After four months of a cortisone shot restoring some ability to walk, the pain in my ankle had returned and all the fears of the future came with it. As I found myself limited yet again, waiting to see if it was temporary or what I would be left with, I wrestled with doubts and fears over all the seemingly impossible circumstances that God continued to allow in my life. I was a mom to four young children and was struggling to walk; we were a family suffering with chronic illness in a medical world that denies its existence; we were parents navigating a type of special needs that doctors seemed to have no answers for; and we were parents trying to care for our family’s needs as yet another unexpected season of unemployment continued. After 13 years of praying, seeking, and waiting for answers and healing – or anything that might bring relief – our earthly hope had dwindled.
In fact, the longer we waited, the more impossible and heartbreaking our circumstances became.
During that season, the Lord brought me encouragement through a fellow believer who faced his own impossible circumstances, but still showed unwavering faith and confidence in the Lord.
Romans 4:18-21 reminds us of the impossible circumstances that Abraham faced after being promised he’d be a father of many nations. Here he was, fatherless, married to Sarah (who was barren), and both far beyond the physical ability to produce a child. It appeared hopeless, but he believed in hope against hope.
“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 distrust 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.”
Abraham didn’t weaken in faith when he considered the reality of what seemed impossible. He didn’t pretend things were better than they were, or drum up ways that he thought God might pull through for him, and he didn’t try to reinterpret God’s promise to him.
He believed in the hope that God was fully able to do what he had promised, in light of what looked hopeless.
The Holy Spirit used Abraham’s faith to fan the flame of my own this week. It’s reminded me that it’s not unlike God to allow his children to face situations that are entirely hopeless from man’s 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 when we face our own impossible circumstances?
Know what God has and hasn’t promised.
“In hope he (Abraham) believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told” (v.18).
Abraham’s faith was based on what God had promised, not what seemed possible. Though he didn’t see any fathomable way for that promise to come to pass, he believed that God would somehow be faithful.
We can’t base our faith on what we want God to do or what we think he will do, but what he has promised us in his Word. However, if we don’t know what those promises are, 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 what God has given us to know him and to walk in his truth. The danger of not being students of the Word is that we’re more likely to read scripture in the way we want to hear it, basing our hope on verses that we’ve taken out of context, only to be disappointed and confused when God doesn’t act in the way we desired him to or assumed he would. We won’t follow Christ long if we expect him to act in a way that makes sense to us, so our faith must be firmly fixed in who God says he is, rather than who we want him to be.
Friend, if you are in a place where you see no hope on this side of heaven, choose to trust in the One who has proven himself faithful through Jesus Christ and promises to work all things according to what is best for you (namely, to experience a deeper joy in knowing Christ and him being glorified in you). Take time to go through the Bible and record all the promises that are ours 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). Faith means trusting that God knows the best way and time for his promises to come to pass, believing his ways are always good, faithful, and trustworthy.
Give God glory by believing he is fully able to do what he has promised.
“…he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (v. 20b-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 to us right here and now. We can believe he loved us enough to die for us, and in the same breath, 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 – refining 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 character and presence. These impossible circumstances are faith workouts – breaking down weak and unstable muscles, toning and rebuilding them in the strength of Christ. They expose faith based 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 and, choosing to trust what we can’t see, increases our faith all the more. This faith is a choice, not a feeling. It’s choosing to say, “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.”
As we focus on the power, past faithfulness, and goodness of God’s promises, our impossible circumstances will shrink in comparison and we will grow in anticipation of seeing how he will show himself faithful.
Remember Who is the giver of faith.
“God…who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist” (v.17b).
If you’re like me, you may be thinking, “I want to have that kind of confidence, but my faith feels so weak.” You may be facing circumstances that seem so impossible that you feel paralyzed, unsure of how to step forward in faith.
You aren’t alone.
But here’s the good news: Jesus is the “founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). We aren’t expected to muster up faith in ourselves, but instead, “through him (Jesus) we have obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand.” (Romans 5:2).
Without the promises of God through Jesus Christ, we would have no basis for our hope. But, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can look to Jesus and ask that he would give us the faith to trust him and walk in the truth and hope of his Word. He is always faithful to answer a prayer of dependence and trust (Zechariah 13:9).
Believe that you will one day rejoice.
“…and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings…” (5 v 2-3).
Immediately after Paul reminds us of Abraham’s faith, he encourages believers that we have access to this same hope. There is something incredibly mysterious about the ways of God. In our eyes, easier circumstances, fulfilled desires, and greater comfort is 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 (Romans 5:3-6). And I believe Abraham knew that kind of joy and confidence. His faith didn’t waver because his hope was not based in his promised son, but in God himself.
This is the deep work God is continually 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 – one that’s eternally rewarding.
Christian, pray that God will work a miracle in your circumstances and believe that he can. But praise him even as you wait, confident that if he doesn’t work a miracle in your circumstances, he is most certainly working a greater miracle within your heart – one that will lead you and others to rejoice in your suffering as you see the endurance, character, and hope of Christ being magnified in your life. In waiting, we wait with confident expectation. In hope, we believe against hope – for our eternal joy and his eternal glory.
Home is around the corner,
You can read more in Sarah and Kristen’s book, Hope When It Hurts or Jeff and Sarah Walton’s book, Together Through the Storms – Biblical Encouragements for Your Marriage When Life Hurts (spring 2020) here or on Amazon. To hear more of their story, you can watch the book trailer here- https://youtu.be/CFYFYuS-uwo