In the amazing hymn Great is Thy Faithfulness there is a fantastic line “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow”. The writer of the hymn, Thomas Chisholm lived a very difficult life due to ill health. Despite this, his songs are full of faith and hope in the love of God, and the promised presence of God in our lives. It is an amazing confession of faith despite his circumstances!
I am aware of a lot of my friends who are currently struggling with all kinds of issues, from sickness and depression to difficult relationships and finances. In the midst of that it is easy to ask where is God in all of this? In fact, it is often only when things become very difficult that our faith in a good God gets put to the test. Prayers that are prayed earnestly can seem to go unanswered, plans that would seem to honour God can come to nothing.
The Christian life is not one without tensions. It is not a neatly packaged magic wand that we can wave over our troubles to make them go away. King David was depressed. At the beginning of Psalm 13 he writes, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?” Our saviour Jesus knew what it was to endure betrayal, suffering and death. The Apostle Paul carried a ‘thorn’ in his side despite also seeing wonderful signs and wonders of God’s presence. Through the ages many of the great Christians like Luther and Spurgeon have had dark nights of the soul or been bed ridden with depression.
So how is it that we can sing “Great is thy faithfulness” or “Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow”? How can we hold on to a good and loving God when all seems dark and lost? Let me suggest some reasons as way of bringing some encouragement to those who are struggling to hold on…
1. I love Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian Christians. He writes; “For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”
It is a prayer grounded in reality. He prays for strength in our inner being that comes from Christ in us. It prays that we will know the depths of God’s love in our circumstances. It is a prayer that is full of hope in a God who does answer our prayers. Even if your life seems like a mess, allow this prayer to be sung over you by the angels in heaven and the saints down through the ages!
2. Future Hope and Present Hope. The faith that we believed into is one that promises a brighter future. Because Christ has defeated death we have future hope of resurrection. The bible says there will be a time when sin and death are gone, when tears will be wiped away. This hope though is not all future, it is to be experienced in the now. Jesus said his kingdom was here and that we should seek it in our lives. As hard as this may be to hear, despite our circumstances we must continue to seek his presence and power in our lives right now. Even if your prayers seem to go unanswered, keep seeking after God. We always have the opportunity to theologise our experiences, or we can choose to hang on to our faith in the promises of the bible.
3. Seek Peace. Jesus knew what it was like to speak a word of peace into the troubled and afflicted. When he appeared to his disciples after his death he said “Peace be with you” and then he breathed his Holy Spirit on them. If you can, seek out opportunities to be prayed for. Ask God to fill you with His Spirit. Paul says in Romans 5 that the path to hope is through suffering. It produces perseverance and character. Nothing of any worth comes without struggle. In the midst of this may God give you peace. That is my prayer!