Practical Christianity (VII): We Live In Hope
"The problems my wife and I have are too great and too old to be changed. There is no hope." This statement is one often heard from those gripped in sin. One of Satan's most effective tools in destroying souls is despair. Despair is closely related to pride and arrogance. What one is really saying by a statement like the one above is, "My problem is unique. My problem defies solution by God or man. I have tried to change what's wrong and have been unable, therefore no one can solve my problem!" The proud do not "take heed unto themselves" in their arrogance, thinking that they "stand" by their own power. Thus when they inevitably fall on their face "great is the fall thereof." "A fool's way is right in his own eyes . . . correction is grevious unto him that forsaketh the way . . . a scorner loveth not one that reproveth him; neither will he go unto the wise" (Prov.12:15; 15:10,12). When we lose hope in God's power to change lives and save souls-then we lose faith in God. If a Christian declares a desire to please God and to change his life unto godliness-then he can, for we have God's promise (1 Cor.10:13; Rom.15:13,14). We can have godly optimism because God promised us that we can change, and shows us how to do it. Change is not easy, for God calls on us to break habitual behavior, and any habit is difficult to break. Repeated failure makes people doubtful and distrustful of hope: their hopes have been dashed too often. But the scriptural basis for hope is that "God is faithful" (1 Cor. 10:13), not that man is able. First order in conquering any problem is faith in God's power to save. "All scripture" given us is provided that through the patience and encouragement they contain "we might have hope" (Rom. 15:4 ). The scriptures give us hope for ultimate salvation, and hope for godliness in this life. Apart from God's word there is no hope, no answers. All other methods and solutions other than God's are doomed to failure.How to Give Hope
One way to give and receive hope is to take sin seriously. How often have we heard our Brethren or our spouse say lightly, I haven't been much of a mother/ father/ wife/ husband, but . . ." After the "but" comes the justification for sinning and failing. A sister once "came forward" in repentance asking for the prayers of the saints for her unfaithfulness in assembling with the saints. I addressed the church on her behalf, describing her sins, and how her neglect had "trod underfoot the Son of God, counted the blood of the covenant an unholy thing, and done despite unto the spirit of grace." After services, with tears in her eyes I heard her comment to a sister, "I don't think I am that bad!"
Minimizing sin does not give hope. . Neither does it produce change in the lives of sinners. When confronted by a stated desire to correct a problem and the sin is stated, as in our first illustration under this heading, the Christian should respond seriously, "Failure to be a good husband is a serious sin. Tell me how you have sinned as a husband." Once, a visiting preacher and I visited a sister who had an unfaithful life in almost all areas. Her dad was an elder and she had caused her God, church, and parents untold grief by her sin. Her own despair at her condition had prompted an attempt at suicide. As we sat in this sister's living room her long, sad tale began to pour out: She had been forced to come to church all her life, in rebellion to her smothering environment she became pregnant by her boyfriend, and the church "had never let her forget it." She felt uncomfortable around the hypocrites in the church, her children misbehaved, her husband had a violent temper and would not allow her to go to church and take the children. On and on she went, relating the failures and abuses of all the people who had "caused" her to be what she was today. Great tears welled up in her eyes as she related how her tender efforts to "go back to church" had been violently crushed by over-enthusiastic brethren. The visiting preacher kept minimizing her sins in a soft murmur, "Now sister, things aren't that bad . . . you've had some bad experiences, but look on the bright side!"
As she wound down I confronted her biblically with a scriptural rebuke and exhortation to do right. "You are blaming your parents, the church, your children, your husband, and everyone else to avoid having to look at the real person responsible for your failure and sin: YOU. You were drawn away and enticed by your own desires. Your parents also forced you to eat and sleep, but that hasn't turned you against eating and sleeping. No one raped you and got your pregnant. You sinned against your own body, in hateful rebellion against God and the love of your parents. The brethren have never forgotten your sin because you have never repented of it-you married the father, but there was no repentance for wrong doing. Even to this day you seek to justify your disgusting behavior by blaming your parents. There are hypocrites in the church, and if the beam were out of your eye I might encourage you to talk to them about their mote. Your children will continue to misbehave in church, at the store, in the car, and everywhere else until you teach them proper behavior. And don't use your husband as an excuse. He opposes your putting them in public school instead of parochial school, but it never bothered you to oppose him then. Why don't you drop your excuses, and repent? No one is keeping you from obeying God but yourself."
Both the woman and the preacher gasped in surprise. The woman's tears dried up immediately, and she drew herself up in self-righteous hurt. Her father called me aside that evening and told me that his daughter's psychiatrist had called and instructed that his "patient" was not to be "bothered" by the preacher again. "After all, brother Kingry, she is a sick girl."To my knowledge, to this day she has still not gotten over her "sickness" for she has been surrounded by people who minimized her sin and allowed her to relieve her guilt by blaming it on someone other than herself. I have witnessed too many instances of real change on the part of people who had even more difficult problems to believe that God's plan does not work.
One of two responses is likely to result by taking sin seriously: If the self-depreciation is an effort to appear sincere and humble, while providing an avenue for selfgratification, then the person will quickly back track in the opposite direction when his sin is met seriously. "Oh, I am not that bad, now . . . don't get me wrong." In such a situation the problem quickly becomes one of insincerity and hypocrisy and this must be dealt: with first. But often the problem stated is very real and the response will be unto godliness if dealt with seriously. The past failures, sins, and heartbreaks will pour forth. Hopes rise because the problem is really in the open and can be dealt with.
Another way to develop hope is by "putting on" immediately after "putting off." Talking with a sister who had confessed hateful action towards a sister in the church I told her, "Now, we need to go to sister and you tell her what you have told me. You two need to start loving again." She would not hear of it at first-the prospect of a confrontation with one she hated terrified her. But, finally we made our way to her door, and a tearful reunion was accomplished. The problem would not have been solved scripturally without reconciliation. (Brethren who "forgive" one another publicly, and then never have anything to do with the other have not been reconciled. Their sin remains). Often when sin is confessed, there is a "let down." "What now," the person asks, "Is this all there is?" If we stop here, the despair and hopelessness will return. We must then "put on". In husband-wife sin, there is confrontation, confession, and reconciliation, but seldom any concrete "putting on". The couple needs some success in their relationship. The husband who neglects his wife must make an early opportunity to "pay court" (1 Pet. 3:7). He may take her out to dinner, talk to her like a person, wait for her to finish her meal before getting up to go-maybe even linger over coffee to talk. He may bring her gifts, hold the door for her, smile at her once in awhile, help with the dishes, make her a night-time snack and serve it in bed. But, above all, he must look for positive, constructive ways to say by his actions "I care, I love, I cherish . . ." Often it does not need to be elaborate gestures. I know of one relationship that was almost brought to ruin because the husband did not hang up his clothes, left lights on, left his dirty clothes and towels on the bathroom floor for his wife, did not brush his teeth, and left a quarter inch of milk in the bottom of deep glasses, and did not rinse it out. Their entire relationship changed by some common garden-variety habit-breaking on the part of the husband.
Likewise, the young Christian who has been disobedient and selfish can effect change immediately by seeking ways to please his parents in the Lord: helping around the house, acting responsible at school, asking for help in scheduling and. discipline in school work and personal habits, getting in on time, or even early, assuming with parental permission new responsibilities such as fixing the evening meal once a week, assuming responsibility for the dishes, the cleanliness of the family car, the lawn, or the garden. Talking to parents about problems with a view to changing will never disappoint the child or parent.
Parents, after recognizing that there are failures in your life, make constructive thought-out steps to change immediately. Set up a nightly Bible class after dinner that everyone participates in. Disconnect the T.V. and play with your kids. Take your children individually on a walk and talk to them. Make a pact with your spouse that next time he hears you screaming at the kids to take over till you come to yourself.
We need hope, and we need to establish our confidence in God's way that it will work by immediately putting it into practice. "Hope deferred maketh the heart sick, but when desire cometh, it is the tree of life" (Prov. 13:12).
Truth Magazine XXI: 25, pp. 391-392