From Helpless to Hopeful: A Roller Coaster from Bad to Good

From Helpless to Hopeful: A Roller Coaster from Bad to Good
October 14, 2015 Joani Schultz

by Joani Schultz

I’ve never understood Good Friday. What’s so good about nailing Jesus to a cross? About pain and suffering? About darkness and death?


I’m compelled to share what God has been up to in my life. Not that I’ve welcomed these discoveries; it’s just that God rocked my world. With images of his divine love. His purpose. His signs from helpless to hopeful.

Are you ready to ride my roller coaster from bad to good?

1. From filth to beauty

From Helpless to Hopeful Slum God thrust me into the slums of Manila. It rained, like it always does. We slipped and slogged down a slimy mud path to a ramshackle second-story slum home the size of a minivan. It housed a family of six. The smell. The darkness. The dirt. (See the photo. I’m not making this up.)

Yet taped to the barely-there walls were newspaper articles featuring a beautiful young girl: the girl who came from this garbage-heap home. Jessa, a beautiful ballerina, now dances with the professionals. She flies through the air and glides on her tiptoes with Ballet Manila. God lifted her out of desperation. The contrast was unreal.

The cultural whiplash ripped my heart.

Romans 8:17 tell us “…if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.”

Do you ever wonder, how can beauty emerge from such dark places?

2. From desperation to hope

My husband, Thom, and I recently led a session at KidMin, our national children’s ministry conference. We shared “4 Acts of Love for Your Children’s Ministry” from our book Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore.

Now there’s nothing more invigorating than spending a weekend with children’s ministry leaders who are on fire for kids and Jesus. Talk about wacky, wonderful, colorful, and fun!

You’d think we were all about parties and song motions.

Yet inside all these exuberant kidmins can be pain and disappointment. At the conclusion of our class, we asked everyone to pair up and share a God Sighting—a sign of God working in their lives.

One young woman spoke: ”My husband and I can’t have kids. We want to adopt.” Her voice choked up. “And we needed $6,000 to file papers. We don’t have that kind of money.” More disappointment.

But God had hope in mind. “We held a garage sale,” she said, pausing. “A garage sale. And when we counted our money at the end of the day, it came to $6,007!”

The place erupted in applause.

My heart leapt inside me.

“…if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.”

Do you ever wonder, when has desperation turned to hope?

(I wonder, how often do you ask others outright for their God Sightings?)

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3. From death to new life

We recently held our annual Lifetree Café summit where we met representatives from Lifetree Café Branches around the country. Almost a decade ago, we watched as church attendance declined. It felt as if we were watching the slow death of the church we love and serve. The vision of Lifetree Café came out of the slow demise of the church as we know it.

God has taken what looks like death (Jesus on the cross) and brought such new life (Jesus’ Resurrection) that it’s astounding. Every week people gather in Lifetree Cafés everywhere to talk about issues of life and faith. This ministry innovation in itself is a sign of church “death to life,” but nothing is more invigorating than how God is touching people’s lives. People like Jodie, who we met at the summit.

Jodie admits she went to Lifetree kicking and screaming: her rehab coach insisted. Jodie walked into a Lifetree Café in Fort Dodge, Iowa, and there Joyce warmly greeted her. “If they really knew who I was, they wouldn’t welcome me like this,” Jodie thought. But as the hour unfolded, God reached into Jodie’s life and changed her forever! She explains she had a spiritual experience through an episode called “Be Yourself…Everyone Else Is Taken.”

From that point on, her life-change hasn’t been easy. But God hasn’t let go while Jodie discovered her purpose by starting a halfway house for abused women. Already it’s been running two years! To the amazement of the rest of us “regular people,” her next nonprofit startup is underway to provide organic healthy food to eaters who pay whatever they can afford—even if it might mean washing dishes.

From a struggling, searching addict to a leader and visionary of nonprofit outreaches…only God can bring such life from death!

My heart explodes with gratitude.

“…if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.”

Do you ever wonder, how can something dead lead to life? When has that happened to you?

“And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering” (Romans 8:17).

There’s more!

My heart can’t take it.

“Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later” (Romans 8:18).

I wonder: What does God have in store for us who share in his suffering?

Let me know. How have you seen this truth unfold?

Chief Creative Officer of Group Publishing, author of Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore and Why Nobody Wants to Be Around Christians Anymore and producer of When God Left the Building.


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