Clinging to hope when the world seems out of control
By Nicole Barnard
I wonder if, like me, you had been living comfortably under the illusion that you were in control of the small details of your day to day life?
Then lockdown happened and we had to learn a new rhythm. Just as we had settled into a new routine, the rug was pulled from under our feet as restrictions started to be lifted, and we had to try to keep our balance in the ever-shifting landscape. What was once familiar now seems hostile: empty chairs in your local coffee shop, an increasingly busier high street to navigate, and near-empty buses populated by strangely silent mask-clad passengers.
‘Unlockdown stress’ has ramped up and has left many feeling exhausted, anxious and insecure. We are grieving curtailments of freedoms we had previously taken for granted, loss of human connection and lack of perceived control. So how do we not just survive, but thrive, and find ways to live comfortably and confidently in this brave new world as obstacles come flying our way like deckchairs sliding around on the Titanic?
By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion…
How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?
(Psalm 137 vs 1&4, NIV)
First, recognise the legitimacy of your grief. God cares about the small details of our lives as well as the big, potentially life-changing decisions. Don’t underestimate the effect an accumulation of seemingly small things (changing routines, legislation, lifestyles and relationships) can have on your wellbeing. Then, tell God how you feel. The Psalms are full of honest articulations of emotion, outpourings of grief and pain, honest, intimate conversations with God- both individual and corporate. These prayers out of pain are laments before God, yet lament is not the same as despair as it is rooted in hope:
Biblical lament is a grieving for the present situation yet acting in the hopeful assurance that God will deliver and redeem. Despair in itself is hopeless, a weeping for something which cannot be regained. But lament is characterised by hope. (NT Wright, 5 things to know about hope)
I love the line in Graham Kendrick’s song; ‘there is a hope so sure, a promise so secure.’ This is the hope that Hebrews 6 v.19 describes as a ‘sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.’ We are sure of our eternal hope, our salvation in Christ Jesus, but God’s promises apply no less to our life here on earth, our living hope, and these promises are the anchor which helps to keep us upright through the storms of life.
In With, Skye Jethani describes hope as ‘the assurance that what we experience in this world will not win, but that God’s purposes will overcome.’ Psalm 46 invites us to take shelter in our God who controls the universe, and yet who made His home among us, who lives in us through His Spirit to strengthen and sustain us and bring us through:
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea… God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day… The Lord God Almighty is within us, the God of Jacob is our fortress.
(Psalm 46 vs 1,2, 5 &7)
In the Old Testament we read how God brings Noah safely to dry ground, how He parts the Red Sea to enable the Israelites to cross to safety, an amazing illustration of how God is in control of the powerful forces of His universe, how He can bring order out of chaos, and that those who are united with Him do not have to fear the unpredictable and powerful forces which surround them. ‘With God there is hope, even in a world which seems to be drowning in chaos’ (Skye Jethani, With).
When I see a rainbow I am reminded that God’s banner over us is love, hope, peace, faithfulness and goodness. He promises hope for all of creation; Noah’s story, our stories, exist within the context of our salvation story, and we are assured that hope is found in God rather than in our circumstances. The world has changed, but God has not; He is here and His presence with us brings hope. Jesus was in the boat with His disciples when He calmed the storm. He is with us in this pandemic.
But now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13 v.13, NIV).
We can hope because of His unfailing love in which we trust: ‘And hope does not disappoint, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom He has given us’ (Romans 5 v.5, NIV). We might feel as if we are in the shaded valleys but, as I was reminded recently, shadows cannot exist without light. His light, His love is our ‘hope so sure, our promise so secure.’ As we walk in the valleys with Him, we can be assured of His presence, peace, restoration and hope:
I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards and will make the valley of Achor a door of hope. There she will sing as in the days of her youth (Hosea 2 vs. 14-16, NIV).
Walking with God
Let’s find quiet places in which to talk to God and receive the comfort of His words so as not to be overwhelmed by the chaos, and walk with Him as we take tentative steps in this ‘new new normal.’ Let’s keep marvelling at the beauty of His creation, a tangible reminder of His faithfulness, the flowers which bloom faithfully each year offering hope and promise. God invites us to walk the tightrope of faith with Him, promising to catch us if we fall, yet if we keep our eyes fixed on Him we can keep our balance. This act in itself will deepen our faith and trust. Believe in hope, trust in His sovereignty and praise Him in confidence and trust.
Celebrating God’s truths and the things which haven’t changed is a key component of maintaining our stability and bringing us hope and peace. The hope we have in Him brings us joy, and enables us to keep on singing His songs in a strange land, which in turn enables us to be fruitful. Now more than ever others need to know the reason for our hope.
Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed (Romans 4 v.18, NIV)
Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then will I be confident (Psalm 27 v.3)