It had been eight weeks since I went in for my fifth ankle surgery, uncertain of whether it would restore my ability to walk. As I remained couch bound, waiting to see what walking ability 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’m a mom to four young children and was unable to walk; we were a family suffering with Lyme Disease 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 the only possible relief in sight seemed to lie in treatments that we couldn’t afford. After eleven years of praying, seeking, and sacrificing for answers and healing — or anything that might bring relief — our earthly hope had dwindled. The longer we waited, the more impossible our circumstances became.
He Believed Against Hope
During seasons when 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,
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. Or Jeff and Sarah Walton’s marriage book, Together Through the Storms – Biblical Encouragements for Your Marriage When Life Hurts.
Previously posted on Desiringgod.org