Having Faith When It Feels Hopeless and Risky
I imagine when Abram was first given the promise in Genesis 12 that he would be made into a great nation, he probably thought it was going to happen soon. I would have. Maybe he rushed home all excited to tell Sarai, and the two of them started talking baby names, grabbing color swatches for the nursery. Sarai probably hopped on Pinterest and started dreaming up the perfect baby shower.
But then a year went by and…nothing. Another year, still nothing.
Years turned into decades and still they found themselves, waiting. They start to wonder, did we hear God wrong?
I used to think that when God gives visions or promises, it’s because the thing He’s revealing is going to happen soon. But if the thing He’s revealing was going to happen tomorrow, why would He need to tell us today? Tomorrow would simply come, and the thing would simply happen.
Instead, I’m learning that more often than not, when God gives a vision or a promise, He gives it because He knows darkness is coming—a vast stretch of wilderness, where we won’t be able to see a thing. In giving us the revelation ahead of time, He’s giving us an opportunity to build our faith by holding onto His Word, just as our circumstances are about to shift to make the fulfillment of His Word feel impossible.
This is the pattern all throughout Scripture. Take Joseph, for example. Joseph is given a dream that he will be a ruler. Awesome. Except, next thing he knows, he’s being sold into slavery and thrown into prison— for 13 YEARS. After the vision was given, he endured years of silence and suffering before he saw it come to pass. He was betrayed by his own brothers, wrongfully accused by a woman scorned, and was probably tempted many times to wonder if his dreams were mere delusions, or if God had forgotten about him. But when we get to the end of his story, we see that all along, God was there, orchestrating the seemingly unfortunate events of Joseph’s life to prepare Joseph for the purpose He had for him—to save many lives. And our ‘ole friend Abe, he didn’t hear God wrong. His promise came to pass too—but he waited a whopping 25 YEARS from the time he was told his offspring would be as numerous as the stars until the day his wife gave birth to a single son.
I don’t know about you, but personally, when it’s dark and I can’t see how certain things God has spoken are going to come to pass in my life—when the waiting feels endless and the road ahead looks empty—I’m tempted to doubt. Did I hear God right? Maybe those good things aren’t up ahead. If I’m not careful, this quickly turns into hopelessness.
But the more I read the Bible, the more convinced I am that darkness should actually serve to clarify my convictions of what God has spoken. In a way it should encourage me—I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, and I’m in good company.
This is the pattern all throughout Scripture. A promise or vision is given, then darkness follows where it doesn’t look like there’s any possible way it could be fulfilled—but it ALWAYS is, because faithful is WHO GOD IS. He humbles before He exalts, but He always keeps His Word. His track record is perfect.
The Bible tells us that those who wait on God will NOT be put to shame (Psalm 25:3). What then, should we do while we wait?
1. WHEN IT FEELS HOPELESS, STRENGTHEN YOUR FAITH IN THE DARK
Strengthen your faith by fixing your gaze on God’s character and filling your mind and heart with worship of who He is. The Book of Romans tells us that while Abram waited for the promise, he did not weaken in faith when he considered the circumstances that would seemingly make his promise impossible. The circumstances? Well for starters, his wife Sarai was physically barren, and Abram himself was about 100 years old (the Bible literally calls his body “good as dead”—what a compliment). So needless to say, things weren’t looking too hot for them.
Yet in hope, Abram “believed against hope” (Romans 4:18), and “no unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what He had promised” (Romans 4:20-21).
When I read this, I realize I need to confess and repent, because there are plenty of moments I’ve allowed unbelief to make me waver in faith that God will do as He has promised. It usually happens when I stare at my own set of circumstances that seem to make the promise impossible. But I also realize that like Abram, my faith can be STRENGTHENED as I give glory to God. So what does that even mean? John MacArthur’s Daily Bible commentary says, “to glorify God is to honor Him, to acknowledge His attributes, and to praise Him for His perfections.”
In short, measuring the possibility of the promise against the circumstances we can see will always lead to anxiety and unbelief. FAITH is the channel through which the promise is received, and it’s strengthened when we gaze upon GOD. If faith is “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we cannot see” (Hebrews 11:1), then having faith when we can see how it will all work out, isn’t actually having faith at all. Faith when the feelings are there is easy too, but that’s not faith either. Faith is a muscle that’s built when we chose to hang onto it—even and especially when we don’t feel it.
2. WHEN IT FEELS RISKY, IN OBEDIENCE BUILD THE ARK
Do the next thing God is asking you to do, without hesitation. I’m sure when Noah was asked to build the ark, it felt risky. What if the rain never comes? What if I look like a fool? What if I’ve invested all this thought and time and energy into something that never becomes a reality and it comes around and crushes me?
If you look at the list of Old Testament figures praised for their example of faith in Hebrews 11, you’ll recognize that every single one of them stood to lose something if God wasn’t truly in the thing He was asking them to do by faith. One stood to lose the first fruits of his crops. Another stood to lose any shred of social acceptance he hoped to hold onto. Another stood to lose his son.
The title of this blog post is actually redundant. The title of this blog post is actually redundant. (Hehe 😉). I don’t need to say “having faith when it feels risky” because faith, by its very nature, involves risk.
When we’re feeling the weight of that risk and our minds want to run through all the what-if’s, we need to remember this: Noah’s job wasn’t to figure out how the rain would start to fall, or to worry whether it actually would, or to convince people it was coming when all they could see were clear skies. Noah’s job was to simply put his head down and get to work in faithful obedience. Noah’s job was to build the ark. God would be the one to bring the rain.
So, we need to do the next thing God is asking us to do, without hesitation. We might not see it, but there’s a good chance our obedience is innately connected to the blessing He is going to bring us into.
God is faithful. There are times when the doubt feels so real but those are usually the times I’m not seeing Him clearly. When I see His perfect character more clearly, I literally can’t let myself doubt because I see a God who literally never lets His people down.
When we’re brave enough to have faith in Him, He will blow us away with a beautiful miracle. He’ll provide the promise. He’ll release the rain.
What’s more is, He’ll create beauty in the process while we wait. For Abram and Sarai, in between the time the promise is given and the time the promise is fulfilled, their names had to change. They became Abraham and Sarah. And the waiting, it changes us too. It destroys our sense of self-sufficiency, and it teaches us to depend on the only One who is truly dependable. There’s a certain beauty in the darkness because it changes us—in it, we learn to walk by faith and not by sight.
Photos in this post courtesy of the talented Aubrey Mattson.