|FREE AT LAST: Freedom from Despair
Have you ever had a day like this?
Two friends sat silently over their espressos, each sunk in misery. Finally, one heaved a sigh and said, “You know, I wish I were dead.” The other sighed in his turn and said, “If only I felt that good.”
In a recent article I came across these Heresies of Hope. Do you recognize any of them in your own struggle with despair?
Heresies of Hope:
"It's too late."
"Nothing can be done about it."
"You can't fight city hall.”
"You can't change the world."
"There's no hope."
"What's the use!"
Many years back there was another man having a day with despair. He was sitting on his porch in Kentucky when his Social Security check was delivered. He went down to the mailbox to retrieve it and the thought to himself, Is this all my life is going to be from this time on? Just sitting on the porch waiting for my next Social Security check to arrive? It was a despairing thought at the time. So he took a legal pad and began to write down all the gifts, blessing, talents and everything that he had going for him. He listed them all, even the small things. In fact one of those small things he sited was his mother’s recipe for fried chicken – one with 11 herbs and spices. Yes, you guessed it. That man was Colonel Sanders and you know the ‘rest of the story.’
There is hope to be found in despair. Just ask the Apostle Paul. In writing to the Romans he speaks of three in verses 26-30:
I There is the Hope of the Intercession of God – vv. 26-27.
“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
“we do not know how to pray as we ought…”
We can’t foresee the future; we don’t know what is best for us. We think we sometimes know what that will is and want it to be a certain way (for which we often pray): I’m reminded of the great baseball catcher Yogi Berra who was involved in a ball game in which the score was tied, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. The batter from the opposing team stepped up to the batting box and made the sign of the cross on home plate with his bat. Berra was a Catholic, too, but he wiped off the plate with his glove and said to the pious batter, “Why don’t we let God just watch this game?” We need the will of God prayed for us. God prays for us via the Spirit. Despair says quit; Prayer says don’t!
C. H. Dodd once defined prayer this way: “Prayer is the divine in us appealing to the Divine above us. That is the perfect prayer, the best prayer. One we can surrender to.
Ill. – The prayer of Monica for her young Augustine.
Monica brought her son up in the faith, but his incredible mind had always troubled her. One day in his teens he announced that he was throwing aside her faith in Christ to follow another fold. He went on to live as he wanted to live. He wrote of that time that “I strayed further from You (God), and You left me alone, and I was tossed about, and wasted, and dissipated…” He also wrote of that time in his life that “It is not reason which turns the young man from God; it is his flesh.” But Monica prayed. She prayed through his fight with the flesh and his fight with God. She prayed and Augustine knew it. Those years were not easy for Monica. They were years filled with pain and hurt. But she prayed for him to return. She even went to her Bishop asking him to speak to her son. He felt he could not. Through tears she left him and he said as she left, “It is not possible that the son of such tears should be lost.” But her son was close to her, until the day he announced his departure to Milan. She prayed fervently for God to prevent that. But to no avail. The day came and Augustine left. If only she knew what God knew in that moment she would have rejoiced, for in Milan Augustine listened to Ambrose, their Bishop, and from there to a garden with a New Testament and from there to a face to face encounter with Jesus Christ! When he came home, he came home a son but also a son of God. Nine days later she died.
II There is the Hope of the Working of God – v. 28
“We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.”
“…in everything God works for good…”
Some MSS say “everything works for good…” others say “in everything He works for good….” God is in it all and able to use it all. We usually stop there but the rest of the verse is important. It can work for good with these elements: love, being called and finding a purpose. The Lord can with love, call and purpose use everything for good. Don’t despair! God can use it all!
Those of you who garden and use compost heaps will appreciate the imagery in this poem:
Lord of the compost heap
You take garbage
And turn it into
Soil good soil
For seeds to root
With wildest increase
Flowers to bloom
With brilliant beauty.
Take all the garbage
Of my life
Lord of the compost heap
Turn it into
Soil good soil
And then plant seeds
To bring forth
Fruit and beauty
We have a God able to take everything (both good and bad) and make it productive.
III There is the Hope of the Metamorphosis of God – Vv. 29-30.
“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
We are predestined to this: conforming to the image of Jesus! The Greek is interesting here: metamorphosis (conformed) to icon (image)= to make of like image. We need not despair when God is in all things bringing us to the place of looking like Jesus! It is a process like a caterpillar to butterfly but it happens with time. And the end of that process is glorification!
The movie Shadowlands portrays the joy and pain of the relationship between C. S. Lewis (played by Anthony Hopkins) and the American writer joy Gresham (played by Debra Winger). A growing friendship led to a marriage of convenience. The Oxford professor wed the single mother in a secret civil ceremony so that Joy could gain English citizenship. Eventually it was discovered that Joy has terminal cancer, and Lewis realizes that he really does love her. Her cancer goes into temporary remission, and for a season she and Lewis experience the depth of committed love. During this time, an Anglican priest talks with Lewis about prayer. In their conversation, we hear a mature description of how prayer works. The priest says, “I know how hard you’ve been praying. And now God is answering your prayer.” Lewis responds this way, “That’s not why I pray, Harry. I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time-waking and sleeping.” Then he says this. Listen to it carefully: “It doesn’t change God; it changes me.”
Out of our despair can come a changed me!
I love the prayer of the old Confederate soldier. It says it so well:
I asked God for strength, that I might achieve;
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health, that I might do greater things;
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy;
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men;
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life;
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for, but everything I hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am among all men most richly blessed.
Edith Hamilton in her classic book on mythology tells the story of Pandora. In Greek mythology, Zeus creates the first woman: Pandora. From her, the first woman, comes the race of all women. One of the stories about Pandora is this: The source of wickedness is the world came, not from her nature, but curiosity. The gods presented her with a box into which each had put something harmful, and forbade her to ever open it. Now Pandora was possessed of a lively curiosity. She just had to know what was in that box. One day, curiosity got the better of her, she lifted the lid – and out flew plagues innumerable, sorrow and mischief for mankind. In terror at what had happened, she clapped the lid down, but it was too late. One good thing, however, was there – a thing called hope. It was the only good the box had held among the many evils, and it remains to this day mankind’s sole comfort in misfortune.
And so, in our despair of life there is hope. As Christians we understand that hope bespeaks a God who prays his desire for us, works out everything that happens in us and to us in a way that it become for the good and brings us out of the despair as new creatures that can fly!
It that your hope today?