Before we can really talk about hope, we have to talk about hopelessness. Isaiah is describing hopelessness. Can you feel it in his words? Have you ever felt hopeless?
Dictonary.com defines hopelessness as: "Beyond optimism, desperate, and despairing"
It is a pretty bleak situation to be in, to be beyond optimism. To be in such a dark spot that you can.not.see.any.HOPE. I know, I have been there. It cripples you. It seizes your heart with fear and tells you that THIS is all there will ever be.
Its a lie.
The authors remind us that things are always harder when we are in the thick of it than at the beginning or the end. The middle of the journey is hard. In the beginning of a journey you are filled with anticipation and excitement. You have all these plans and dreams for the future. You are enthralled by the vision of what will be. The end of the journey holds its own source of excitement. You are filled with relief, that the journey is over, you are amazed at the way things worked out. You are filled with gratitude for the lessons learned through the journey and you experience this huge sense of accomplishment.
But the MIDDLE....that tricky middle of the journey that's where you suddenly realize this journey may be more than you bargained for, but its too late, you're in THE MIDDLE. The dreams you had sometimes fall away as you simply struggle to survive THE JOURNEY. It is hard to keep the bar high and worse, you are tempted to lower the bar a notch or two and compromise your standards here in this place called "the middle."
When I read these words from the authors "it's difficult to keep your standards high and your hope alive...you are tempted to settle and compromise...thankfulness often degrades into complaint and hope into resignation." I was reminded of John Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress" (if you've never read it I highly recommend it) or this one "Hinds Feet on High Places" Both Christian (from Pilgrims Progress) and Little Much Afraid (from Hinds Feet) teach us much as they journey. Both of them traveled dangerous paths fraught with many dangers and there were times they succumbed to the temptations along the way, but each temptation along with its failure came an invaluable lesson that could only be learned through the struggle.
What we need to understand in the midst of "the middle" is that we are never alone. The amazing reality is that WE BELONG TO CHRIST, and HE BELONGS TO US therefore it is impossible for us to be alone. We've been given access to ALL of the resources hat Christ Himself has access to.II Peter 1:3 says it like this:
"For HIS divine power has bestowed upon us ALL THINGS that are [requisite and suited] to life and godliness, through the[full and personal]knowledge of Him Who called us by and to His own glory and excellence."
The authors remind us that we can encourage each other in the middle in three ways:
In the middle it is hard to remember that Christ is our refuge and our strength, and an ever-present help in time of trouble, BUT HE IS. Psalm 46:1-2 the imagery the psalmist uses is the earth giving way and the mountains falling away into the sea, and yet the psalmist has NO FEAR because of their trust and faith in God. That is why I encourage everyone I meet to write a journal, because in the middle you forget what God has done, but a journal reminds you of the many, MANY times He was faithful to you. In fact the old testament is filled with God telling the Israelites to build memorials specifically so that they could tell their children how faithful He had been to them. You don't have to rely on your own strength to get you through whatever trial you face because you are able to rest on the shoulders of a mighty God. Even if the earth gives way, and the mountains slip into the sea...so we can encourage each other by reminding each other that we are never alone.
In the middle it is hard to remember the MANY promises the Christ has made, It is important that we remember that these promises are not for your happiness as men perceive happiness. Christ's promises toward you are "the only accurate perspective of what you truly need and the only reliable picture of your true potential for change." The most important promise imo is found in Romans 8:28-29 that ALL of the things we go through WILL be used for GOOD and that GOOD will be used to transform us MORE and MORE into the IMAGE of CHRIST. That's good enough for me...and sometimes thats all I can tell myself as I struggle through the slough...
*Our Potential In Christ
In the middle we measure our potential. We judge our success and our failure often by the success or failure of another who is traveling but that is not the measuring stick we need to use. Paul said, and I am paraphrasing here, "hey, don't copy me, I am nothing, but if you wanna copy what I do, only copy what I do that is Christ like." (I Corinthians 11:1) When we struggle we mentally assess our strengths and weaknesses to decided if we are up to the task, but the reality is that we are ALWAYS up to the task. Remember II Peter 1:3 already told us that He has given us ALL things so that we can live this life. Galatians 2:20 tells us that the life WE live we live in the body we live BY FAITH in the Son of God.
Encouragement is an essential skill here in the middle, where many of us find ourselves. What do you say to that friend who is struggling to find solid ground? How do you offer hope to the hopeless? Can you point others to the source of your hope, not by quoting bible verses AT them, but by really sharing your heart and the person of Jesus with them?
My husband and I have been through many trials, and we have found that our relationship has grown stronger BECAUSE of the trials we have endured and because we have fallen on the grace and mercy of God. I encourage you to fall hard on His mercy and grace, to rely on His strength to overcome your trials and to reach out for help when you feel overwhelmed. We are told to encourage one another in the Scripture's:
"THEREFORE, encourage, admonish, exhort one another and edify (strengthen and build up) one another, just as you are doing." I Thessalonians 5:11
SO do it...do it because you know HIM who IS encouragement and do it because you've been encouraged and comforted by Him Who is our Comfort and Hope SO THAT YOU could go and comfort others. Your hope is built on nothing less...