Hope can make you and break you—make you if you have it, break you if you don’t. When life is going our way, it’s easy to feel like we have hope. Even if we’re struggling in some way, if we feel like things will ultimately turn out okay, then we still feel hopeful. Feeling powerless to control outcomes, though, is especially hope crushing. The more important those desired outcomes are to us, the more crushed we feel.
Recently, as I talked with a woman who felt low on hope, I quickly saw and heard the desperation she felt. She was heartbroken and desperate for renewed hope, for any small sign that her situation is going to turn out okay.
Same as this woman, you and I want to feel hopeful. When we lack hope, our desperation rises. Will things work out? Will God come through? What more can I do?
As I listened to the woman’s story, I thought about the Israelites and how their hope waivered during their 40-year journey to Canaan. They remembered the meat and bread they ate in Egypt (Exodus 16:3). They remembered the fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic they enjoyed there (Numbers 11:5). In the wilderness, they no longer had these luxuries, leaving them hungry, desperate, and wondering if slavery in Egypt may have been better than the uncertainty of wilderness life.
To reassure the Israelites and provide for their physical needs, God sent “manna,” which is described in Exodus 16:31 as being like coriander seed and tasting like wafers with honey. This “bread from heaven” (Exodus 16:4) appeared anew every morning so that the Israelites never went hungry. Yet, they still felt hopeless because, though they had what they needed, they did not have what they wanted.
We, like the Israelites, don’t have to be happy about tough situations. We can, however, stay open in tough situations to the possibility that all hope is not lost. More than that, we can work to build hope in at least a few ways.
Three steps for building hope
When we’re in our own hopeless “wildernesses,” we can accept inside ourselves that “I’m at my limits. I can’t do anything more than I’m doing right now to ‘save the day.’” This is a painful realization in itself, but being able to call that out to God and to trusted others in our lives (e.g., friends, family, pastors, counselors, doctors) is an important step. We’re no longer alone in our desperation but have courageously and humbly called out for help to others who are able to come alongside us and offer support.
The woman I talked with has started reaching out. She already has been reaching out to and relying on God for support. She’s now reaching out to trusted others as well. Does this solve her struggles, no, but does it provide emotional support that she wasn’t fully capitalizing on previously, yes.
The Israelites also called out for help. It appears they did so with a grumbly, ungrateful attitude. God still provided for them but also allowed them to experience some negative consequences for their grumbly ingratitude (see Numbers 11 for starters). We’re human, same as the Israelites, so we get it—they felt desperate. Of course, like us, they’d also seen God come through in pretty big ways previously. Let’s take a note there—let our needs be known but maintain a grateful heart as best we can.
Look for the good
On the subject of gratitude, each morning of the Israelites’ journey, after the dew evaporated from the ground, they found fresh manna—a “fine flake-like thing, fine as the frost on the ground” (Exodus 16:14)—waiting to be collected and baked or boiled for their nourishment. Manna wasn’t the sign of hope the Israelites wanted, as it quickly became boring and unsatisfying to them, but it was nonetheless a sign of God’s provision.
When you and I feel hopeless and don’t see the outcomes we desire, we can, instead, look for the good that’s happening around us. In really hard times, it may be that we have to look around and see that we’re still here, or that our loved ones are still here, that we or they are still holding on. I know…that’s not the most reassuring sign of hope that we’re looking for, but it’s still a sign; it’s still something we can hold on to as a reminder that all hope is not lost.
Maybe you’re struggling right now, desperately looking for any sign of hope. Look for any good in your situation that you can possibly find. Perhaps someone is praying for you or helping in another way. Maybe you received a discount or an extension on a bill, and that’s something good that can help you build hope. Small signs of hope like these may feel like crumbs–crumbs of manna—but when we’re really starving for hope, even crumbs can help sustain us.
God not only wanted to provide for the Israelites’ physical needs through manna; He wanted them to learn and remember an important lesson–by themselves, without His provision, they would not make it through the wilderness. This lesson was so important that God commanded Moses that a jar full of manna “be kept throughout your generations, that they may see the bread that I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you out of the land of Egypt” (Exodus 16:32).
Just as the Israelites preserved manna in a jar as a future reminder of how God had provided for them in the past, we also can preserve and recall reminders of hope from our past. How did God come through in the past? How is He coming through right now even in what we perceive to be the smallest ways? Answering these questions from our past and present can help to build hope right now and serve as encouraging reminders down the road, whenever our hope is low again the future. We may need to revisit those reminder “jars” (keepsakes, scrapbooks, notes from friends and family, precious memories) many, many times to be filled again with reassurance and hope.
No easy answers
We can take these steps and build hope. That still doesn’t mean we won’t hurt when hope is low. It doesn’t mean that by somehow building hope we will, in fact, achieve the desired outcomes we were so desperate to achieve. Look at the Israelites. Thanks to God, they escaped slavery in Egypt and avoided being killed by Pharoah’s army as they fled. As a people, they successfully endured 40 years of wilderness wandering before arriving at Canaan (the Promised Land). But, not all of them actually made it to the Promised Land. And, during those 40 years of wandering, A LOT of trials happened (read Exodus to Deuteronomy in the Old Testament). Those were hard times on many levels. The Israelites, like us, surely wished for easy answers, but easy just didn’t happen.
You’ll see, too, that entering the Promised Land wasn’t the end of the Israelites’ struggles. You and I are limited in our outlook in a similar way. We are so focused on our current exodus from the struggles we’re battling that it’s difficult to look ahead and care much for the trials that lie ahead. This current trial is actually preparation for the next trial and the next. With this in mind, it’s all the more important that we reach out, look for the good, and remember how God worked things out in the past so that we might be encouraged in the present and future trials.
Scripture to hope on
If you’re looking for something to do to help build renewed hope, definitely give the three steps above a chance and multiple chances for that matter. I’m also including additional scripture here for you to think and pray on. These, too, may be helpful as you work on building hope:
“In the wilderness He fed you manna which your fathers did not know, that He might humble you and that He might test you, to do good for you in the end. Otherwise, you may say in your heart, ‘My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth.’ But you shall remember the Lord your God…”
“If I should say, ‘My foot has slipped,’ Your lovingkindness, O Lord, will hold me up. When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Your consolations delight my soul.”
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”
“The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘Therefore I have hope in Him.’ The Lord is good to those who wait for Him,…”
Before you go…
What scripture or other truths have helped you build hope? What manna (signs of hope) have you seen in your life lately? Encourage others by sharing your thoughts below in the comments section. I’ll do my best to get those posted as quickly as possible.
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Scripture references in this article are from the New American Standard Bible and linked to www.Biblegateway.com.