1. We will have a future. Do you know that when all we see is tunnel vision for an extended period of time, often we assure ourselves that the future is nonexistent? Again, we are talking about our future for this life, not the next. Sometimes, we have messed up so badly that because of our own sin, we believe we have absolutely ruined our chances of being a godly person ever again. Sometimes, we think our marriage is so far gone that there’s just no way it can possibly be repaired and restored. Sometimes we think the world (or God) has dealt us such an insufferable hand that there is just no playing it out. Better to fold and cut our losses. Yes, you know what I’m talking about. But that is a lie from the enemy himself. Birthed in the pits of Hell, it is a malicious attack on the truth God has revealed to you. You are significant because Romans 5:8. You are secure because 1 Peter 1:3-5. What can you or anyone else possibly do that is so horrendous it negates the power of Almighty God in this life? In the midst of real crisis, your future may not be exactly what you planned on it being, but it still has the same potential of being God-honoring and significant as it did when you were conceived in your mother’s womb. God is in the business of restoration. He is in the business of healing and reconciliation. He holds the monopoly on hope. If you don’t do something drastic that ends your present, you will have a future. And that future has just as much potential as it always has. No question about it.
2. Hope will never fade. Do you remember the story of Rahab the prostitute? Talk about a good way to “ruin” your life, from a worldly perspective. She was the lowest of low. Someone who sold her body for money, living in the great city of Jericho, which God was about to hand over to the nation of Israel. What did the two Hebrew scouts tell Rahab to put up as a sign so that she and her family would be spared? Joshua 2:17-18… a “line,” or a rope, of scarlet thread. It was the rope she used to lower the Hebrew spies into her home from the roof in order to save them the impending danger from Jericho’s legal authorities. Rahab was in serious trouble. She was in the lowest pit of her life – a blatant sinner, with no spiritual or worldly sense of future… and to make matters worse, Yahweh was about to come in and destroy her city. Her future was sealed, seemingly… she would die for her sins along with the rest of Jericho. BUT… if she would tie this “line” to the window, she would have a future and a hope. In the Hebrew, this word “line” is tiqvah, the same word the author of the proverb uses for “hope” in Proverbs 23:18. If we keep a clear head about God’s sovereignty, it acts as a line – a rope – of confidence for our future. When the path ahead is smothered with fog, hold on to the line and follow it in faith. That line will guide you to your future. The hope that never fades, in this scenario, is a hope that is tied to something solid at the end of our path. We know that ultimately it is anchored to Jesus, the Rock of our Salvation. But even as we travel through the translucent near and the distant future of our earthly walk, the line – the hope – never fades. When our peripherals fail, and our tunnel-vision prevails, we must hold to the rope. It is as sure in perceived defeat as it is in perceived victory.
There is never a point in your life, as long as breath is in your body, that God looks at you and says, “she’s hopeless.” For the Christian, there is not a sin so great that God would say, “Okay, you have left me with absolutely nothing to work with.” Marriages that go through the fire end up refined and purer than ever. People that suffer through illness come out on the other side with a newfound respect for God’s healing. Individuals in the middle of a financial meltdown who walk the long road of restoration find respect for frugality and wise management. Church members who confess severe spiritual failure and travel the path of reconciliation find forgiveness and family. It happens all the time.
This is not to say that your future will be “normal” like your past. So often, I have to remind people (including myself) that what was “normal” in the past was not working… and that’s why we are in our present danger. But there is a future – a new normal. And that hope does not fade. If only you will seek the Lord and fear Him.
Grace and Peace,