Question from a Site Viewer
I Feel Hopeless
I am 24 years old and have been a Christian since I was 12. I was raised in a Christian family; I have pretty much grown up in the church and my dad is a minister. I grew up into my teens as a God-fearing boy but not as committed as I should have been. I have struggled with porn since my late teens and I ended up indulging in ungodly actions with hookers. I hated myself for that and lost hope. I went through a hard time trying to forgive myself, but after confessing my sin I felt God’s forgiveness and love in a very special way. Hope had returned.
After that I became passionate and on fire for the Word and prayer, and served on the music team (I still do). However, I then got into a sexual relationship with a lady. I was living in disobedience and kept holding on to the relationship. I finally got out because I knew it was wrong. Again I confessed to the Lord and to my dad and according to God’s word I believe I am forgiven, but the problem is that I no longer feel God’s presence in my life. Again I feel hopeless. I am weak and not as passionate as I was; it’s like my faith is hanging by a thread. It feels like my heart has become hardened and my spiritual sight and sensitivity are at an all-time low. I struggle with fear, doubt and hopelessness. I feel indifferent to what God has done for me and His love. That scares me. I fight against thoughts of hopelessness as I am terribly aware of what is at stake.
I can’t help but think that maybe I went too far. I feel empty and disconnected. I am empty without the Holy Spirit. I read Proverbs 29:1 and I feel that it’s me.
He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck,
will suddenly be broken beyond healing.
I feel hopeless. Is there any hope? Can I yet return to God?
What you describe is typical and is readily understood by a knowledge of Scripture. When we draw close to God, He draws close to us (James 4:8) and we sense His presence and marvel at the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Our lives are alive to God. But when we sin, we draw away from God and He draws away from us and our hearts grow cold to Him. In Deuteronomy 32, we find the Song of Moses when God details out the history of Israel before it even happened. And He speaks in verses 15-19 about how Israel drew away from Him and in verse 20 we see God withdrawing from Israel. A relationship with God requires both sides to be committed. God is committed to us but His holiness does not find a willing counterpart in lives of sin. We become like the foolish person in Proverbs 1 who did not listen when Wisdom called and in turn finds that Wisdom does not listen when we call. So the hopelessness you are experiencing is not foreign to Scripture. We should not expect the warmth we had with God when we first drew near to Him and walked with Him to be the same warmth we feel when we have deliberately violated His laws and now want to return. The warmth comes from a consistent movement towards God. Jesus speaks of not trusting certain ones who believed in Him because He knew their hearts (John 2:23-24). While we are restored to fellowship when we return, God often will test us to reveal our true desires. So, I am not at all surprised to read the account of your life. It is exactly what I would expect from someone in your situation.
Scripture gives us many illustrations of this matter. One that has struck me for many years is the law of impurity in the Old Testament. If someone touched an unclean thing, they were unclean. In Leviticus 15, we have an entire series of commands with respect to unclean matters, and with all of them the person was to wash themselves and even after they washed they would continue to be unclean until the next day (evening time started the next day in the Jewish way of reckoning a day). In Numbers 19 we have the law as it dealt with dead things, and there the person would not be clean for 7 days. These laws were given to teach us, I believe, that when we have been polluted and we desire to return, it takes a while to experience cleanliness. We never stop being God’s children and certainly we are instantly forgiven and welcomed back when we return (1 John 1:9). But we need to again be sanctified by the washing of the Word (John 17:17; Ephesians 5:26). And this is not an instantaneous thing. It takes time to bring back that internal cleanness in our minds. Hope can be restored but it takes consistency. I have found in my life that when I have sinned and sought to return, even when I seek to return immediately (as I think we should), it has always taken time to get back that sense of closeness with God. I have come to accept this law of return as part of the problem of sin. Sin not only disappoints God, but it damages the relationship. It takes concerted effort and time to restore the relationship; not so much from God’s side, but from ours.
There is another factor that is in play. When we feed garbage into our minds, our minds tend to think about garbage which also is not pleasing to God. Thus, it is always an uphill battle to reform the mind to the place where we naturally think about the good. And, the battle can be such that at times we simply do not want to engage. We would rather be lazy. And “lazy” will leave us in the status quo with our minds far from God. This is the state of those who have turned away from God. This is precisely why you will find older Christians strongly encouraging and exhorting younger Christians to guard their minds. The return can be difficult.
But Jesus let us know that though it is difficult, the return is both possible and ultimately delightful. This is the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15. He did the very things you describe. He said along with you, “I feel hopeless.” But when he came back, he came back to be a servant, never expecting to have the same warmth of relationship he had with his father that he had when he went away. Yet, we know that on his return, as Jesus tells the parable, the reunion was one of delight. Hope was restored. And, that story is preceded by two other parables in that same chapter, with the point of both that there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who comes back than over those who are righteous. It is the heart of the Father to see His children come back to Him. It is the heart of the father to restore hope to the hopeless. And yet, I imagine if Jesus had played out the story of the return of the prodigal son for a few more years, readjusting with his father would have been difficult for both. The point of the story, however, was that there was a place in his father’s home for him. And so it is for all of us who have gone astray and now want to return home.
So, the first thing I encourage you is to take the long view and make it the fixed determination of your will to return fully to the Father. Do not try to make this a partial thing. Partial returns never work. And I say “will,” because your heart (or your emotions) will be fickle in the return. As Christians, we must learn to let our will drive our heart. It is precisely when we do not feel like being close to God that we need to exercise our will to do just that. When we feel distant and do not feel like returning, by our will we must pray to God to strengthen our hearts and seek to draw near. It is in those moments that we most feel far away from God that we make the decisions that are most important to our lives. Will we turn away or will we follow Him?
But there is a second truth. It will not always be so hard. The more we draw close to God, the more He will draw close to us and demonstrate Himself strong on our behalf. The test we endure when we first return is to see if we truly want to be with God. If we make it our choice by our wills to pursue Him, life with Him will be an increasing delight and an ever deepening relationship.
Thus, I am encouraged that you have begun the journey back. I challenge you to finish that journey. When you say to yourself, “I feel hopeless,” remember that hope is ever-present. Take upon yourself the mantle of His mission. Set it as your goal to represent Christ well to this world. Begin the process of renewing the mind by memorizing and meditating on Scripture. There is perhaps no better way to reshape the mind than the discipline of regular memorization. You create new neuron pathways with memorization and you thus begin the process of reshaping the brain. It is important to follow the command of Philippians 4:8 and think about good things. Do not give place in your mind for thoughts that would take you away from God. When such thoughts come in, and they will likely be a constant barrage for a few months (or perhaps even years), use them as a triggering device to quote a verse, pray for someone, or praise God. Learn to refocus thoughts. In this way, you will also be reshaping your mind. And hope will return.
Seek to draw deep into Christ. Abide in Him, as He urges us in John 15. Make every moment of every day be about Him. As Paul states in Colossians 3:17, everything we do we should do in the name of Jesus Christ; which I interpret to be that He should be a part of all that we do. This is what it means to walk in the Spirit. We engage Him in all that we do. So make it a point each day and several times a day to pray to God and always ask for His direction in what you do. Seek to serve Him by doing good deeds for others.
What you will find as you choose to follow Christ is that your heart will follow your choice. We really can will our hearts to love Him. This is precisely why God can command us to love Him with all of our hearts. It is because the love of hearts can be driven by our choices, by our wills.
If you do these things, you will be able to look back on your life and be astonished at the work of God in you. Your life will have been meaningful and full, and a blessing to God and to people. You will never feel hopeless. You will be confident of your salvation. And your reward will be great in heaven. I urge you not to shrink back from this path.
Many of us have gone astray and returned. We have found the struggle you describe on your return. We have found hearts that are cold. But we also have found the faithfulness of God as we have committed our lives to pursue Him.
It will not be easy, especially the first few months and years. But having continued to pursue Christ, we can tell you the gratitude we have in our hearts that He was willing to return to us. God continues to look for those whose hearts are perfect towards Him (2 Chronicles 16:9). Make it your aim to be that person.
And may Jesus Christ and His Holy Spirit guide your heart into a love for the Father and a love for His children.
one who has been there,