The Gift of Hope

“I claim the gift of hope. I have hope, not in the glorious achievements of man, but in the ever-glorious providence of God.” – Dwight Longenecker

I like to pride myself in being an optimist – you know the “glass half-full” kind of person. You, too? Optimists are surely more fun to be around than pessimists!

But in a world full of problems that seem unsolvable, optimism falls short. It usually is unrealistic and is ineffective in addressing the challenges of life. Instead, I suggest we turn to hope. Not the weak, “I hope so” kind, but a strong biblical hope based solely on the providence of our almighty, all-loving God. It’s a hope that is an assurance God will act, good will come, and justice will prevail, even though we may have to wait for its complete fulfillment. If our hope is based on biblical promises, what we hope for is as real as the ground we walk on.

In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul assigns hope with faith and love as the three main values that endure. Why, I wonder? I think because faith is needed to access hope. When we learn to trust God’s promises and his character, we will be filled with hope. With that in place, what can we do but love him and love others? Godly hope energizes love because we know we are and will be taken care of – there is enough of God’s provision for everyone. Hopeful people are loving people.

Once we get a taste of that kind of hope, we realize the shallowness of mere optimism. Hope based on God’s providence is not optimism. It’s reality.

“And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” – Romans 5:5

Enduring

“I’ll lift you and you lift me, and we’ll both ascend together.” – John Greenleaf Whittier

If you’ve lived very long, you’ve figured out that life’s road can be (and will be) bumpy. There are challenges around every corner it seems. We tend to think that, if God is all-loving and all-powerful, he should protect us from those challenges, smooth out the path under our feet. Make it a straight line – and an easy way.

Having lived in the Rocky Mountains for a few years, I learned that the most difficult treks can be the most beautiful. The twists and turns have great surprises along the way. The climbs and curves slow us down enough to see the views, the wildflowers, and the wildlife that would be a blur on a long, straight path where we can speed along at our best pace.

God knows we would prefer an easy way. But sometimes he has a bigger purpose for us than ease (that restfulness will come only in the life to come). There are periods in our life for slowing, for thinking things through, for relying on another traveler to help us get past the rough spots, and for simply trusting God. None of that happens when everything is easy.

What do we do if we are on a rocky part of the road right now – and maybe it’s been challenging for a long time, with no smooth path in sight yet? We endure. We go a step at a time. We ask for help from someone near. And we cling to the promise that God is producing something good in us as we take courage and keep on keeping on.

“The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped.” – Psalm 28:7

Bad news?

And all my life, You have been faithful
All my life, You have been so, so good
With every breath that I am able
Oh, I will sing of the goodness of God
*

We’ve all been on the receiving end of bad news at some point or another, right?

“You’ve been a great employee, but we have to cut costs. Sorry.”

“Just calling to let you know about your lab tests.”

“There’s been an accident.”

So how do we react? At first, panic, desperation. Then sadness or depression. But, over the long haul, we pull ourselves up and begin to think clearly. Paul shows us by example that there’s something we can focus on to get us through the bad news times:

When he was on trial before King Agrippa, he recounted his earlier life, his conversion, his missionary efforts, and finally his arrest in Jerusalem, and he sums it all up by saying, “To this day I have had the help that comes from God” (Acts 26:22).

He’s in trouble – again. This time he’s about to be sent to Rome to stand trial before Caesar, an emperor known to throw Christians into dungeons or to the lions. And, what is Paul thinking about? The past. God’s faithfulness. God’s help in every situation.

If we are in distress today, we can do what Paul did: think about the times God has helped us in the past. Times when we’ve had bad news, and he came through. Times when we prayed and were flooded with peace. Then we ask him to do it again. He is faithful to his children and hears their cries for help.

“. . . you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. – Psalm 63:7

“The Goodness of God”, written by Ed Cash, Ben Fielding, Jason Ingram, Brian Johnson and Jenn Johnson, and published by Bethel Music

Results

“The One who calls you to a life of righteousness is the One who, by your consent, lives that life of righteousness through you!” – Major Ian Thomas


The quality of the life we live is the product of many small choices we make each day. God tells us  “the fruit of righteousness will be peace, the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever.” (Isaiah 32:17).

If righteousness brings peace, quietness, and confidence, what does it say about choices I’m making if, instead of those qualities, I’m experiencing anxiety, turmoil, and fear? Maybe I need to take a closer look at righteousness!

What kind of life would God consider righteous? Loving him comes to mind, as Jesus clearly stated. Jesus also taught that right living hinges upon loving those around us and showing that love in tangible ways. It seems that righteous living includes seeking justice for the mistreated and help for the suffering. We would all agree that righeousness includes virtuous living: purity of actions and thought – in eating/drinking, sexual morality, caring for our bodies, and protecting our minds.

Only the Holy Spirit can enable us to live righteously. So, if we want the peace, quietness, and confidence that right living brings, we need to turn to the One who stands ready to transform our hearts, minds, and souls. He won’t do it without our invitation and cooperation. But, when we invite him, we begin to be sensitive to his conviction of wrongdoing and to his nudges toward good decisions. As we respond to those convictions and follow those nudges, we grow, realizing, as we do, that all righteousness is God-given. Without him, it’s impossible!

” . . . being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 1:6

NOTE: This post is was originally published on this site in July of 2019.

Secret Believers

 “Oh, how great peace and quietness would he possess who should cut off all vain anxiety and place all his confidence in God.” – Thomas a’ Kempis

In some countries, Christians must be careful about sharing their faith with people they don’t know, and they often bond with other Christians and meet together secretly. Their lives may depend on staying under cover.

For most of us, though, we’re not in danger if we talk about God or claim to be a follower of Jesus. But still, many of us tend to keep our faith under wraps.

The Gospel of John tells us many Jews believed in Jesus after witnessing the raising of Lazarus. But they believed secretly because they were afraid they would be ostracized by the religious establishment. John saw through their motivation for secrecy. He said, “They loved human praise more than praise from God.” (John 12:43)

John’s implication is we can either please other humans or we can please God, and very often we can’t do both. Sometimes we have to be willing to be criticized or ridiculed if we’re going to be bold in living out our Christian faith.

Maybe we need to be more honest about who we are, more comfortable with letting our faith in Christ show, and more willing to speak the truth. Sometimes that may bring a negative response, but, if we share of ourselves with quiet confidence and grace, God will be pleased. Who do we want to please the most?

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” – 1 Peter 3:15b-16

Stressed out?

“Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strength.”  – Charles Spurgeon

There’s plenty to be stressed about these days, and so much of what makes us anxious is beyond our control. On the other hand, there are really practical things we can do to reduce stress in our lives. Some of the best advice on that is found in the book of Proverbs. Let’s take a look.

Plan ahead. Jesus told us not to worry about tomorrow. One way not to have to worry is to have a plan – whether it’s for raising children, advancing in your career, saving money, or serving God.

Set good priorities. Part of planning is prioritizing. Find your priorities and follow them consistently.

Choose friends carefully. Get close to friends who will walk with you through joys and sorrows and will encourage your faith in our loving God.

Always tell the truth. It’s too much work to remember what you told to whom. Truth-telling is not only biblical, it’s safe!

Find good counselors. Proverbs is all about getting good input. In fact, it talks about having an abundance of counselors. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice!

Keep your finances in order. Make it a goal to spend less than you earn. Debt creates stress!

Help others. Step up when you see those who have needs they can’t take care of by themselves.

Trust God more than you trust yourself. As much as we’d like to, we really can’t trust our own thinking sometimes. That’s where God comes in. Trust him first and always. If everything follows from that foundation, stress will be calmed.

If you haven’t read the book of Proverbs lately, this might be a good time to revisit its amazing wisdom!

A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh . . .”– Proverbs 14:30a

It will make sense – eventually.

God will not permit any troubles to come upon us, unless He has a specific plan by which great blessing can come out of the difficulty.” – Peter Marshall

Why? is a question we find ourselves asking a lot. Why doesn’t God heal me? Why can’t I find a good job? Why aren’t my prayers being answered? Why, God?

Sometimes there are identifiable answers to those why’s. Maybe we’ve made bad decisions and need to correct them. Maybe we’ve wandered from God and need to reconnect. But, at other times, we sense there’s more to the story than what we see.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey at the beginning of the week of his crucifixion, the disciples watched, and John says they “. . . did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him” (John 12:16). They didn’t understand because they didn’t have the whole story – yet.

Later, just before the disciples and Jesus had their last Passover meal together, Peter objected to his Lord washing his feet. Jesus responded, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand” (John 13:7). In other words, just wait until you see how this ends. Then it will all make sense!

Sometimes we can understand the here and now only in light of what happens later. This requires trust that God is good and loving and powerful and will not allow our suffering to go unaddressed. Our cries are heard and our why’s will be answered – when we see how the story ends.

 “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.” – 2 Corinthians 4:17-18a

He kept walking.

“When Jesus set his face to walk the Calvary road, he was not merely taking our place; he was setting our pattern.” – John Piper

Jesus knew what was coming. He told his disciples he was going to Jerusalem where he would be arrested, tried, and crucified. After three days he would rise from the dead. Jesus knew what had to take place if he was going to be the Savior of the world. So, “. . . he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51).

The walk from Capernaum was nearly 80 miles long. Lots of time to think about what was about to happen. But he didn’t waver. He pointed himself toward Jerusalem and kept walking. He stopped to heal people along the way – then kept walking. He stopped to eat and sleep, and then kept walking. Resolute. Pointing toward his own death. Never turning back.

What was he thinking about? We get a clue from this passage: “. . . let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1b-2).

He kept walking because, at the other end of agony, there would be joy. Joy at doing the Father’s will. Joy in bringing salvation to the people of the earth. He did it for joy.

Are you facing health issues? Family problems? Emotional trauma? Financial setbacks? Work stress? Do what Jesus did. Keep walking, knowing he has a plan for you, knowing the end result is in his hands, resting in his promises of presence, power, and joy. Don’t give up. Keep walking. That’s what Jesus did!

” . . . for the joy that was set before him. . .” – from Hebrews 12:2

NOTE: Original walking concept from Emilie Griffin in Small Surrenders

Power

“What wings are to a bird and sails to a ship, so is prayer to the soul.” – Corrie Ten Boom

Have you ever fantasized about what you’d do if you were in charge of the world? The fantasy doesn’t last long, does it? The problems are great, and we have so little power to make a difference.

But wait. We may have more power to effect change than we realize – maybe not on a grand scale, but, instead, in our circle of influence – people we know up close and those we reach through media.

What power do we have?

First, there is the power of words: Some of you are great at engaging in discussions about important issues. Others know how to say just the right things to people in distress. Still others have great powers of persuasion. We can use our words, whether written or spoken, to urge, comfort, and counsel. Our timely words matter to someone!

The second is the power of community: Sometimes it is who you know. We may not have what we need to make the impact we want, but we may know those who do. Power isn’t simply added when we include another – it’s multiplied!

The third power we have is spiritual. When we pray, God hears, responds, directs, and, yes, empowers. One simple, weak, tired thing we do can be supernaturally empowered by the Spirit to make a big change in this world.

We shouldn’t feel powerless. We cannot do everything, but we can do something! What is the “something” God is putting in front of you to do today? It matters!

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, . . . that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being,” – Ephesians 3:14,16

Staying lost?

Prodigal Son (New Your Public Library), Public Domain

“I cannot be reborn from below; that is, with my own strength, with my own mind, with my own psychological insights. I can only be healed from above, from where God reaches down.”
― Henri J.M. Nouwen

I had a dog years ago who liked to explore the world, and sometimes he got lost. One of two things happened when we realized Luey had taken off again: Either we’d go looking for him, calling his name, checking his favorite haunts, or he would get hungry and find his way home. The end result was the same either way: The lost dog didn’t stay lost.

In Luke 15, Jesus tells three parables about lostness. The first was the lost sheep. The shepherd knew the wanderer would never find his way back to the flock on his own, so he secured the 99 sheep and set out to find the one who was lost.

The second was about a woman who lost a valuable coin. She searched until she found it and then called her neighbors in to celebrate. What was lost had been found.

The third is familiar to all of us. It is about a lost son, the one who declared independence from his father, took his inheritance early and set off to a far country where he lived an irresponsible life until his money ran out, a famine hit, and there was no one to turn to but Dad who welcomed him home with a great feast.

The point of these stories? That which is lost can be found.

If you’re feeling lost today, God knows where you are. He will help you find your way back home. You don’t have to stay lost!

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” – Luke 19:10