Finding Hope in a Hopeless World
August 13, 2006 | Brian Bill
Good morning. My name is Abraham. I thought it was time for me to speak to you since the Apostle Paul has been using me as an example in Romans 4 and your pastor dropped the ball by only alluding to me last week. I think he needs to do a better job so that’s why I’m here today. Sometimes he gets so fixated on the Promised Land that he forgets that the promise of a luscious land flowing with milk and cheese (I mean, honey) was given first to me. Another reason I thought you needed to hear from me today is that while I am honored by Jews, Muslims and Christians it seems that Christians know less about me than the sons of Isaac and the sons of Ishmael do. Another reason why I wanted to speak to you is because I come from the part of the world that has grabbed headlines today. I grew up in Iraq and eventually settled in what you know as Israel. Finally, I wanted to speak to you because many of you are having a hard time with hope. Some of you feel hopeless in your heart. I’d like to share my story so that you can find hope in a hopeless world.
I should say at the beginning that I’m embarrassed at the thought that the Apostle Paul and other writers hold me up as an example. If you’re going to copy anything about me, please don’t mimic my conduct or follow my compromises. I am simply a simple man who strived to take God at His Word. When God promised something I tried to believe Him, even though I bombed on many occasions. I told some big lies at least twice (that you know about), which put my wife in danger and I tried to make things happen according to my timetable many times. But, by God’s grace, I was always drawn back to believing in the promises and power of God. As you’ve been learning through your study of Romans, I was not justified by my behavior, but by my belief in God. Moses captured it simply and succinctly when he wrote this summary statement in Genesis 15:6: “Abraham believed the Lord, and He credited it to him as righteousness.”
Your pastor didn’t give me much time this morning so if you want to learn more about my life you should read Genesis 12-25. I had been pretty comfortable living in Iraq when God appeared to me, giving me a command and a promise. Incidentally, this is always how God works. When we obey Him, we experience His promises and we end up being blessed, but I’m getting ahead of myself. God called me to leave my country, my people and my family and go to a land that He would show me. I was told that God would make me into a great nation, that He would bless me and through me all peoples on earth would be blessed. I didn’t really understand this, and certainly wondered why God would make that kind of promise to a pagan like me, but I obeyed, taking my wife Sarai and my nephew Lot with me. I was 75 years old at the time. I should say that some of you are getting up in years yourself. Don’t think that God is done with you. If you’ve been on the sidelines, it’s time to get back in the game. I should also mention that while I obeyed and went to the land God directed me to, at the first sign of trouble; I resorted to my own resources. Faced with a famine, instead of going to the Lord for help, I decided to go to Egypt. The very first words from my mouth recorded in Scripture involved deceit, as I told my wife to lie when the Egyptians asked who she was. I was horrified by what happened next and realized how sinister and selfish I can be. I was struck by how quickly I headed south when things got tough – not just geographically, but also spiritually. I suspect the same kind of horrible stuff has taken harbor in your hearts as well.
God’s promise that Sarai and I were going to have a child was both puzzling and maddening. I was way past my prime and my sweet Sarai had never been able to have children. The only thing she had given birth to was hopelessness and despair. In our culture childlessness was considered a curse. When I told my wife that we were going to have a child, she thought I was just playing a cruel joke on her. I remember negotiating with God and asking him if this promise could just be poured out on my servant Eliezer. God patiently redirected me, telling me to look up at the heavens and count the stars, telling me that that I would have a son from my own body and that my offspring would outnumber the stars in the sky. God even entered into a covenant of blood with me to show how serious He was.
After ten years of living with no heir, Sarai’s hopelessness led her to ask me to have a child with her servant Hagar. This was a surrogate solution but it wasn’t what God had wanted. When she got pregnant, Sarai was even more devastated and forced Hagar to flee into the wilderness. She gave birth to a son named Ishmael, who though he was my boy, was not the son of promise. I was 86 years old at the time. When I was 99 years old, God confirmed his covenant with me and gave circumcision as the sign of it. I was learning to trust the Lord, even as I faced the facts about my own situation. I tried to not doubt. God told me again that Sarai and I would have a son. I wanted to believe but I also was really struck with how funny all this was. I remember falling facedown and laughing out loud as I considered how hilarious it would be for a 100-year-old man to father a child with a 90-year-old wife! But then God got real specific in Genesis 17:21: “But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.”
Having faith is pretty funny, because it often flies in the face of facts
When Sarah overhead that we were going to have a baby boy, she couldn’t contain herself and laughed like crazy. God didn’t really appreciate her guffaw because it revealed her lack of faith. But God was so gracious to her when he declared in Genesis 18:14: “Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son.” Having faith is pretty funny, because it often flies in the face of facts. What’s even funnier is that we did have a boy and we named him Isaac, which means “he laughs.” Sarah has such a sweet spirit because after Isaac was born I remember her saying, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.”
That’s enough about me and my experience for now. With that as background, let’s listen to how Paul applies my experience in Romans 4:18-21: “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead-since he was about a hundred years old-and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.”
There was no human way that Abraham and Sarah could have a son. All hope was lost, and yet Abraham hung on with some hope. That’s the challenge isn’t it? How do we have hope when we feel hopeless? How can we stay strong when we feel like giving up? Abraham held on to hope only because he kept going back to what God had said, “So shall your offspring be.” Likewise, if we want to see hope grow again in our hearts, we must go back to God’s Word. The seed of hope will only grow in the soil of Scripture.
I’d like to draw some biblical principles from this passage that God can use to give you and I hope in the midst of whatever hopelessness we might be experiencing right now. In order for this preaching time to become practical, I’d like you to think of a hopeless situation right now and as we go through these timeless truths I’d like you to apply God’s Word to whatever you are facing. As I mentioned last week, it could be a relational rupture, some family friction, a hopeless health situation, a career crisis, financial fears, or something else. As we walk through God’s Word, draw some encouragement from the words of Clare Boothe Luce: “There are no hopeless situations; there are only people who have grown hopeless about them.”
1. Face the facts (19).
This first step may surprise you. Before you and I can find hope we must first face the facts of our situation. Look at verse 19: “…he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead — since he was about a hundred years old — and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.” To “face the fact” literally means to consider carefully by fixing one’s eyes on something. This seems simple enough but many people today either live in denial or with a sense that it’s somehow not spiritual to assess the mess we’re in. Abraham knew how absurd it was for him to be able to father a child and for his wife to be able to get pregnant. The word “dead” here is in the perfect tense, meaning it was a permanent condition. All of his reproductive abilities had died and Sarah’s womb was like a tomb. He was in need of a double miracle. Hebrews 11:12 confirms that Abraham was “as good as dead.”
Friend, let me state the obvious. Whenever you have faith or are called to have faith, there will always be obstacles and difficulties. Circumstances will always seem overwhelming. What’s the truth about the situation you’re in? Face the facts. Don’t go into denial. Jettison trite spiritual jargon. You may need some help from another person who can do some truth telling with you. Whatever you need to do, the first step is to face the facts.
2. Deal with your doubts (20a).
It’s natural to experience some doubts, especially when you’re discouraged and dismayed. Listen carefully. Doubts don’t disqualify you but they can certainly derail you if they’re not dealt with. Look at the first part of verse 20: “Yet he did not waver through unbelief…” The work “waver” means to be divided or to separate. This is similar in meaning to James 1:8 when we’re told to not allow doubt to have the final word: “…he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.” For Abraham the doubts were there and they were real but he didn’t allow them to take control. Specifically, he knew that he was an old goat and his wife was infertile, but he didn’t allow his mind to stay on these things. He didn’t dwell on his doubts.
I’m reminded of the situation in the Book of Nehemiah when God’s people were working on the wall with all their might and then they suddenly stopped because they allowed doubts to creep in. Specifically, when they took their eyes off of God and instead started looking at all the rubble and rubbish around them, they wanted to give up. Listen to Nehemiah 4:10: “…there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.” Here’s a question. Wasn’t the rubble there in the beginning? Of course it was. The difference was that when they started the project they were focused on God and His character. Now, they had become rubble-gazers. Friend, if you focus on all the junk in your life, and in the lives of others, you will doubt and become discouraged. Let’s determine to be God-gazers instead of rubble-gazers, OK?
What doubts do you need to deal with related to the specific situation you are facing right now? Do battle with unbelief or it will win and you will unravel. Tell God about your doubts. Be like the father who was struggling with issues related to his son when he said in Mark 9:24: “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
3. Ponder the promises of God (20b).
After facing the facts and dealing with your doubts, then focus on the faithfulness of God. The only way I know to find hope is to lock into the Lord’s promises. Notice the next phrase of verse 20: “…regarding the promise of God.” We must always come back to these questions: What has God said about this? What promises has He made? I like what D. Martin Lloyd-Jones once said about faith: “It must be anchored to the bare Word of God and on nothing else whatsoever.” If you think about it, Abraham had no one to talk to about this and certainly no precedent to follow. All he had was the promise of God, and that was more than enough.
Whatever you’re struggling with, God has a promise for you
It’s very interesting that if you go back to Genesis, God repeats His promise five times – in chapters 12, 13, 15, 17, and 21. It’s as if He knows that Abraham is going to struggle to believe and so he repeats the promise until He believes it. Interestingly, the word “promise” or “promised” appears five times in Romans 4 as well. Think about your impossible situation once again. You’ve now faced the facts and you’ve started to deal with your doubts. Now it’s time to claim God’s promises. Numbers 23:19 says, “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” Here’s where God’s Word must become very dear to you. Whatever you’re struggling with, God has a promise for you. Pull out your concordance, which is in the back of many of your Bibles and simply look up verses that deal with your situation.
As an example, here are four promises just from Romans 8:
- I am forever free from condemnation (Romans 8:1-2)
- I am assured that everything works together for good (Romans 8:28)
- I am free from any charge against me (Romans 8:31-34)
- I cannot be separated from the love of God (Romans 8:35-39)
4. Allow God to fortify your faith (20c).
I find this next step very encouraging. When we face the facts, deal with our doubts and ponder the promises of God, God Himself will fortify our faith. Look at the next phrase: “…but was strengthened in his faith…” The word “strengthened” means to “put power in,” like when we put gas in our cars. Aren’t you glad that God doesn’t expect faith the size of a mountain? Actually, when we have faith the size of a mustard seed, God can move mountains. And, when we exhibit even a little faith in a big God, God grows our faith. The question is not how little or how big your faith is, it’s a question of how big your God is.
I’m encouraged that God doesn’t count Abraham’s waffling and sin against him. Sometimes we think that because of how we’ve acted in the past that there is no way God can use us now. What one thing can you trust God with right now? Maybe your faith is small but that’s OK. God will grow it. Go back to that hopeless situation you identified at the beginning. As you ponder God’s promises, tell Him that you’re going to take Him at His Word and believe what He says.
5. Give glory to God (20d).
Part of our problem when we feel hopeless is that we become consumed with ourselves. The way out of this selfish spiral is to begin giving all glory and honor to God. Instead of looking within, it’s time to look above. Abraham did this as we see in the last part of verse 20: “…and gave glory to God.” George Mueller says, “There is no glory for God in that which is humanly possible. Faith begins where man’s power ends.” This is similar in thought to Ken Sande’s approach to biblical peacemaking when he states that conflict is an opportunity for us to give glory to God. It’s when we’re in those tough and tense times that we can give glory to God when we do what’s right and fight for peace. John Stott says that we glorify God when we let God be God! We give Him glory when we give Him credit and when we put His promises into practice.
In what ways can you give glory to God right now? How can you thank Him? What one thing can you do that you know you need to do? The best way to give Him glory is by obeying Him. Behave according to what you believe. That will bring Him glory. Hebrews 11:6: “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”
6. Commit yourself to the character of God (21).
The only way to find hope is to find safe harbor in God and His character. Verse 21 teaches us that because God is all-powerful and that He keeps His promises, we can be fully persuaded that He will do what He says He will do: “Being fully persuaded that God has power to do what He had promised.” It took 25 long years, but Abraham was completely convinced that God had the power to do what He had promised. He considered everything carefully and because of God’s character, He chose to believe. Have you been waiting a long time for God to act? Settle the fact that it’s not because God is impotent. He is powerful enough to do anything. The issue is ultimately whether something is His will or not, and if it is, then it becomes a matter of His timing.
I really like how a good friend of mine explains the process of faith development: “Faith is belief plus unbelief and acting on the belief part. Faith is not 100% certainty. Faith means seeing the promise and the problems, and then deciding to act on the promise even before you see it fulfilled. Faith doesn’t wait. Faith acts. It takes the proverbial leap into the dark. If God’s not there, you’re in for a fast ride to the rocks below. If he is there, then you’ll be okay. But you’ll never know till you jump.”
This happened to Abraham when God changed his name from Abram, which means “father of many” to Abraham, “father of a vast, vast multitude.” If the first name was a stretch, this second name seems preposterous. Really at that particular time his name should have been something like Abechad, “father of one” because his only child was Ishmael. Here’s the amazing thing. God changed his name when he was 99 years old, before Isaac was even conceived. His friends thought he was crazy before, now they think he’s nuts!
Incidentally, I think Abraham’s faith was fortified in large part because God progressively revealed His character to Him by using seven of His names or titles.
- God of Glory (Acts 7:2)
- Jehovah (Genesis 12:8; 14:22; 15:2)
- El Elyon (Genesis 14:19-22)
- Lord (Genesis 15:2, 8)
- El Shaddai (Genesis 17:1)
- The Everlasting God (Genesis 21:33)
- Jehovah Jireh (Genesis 22:14)
We must fight for faith by not dwelling on our doubts. God will grow our faith and reveal more of Himself to us when we step out in faith and commit to His character. My favorite definition of faith comes from Philip Yancey who said, “Faith means believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse.” If we wait until all the circumstances are in our favor, we’ll wait forever.
David didn’t wait for Goliath to go away. He went down into the valley with his slingshot, making this declaration of faith in 1 Samuel 17:45: “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.” Everyone else had allowed their fears and doubts to take control. Their problems had paralyzed them. But David relied on the name of the Lord Almighty and ran into battle. Likewise, if we wait for our doubts to disappear, we’ll have to wait a long time. Sooner or later, we have to act on the belief part.
An Illustration of Restored Hope
Allow me to illustrate these six principles from the third chapter of Lamentations. Jeremiah is lamenting all that he has lost. The city of Jerusalem lies in ruins and his hope has almost vanished.
- Faced the Facts. Listen to verse 18: “My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the Lord.”
- Dealt with Doubts. In verse 21 he forces himself to remember what is true: “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope.”
- Pondered the Promise of God. The only way out of hopelessness is through the promises of God. We hear these familiar words in verses 22-23: “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.”
- Allowed God to Fortify his Faith. Jeremiah is now able to trust again as he makes this statement of faith in the first part of verse 24: “The Lord is my portion…”
- Gave Glory to God. Jeremiah honors God and gives him glory when he states that he will “wait for Him” in the second part of verse 24.
- Commits to the Character of God. Finally, Jeremiah seeks safe harbor in the very character of God in verse 25: “The Lord is good to those whose hope is in Him, to the one who seeks Him.”
Friend, is the Lord your portion this morning? Is He your everything? If He is, you can have hope for the future! Hope is always built on trust and the truth.
Bringing Hope Home
Let’s go back to Romans 4 and pick up the truth from verses 22-25: “This is why ‘it was credited to him as righteousness.’ The words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness — for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.”
Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. But he’s much more than just an historical figure, or even just an example of hope for us. Abraham’s faith development shows us that we will never be justified by our own efforts, but only by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus was delivered to death so our sins can be forgiven. The cost was paid at the cross and His resurrection is like a receipt that we have received His righteousness. But this is available only for those who have accessed it by faith. It’s been accomplished for you but it must be applied in order for this amazing transaction to be activated in your life.
You don’t have to wait to get to heaven to enjoy the hope God wants to give you today. 1 Peter 1:3 “In His great mercy, He’s given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead.” In the New Testament, the word “hope” occurs one time before the resurrection of Jesus – but it occurs 70 times after Jesus was raised from the dead! Clearly, hope comes from the resurrection.
Christianity rests ultimately on the reality of two events – the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The first paid for our sins; the second guaranteed our right standing before God. I like how Chuck Swindoll explains verse 25: “Man owed God a debt for his transgressions that he could not repay. However the Lord, who is both just and merciful, sent His Son to pay man’s debt. Jesus Christ took the bill in His hand and paid it in full on Calvary. The payment was made by His own blood. Three days after He was buried in a tomb, Jesus rose from the dead and presented the bill as paid to His Father. The Lord stamped it Paid in Full and gave His Son the receipt. Thus, any person who believes that Jesus died for his sin and rose from the dead for his justification is secure forever. The Son has the receipt to prove it!”
The only question that remains is this: Have you accepted what Jesus Christ has done for you? The answer to that question is the difference between Heaven and Hell, salvation and condemnation, eternal life and eternal death, hope and hopelessness.
What impossible situation are you facing? What mountain is looming over you? It’s possible to find hope in a hopeless world. God has made a way for you but you must first submit to Him as Savior and then live under His Lordship. He was delivered over to death for “your sins.” That’s why He came. The key phrase is found in verse 24: “who believe in Him.” Are you ready to receive what only He can give you? When you commit to Him by faith, His righteousness will be credited to your account, and you will become a son or daughter of Abraham.
If you’re ready to receive Jesus as your redeemer, you could pray something like this: “Lord Jesus, I admit that I am hopeless without you. My sins are eating me up inside and I don’t want to live like this any longer. I repent of the way I’ve been living and receive what you accomplished on the cross when you died in my place. You died for my sins and right now I believe you and I receive you. Thank you for rising from the dead for that gives me certainty that you can save me and that you can breathe hope into my hopeless life. It’s my sincere desire to live under your leadership for the rest of my life. Do your work now in my life so that which is impossible will become possible and help me to hold onto hope for the rest of my days. Amen.”