Discouragement, resignation, and despair are enemies of faith. As such they are sins that have no place in the believer’s repertoire, yet how easily we fall prey to their subtle attacks. The situation is bad. “I will not hold out hope foolishly in a circumstance beyond repair,” we tell ourselves. “I am a realist; I am not naïve; I will not be duped. I will not permit myself to hope only to have my hopes dashed and my desires disappointed. Better to grit my teeth in disheartenment than to harbor vain expectations.”
But faith in God and in His promises is not the refuge of the foolish and naïve, of the weak-minded or the self-deceived. On the contrary, faith is the defensive bastion of believers that protects them from the attacks of Satan and the onslaught of the flesh, and it is the offensive weapon that destroys every spiritual enemy. Is your situation beyond hope? Not by a long shot.
When the Lord received news from his friends Mary and Martha of Bethany that their brother, Lazarus, was sick, “He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was” (John 11:6). We are not told that some important ministry or other pressing business prevented Him from hurrying to Bethany, just that He waited, seemingly too long, to go to the aid of His friend. It could not have been ignorance of the extremity of Lazarus’s state that explained the Lord’s tarrying because, when He announced to His disciples that He was finally going to Bethany, He revealed to His disciples that He knew already that “Lazarus is dead” (v. 14).
When they arrived in Bethany, Martha and Mary remonstrated with Jesus: “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died” (vv. 21, 32). They knew and believed that the now hopeless situation might have been prevented had the Lord arrived more promptly. What they did not anticipate was that the Lord might perform a greater miracle than the healing of their terminally ill brother by raising Him from the dead.
Like Mary, we are too quick to label a situation beyond remedy. As if we are omniscient, we pronounce a person or a circumstance to be past hope. While I am not suggesting for even a moment that God will restore the dead to life in this dispensation, the account of the resurrection of Lazarus should teach us never to presume that we can predict the future and stamp “finis” on a chapter that God has not finished writing. What appears beyond remedy to us is not beyond remedy before God. Faith is not a Pollyannaish denial of reality; rather it is a confident trust in the character of God and the promises He has given.
The Lord often intends circumstances that are inclined to provoke natural despair to be springboards to increased faith. The Lord gave us this insight when He remarked to the disciples as they were leaving for Bethany: “I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe” (v. 15). God intends us to discover that our hopeless situation has been permitted or ordered to promote belief in us. An old gospel song says “the half cannot be fancied this side the golden shore,” but the Lord is in the process of enlarging our “fancy,” of helping us to believe more fully, trust more perfectly, rest more confidently. Expecting the Lord to work honors Him. Certainly, because we have the flesh, we may wish and hope for, or expect the wrong things. But trials are winnowing experiences that separate those shallow desires from us so that we may hope confidently in the Lord, waiting patiently while believing that He will do both what He has promised and what is right. Despair and its kindred sins dishonor the Lord by denying Who He is and what He does. Until the Lord writes “The End” on some person or situation, we should pray in faith, serve in hope, and wait in quiet expectancy for the command: “Lazarus, come forth.”
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