Encouragement in Hopelessness

By Cheston Pickard

Let’s face it: hopelessness is a real thing. Pastors from all walks of life tend to find themselves, from time to time, in desperate moments. The truth is that, on this side of heaven, there will inevitably be seasons when church complaints come in herds, when change is contentious, when relationships are strained (perhaps even your own marriage), when leadership is exhausting and seemingly unbearable, when financial giving is down, when more people seem to leave your church than join and when there aren’t many wins to celebrate.

Sometimes, your ministry can simply feel like a derailed train, like anything and everything is keeping your flock from moving forward – from moving in a biblical direction and impacting lives for Christ. In short, church life can feel so dry and hopeless that the only thing one can think to do is cry out for help.

Truth be told, God’s people have found themselves in situations like this before. Like derailed trains. Stuck. Yet there is a holy encouragement found in the second chapter of Exodus, when God’s people were once incredibly desperate for the Lord to show up.

“During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.” (Exo. 2:23-25, ESV) 

Israel had been in slavery for roughly 400 years. Needless to say, things seemed bleak for the people of God. Now, not every aspect of our church life will correlate with the text in Exodus. However, the principles found in this passage are true and trustworthy – revealing the glory of God.

And lest we run our eyes too quickly over the text, notice the Lord’s response to the cries of His people.

God heard

Because the local church is a community comprised of human beings, there will naturally be a lot of talk in the mix of everyday life. Although talk is not a bad thing when the motives are Christ-like – such as encouraging and uplifting words – having conversations with neighbors in the surrounding community, inviting others to your church services and sharing the gospel. However, tongues also can tear down and destroy. Unbelievers may ridicule you. Dissenting church members might gossip and slander your name. Amazingly, the Lord hears it all.

And in the midst of hardship and turmoil, whatever the circumstance may be, the Lord also hears our cries. Therefore, stay faithful and be encouraged. The Lord also hears what we often fail to hear – the prayers of the individual saints who are standing in the gap for you, holding up your arms in the battle. Perhaps you would not even be where you are today if it were not for the faithful prayer warriors who approach the throne of grace with boldness on behalf of you, your family and your ministry.

God remembered

In church revitalization, especially in rural areas, it can easily feel as if you and your family and your efforts are simply out of sight and out of mind. Forgotten. Social media sometimes only adds negative fuel to the fire, leading you to think that all the other churches out there are truly “making a difference” while your church hasn’t witnessed a baptism in 10 years. It is precisely in these moments that we need to preach God’s faithfulness to ourselves.

Truth be told, you may be out of sight and forgotten in the minds of others, but the Lord will never forget one of His children or one of His churches. Amazingly, God remembers you because Christ is in you to the end of the age! How could He forget? There is no height or depth (or obscurity) that can separate you from the love of Jesus. Your name may not be well known and your church may not be making headlines, but our job has never been to make others gaze at us.

Our job is to glorify God and lead others to know Him – to make Him famous. When we truly realize that God remembers, there is rest and comfort to be found, no matter your geographic location and the circumstances surrounding you. So, take a breath and press on!

God saw

God sees everything. He sees your church. He sees your work and your family. He sees your sufferings. God sees it all! But lest we move forward too quickly, the Lord also sees the things we fail to witness. God has a front-row seat to the brokenness that exists behind the closed doors of your church members’ homes. God sees the addictions people struggle with every single day. The Lord sees the marriages that are barely holding on. The list could go on.

And it’s at this point that we have to remember why we got into ministry in the first place. Most likely, we didn’t enter the ministry for comfort and ease. We entered the ministry to bring hope and healing. Every community on Planet Earth is absolutely laden with sin and the gospel of Jesus Christ is mankind’s only remedy. Therefore, while it’s important to remember that God witnesses your every struggle, we have the opportunity to go into our communities and let others witness Christ in us.

God knew

I have always been amazed by God’s omniscience. He knows everything. But don’t be fooled: God may know the number of hairs on your head, but He isn’t interested in merely trivial matters. God knows you better than you know yourself. God knows your wife and family better than you. And God knows your church in ways you could never imagine. The Lord understands your life, context and ministry situation far better than you do, because it’s all under His kingship – all part of His creation.

And the Lord also sees what lies over the horizon. We don’t have the capacity to truly understand what will take place in our lives over the next five minutes, but God does. God knows the next gospel-conversation, the next baptism, the next victory over sin and the next funeral of a church member.

Do you see God for who He is? You see, the idea isn’t to have it all together in ministry. Our goal in ministry should be to lift our eyes and point to the One who holds the whole world in His hands. We ought to worship God in light of His glory and grace! And when the foundations of our lives get unstable – when everything feels like sinking sand – in Christ, we can cry out to the God who:

  • hears us when the world seems to drown out our voice,
  • remembers our identity when even we tend forget who we are,
  • sees us clearly amid the craziness and chaos of life
  • and knows every aspect of His universe with incredible detail – including you.

Published December 7, 2023

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Cheston Pickard

Cheston Pickard serves as discipleship pastor at Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky.