Hope When You Feel Helpless

When feelings of hopelessness edge into my heart, its first cousin, helplessness, often accompanies. Yesterday, both tried to climb over walls I’ve put around my heart to guard it against such things. Some pernicious health issues created a pathway to my wall and carelessly, I let the cousins start climbing.  Their hands made it up over the bricks of morning worship and prayer and even beyond the lessons from my current devotional study about displaying God’s glory in our lives.  Just as they began to fling their legs over the top of the wall, the Holy Spirit reminded me of a power verse. “Greater is he that is in me than he who is the world!” (I John 4:4)

I belted that phrase and then sang a scripture-based song, “Whom the son sets free, is free indeed. I’m a child of God, yes I am!” The last I saw hopeless and helpless, they were running away with their ears covered. They will most likely attempt to breach my walls again because my health situation is not resolved, and Satan is nothing if not persistent. This is not my first fight with him on this battlefield but when I stay in step with the Captain of the Host, victory comes.

There are many ways our enemy tries to attack our faith in God’s power and love, and for some of us, it’s directly on our physical bodies. For others, it’s our families, our finances, jobs, churches, mind and emotions or any other place in our lives where Satan thinks he can advance his army.  Sometimes he confronts me on multiple fields of battle. Truthfully, there have been days when I’ve allowed hopelessness and helplessness to climb the wall and camp out in the garden of my heart for a time. Let me tell you, once you let them all the way in, it’s tough to get them back over that wall.

The forces of hell will plot against God’s kingdom until the final judgement. I find hope and strength for my battles throughout scripture, but today I want to point you to a passage in the book of Nahum I recently discovered. In the first chapter, the prophet describes the fierce anger of the Lord towards the enemies of his people.

“The Lord is a jealous God, filled with vengeance and rage. He takes revenge on ALL who oppose him and continues to rage against his enemies. The Lord is slow to get angry, but his power is great, and he NEVER lets the guilty go unpunished. He displays his power in the whirlwind and the storm.  The billowing clouds are the dust beneath his feet. At his command the oceans dry up, and the rivers disappear. In his presence the mountains quake, and the hills melt away; the earth trembles… “Nahum 1:2-6 NLT (emphasis mine).

I love what commentator Matthew Henry, says about this passage. “Let sinners read it and tremble, and let saints read it and triumph.”  For Satan, his army, and those who choose to align themselves with darkness, this passage, and others like it, are terrifying. They’ve experienced God’s wrath. I don’t think only Egyptians screamed when the Red Sea crashed down on them or that only the inhabitants of Jericho quaked when their mighty walls crumbled.  Wherever evil resides, the unseen world of darkness exists in tandem.

For the believer, these types of scriptures are assurance that God sees every injustice against his children, whether in the natural or the supernatural, and will deal with every perpetrator of wickedness in ferocious ways.Your feelings of helplessness or hopelessness may come from sinful acts committed against you by humans but understand there is always a vile puppet master pulling the strings behind them. This is why Paul instructed the church in the book of Ephesians, that Christians are not wrestling merely with humans and we best be wearing our spiritual armor.

It’s Satan’s delight to keep our vision horizontally focused on enemies we can see in the natural, pitting Christ followers against each other and against unbelievers.  Passages like the one in Nahum remind us that this is a vertical war between good and evil, with the outcome already determined in heaven.  Satan knows this and is simply working to take as many spoils of war as he possibly can, namely the souls of men.

If he can distract me with hopelessness and helplessness about my own situations, how likely am I to see and respond to the needs of others in their broken moments? Maybe a fellow believer falls because I’m not there to throw my arm around them and help them to the med station. Or perhaps my unbelieving friend sinks deeper into the enemy’s darkness because they can’t see my lantern pointing the way to the Light. That’s why scriptures like Nahum’s first chapter are so powerful and affirming. They remind us that we are marching with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He’s the God who piles up seas then tumbles them down and crushes giant walls like brittle leaves. He’s always working on behalf of his children and against the forces of evil whether we can see it in the natural or not.

I’ve developed a phrase that I roll out repeatedly, to speak to my soul when I find it trending towards hopelessness.  I say, “I don’t know exactly what God’s gonna do, but he’s gonna do something.” Then I choose to focus on the tasks God places before me and the needs of others rather than continuing to stew about my own situations.

Be encouraged today by the knowledge of God’s power and might inserted into your circumstances. Sometimes I am helpless to change sinful or painful situations to any great degree, but God never is and loves to demonstrate his authority over heaven and earth on behalf of his children. Here’s a few more passages to meditate on concerning his power and might.

Job 26:7-14, Psalm 136,  Isaiah 14:27,  Isaiah 52:10, Psalm 66:7, Ephesians 1:19-21,

 

Hope for Those Who Love Prodigals

The agony of loving a prodigal can be unbearable. As I’ve wept and prayed with their family and friends, they’ve taught me valuable insights. First, when someone who walked with God chooses the world instead, life can become a roller coaster. Wee hour phone calls slam you with news of arrests, overdoses or other dire circumstances. Often those with substance abuse problems steal from family and friends. Their new “friends,” are people who can’t take care of themselves, let alone anyone else. They are rarely trustworthy people and often add to the self-destructive lifestyle of your prodigal.

Secondly, your pain is intensified when your wandering soul is a parent who carries children along in their wild current. This complicates boundaries and availability. How often does one offer resources to the unstable parent, for the sake of the child?  Complex questions arise in these gut-wrenching situations.

Third, there are many kinds of prodigals. Your prodigal may be a high functioning, productive member of society, yet they want nothing to do with God and his people anymore. This describes my Uncle Donald, a vice president for a large pharmaceutical corporation. He grew up in a Christian home, professed a personal faith in Christ and then turned his back on God for his entire adult life until near the end. His younger sister, my Aunt Mary Lea, chose the same spiritual path, while functioning well in society.

Fourth, parents instinctively want to blame themselves for the choices of their prodigal child, but they shouldn’t. All humans make their own choices to respond to or reject God’s grace and love extended specifically to every person, regardless of home environment.  My mother and her sister, Miriam, grew up in the same home as Donald and Mary Lea. They both loved and served God their whole lives. Did my grandparents do everything wrong with Donald and Mary Lea and everything right with the other two? Doubtful.

I include my own family’s story to encourage parents who might be agonizing over their family dynamic in light of a wayward child. Franklin Graham, director of Samaritan’s Purse Ministry, son of evangelist Billy Graham, lived a wild life, until he turned 22. Franklin will tell you that Billy and Ruth Graham were amazing, godly parents. Unfortunately, some children from solid, Christian homes choose sin for a season, for reasons they don’t even fully understand.  They break the hearts of everyone who loves them.

Prodigals are featured throughout scripture including the one in Jesus’ famous parable. Manasseh, king of Judah during the prophet Nahum’s season of ministry, went completely nuts for sin. Bible scholars declare him to be the most evil king in all of Israel’s history. The surprise in Manasseh’s story is that his father was Hezekiah, one of Judah’s best kings.

Manasseh’s story is a fascinating one told in 2 Kings 21 and 2 Chronicles 33.  To summarize, he became King at the age of twelve and in early adulthood, dove into the worship of Moloch, to the point of sacrificing his own child in Moloch’s fires. Most of Israel followed him into idol worship, child sacrifice and immorality. The Bible is silent on the reasons for his descent into madness. That’s a wise example for anyone judging parents of prodigals.

Before Manasseh’s tale turns for good, it becomes much worse, for him and Israel. God loves his people too much too allow them to continue in sin without intervention.  He sends the Assyrian army to brutally conquer Judah and take Manasseh away as a captive. The original Hebrew text indicates that the Assyrians pierced either his nose or his cheek with a large ring attached to a chain and led the humbled king off into captivity in chains, like a pig to market.

As horrific as this is, God cared more about the condition of Manasseh’s eternal soul than his earthly life. That’s why he sent Nahum first, then the Assyrians, when Manasseh refused to repent. The same is true of your prodigal. God may allow excruciatingly painful circumstances into the life of a wayward child to recapture their attention and their heart.  During his captivity, Manasseh repented and transformed entirely. He is mysteriously returned to his throne and allowed to rule Judah until his death. The Bible gives no more details as to why the Assyrians did this but the point is that he came back as a very different king.

He got rid of the foreign gods and removed the image from the temple of the Lord, as well as all the altars he had built on the temple hill and in Jerusalem; and he threw them out of the city. Then he restored the altar of the Lord and sacrificed fellowship offerings and thank offerings on it and told Judah to serve the Lord, the God of Israel” 2 Chronicles 33:15-16.

God’s grace reaches into the prodigal’s chosen pigpen, although his mercy may be severe at times, like it was for Manasseh and Judah.  He loves mankind too much to allow people to choose hell as their eternal home, without allowing them a taste of it here on earth. This is where discernment, wisdom and the leading of the Spirit is critical in your relationship to a prodigal.  Only God can instruct you when to help them and when to leave them to the consequences of their own poor decisions as painful as that may be.  Only God can redirect a wayward heart back to himself.  We serve as prayer warriors against the dark kingdom and as lighthouses on their journey home.

The fifth thing prodigal’s families taught me is not to try and get in between them and their destructive relationships, without a clear directive from God.  Although our intentions are to rescue, they are usually not perceived that way. We may find ourselves cut off from our loved one entirely. Take comfort that God sees all evil doers and will deal with them himself. The entire book of Nahum is a judgement against Assyria, for conquering Judah, even though Manasseh and the kingdom were steeped in sin. Read the short book to see how God feels and behaves towards those who mess with his children, even wayward ones.

I’ve watched the endless power of God’s love and provision towards those who love a prodigal. He supplies comfort when everything turns sideways. He grants discernment to determine when to intervene and when to stand back.  He sends the Holy Spirit to groan with them during prayer times and weep with them when there seems to be no change of heart in their loved one.  He understands our situations intimately and He cares deeply.  He is always a source of hope in hopeless situations.

Hope for Hopeless Situations

When I am confronted with hopeless situations in my own life or my people’s, the temptation to circle the drain emotionally is almost overwhelming.  As a One on the Enneagram temperament scale (see links below) I’m already tilting at windmills, trying to right all wrongs. When a situation becomes “hopeless,” things are seriously akimbo, some which can’t be rectified on this side of heaven. This is when I am most thankful for God’s assurances in his Word, that He is in control when life is out of control. His compassion is as near as the mention of his name.

Phrases like, “There’s nothing more we can do,” and “There’s no way out of this,” or “This can’t be fixed,” used to take me down to a low, scary place where I questioned God’s goodness and love. When my husband nearly died of pneumonia, at the age of 27, I railed at God for a few days before godly friends and family guided me back to the narrow road of faith. I wish that was my only memory of questioning God’s character in painful circumstances.

These days, I tell my emotions to carry on in the back seat a while as my spirit drives the rest of me to better places, many of them in Psalms, like 119:76, 9:9, and 46:1. God’s comfort is unfailing when everything and everyone else is failing, unstable. There is a gem of a story about this topic hidden in the book of Nahum. I say hidden because, so few believers take the time to read the minor prophets. My pastor husband calls them the “white pages” of the Bible. I missed the story entirely until yesterday, when I took the time to learn about this interesting prophet and his audience.

First, Nahum is part two of the story of Nineveh, with the book of Jonah being part one. The city’s repentance in Jonah’s day, lasts about a hundred years before they once again become bullies, conquer the northern kingdom of Israel and threaten the lower kingdom of Judah. Judah’s troubles don’t end there. Their ruler, King Manasseh, ranks on the top five evil Israelite king list, and leads his countrymen into idolatry and human sacrifice. Imagine being a sincere follower of Jehovah in a homeland melting down its morals at idol’s feet and about to be invaded by Assyria. I wonder if they felt hopeless.

God selects Nahum as the prophet of the hour.  Most of his prophecy first assures his countrymen that Nineveh’s aggressions will not go unpunished.  Every evil thing they’ve perpetrated against God’s people, God will now rain down on them.  Read the book and visualize for yourself, it’s a very short read.

Secondly, God might choose to stop speaking to Hebrews so immersed in sin they are sacrificing their own children in the fires of Moloch and Baal, but he doesn’t. Instead, he sends them a prophet whose very name means “comfort.” God sends compassion to his few, faithful followers, with skin on. Isn’t that what we need the most when we are facing hopeless situations with no easy resolutions?

Inside God’s detailed plans for bringing justice to Nineveh and the Assyrian empire, he inserts treasures of comfort for those still listening, desperately trying to obey him in their fallen culture.

“The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble.  He cares for those who trust in him” Nahum 1:.7

“The Lord will restore the splendor of Jacob like the splendor of Israel, though destroyers have laid them waste and have ruined their vines” Nahum 2:2.

We need lots more Nahums in the body of Christ, people who lovingly remind us of God’s faithfulness and goodness.  I want encouragers that follow Nahum’s example. Gently remind me that God sees everything that’s gone wrong for me and mine. Nothing escapes his notice. His ability to be present with me is constant. Then, I need the assurance that even when the outcomes of situations are wretched and pain-filled, he is my ever-caring refuge of compassion and strength.

In this age of 24/7 news and social media, too much of what I see and hear can be negative. On the other hand, I don’t want to be a walled off Christian, ignorant of and unwilling to interact with the sorrow and suffering of this world. As some did for me, I want to speak good news and peace into dark places for other people, the places where Satan thinks he’s had the last word. Nahum echoes Isaiah 52:7 when he says, “Look, there on the mountains, the feet of one who brings good news, who proclaims peace” Nahum 1:15.

Christ our Savior and Prince of Peace is unchanging and ever available. When I invite his presence and carry his words of assurance to those facing hopeless situations, the atmosphere changes. Broken hearts can start to mend, wobbly knees stabilize, and weary minds are refreshed when I carry mercy and courage into the trials of people’s lives. I want people to associate my name with comfort, just like Nahum.

Lamp and Sword

****Further resources for study and reflection****

“Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path.” Psalm 119:105

“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword.” Hebrew 4:12

 

Resources to learn which Enneagram number you are and then what to do with that information.

  1. The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile https://www.amazon.com/Road-Back-You-Enneagram-Self-Discovery/dp/0830846190
  2. The Path Between Us by Suzanne Stabile

https://www.amazon.com/Path-Between-Us-Enneagram-Relationships/dp/0830846425/ref=pd_lpo_sbs_14_t_1?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=ARK25595S822WDB4PDG6

  1. The Enneagram, A Christian Perspective by Richard Rohr https://www.amazon.com/Enneagram-Christian-Perspective-Richard-Rohr/dp/0824519507/ref=sr_1_3?crid=1KCL9TILOJ4J9&keywords=richard+rohr&qid=1561577490&s=books&sprefix=Richard+%2Cstripbooks%2C161&sr=1-3