Tag Archive: hope


Hope

“They shall still bear fruit in old age; They shall be fresh and flourishing, To declare that the LORD is upright; He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.”
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭92:14-15‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

As long as we’re breathing we can honour God with our lives. This is a great comfort as one enters mid life with its typical existential angst and thoughts of mortality.

There’s a wonderful little song written by Annie Herring of 2nd Chapter of Acts fame:

Fly away little burden
Fly away off my shoulder
Yesterday was a burden
Yesterday I was older

Clouds of grey will fly away
And wait on me no more
I threw the looking glass away
He’s at the door

We serve a God who values us, who is Love itself. We were made for this: a life of love, meaning and service. There will always be others we can encourage, someone to love and help and tell them they matter because God made them. We have a real hope: in this world and in the resurrection to come, because Jesus has defeated death, and we will be like Him.

So take heart! Despair is not an option for those who belong to the King.

Parallels

2 Cor 4:7-18

Sometimes life is hard. Bad stuff happens to good people, even those who want to do their best to please God. And this troubles us.

But nobody wanted to please His Father than Jesus Himself, and He suffered more than anyone. And everything in the Christian life has to do with our identification with Him, of our being “in” Him, part of Him, part of His body.

Jesus suffered on earth and died – and rose again.

So do we. This should hardly surprise us. If our Lord suffered on earth, do we think we shouldn’t? And if we suffer the same way – suffering injustice, trial and mortality – we are also promised we will also share in His resurrection.

Jesus endured, for what followed was greater. Likewise our “light affliction is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory”. So must we endure, for what lies ahead is greater. We have been promised nothing less than an eternal, physical existence with Him: this is the hope of every Christian.

The Crisis

“…in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
‭‭I Thessalonians‬ ‭5:18‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

It’s ok to be sad. It’s ok to talk about your feelings. David did this. Jesus did too; He is even called “a man of sorrow, and acquainted with grief”.

But that’s a lot different than becoming bitter. Bitterness happens when we allow ourselves to believe that the situation that’s made us sad is beyond hope. We cave in to despair, and we resent God (if He’s even paying attention); we ask ourselves how He could let this happen.

We come to a point of crisis; our spiritual direction hangs on the razor’s edge. What will we choose: hope, or despair?

Small steps; it’s the direction that matters. Every small choice establishes us a bit more on one road or the other.

Complaining becomes a bad spiritual habit, and we must fight against it every day. This is why scripture tells us to give thanks in everything. It is a decision to voice our trust in God – even when we don’t understand, even when He seems a million miles away.

Our faith is tested this way all the time. When the sense of His support is taken away will our hearts still point to Him? That is what we are being trained in. The cultivation of good habits takes effort, like any type of exercise.

We are told to “guard our hearts”, and we cooperate with God when we choose thank Him for all. A trusting, thankful spirit honours God and develops us into true followers of Christ.

Enduring Faith

“And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
‭‭Romans‬ ‭5:3-5‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

How is the heart changed?
When things are good, we tend to kick back and relax. We get lazy, and we start to take things for granted.

But troubles and pains drive us to our knees, exposing our frailty and need of God. We pray.

It’s humbling. Prayer is a request, so first of all we are coming to God on His terms. We look not to ourselves, but to Him for help. It’s a good place to start.

And as we pray, we develop perseverance and character as we wait on Him. The perseverance comes from disciplining ourselves to hope, even when sight seems to say God is absent. And it’s that discipline that builds character, a habit of trust and reliance on God. The waiting on Him is one of the things that changes you.

A moment’s thought tells us this is the only way it could be. It wouldn’t be a trial if things made sense or God’s presence seemed nearby. It’s when the feelings of doubt seem so strong that the decision to trust anyways does its work. It produces the steel God wants to put into our backbones, the character of a heart changed in practical fact.

And I think we need to regard this as the central issue in our lives. We often compartmentalize and regard our faith as a way with dealing with our larger life, merely a coping mechanism of some sort. But if He really is our Lord, then the changing of our hearts is the real issue, and what we go through to get there is merely the means to achieve this. Realizing that our lives are bigger than our circumstances lifts us out of despair and restores perspective.

The poet Keats said “The world is a vale of soul making”. I don’t doubt it.

If the atheists are right, we aren’t really free; we are all just the effect of random causes we had no control over. There is no right and wrong, we are not accountable for our lives, and if life has dealt us a bad hand, we can just complain like the victims we are.

If we are free, we are also responsible for the choices we make. But we will live worried, guilt-ridden lives as we notice our own tendency to mess things up.

But if we combine this with an understanding of God’s grace and His sovereign power, then we can rest and really start to enjoy our lives.

God says we are free; our choices matter. He wants us to do our best, and uses the trials of life to change us. But because of Christ’s work, He also forgives us as soon as we are willing to trust that He has. And knowing His will ultimately prevails, we can put our worried hearts aside and live happy, fulfilled lives.

It’s like the old Keith Green song:
“Keep doing your best
And pray that it’s blessed
And He’ll take care of the rest”.

Healing the Heart

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“Sorrow is better than laughter, For by a sad countenance the heart is made better.”
‭‭Ecclesiastes‬ ‭7:3‬ ‭

Depending on how you react when sorrow comes makes a difference. You can love better after your heart has been broken; the heart that does not choose despair when loss comes is made larger. It deepens you.

The opposite of despair is hope, and the only real hope is when death itself is defeated, because despair of any sort is always connected to death.

And Christ’s resurrection – and the hope of our own resurrection – is what lies at the very centre of Christianity.

We can let our sorrows make us better. It’s up to us.

Bitter or Better?

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There’s a fine line between being broken hearted and becoming angry and disillusioned, and I don’t want to cross that line.

What determines how I react when life tests me is where my hope lies. And where is my ultimate hope? What forms the lens through which I will view everything else?

I hope in a Saviour who defeated death, and the degree to which I really believe that affects how I handle life’s ups and downs. Our trials will then improve us, since we have to lean hard on His victory as the bottom line reality of our existence. It trains our hearts in the discipline of trust.

I need to make a point of keeping Him front and centre. It’s a perspective sort of thing. When I step back and see the big picture and what has actually been done for me in Christ, hope returns and all of life looks different.

If we despair, we become bitter, but if we hope, we become BETTER.

Thoughts From The Cancer Ward

A dear friend passed away recently. She faced her cancer with courage, grateful for the good in her life and trusting God even in the face of a fearful disease. She packed as much living as possible into her remaining time, and even though she knew she had mere weeks to live, she acted like someone who expected to live forever.

Palliative wards are solemn places, but there’s also a sort of emotional cleanness to them. All the facades are stripped away, and life in its most elemental form is laid bare; no niceties or airs, but pure, raw existence. It’s one of the most honest places I can think of: the big questions can’t be put off any more. It’s okay to cry.

And… those facing death can view the gospel with unusual clarity. They know, better than any, death as the ultimate humiliation, the running down and undoing of all we are. It declares the cessation of dreams and all we cherish; it is the end of meaning and music, song and beauty. The dying and bereaved can’t put off death’s brutal reality with amusements and distractions; it’s right there in their faces.

And yet, so much hope.

Hope – all hope, if your really think about it – is ultimately connected to freedom from the fear of death. This is why the Resurrection matters. It’s not just a nice story; it is a historical fact declaring that by Christ’s death sin is beaten, and death broken. That our end is not one of futility, but of the triumph of life and all that goes with it: existence has meaning, beauty is real, and we have a reason to live.

And we WILL live. The anticipation of an eternal, physical existence with Christ lies at the very centre of Christian hope. He rose; and because He did, so shall we.

As far as this present life goes, we’re all terminal anyways; it’s just a question of when. They say there’s no atheists in foxholes, but I don’t think the dying are grasping at straws. There’s too much historical evidence for the gospel, too much commonality of experience to dismiss it out of hand. This hope is a very real issue to the dying, and its reality often shines through their last days: perhaps as beacons to those of us who will tarry a few more years.

Suffering and Bitterness

“…looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled; lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright”. (Hebrews 12:15-16 NKJV)

If we believe in a sovereign God, it follows that nothing comes into our lives without His direction. But when any of those things are unpleasant, it’s easy to feel abandoned and get bitter. Why would God allow this to happen?

The Bible is full of promises that God will uphold us, provide for us, and that He keeps His promises. But at the same time both life and the Bible show us that God’s people have endured tremendous pain and troubles. Some of God’s most devoted servants have been persecuted, suffered horrible illness, been falsely accused, and gone to early, sometimes ignominious graves. In a word, they seem to have at least as many problems as anyone else.

Do we believe He’s really in charge? In our heart of hearts I think we doubt it sometimes. It’s a trust issue, and sometimes that faith is really tested. If enough trouble comes our way we can get bitter.

Romans 8:28 says that “all things work together for good to those who love Him”. “All things” means Christians experience the same trials and tribulations as everyone else. It’s just that in the believer’s case, God uses these things on our behalf to change us and build the nature of Christ into our hearts in practical fact.

Even Christ Himself had to be “made perfect” by His sufferings:  “For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings”. (Hebrews 2:10 NKJV) But how could God need to be made perfect?

I think it’s that before then, God had never suffered as a human. He couldn’t taste death until he incarnated and submitted to His Father, even against His very human desire to avoid the pain and humiliation of the cross. To experience and submit to mortality with all its humiliation, harm and death was key to God’s own identifying with humanity. God suffered and died – just like us.

And if we would truly follow Christ, this learned submission is key. For those who would be made like their Lord, even as He submitted to the Father, so must we; there is no other way. It’s that continued trust and submission to all that comes that is the proof that we are really His, and this learned attitude is part of what changes our hearts in practical fact.

And so we give thanks for everything, and worship even in the midst of trial. You are being broken; you are being treated as a child of God. And therein lies the deep joy that we can experience even when we hurt.

Satisfaction

I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you. (‭Psalm‬ ‭63‬:‭5‬ NIV)

In mid-life we encounter a crisis of satisfaction. The dreams of youth have faded, relationships come and go; and we start to see friends die. We’ve peaked in our careers or even started down the other side through layoffs and downsizing and wonder what’s left.

Satisfaction is all about perspective. I spent most of my career at a single employer before downsizing terminated my job in 2010; being well into my middle years, I don’t have the same shelf life as younger prospective employees and employment has been an on-and-off again prospect. At 59 years of age, I’m usually the junior employee and the first to be laid off when there’s a slowdown.

It’s easy to get discouraged.

God’s reality has to be foremost in my thought. I read of a God who binds Himself with an oath to care for His children; whose “loving kindness is better than life” who cares about justice and help for the lost and hurting. Of a God who incarnated, actually lived as a man in history, died, and rose again, promising resurrection and eternal life to any who would choose to put their hearts in His hand. Of a God who promises to use ALL things for my benefit, calling me to a wonderful destiny and remaking my heart.

I need to fill my head and heart with these things (this is where regular reading, thinking on scripture and being in community with other Christians comes in), and when I do, my perspective returns. All will be very well.

And when our satisfaction comes from God rather than security, job status, or what others think of us, we can relax. We’re freed up to explore how we can make the world a bit better.

I wish I could say I do all this perfectly. I still struggle; but I know which way to run when the emotional storms come, and I find refuge.