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Hungering for Hope…He that lives in hope dances without a fiddle

22 Sep

Sometimes in spite of all the positive thinking we can generate, life is really terrible. Simple optimism will not do. Genuine hope (“confident expectation”) must go beyond positive thinking. Genuine hope is not “Wishing for something you know isn’t going to happen.” It is not an idle wish at all.

Hope is a vigorous principle; it sets the head and heart to work and animates a man to do his utmost. [1]

I like the story about the boy and his father who were planning a fishing trip for the next day.  That evening as the father was putting his son to bed, the boy hugged his father’s neck and said, “Daddy, thank you for tomorrow.”

If there are two words that should be said in the same breath and said regularly to ventilate our hope, that should be flamed together, branded as a signature of our faith, they are the words “faith” and “courage.”  It takes courage to believe, and in order to have that courage, we must believe. [2]

This nation was built by the power of hope. No painter ever set brush to canvas, no writer ever set pen to paper, no builder ever set brick on brick, no enterpriser ever built an enterprise without having hope that he or she could do what they were dreaming of doing. We have not begun to fathom the power of hope in creating better lives for ourselves and our children. [3]

We benefit from the foresight of those who have gone before, who lived as if   they realized that vision is merely hope with a blueprint.

Hope prevents us from clinging to what we have and frees us to move away from the safe place and enter unknown and fearful territory. [4]

It’s the wise individual who can hope for the best, get ready for the worst, and take what God chooses to send.

Hope is also a powerful concept. Without hope in the future, we have no power in the present. Hope may keep us alive. Without hope there is no reason to live. It has been said, “Life without Christ is a hopeless end, but life with Christ is an endless hope.”

“As long as I actively attack a problem, I am confident that the situation can be improved,” says TV puppeteer Shari Lewis.

 “About a decade ago I was told I had breast cancer and would need radical surgery. Hopeful there was another path, I sought other opinions, keeping hope alive long enough to find another surgeon and other treatments that enabled me to avoid radical procedures. And I’ve been totally healthy for lo these many years!

“I find that it works both ways.  If you are hopeful, of course you can take action.  The miracle occurs when you don’t feel much hope, yet you push yourself into action anyway.  Perhaps it is the brain, stimulated by the action, that brings you back to hope.  I don’t know why it works.  I just know that it does.”

It seems reasonable to hope in the Lord, but exert ourselves to accomplish that which is possible. We usually promise according to our hopes and perform according to our fears. God wants it to be lived in reverse!

I like the example of the hospice nurse, who had ministered to many as they faced death, trying to ease the transition. A minister asked her, “Do Christians die differently from others?” “Most definitely, yes,” she replied, “Christians really do die better.” Why do Christians die better? “They know it isn’t over.”

Hope is grief’s best music. [5] Hope is like the clouds: some pass by, others bring rain. Hope is like the sun, which, as we journey toward it, casts the shadow of our burden behind us.[6]

During World War I, a British commander was preparing to lead his soldiers back to battle. They’d been on furlough, and it was a cold, rainy, muddy day. Their shoulders sagged because they knew what lay ahead of them: mud, blood, possible death. Nobody talked, nobody sang. It was a heavy time.

As they marched along, the commander looked into a bombed-out church. Back in the church he saw the figure of Christ on the cross. At that moment, something happened to the commander. He remembered the One who suffered, died, and rose again. There was victory, and there was triumph.

As the troops marched along, he shouted out, “Eyes right, march!” Every eye turned to the right, and as the soldiers marched by, they saw Christ on the cross. Something happened to that company of men. Suddenly they saw triumph after suffering, and they took courage. With shoulders straightened, they began to smile as they went. You see, anything worthwhile in life will be a risk that demands courage. [7]

Our lives take a definite turn toward optimism when we live our lives this way! Hope looks for the good in people instead of harping on the worst in them. Hope opens doors where despair closes them. Hope discovers what can be done instead of grumbling about what cannot be done. Hope draws its power from a deep trust in God and the basic goodness of mankind. Hope “lights a candle” instead of “cursing the darkness.” Hope regards problems, small or large, as opportunities. Hope cherishes no illusions, nor does it yield to cynicism.

The apostle Peter offered this counsel: “So, then, gird up the loins of your mind; be sober; come to a final decision to place your hope on the grace which is going to be brought to you at the revealing of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:13).

Peter has been talking about the greatness and the glory to which the Christian may look forward; but the Christian can never be lost in dreams of the future; he must always be virile in the battle of the present.  So Peter sends out three challenges to his people.

He tells them to gird up the loins of their mind.  This is a deliberately vivid phrase.  In the east men wore long flowing robes which hindered fast progress or strenuous action.  Round the waist they wore a broad belt or girdle; and when strenuous action was necessary they shortened the long robe by pulling it up within the belt in order to give them freedom of movement.  The English equivalent of the phrase would be to roll up one’s sleeves or to take off one’s jacket. 

Peter is telling his people that they must be ready for the most strenuous mental endeavor.  They must never be content with a flabby and unexamined faith; they must set to and think things out and think them through.  It may be that they will have to discard some things.  It may be that they will make mistakes.  But what they are left with will be theirs in such a way that nothing and nobody can ever take it away from them.

He tells them to be sober.  Peter is appealing to them to maintain the essential steadiness of the man who knows what he believes.

He tells them to set their hope on the grace which is going to be given to them when Jesus Christ comes.  It is the great characteristic of the Christian that he lives in hope; and because he lives in hope he can endure the trials of the present.  Any man can endure struggle and effort and toil, if he is certain that it is all leading somewhere.  That is why the athlete accepts his training and the student his study. 

For the Christian the best is always still to come.  He can live with gratitude for all the mercies of the past, with resolution to meet the challenge of the present and with the certain hope that in Christ the best is yet to be.[8]

We might be like the student athlete, who was contemplating the difficult height of the bar on the high jump. “I don’t think I can make it,” he said. “Think positive!” said a friend. “All right,” the athlete said boldly, “I’m positive I can’t make it.”

Many of us think fondly of that dismal, old grey donkey Eeyore in the Winnie-the-Pooh children’s books by A.A. Milne. While lovable and secretly goodhearted, he is usually gloomy and negative, always expecting the worst.

During my years as a minister, I’ve met many people like that. They never accept responsibility because they’re certain they’ll fail. Or, they serve “faithfully” in the church, but gloomily imagine critics in every pew and corner.

Picture for a moment the person who “never receives enough attention,” never initiates friendships, and assumes the church is really run by an inner circle where he or she will never be welcomed. Would you agree that person often sounds like Eeyore in this conversation with Rabbit?

“Nobody tells me,” said Eeyore, “nobody keeps me Informed. I make it seventeen days come Friday since anybody spoke to me.”

“It certainly isn’t seventeen days–“

“Come Friday,” explained Eeyore.

“And today’s Saturday,” said Rabbit. “So that would make it eleven days. And I was here myself a week ago.”

“Not conversing,” said Eeyore. “Not first one and then the other. You said ‘Hallo’ and Flashed Past. I saw your tail in the distance as I was meditating my reply. I had thought of saying ‘What?’–but, of course, it was then too late.”

“Well, I was in a hurry.”

“No Give and Take,” Eeyore went on. “No Exchange of Thought: ‘Hallo–What’–I mean, it gets you nowhere, particularly if the other person’s tail is only in sight for the second half of the conversation.”

“It’s your fault, Eeyore. You’ve never been to see any of us. You just stay here in this corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. Why don’t you go to them sometimes?”

Eeyore was silent for a little while, thinking. “There may be something in what you say, Rabbit,” he said at last. “I must move more. I must come and go.”

“That’s right, Eeyore. Drop in on any of us at any time, when you feel like it.”

“Thank-you, Rabbit. And if anybody says in a Loud Voice, ‘Bother, it’s Eeyore,’ I can drop out again.”

We’ve all known other Eeyores. But as I chuckled over this conversation, another thought stabbed me. How much like Eeyore am I? How often to I expect the worst?

Do I anticipate defeat? Do I let that Eeyore-ish gloom dominate my spiritual life or my expectations of my family? Am I prone to suspect there’s a hidden conspiracy in the church to “do things” without me?

In my little corner of God’s forest, have I forgotten Paul’s prayer? “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).

How can I tolerate gloomy expectations when my Lord is Jesus, the God of creation? When my family is in his faithful care? When my church is his church, under his sovereign direction? And when every Eeyore I know in God’s congregation is his Eeyore–including me! [9]

My brother works with inner-city kids in Atlanta, and the society hasn’t beaten them down yet. They still believe in the future.   Ask them, “What are you going to do? What are you going to be?”  They say, “I’m going to be an astronaut” or “I’m going to be a surgeon.” They say, “I’m going to be a musician” or “I’m going to be a pro basketball player.” They believe in the future.

As they grow older, ugly realism might set in. Did you see the movie The Autobiography of Malcolm X? In one of the most painful scenes Malcolm X realizes the system will not allow him to be a lawyer, and his dream is shattered.

It is not the way we deal with our human situation that is the basis for hope–hope is the basis for how we deal with our human situation.

If ever you have the chance to visit the catacombs in Rome, those tunnels under the ancient city, where many of the early Christians were buried, you can see the symbols of faith on their tombs. Three common symbols appear: the dove, the fish, and the anchor. The dove symbolizes the Holy Spirit. The letters of the Greek word for “fish,” ichthus, stand for the words Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior. The anchor came from the idea that as Christians were going through difficult, insecure times, their hope anchored their souls. [10]

In all things it is better to hope than to despair.   In his book, A Gift of Hope, author Robert Veninga describes this transforming experience, which took place in the life of a 41-year-old man after he prayed: I left work early after hearing that I would lose my job.  I got in my car and and went to my church.  Unfortunately the minister was not there.  But the chapel was open.  I went in and stared at the cross.  I started to cry.  I told God that I didn’t have the strength to get through this mess.  And I asked for help.  I must have sat there for a couple of hours.  I brushed away my tears.             Suddenly a whole load went off my shoulders.  I can’t explain it, but I went into that chapel crushed and I came out feeling strong.  I actually felt that I could make it.

In a recent sermon, Bill Hybels shared this story: “A friend of mine has a brain-damaged daughter. Sometimes the sadness she feels over her daughter’s condition overwhelms her, as it did recently. She wrote me this letter and gave me permission to quote from it: ” ‘… I can hardly bear it sometimes. My most recent wave of grief came just last year before her sixteenth birthday. As the day approached, I found myself brooding over all the things that she would never be able to do. What did I do? What I’ve learned to do again and again: I did what I believe is the only thing to do to conquer grief, and that is to embrace it. … I cried and cried and cried, and faced the truth of my grief head on.’

“People who face their feelings and express them freely begin the journey toward hope.”[11]

Here’s the good news of the gospel: we have a Jesus who creates dreams and visions for us. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is our hope today. It is our assurance that we have a living Savior to help us live as we should now, and that when, in the end, we set forth on that last great jourrney, we shall not travel an uncharted course, but rather we shall go on a planned voyage—life to death to eternal living.[12]

Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, believers have been “begotten again” to a living hope, and that hope includes the glory of God. But, what do we mean by “the glory of God”?

The glory of God means the sum total of all that God is and does. “Glory” is not a separate attribute or characteristic of God, such as His holiness, wisdom, or mercy. Everything that God is and does is characterized by glory. He is glorious in wisdom and power, so that everything He thinks and does is marked by glory. He reveals His glory in creation (Ps. 19), in His dealings with the people of Israel, and especially in His plan of salvation for lost sinners.[13]

I must insist that we take a few steps alongside the men on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35) to make certain we see the other side of this difficult coin. The whole situation seemed to these two men to have no explanation. Their hopes and dreams were shattered.  There is all the poignant, wistful, bewildered regret in the world in their sorrowing words, “We were hoping that he was the one who was going to rescue Israel.” 

They were the words of men whose hopes were dead and buried.  Then Jesus came and talked with them, and the meaning of life became clear and the darkness became light. 

Life with Christ is an endless hope, without him a hopeless end.

A story-teller makes one of his characters say to the one with whom he has fallen in love, “I never knew what life meant until I saw it in your eyes.”  It is only in Jesus that, even in the bewildering times, we learn what life means.[14]

Do not look forward to the changes and chances of this life in fear; rather look to them with full hope that, as they arise, God, whose you are, will deliver you out of them. He is your Keeper. He has kept you hitherto. Hold fast to his dear hand, and he will lead you safely through all things; and, when you cannot stand, he will bear you in his arms. Do not look forward to what may happen tomorrow. Our Father will either shield you from suffering, or he will give you strength to bear it. [15]

In his book Dare to Believe, Dan Baumann illustrates the unique experience of knowing that something is ours, yet longing to enjoy it more fully. He explained that at Christmas time he would always do a lot of snooping, trying to find the gift –wrapped presents and figure out what was in them. One year he discovered a package with his name on it that was easy to identify. There was no way to disguise the golf clubs inside. Baumann then made this observation: “When Mom wasn’t around, I would go and feel the package, shake it, and pretend that I was on the golf course. The point is, I was already enjoying the pleasures of a future event; namely, the unveiling. It had my name on it. I knew what it was.” But only “Christmas would reveal it in its fullness.”

The glories that await the Christian defy our comprehension. What we can grasp about them, however, fills us with great anticipation. We look longingly to that day when we shall enjoy heaven in all its fullness.

Fay Inchfawn wrote,

“Sometimes, when everything goes wrong; When days are short and nights are long;

When wash-day brings so dull a sky That not a single thing will dry.

And when the kitchen chimney smokes, And when there’s naught so ‘queer’ as folks!

When friends deplore my faded youth, And when the baby cuts a tooth.

While John, the baby last but one, Clings round my skirts till day is done;

And fat, good-tempered Jane is glum, And butcher’s man forgets to come.

Sometimes I say on days like these, I get a sudden gleam of bliss.

Not on some sunny day of ease, He’ll come . . . but on a day like this!”

      

The Christian lives always and everywhere in a Christ-filled world.

Going down some old cement steps, I noticed an ant carrying a leaf on its back. The leaf was many times bigger than the ant. Then the ant came to a big crack in the cement that it couldn’t cross.  The ant stopped a moment. I wondered if the ant would turn back or proceed into the crack without the leaf. Instead, the ant put the leaf across the crack and then crossed the crack by walking across the leaf. On the other side, the ant picked up the leaf and continued on its journey.

It made me think that the burdens of today will be the bridges by which we will be able to cross the hard places in life in the future.[16]

Do not look forward to the changes and chances of this life in fear; rather look to them with full hope that, as they arise, God, whose you are, will deliver you out of them. He is your keeper. He has kept you hitherto. Do you but hold fast to His dear hand, and He will lead you safely through all things; and, when you cannot stand, He will bear you in His arms. Do not look forward to what may happen tomorrow. Our Father will either shield you from suffering, or He will give you strength to bear it. [17]

Two hundred years ago, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote out nine prerequisites for contented living.  Whether you’re the eighth wonder of the world or not, these are the things that really matter.

 1. Health enough to make work a pleasure

 2. Wealth enough to support your needs

 3. Strength to battle with difficulties and overcome them

 4. Grace enough to confess your sins and forsake them

 5. Patience enough to toil until some good is accomplished

 6. Charity enough to see some good in your neighbor

 7. Love enough to move you to be useful and helpful to others

 8. Faith enough to make real the things of God

 9. Hope enough to remove all anxious fears concerning the future

A woman diagnosed with a terminal illness called on her minister to plan her funeral. She had some ideas about what she hoped would happen, but she was insistent about one thing: “I want to be buried with a fork in my hand.”

Her incredulous minister demanded an explanation. “Oh, it’s quite simple,” the woman said. “In all my years of attending church socials and potlucks, I always remember that, when they clear the dishes, someone will say, ‘Keep your fork.’ It’s my favorite part, because I know something better is coming. So I want people to see me there in that coffin with a fork in my hand and know: ‘Her best is still to come.’ ” [18]

   For the Christian, the dark shadow of death will be illuminated by the shining face of Jesus. Phoebe Cary wrote these words of hope:

One sweetly solemn thought comes to me o’er and o’er; I’m nearer to my home today than I’ve ever been before;

nearer my Father’s house, where the many mansions be; nearer the great white throne, nearer the jasper sea;

nearer the bound of life, where I lay my burden down;  nearer leaving my cross; nearer wearing my crown!

——————————————————-

[1] Jeremy Collier (1650–1726)

[2] Fay Angus in Running Around in Spiritual Circles. Christianity Today, Vol. 36, no. 5.

[3] Lewis Smedes, “Keep Hope Alive,” Preaching Today, Tape No. 139.

[4] Henri J. Nouwen in The Wounded Healer.  Christianity Today, Vol. 40, no. 13.

[5] Henry George Bohn (1796–1884)

[6] Samuel Smiles (1812–1904)

[7] Gordon Johnson, “Finding Significance in Obscurity,” Preaching Today, Tape No. 82.

[8] The First Letter of Peter, The Daily Study Bible Series Revised Edition by William Barclay.

[9] Robert W. Harvey, Pastor, Bethel Presbyterian Church. Leadership, Vol. 1, no. 4.

[10] Stuart Briscoe, “Handling Your Insecurities,” Preaching Today, Tape No. 119.

[11] Preaching Today. Leadership, Vol. 19, no. 1.

[12] Raymond MacKendree

[13] Warren Wiersbe, BE Series – Be Hopeful, 1 Peter

[14] Ibid, William Barclay.

[15] Saint Francis of Sales (1567–1622)

 [16] Bernabe Spivey. Leadership, Vol. 20, no. 23.

[17] St. Francis of Sales, Virtue, Vol. 20, no. 7.

[18] Peachey, J. Lorne. The Mennonite, quoted in Christianity Today, “Reflections,” April 3, 2000, Vol. 44, No. 4, p. 72.

 
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Posted by on September 22, 2014 in Encouragement

 

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