A Letter to a Suffering Friend: When All Hope Is Gone, Awakenings to Christ Come Alive
[Editor’s Note: In this blog post, David Bryant shares a letter he recently wrote to a brokenhearted friend. It’s relevant to every believer reading this blog post. First he sets the stage with one essential observation.]
Hope Against Hope
There’s a curious phrase in Romans 4 regarding Abraham’s experience with God: “who against hope believed in hope” (KJV). Hear it said another way: “against all hope, Abraham in hope believed” (NIV).
Or consider this interpretive paraphrase: “When everything was hopeless, Abraham believed anyway, deciding to live not on the basis of what he saw he couldn’t do but on what God said he would do (The Message).
Like this model of faith, all of us Jesus followers experience seasons when all hope vanishes. Every option is exhausted. Every expert has been consulted. Every resource applied. Every dream dashed. Everything—all forces—seems arrayed against hope.
Maybe that’s where you find yourself at this very moment. If not, you soon will.
For Abraham—a homeless nomad with not one verse of Scripture to encourage him when it seemed at age 99 there was no hope to have the heir that God had promised him—his hour of major hopelessness became a major turning point. It became his “awakening” to the full reality of the power and person and purposes of a promise-keeping God.
Christians can share in this same encounter—only multiplied by infinity! Here’s why I say this.
For those of us who live on this side of Jesus’ incarnation, cross, empty tomb, and coronation, the Father has so much more waiting for us in our living, reigning Lord Jesus, especially in times of disappointment, disillusionment, and despair.
In those hours when we are “at the end,” when “all is lost,” when “there’s nowhere to turn,” when we’ve been overtaken by the “dark night of the soul”—that’s when we find ourselves on the threshold of entering into a whole new vision of and experience with the Son of God that can come no other way. What awaits us is a much more robust spiritual awakening than Abraham ever could have imagined.
For us, when all hope is gone that is precisely when “Christ Awakenings” come alive. That’s when God’s Spirit uses God’s Word to reintroduce us to God’s Son in whole new ways—for who he is as “the hope of all glorious things to come” (Colossians 1:27, Phillips). Joni Erickson Tada (a quadriplegic for nearly 50 years) concludes in her book When God Weeps that suffering serves to “increase our capacity for more of Christ.” That’s what I’m talking about!
My Words to a Suffering Friend
About the Hope of His Own Christ Awakening
Now with that background, I want to introduce you to a friend of mine who is in his twenties and dreamed of being a missionary to the Arab world. For over six years he has suffered debilitating complications imprisoning him to his bed 24/7. Having knocked on the doors of scores of medical specialists but to no avail, he arrived just recently at the world’s leading medical center for his specific set of symptoms. There he was told nothing could be done for him and he was sent back home unchanged.
Here’s what I wrote him today, putting his excruciating experience into a larger context where everything that seems for him to be “against hope” is actually bursting with “abounding hope” (Romans 15:13) because of his union with Christ in the fullness of his supremacy.
My dear brother in Christ: Your continued trust in the sovereignty of our Redeemer King, despite all of your many soul-shaking disappointments, never ceases to amaze me.
I have no doubt there were many tears back in the hotel room after this week’s dead-end meeting with world-famous experts.
For you, I’m sure, the path ahead appears enveloped in a heavy fog with barely enough visibility to take the next step. To just get on a plane to fly back to the incarceration of your bedroom takes extraordinary courage in and of itself.
As a result, I suspect you find yourself plagued with many questions for which you and I have no immediate answers—such as:
Where is all of this leading? What is the purpose of Jesus in a crucible of suffering that continually mocks us?
What is his message? What could he possibly want you and your family to hear from him? What is he saying to all of us who know you and love you—we who have been walking with you and praying over you through all these years of agony and confusion?
How precisely is the glory of Jesus being revealed through all you have endured? What evidence do we have that Paul’s experience of manifesting Christ in suffering has become yours as well? Remember how he writes:
Yes, we who are living are always being exposed to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be plainly seen in our mortal lives (2 Corinthians 4, Phillips).
What’s happening to you personally through this adversity? Is the image of Christ really being formed in you as God works in and through all of your setbacks and checkmates? Is the prime goal of making you more like Jesus anywhere in evidence as a result (Romans 8:28-29)?
How are we supposed to pray for you now? We who love you, who hurt with you and long for your deliverance—how are we to stay the course of interceding, as we currently confront a backlog of prayers that seem barren and remain unanswered?
My precious friend: How I wish I could be there with you, to let you know you are not alone, to sit with you, to weep with you, to listen to the cries of your soul, to explore these questions with you, to lay ourselves at Jesus’ feet, to seek God’s face for how to penetrate the hopelessness of this hour.
Our Hope in the Supremacy of God’s Son
However, this much you and I can know for sure:
Our Master resides and presides, at this very moment, in the midst of all the fog.
Of course, often it feels as if he is not around. But as the classic hymn reminds us, this is when God awakens us to so much more of Christ than we had known before. As it says: “When darkness veils His lovely face,” more than ever we can “rest on his unchanging grace,” absolutely certain that “When all around my soul gives way” then—especially then—Christ will be revealed to us in new ways as “all my hope and stay.”
In a moment like this we face the fundamental test: Do we really believe what we proclaim about the supremacy of God’s Son, declaring that “Jesus Christ is Lord of all” (Acts 10)?
In our unbearable hardships—in the face of unrelenting heartaches and dead-end prayers and spiritual obscurities—do we truly believe that the full meaning of our existence is all about and only about who we are as we live at the center of who JESUS is, and where JESUS is headed, and what JESUS is doing, and how JESUS gets blessed?
Do we believe that every engagement with our fallenness, our helplessness, our impotence, our brokenness, and our destitution is being lovingly and sovereignly redeemed and woven into a rich tapestry that leads to the exalting of Christ and the advancing his kingdom?
Do we harbor the hope that God will do this in such a way that even our lowest, darkest moments will end up flourishing with purposefulness because all of it is incorporated by the Father into our everlasting union with his conquering Son? That all of it is incorporated into Jesus in such a way that nothing is lost, that ultimately all of it accomplishes great gain, both for his glory and our joy (Philippians 3)?
A Psalm of Suffering and Hope:
Fulfilled in Jesus and Filled Full of Jesus
Finally, as I prayed for you earlier this morning, the verses below from Psalm 73 came to mind.
The very first funeral I officiated as a young pastor was for a freshman college student who died of a fast-moving leukemia. I spoke from this passage because in Bruce’s final weeks, while sitting up late one night in his dorm room, Psalm 73 became the scripture that transformed his whole outlook, igniting for him “hope against hope” in Christ alone. It became his very own “Christ Awakening” moment.
Considering how all of the insights in Psalm 73 now have been fulfilled in Jesus—which means they now have been filled full of Jesus—let me paraphrase these verses accordingly (see the parts made bold). Let me “upgrade” them to illustrate how any Christian might express the same hope toward Jesus, not only today, but in his presence 10,000 years from now as well!
13 It seems as if I have kept my heart pure for no reason.
It didn’t do me any good to wash my hands
to show that I wasn’t guilty of doing anything wrong.
14 Day after day I’ve been in pain.
God has punished me in a new way every morning.
15 What if I had talked like that?
Then I wouldn’t have been faithful to God’s children.
16 I tried to understand it all.
But it was more than I could handle.
17 It troubled me until I looked again at God’s Son . . .
21 At one time my heart was sad
and my spirit was bitter.
22 I didn’t have any sense. I didn’t know anything.
I acted like a wild animal toward you.
23 But then I realized I am always in union with Christ Jesus.
The risen King at your right hand holds me and reigns over me.
24 You give me wise advice.
You guide me in my role
in your plan for the ages,
to sum up all things in Christ (Eph. 1).
And even if I die, still I will be alive in Christ
reigning with him in the glory of His Kingdom.
25 I don’t have anyone in heaven but my Lord Jesus.
I don’t want anything on earth besides my Lord Jesus.
26 My body and my heart may grow weak.
But Father, your dear Son draws me into the strength of his heart.
He is not only all I need, or all I want;
He is all I have!
27 Those who don’t want anything to do with you will die.
You destroy all those who aren’t faithful to you.
28 But I am wrapped up in your purposes in Jesus.
And that’s good.
O Christ, my SAVIOR and King,
in the fullness of your supremacy
you have become for me my place of victory.
Thank you for waking me up to all the hope I have in you!
(a paraphrase based on the New International Reader’s Version)
An Application for Blog Readers
Why not take five minutes right now to identify the most “hopeless” challenge you currently face. Then turn these verses into prayers of triumph, asking the Father to answer those prayers in a way that brings you into a larger vision of the supremacy of Christ in the midst of the challenge.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: David Bryant
Known as a proclaimer of Christ and Messenger of Hope, David Bryant is the founder and president of Proclaim Hope!, an outreach whose goal is to serve a nationwide Christ Awakening. David is the author of many books, including Christ Is ALL! Join in the Joyful Awakening to the Supremacy of God’s Son. David and Robyne have been serving Christ together for over 40 years. Their most important ministry, however, remains centered on their three adult children and their spouses, and their four grandchildren.