Desiring God Posts, Suffering with hope

Each Day Is More Impossible – Hope on the Long Road of Suffering

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It’s been eight weeks since I went in for my fifth ankle surgery, uncertain of whether it would restore my ability to walk. As I remain couchbound, waiting to see what walking ability I will be left with, I’ve been wrestling with doubts and fears over all the seemingly impossible circumstances that God continues to allow in my life.

I’m a mom to four young children and currently unable to walk; we’re a family suffering with Lyme Disease in a medical world that denies its existence; we’re parents navigating a type of special needs that doctors seem to have no answers for; and the only possible relief in sight seems to lie in treatments that we cannot afford. After eleven years of praying, seeking, and sacrificing for answers and healing — or anything that might bring relief — our earthly hope has dwindled. The longer we wait, the more impossible our circumstances become.

He Believed Against Hope

This week, as I’ve felt nearly paralyzed by the complex and layered trials in our life, I’ve found encouragement in a fellow believer who faced his own impossible circumstances with unwavering faith in the Lord.

After being promised he’d become a father of many nations, the child of promise had not come. Both he and Sarah were far beyond the age to bear children. It appeared hopeless to conceive, even as the Lord told him they would, but while he and his wife initially laughed, Abraham came to believe.

In hope he [Abraham] believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. (Romans 4:18–21)

Abraham didn’t weaken in faith when he considered the reality of what seemed impossible. He believed in the hope that God was fully able to do what he had promised. And he did.

Abraham’s experience reminded me that it’s not unlike God to allow his children to face situations that are hopeless from our perspective. It’s precisely through these impossible situations that God expands our view of him, exercises our trust in him, and most powerfully displays his glory. So, what can we learn from these verses about Abraham when we face our own impossible circumstances?

1. Know what God has (and hasn’t) promised.

Abraham’s faith was based on what God had promised, not what seemed possible. “In hope he [Abraham] believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told” (Romans 8:18). Though he didn’t see any way for that promise to come to pass in their old age, he believed that God would somehow be faithful.

We can’t base our hope on what we want God to do or what we think he will do, but what he has promised us in his word. If we don’t know what those promises are, however, we will be devastated if our hope of healing falls through, when the trials worsen after praying for relief, or when all earthly options seem to run out.

In order to know God’s promises, we have to be in his word. We need to be students of the Bible — praying, reading, meditating, and memorizing. We must be careful to read in context to make sure we don’t misunderstand God’s will and promises and feel bitterly disappointed when we don’t receive what he never promised.

As you read through the word, record all that God offers us in Christ. As you do, remember that his promises are given in light of eternity, not our own short-term understanding (2 Corinthians 4:16–18). And by faith, trust that God knows the best way and time for his promises to come to pass.

2. Give God glory by believing he is able.

He grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. (Romans 4:20–21)

Faith in the redeeming power and salvation of Jesus Christ is a theme that runs throughout all of Scripture. But if we’re honest, even if we’ve put our faith in Jesus for salvation, our faith can falter when we’re faced with circumstances that seem impossible. We can believe God loved us enough to die for us, and in the same breath, subtly doubt that love when he doesn’t remove our suffering.

Personally, the more my faith has grown through these trying and confusing times, the more I’ve seen God’s gracious hand behind them. He has refined my faith through the fire of affliction. Jesus offers us so much more than eternal salvation (as incredible as that is); he offers us fullness of life, joy, and satisfaction in walking with him and growing in his likeness.

Trying circumstances work out our faith — breaking down weak muscles and rebuilding them in the strength of Christ. They expose faith in our own strength and wisdom, and they exercise our faith so that we will increasingly put our hope and confidence in Christ and his promises instead.

How does this happen? By choosing to trust as Abraham did — giving glory to God, fully convinced that he is able to do what he has promised. When we choose to praise God now for his promised faithfulness, despite our inability to see it in the moment, our own faith is bolstered and Christ is glorified. Faith leads us to trust in what we can’t see. It says, “I see no way out and I see no hope on this side of heaven, but I believe God is faithful and I will rest in what God has promised me, rather than what I can see and make sense of right now.”

3. Believe that you will soon rejoice.

God’s ways are mysterious. In our eyes, easier circumstances, fulfilled desires, and greater comfort are what we assume will bring the most joy. But as God’s children, we are being made for another world. In our Father’s love, he works in our sufferings to transform our mortal minds into eternal ones, producing in us a joy that is deeper than this world can give — a joy that often comes through the very things we try to avoid.

I can attest to the joy and blessing of growing in endurance, faith, and hope as I’ve come to experience Jesus as more precious than anything this world can give. And I believe Abraham knew that kind of joy and confidence. Immediately after Paul reminds us of Abraham’s faith, he encourages believers that we have access to this same hope (Romans 5:2–3). His faith didn’t waver because his hope was in God himself.

I believe that this is the deep work God is currently doing in my own heart. Is it wrong for me to desire healing for my family? No. Is it wrong for me to grieve the pain over all we’ve lost? No. Is it wrong for me to cry out in my grief and plead for God’s leading, wisdom, and miraculous intervention? No.

But I’m realizing that, while God sometimes shows his power and glory by working a miracle in a seemingly hopeless situation, he often shows his power and glory by working a miracle in us instead. If he doesn’t work a miracle in your circumstances, trust that he is most certainly working a greater miracle within your heart.

Home is around the corner,

Sarah

To read more on the hope we have in suffering, you can purchase “Hope When It Hurts – 30 Biblical Reflections to Help You Grasp God’s Purpose in Your Suffering” authored by Sarah Walton and Kristen Wetherell here or here. You can purchase the newly released audio version here and the Spanish translation can now be purchased at Poiema.co

Previously posted on Desiringgod.org

10 thoughts on “Each Day Is More Impossible – Hope on the Long Road of Suffering”

  1. Dear Sarah,

    My heart aches for you as I am reading your words just now. Thank you for pointing us to Abraham. I too have been encouraged when I read Romans recently about Abraham’s faith, and how because of it God credited it to him for righteousness. I am lifted up to think of how he obeyed God immediately with no questioning. Seems impossible. What faith!

    I too have faced decades of unresolved suffering. Although God did not resolve He has given grace and brought about beauty in the chaos. The strength He has granted me is a miracle. Instead of briars and thorns He’s growing the crepe and myrtle tress, for a sign and an everlasting memorial to His praise.(Isaiah 55:5-8 amplified)

    A friend recently gave me a newly printed book by Elisabeth Elliott called Suffering Is Not For Nothing. I’m studying it with her. There are now study notes/questions on Gateway To Joy website for this new book. She talks about the “terrible truth” that often we see NO purpose in our suffering and it defies human reasoning but that there are 2 worlds we as Christians are a part of, earth and eternity. As Romans 8 also reminds us that to share in God’s glory we must also share in His suffering. That it will abound to our and His glory and honor in eternity. I certainly cannot wrap my finite mind around this truth, but I do have the faith to believe it IS true. I believe you do also.

    God has a great plan for our children in our and their suffering. Pray for God to use it mightily in their lives. I am. Nothing is impossible with our God.

    I will commit to be keeping you in my fervent prayers, Sarah. God knows it all and He cares.

    You continue, as a result of your great suffering, to have a profound impact and influence and encouragement to my heart, always. Maybe that’s your “why.” How could you have such a great depth of understanding if God didn’t allow so much distress?

    I’m praying even more for you Sarah!

    Lorre Reason

    >

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  2. Hi Sarah, well I just finished reading about 7 or 8 of your posts and I hardly know what to say. I am in awe of your writing and sharing skills and the insights that you have learned along the way. You have such a beautiful looking family and I can only imagine the trials that you haven’t shared. My wife and I had five children and we’re both approaching our mid seventies now and the trials continue but God is more than able. Did your husband fine another job? Fifth operation on your ankle! And here I’ve been harping on God to help me with a sore heel. I’m going to repost this post and I’m hoping that many more brothers and sisters in the Lord will raise your family up in prayer. Jesus said that without Him we could do nothing and He wasn’t kidding. I can see the smoke from the alter of incense rising now! God’s grace and blessings to you and yours!

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    1. Bruce, I can’t tell you how much this encourages me. Thank you for taking the time to read so many and even more, to take the time to reply, share, and pray for us! As for my husband, yes he did find another job, though it didn’t really pan out as hoped. But God has been faithful and he continues to be each and every day. And yes, I didn’t ever imagine losing my ability to do much of anything in my 30s, but just yesterday I tried riding my bike a little down the road and managed to do it without too much pain. I’m learning to be grateful for the little things! Anyway, I can’t thank you enough for your encouragement and prayers. It means so very much to me. Blessings in return! ~ Sarah

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  3. I’m so encouraged by your faith and honesty. Just….yeah. I am a fellow Lyme sufferer and I can’t imagine having more problems and responsibilities to deal with on top of just managing my own health. I’m so amazed, encouraged and motivated to keep fighting the good fight by your story. I pray for relief, healing and supernatural endurance for you and your family. Be encouraged that, if nothing else, your faith is encouraging others!

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  4. Dearest Sarah:
    As I was reading your post, Ps. 66:8-12 came to mind. This passage is one that I have committed to memory: “O bless our God, you peoples! And make the voice of His praise to be heard, who keeps our soul among the living, and does not allow our feet to be moved. For You, O God, have tested us; You have refined us as silver is refined. You brought us into the net; You laid affliction on our backs. You have caused men to ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; but You brought us out to rich fulfillment.” (NKJV)
    These verses acknowledge the sovereignty of God in all our afflictions. He is ultimately the One who is either ordaining or allowing the affliction, but we also see His purpose, and that is His refining work in us as you had mentioned in your post. Finally, we see the end result. “You brought us out to rich fulfillment.” We know our God is the one who “brings us out.” Maybe not this side of Heaven or the way we would define “bringing us out”, but we know ultimately, He is the God who brings us through, and one glorious day, He will bring us through all the way to the other side in Heaven.
    As the Lord puts you and your family on my heart, know that I lift you up in prayer. I, too, am living with some seemingly impossible circumstances. I, too, have questions. God is refining me, too. Thank you, dear Sarah, for being such a wonderful example to us of persevering faith. It’s only as we persevere (and not fold up in despair, though there are days when we all feel like doing that!) that God can do that refining work in our character. Keep enduring to the end. The best is yet to come!
    In Him,
    Arlene G.

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  5. Sarah, The fact that you are so willing to share your daily struggles is so encouraging to so many. So, a big thank you for opening up your heart to so many like myself who have struggled for years with disabilities that define our every waking moment. I find comfort in the daily devotions of Joni Earreckson Tada who through the face of adversity always looks to Jesus for her strength. I pray that you have a Blessed Day!!

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