Recently, a distraught sister wrote these words to me: "I am terrified. I think it would be wonderful if hydrogen bombs fell on us — especially on me and my family. It would all be over for us in such a hurry. We'd be with Jesus! I am a retired widow with no man in our family. I lost my husband to cancer. I just got out of the hospital and am recovering from a broken back. I have two unmarried daughters, one with health problems who hasn't worked in two years. We have suffered terribly for the past 16 years. Members of our fellowship are being persecuted, and my friends are all suffering unmercifully. Fear and anxiety are my lot in life. Mr. Wilkerson, we are hurting! Is there no hope for the bride of Christ? Please answer!"
This woman is just one among thousands who write us of their despair and hopelessness. We hear from so many who deeply love the Lord but live in situations and conditions that appear hopeless to them. They speak of dead-end marriages and health and family problems, and they use such phrases as:
"There is no way out!"
"I brought it on myself and now I'm in a prison — stuck for life!"
"God doesn't seem to hear me — nothing ever changes. It goes from bad to worse!"
"Sometimes I wonder if it's worth it. I wish the Lord would come and get me out of this pit!"
"I have a few good days, but then this feeling overwhelms me that I'm worthless — just doing nothing!"
It has been said that the only things worse than insanity are despair and hopelessness. But praise the Lord, we serve a God of hope! The Greek word for "hope" is elpo, meaning "to look forward to with pleasurable confidence and expectation." The Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans, "Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost" (Romans 15:13).
Paul introduces an incredible idea — "that you may abound in hope." He means, "that you may have enough to spare; a supply that is overflowing, excessive, beyond measure!" Some may think, "That sounds like a cruel joke. In my present condition all I want is a ray of hope, just a single evidence of answered prayer. Just one little sign of change!"
But beloved, God's Word is true! He is a God of hope — a hope that is excessive, overflowing and beyond measure. Paul's prayer for the people of God was that He would "fill you with all joy and peace in believing." This is to be a normal state for all Christians: not just for well-adjusted, happy-go-lucky believers — but for all! God is not mocking His hurting children today. He is now a God of hope, ready to flood your soul with exceeding, overflowing joy and peace by the power of the Holy Ghost in you.
Paul said, "For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it" (Romans 8:24-25)
Yet we respond by demanding to see a change in our situation: "But I could have hope if I could just see a little movement, a small piece of evidence that God is working for my good — just something to get hold of. I need to see something change. How can I have hope when months go by and things only get worse?"
But "to abound in hope" is to have excessive, overflowing patience — more than enough patience to "wait for it." You see, the joy and peace come when you know God has everything under control!
Hopelessness Is the Curse of Trusting in Man.
"Thus saith the Lord; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord. For he shall be like the heath in the desert, and shall not see when good cometh; but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land and not inhabited. Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is. For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit" (Jeremiah 17:5-8).
Jeremiah introduces two immutable laws of spiritual life here: One leads to life and hope — the other to death and hopelessness. These are the keys to understanding why some Christians enjoy constant peace and joy in the Lord, while others grope in despair and hopelessness.
The Hebrew word Jeremiah uses for "curse" means "utterly detestable." In other words, the person who departs from God and leans instead on man is utterly detestable to Him!
How can you know when you are trusting in man rather than in God? If you come apart when someone else lets you down, or if the actions of others affect your walk with God — then you know you're leaning on the arm of flesh!
If you put your trust in man you are guaranteed to get hurt. At some point, someone is going to let you down and deeply disappoint you. "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9). Just when you think you know someone, you're in for a shock. You end up saying, "I never expected that of her or him." Paul said believers put "no confidence in the flesh" (Philippians 3:3).
Much of the hurting and the hopelessness you experience is a result of being let down by someone you trusted — someone close to you. For example, a wife may argue, "If my husband would only change! He really has hurt me deeply. He neglects me, he doesn't try to understand. His words cut me so deeply. He is killing my love. If only he could change, I'd be happy."
No — you wouldn't be happy! When the Bible talks about making the flesh your arm, it is your own flesh! Even if your husband became a perfect mate — saying kind things, treating you like a queen — it would not solve your problem of despair.
Your problem is not a husband or children problem; it is a God-problem. Jeremiah says you are like a shrub in the desert: not seeing when the good comes, but rather inhabiting the parched places in the wilderness. This means you are cut off from your true supply of happiness and hope. You have neglected the Lord; you are not drawing on His Living Water. You have become like a dead, dry desert shrub — fruitless and barren!
You see, you are trusting in someone or something other than God to bring you happiness and hope. And even if that person did what you wanted, or if what you believed would solve your problems actually happened, you would not see the good in it. It would not change you. You would still despair. What you thought would solve your problem would only make you feel worse.
One of the great wonders of America is the incredible New York aqueduct. It is all underground, made of bricks and runs for miles and miles from upstate, bringing water to this metropolis. It took a whole army of Italian immigrants to build it. So what would happen if that aqueduct were cut off and suddenly there was no water supply flowing to the city? New York City would become a parched place...a salt land and not inhabited." We can exist without gas — but not without water.
The same thing happens in our lives! When people lose hope, rather than run to the Lord they clam up and run inward. They curl up on the inside and give up hope, and their hearts become a parched place, a salt land. A good example of this is Abbie Hoffman, the hippie activist of the 1960s. He died recently — by committing suicide. Few knew that he was a manic-depressive who would shut himself up in his room for days in a fetal position and not get out of bed. He could not face the world. He was found dead under the covers — curled up in a ball.
Today even Christians are experiencing overwhelming despair, much like what I've just described. But God is saying this to His people: "You are in despair simply because you do not trust in Me. You turn to others — to doctors, to friends, to counselors, to medicine, to finances. You are not uplifted by My promises; you let the words of men cast you down. You have cursed yourself by not coming to Me. You feel dry, empty. You are lonely — because you are not drawing water from My well!"
Jeremiah describes "the sin of Judah" (17:1) as the sin of believers, not of the heathen surrounding them. The sin of God's own people was this: In difficult times they didn't turn to Him in faith but instead sought help from the flesh. How God must grieve over this, and over the language of hopelessness used by so many downcast Christians. I shudder when I hear believers use these words of despair: "It's no use!" "There's no hope!" Israel used this same language when they despaired: "And they said, There is no hope" (Jeremiah 18:12).
In this passage God points out an incredibly horrible sin being committed by His own people. "Therefore thus saith the Lord; Ask ye now among the heathen, who hath heard such things: the virgin of Israel hath done a very horrible thing. Will a man leave the snow of Lebanon which cometh from the rock of the field? or shall the cold flowing waters that come from another place be forsaken?" (Jeremiah 18:13-14).
What is this horrible thing God's people are committing?
Like the cold, refreshing waters that flow down from melting snow, God gives an unceasing supply of power to His people. Lebanon's water is the water of strength, available and unfailing. Yet God's people often continue on their way — dry, empty and sad, saying, "We have been left to ourselves. We'll just go our own forsaken way, unwanted!"
This is a picture of despairing Christians who have forgotten the promises of God, who sit dejected beside a flowing stream of God's love, thinking, "The Lord is not at work in my life. I'm just going to have to grit my teeth and do the best I can. I'll fight alone if I have to. It's no use hoping anymore. I have to do what I can to survive!"
The Danger of Hopelessness Is That It Leads to Recklessness.
"Because my people hath forgotten me, they have burned incense to vanity, and they have caused them to stumble in their ways from the ancient paths, to walk in paths, in a way not cast up" (Jeremiah 18:15).
Our city streets and bars are filled with despairing people — people who are recklessly throwing away their lives and trying to get even with someone who hurt them. Some are even mad at God for not helping them when they wanted Him to.
I know of one minister's wife who plunged into a deep depression. She was sick from all the gossip and trouble in their church. She thought God was not helping them with their problems, so she told her husband, "I can't take it anymore." She decided to leave him and their two children, and she ran off with a sinner. She now sits in bars and drinks. "Burning incense to vanity, they stumble in their ways from the ancient paths."
I could write a book full of the tragedies of those I know who have grown so depressed and hopeless that they have become reckless with their lives. If you allow the devil to convince you that you are a helpless victim — worthless, good for nothing and no one — he can make you do things you never thought possible. Including suicide!
This depression also can lead to spiritual laziness. People give themselves excuses to do nothing: "Just leave me alone! I'll figure it out on my own," they say. They believe God has forgotten them. But Scripture says it all takes place "because my people hath forgotten me."
You'd think that when a Christian becomes low and starts to hurt, he would run to the Lord and pour out his complaint to Him. But no! Too often a dullness sets in, and he becomes past feeling. He keeps his problems to himself and neglects to call out to God.
From then on it's a downhill path. You can lecture, counsel, beg and plead, "You know that all you have to do is pour your heart out to the Lord! You know He will lift your burden and break that chain. You know the Holy Spirit is yearning to comfort and help you." But it's as if they no longer can hear. Their ears are shut; their heart is hardened. They are full of self-pity and laziness. All they can see now is their problem — not Jesus!
In short, depression, dryness and hopelessness are the direct results of being cut off from our daily supply of Living Water. When we neglect faith, prayer and the word — our access to the flowing snow-waters of Lebanon — the result is always loneliness, fruitlessness and emptiness.
"Blessed Is the Man That Trusteth in the Lord, And Whose Hope the Lord Is."
Thank God there is another immutable law: the law of hope — the law of life! "For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters." Here the secret of living in constant hope is revealed — the secret of being full of joy and peace in the Holy Ghost. It is not found in trying to reform, in attempting to please people, in making promises to God you can't keep.
The person who experiences this promise can no longer be hurt by people because he does not hope in them. His expectations are all in the Lord. He does not care what man says or does; his eyes are on the Lord alone. And the Lord never fails or lets him down!
"For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river." An amazing Hebrew word is used here for "planted" — it actually means "transplanted." Faith uproots the dry, fruitless desert-shrub that's scorched, lonely and ugly — and transplants it by the living stream of the waters flowing from Lebanon.
David said, "There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city [people] of God.... God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early" (Psalm 46:4-5) And David said of God: "Thou visitest the earth, and waterest it: thou greatly enrichest it with the river of God, which is full of water...thou blessest the springing thereof" (Psalm 65:9-10).
The River of God That Heals Everything It Touches
Put your roots down deep in His river and you will not fear when the heat comes. For your "leaf [appearance] shall be green [fresh, alive]." The drought — the dry spells — will not affect you, and you will constantly bear fruit.
You will not be continually tired, weeping, lonely, dry and feeling forsaken. Instead, you can be transplanted simply by giving Him your trust and faith and by resting in His Word. And soon you will grow roots down deep into His river of life.
Why do some believers always rejoice and abound in hope? Why are they full of peace and joy, radiating the glow of spiritual life and health to all they meet? Is it because they don't have any problems? No! The truth is, they probably have more than you — in fact, more than most people!
But they have learned the secret of having roots in God's river. If you are rooted in the river, you don't need a revival; you don't need showers of blessings; you don't need a special outpouring; you don't need a flood of sudden victory. And because you enjoy a constant hour-by-hour flow of life-giving water, you're not constantly moving from dry spell to blessing, from lows to highs, from revival to coldness. Spiritual famine doesn't touch you; the scorching heat of apostasy doesn't faze you. You are drawing water from God's river of life!
If I had to choose between revival and roots, I'd take roots any day. For long after revival is gone, I would still thrive because of my roots, which would supply me daily with all I need.
Ezekiel saw a river of life issuing from the sanctuary. "By the river upon the bank thereof...shall grow all trees for meat, whose leaf shall not fade, neither shall the fruit thereof be consumed: it shall bring forth new fruit...because their waters they issued out of the sanctuary: and the fruit thereof shall be for meat, and the leaf thereof for medicine" (Ezekiel 47:12).
God showed this prophet a river coming out of His holy temple. As time went by, it swelled from a trickle to a river in which he could swim. Ezekiel saw a man measuring the growing stream of life, until it became "a river that I could not pass over: for the waters were risen, waters to swim in" (Ezekiel 47:5). You see, the early Church experienced water that reached the ankles; the Reformation had water reaching the loins. And in this day and age, the water has risen so much that we now have water to swim in!
On the bank of this river are many trees, all green and bearing fruit. And who are these trees? All those with roots of trust in Him. "And it shall come to pass, that every thing that liveth, which moveth, whithersoever the rivers shall come, shall live: and there shall be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters shall come thither: for they shall be healed; and every thing shall live whither the river cometh" (Ezekiel 47:9).
This River is Jesus!
Yes, the river is Jesus — His very presence. The very moment you cast down all doubt and fear — crying out, "Lord, I believe, and in You I have hope, abounding hope" — you will be transplanted to the banks of this river by the power of the Holy Ghost.
Let me tell you why it is so important to get your roots down deep in God: because the worst is yet to come!
"If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses? and if in the land of peace...they wearied thee, then how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?" (Jeremiah 12:5).
These are supposed to be good times. We live in a mild shower compared to the coming storm. This is child's play compared to the troubles ahead. You may think you are going through something pretty awful, but it is peaceful in light of the distress that is soon coming upon the earth!
We are going to have to get our roots down deep now. If you are not drawing strength from Him today, you will not endure when gross darkness covers the earth. You and I are now being tested by "light afflictions" (2 Corinthians 4:17) to drive us to the Lord, to make us dig deep to get into the secret reservoir of life.
Pour Out Your Heart In Faith to God!
This is the only way to cheer up your heart and stay in gladness. "My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God.... My tears have been my meat day and night...I pour out my soul in me.... Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance" (Psalm 42:2-5). This is God's message to all who are "cast down" — those who are sad, defeated, low, blue, discouraged and joyless.
Why am I depressed? Why am I gloomy and sad? Why am I overwhelmed? Why do I mourn? David does not even try to answer these questions in this Psalm. All he can say is, "Hope in God! He is the health of my countenance."
To those who patiently, expectantly wait on God, "the Lord will command his lovingkindness in the day time, and in the night his song shall be with me" (Psalm 42:8).
God has given clear warning that it is a most serious matter to Him when we do not serve Him with gladness. In Deuteronomy 28, we learn of all the curses and diseases that overtake the unbelieving: "All these curses shall come upon thee.... Because thou servedst not the Lord thy God with joyfulness, and with gladness of heart, for the abundance of all things" (Deuteronomy 28:45,47).
God says, "You have focused on some little hurt, some wrongful thing — and you have forgotten all the blessings and wonderful things I have done for you!
Christ will turn your hopelessness into rejoicing and clothe you with gladness — if you will release your faith to Him. "Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing: thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness" (Psalm 30:11).
Saints, rejoice in the God of hope — and live!