Maintaining Hope while Helping Others
Serving with Dignity is built on the premise that God freely gives us the resources we need to serve others well. All we are called to do is to humbly give and receive these gifts with others in the context of dignified relationships. There are ten such gifts covered in the course - seven associated with the seven lessons (mercy, dignity, assets, presence, grace, hope, and love) and three that are woven in throughout the course (humility, faith, and dignified interdependence).
Maintaining hope while helping others when there seems to be little or no progress can be very discouraging and might even lead us into despair. But this need not be the case. The despair we feel in unchanging circumstances is unsurprisingly related to our desire to change things, to make things better.
This desire to make things better, to alleviate suffering, to offer hope is a very good thing. But it's not so good to build our hope on producing change in others; at least not a specific change over a specific time frame. If we are allowing the Spirit of God and his word to work through us, rest assured it will have an effect, we just can't predict or control what this effect will be or when or how it will be made manifest.
The two most tempting choices when things don't seem to be improving are to try harder or just walk away completely but these are often worldly choices when made without the direct leading of the Spirit of God and wise counsel from others. While we may indeed need to distance ourselves at certain times and at other times exert more effort, there is always something we can do (pray) and there are always limits to what we can truly handle.
So how do we decide - distance ourselves or double down on our efforts? God has the power to change anything and anyone at any time but gives us all the freedom to choose the better path. And we must also give other people that choice. Our part is to continue in the Way of the Lord ourselves (Psalm 37) and prayerfully take this person again and again to Jesus (Luke 5:18-25).
Then, through counsel from his Spirit, his word, and from other godly people, we can make sound choices about the most helpful role we can play moving forward. But we do need to make those choices once we've discerned the proper path and if we find that we can't, we may need to seek help to heal from a codependent need to fix people or ask the Lord to heal our hearts if we have grown callous and unloving. Continuing our own walk in the Way of the Lord is the key.
The Way of the Lord (Psalm 37) is the only way that ultimately lasts. This way is paved with his trustworthiness and leads to the ultimate changes that he has promised - to make all things new (Revelation 21:5), a new city of peace in which people enjoy the fruit of their labor in long and healthy lives (Isaiah 65).
Our proper response to his trustworthiness is to trust him more than we trust anything else (especially our capacity to change things). The Bible calls this kind of trust, faith. Our faith grows as we trust the Lord in unchanging circumstances because we know his plans are to prosper us, to give us hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). We also know that he is working all things for our good (Romans 8:28) in order carry the good work he began in us to completion (Philippians 1:6).
When we humbly serve others with this mindset, knowing that it is God at work through us (Philippians 2:13), he will make an impact through us and he will certainly change us. When we are serving under his power and according to his word, our efforts will inevitably produce changes around us because his word never returns empty (Isaiah 55:11). These changes just might not be the things we were expecting or hoping to see and they probably won't happen according to our timeline.
Serving others is not about changing other people. It is the mechanism that the Servant Lord, Jesus Christ, has chosen to change us and through that, to bless others and draw many to saving faith in him. He is the rock of our salvation (Psalm 62). The one who has given us a secure and steadfast hope, an anchor for our soul (Hebrews 6:19-20).
Now, "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit" (Romans 15;13). And by this power may we walk in concert with that old and beautiful hymn that calls us to the only hope that lasts:
"My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ Name.
On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand."
- Edward Mote, 1834