I hung up the phone, discouraged.
Weeks before, a leader in our church told me they might have to leave the country because of work. I had been pleading with God that this would not happen, because they were a joy to partner with, a huge blessing to the church, and there was no one else I knew who could take their place.
But now they had called and said they would be moving.
I thanked them for their friendship and faithful ministry and encouraged them to trust that God would use this to bring them great good. But as I hung up, my heart was filling with despair. All I saw ahead was problems and pain. I felt hopeless.
So what could I do? Too often I’ve responded to hopelessness with self-pity, or relying on my own willpower to muscle my way through, or distracting myself with work or Netflix or the gym. But God has a better way.
Promises to Be Believed
We can see that in Romans 15:13: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” This means that no matter what we are feeling, God can change our hearts. But how does this happen?
Notice that there is something we do, and something God does. The phrase “in believing” shows that what we must do is believe: we must prayerfully set our hearts on God’s promises and fight to believe they are true for us.
And as we do this, what God will do is fill us with all joy and peace so we abound in hope. As William Gurnall wrote hundreds of years ago: “The Spirit of God will come with spiritual light and life . . . when thou hast been diligent in meditating on the promise” (The Christian in Complete Armour, Vol. 2, 52).
Steps to Trust God in Disappointment
So there I was, sitting at my desk, feeling hopeless. But God, by his grace, stirred me to fight. I got up from my desk, and started praying as I paced back and forth.
Step 1: Confess Unbelief
First, I confessed my unbelief as sin, and asked for forgiveness through Jesus. I knew that my main problem was not losing a church leader. It was my sin of unbelief.
Specifically, my hopelessness showed that I was not trusting Jesus’s promise to satisfy me fully with himself (John 6:35), and that I was not trusting God’s promise to use every trial to give me even more joy in Christ (2 Corinthians 12:9–10). Instead, to my shame, I was trusting a well-staffed church to satisfy me.
So I confessed my sin to the Lord. I trusted that Jesus’s death had paid for my sin, that I was fully forgiven by God, and that he would help me with my hopelessness.
Step 2: Ask for a Change of Heart
Second, I asked for the heart-changing power of the Spirit. My heart was so discouraged that change felt impossible. I turned Romans 15:13 into a prayer.
Father, you are the God of hope. You promise to give me all joy and peace as I trust your promises. And you promise that as a result I will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Then I asked God to strengthen my faith and change my heart:
And Father, in your mercy, free me from unbelief. Strengthen my faith. Help me see you and trust you. Fill me with all joy and peace so I abound in hope.
Step 3: Declare a Specific Promise
Third, I fought to trust God’s promises. God brought Psalm 84:11 to my mind:
For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.
Walking uprightly does not mean perfection. It means longing for obedience, seeking to obey, and confessing when we fail. And since our good is God himself (Psalm 16:2; 73:28), this verse promises that if we are upright, then God will provide everything we need to have the greatest joy in him.
So I applied this promise to my situation:
Fuller, your greatest joy is God — not a well-staffed church. And God promises to give you everything you need to have the greatest joy in him. So as wonderful as this church leader has been, somehow their call to move away is going to give you even more joy in God, even if there’s a struggle with staffing. That’s God’s promise.
Hope for Every Disappointment
Change didn’t come instantly. Unfortunately, much unbelief and sin had to be overcome. But as I prayed for the Spirit’s heart-changing work and fought to trust Romans 15:13 and Psalm 84:11, God answered.
Slowly my faith started to strengthen. Instead of just seeing problems, I began, once again, to see Jesus — sovereign, loving, and faithful. Then this seeing became feeling — peace, and then joy, in Christ.
This faith and joy grew until I knew God was in control, and that whatever he did with our staff would give me, and the church, the greatest joy in him. As a result, my heart was filled with hope — abounding hope.
Turn the Spigot
We each have a water tank above us, full of the Spirit’s heart-changing power. And how does that power get to us? Through the pipeline of God’s promises. But at the end of the pipeline there’s a spigot: the spigot of faith.
To experience the Spirit’s power flowing through the promises we must turn the spigot, by prayerfully trusting and meditating on God’s promises. When we do, the Spirit’s power will come, and our hearts will change.
When you are feeling hopeless, don’t wallow in self-pity, or try to change your own heart, or settle for Netflix. Turn to Christ in faith.