Prayer in hopelessness

 “I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?”
Jeremiah 32:27 (NIV)

Will God really come to our rescue when matters look hopeless? One thing is certain – hopelessness is the point when people are most likely to pray. An old saying says, “There are few atheists in a sinking ship”. I don’t know whether anyone has tested that scientifically, and I’m sure that some atheist will object. But I think we know what’s being said.

Why pray when matters seem hopeless?  Because, while life remains, hope glimmers inside.  Despair kills.  As for hope, well, it hopes – but there’s a substance to it.  Disaster survivors may just be lucky, but often their survival is the product of hope. As water rose within their cabin a mysterious strength enabled them to swim to safety while others gave up and drowned. Their strength came from a seed of determination that wouldn’t let them give up. Hope saved them.


The world is complex, but a high proportion of future-determining events turn on simple options: this way or that way, the flip of a coin, a fork in the road, the ‘miraculous’ survivor. Health workers often see patients with similar symptoms, similar backgrounds, and similar treatments – but one succumbs to the disease, while the other recovers. Their different outcomes were not predictable. Some would call it luck.


Some people complain that they’re never lucky. They never win the jackpot; they always miss opportunities; they are consistent losers. And their pessimism is often proved correct, because hopelessness can be a self-fulfilling prediction. But, if the difference between a bad or a good outcome is narrow and unpredictable, prayer may be a promising option. When people turn to prayer as a last resource, they are being logical. It’s as reasonable as gasping in a quick breath and swimming along a flooded passageway to find an uncertain escape route. It’s better than giving up. Prayer in hopelessness contains an improbable grain of hope.

Don’t give up!

What’s the point of praying when you know that the situation is hopeless?
Where can you find the faith to pray for the impossible?
I’m sure you remember this Bible text:
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love[i]. So, hope isn’t the greatest thing – but it’s in the top three – it’s on the podium – it wins the bronze medal. When you face a seemingly hopeless situation and feel like giving up, don’t!  That’s the time to pray with whatever scrap of hope you can find. The situation may seem impossible, but you don’t know that it’s that bad. Latch on to the thinnest of silver linings (or bronze medals) and pray for a bright light to shine.


Before we go any further, we need to define what we mean by hopelessness. It’s a state of mind, rather than a state of being. Death, for example, is not a hopeless event, but a fact of life that will come to each one of us. We know that we will die, but we can’t know exactly when or how. Hope makes the most of life before death. It is reasonable and right to pray that someone will be healed, and that death will, thereby be delayed. But the deferral of death is not always the best outcome.


Some years ago, several people from our church were praying together. A friend’s disabled young son had been admitted to a hospice, so their prayers were sombre. Then one man spoke up saying, “we’re praying as if H is certain to die, but I think we should pray for his healing”. So, we did, and the child recovered. Months later, he was readmitted to the hospice with similar symptoms. But, this time, his mother asked friends not to pray for healing.  She saw his suffering, and knew that his life had become intolerable.  He died peacefully.  For him, death was the hopeful outcome.


So, pray in hope. In fact, pray for hope, because hope is valuable. If someone asks if you have faith you may deny it. You may admire people who have faith, but feel ill-qualified in that area. You may even feel that it would be boastful to claim to have faith – but it’s not immodest to admit to hope.  When the situation seems impossible, hope against hope for a good outcome.  Just cling on to that – and pray.

© Derrick Phillips 2020

[i]  1 Corinthians 13:13 (NIV)

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