Wow! In spite of many of us feeling as though we should be over it by now, we’ve made it through another pandemic-impacted year.
Vaccines made available from a variety of manufacturers have spurred both scientific advancements as well as speculation, confusion and uncertainty.
More challenges, more tension, downer reports in the news, more differences of opinion and preferences leading, in some cases to outright division – both outside of and within the church.
And yet, through it all, as exemplified within our ministry, many have been able to maintain and extend hope, share faith, and come to one another’s aid. To be salt and light and share the love of Jesus as we’re called to do.
As we close out another trip around the sun, I’d like to examine the true meaning of hope.
We’ve just been through the Advent season; a season of anticipation and the attributes of Hope, Love, Peace and Joy that Jesus brought into the world.
Beyond even this current pandemic and other turmoil taking place in the world, isn’t it true that we have to view our lives in the context of a greater narrative and an everlasting hope?
Times of trouble are certain. Times of victory are certain. We can’t be disillusioned to thinking either happens exclusively.
Honestly, isn’t it true that our lives of belief and faith only truly make sense in the context of difficulty?
And it truly is contextual right? The difficulties we survive and live through can be both instructional and faith-building. How can we ever truly appreciate the good things of life without the contrast of some of the struggles we experience to gain them?
In some cases, it’s actually the struggle that makes the outcome seem all the more worthwhile. It’s been argued that the majority of humankind has always operated on the hope of something more; that things could be better. Hope encourages us to look forward, to a brighter future ahead.
In contrast, all of us have been affected if not scarred by the events of the recent 24 months, and many uncertainties remain. We don’t want to have our hopes dashed yet again.
We are not the first generation or culture to experience such tension, challenges or uncertainty. And yet we fret and fear. One reason is that hope is often about how we expect (or desire) our world to be.
Life would be perfect if only things could be that certain way; you could obtain that one thing, person, or experience. Or if the world at large were better in this way or that. One can get lost in these cravings, which only increases our separation from the world as it is.
So, what if, we were to begin to work to see the world with equanimity instead of craving and fixation? (Note: Equanimity = mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation) Equanimity — the balance that is born of wisdom — reminds us that what is happening in front of us is not the end of the story, it is just what we can see. Put in a more common way, this, too, shall pass and we can gain much through the experience.
This leads to a different kind of hope, one that resides not in specific outcomes but in the way things actually are. A hope that can reside in the way things actually are? Why, that just seems counter-cultural!
Personally, I’ve learned that this healing sense of hope can exist when I release my expectations if not, outright demands upon a particular outcome.
First, there is hope in remembering and acknowledging that, over the course of my life and even the last year, things may, at times, have seemed rather bleak. But in the perspective that the Word of God and time spent with Him in meditation and prayer so often provides, I have learned patience, perseverance, and even found strength I didn’t know I had. I’ve come to realize there is much within me that actually responds well to adversity. There is hope in that learned confidence.
Second, hope can be nourished by the ordinary activities that can help us sustain our energy and optimism—if we actually do them.
I mentioned time spent in the Word, meditation and prayer and those are key, but I’ve learned that disciplines like making time to engage with other believers, being open and transparent while also being a good listener in my Life Group and recreating and uplifting my spirit through time spent in God’s creation are all instrumental in cultivating and buoying hope.
Again, hope requires some action on our part along with the inclusion of others.
A friend recently related that, a few years ago, she was teaching a stress-reduction workshop with women who work in domestic violence shelters. They asked the women to write down their sources of stress in one column and what they did to handle stress in the second. Many women said they handled stress by being in nature or pursuing a hobby. Yet they could not remember the last time they had done these things.
That realization made a connection for all, those conducting the workshop as well as the women who worked at the shelter. We may know what could help move away from feelings of hopelessness or fear, but we often don’t do them unless we are reminded to do so by being with others in a similar situation.
Finally, there is hope in the well-known distinction between what we can and cannot control.
Do the best you can. Live according to your values and intentions, while knowing that you may not always succeed in your aspirations. Feelings of fear or loss are part of the human condition. And when you find community with others, you know that you are doing the best you can with what you have.
As followers of Christ, it is so important that we embrace God’s Holy Word to squash our fears. Something valuable also happens when we proclaim that we will trust in Him. Try saying it out loud to Jesus now: “I will trust in You.” Every time fear creeps into your mind, repeat those five words so that Satan will hear your unrelenting faith. When you hear or see uncertainty in your lives, sports, cities, states, and countries, remember:
He is worthy of our trust. He is the Creator of the universe. He is the Alpha and Omega; the beginning and the end. He is the way, the truth and the life. He is the Savior of the world. He is the One that sent His only Son to die for our sins.
Do you believe that He, who is all of those things above and more, is worthy of our trust?
We are often so ready to put our trust in things we can see and experience first-hand–like money, friends, and our sports and hobbies. But through times like these, God will never leave or forsake us. He will always protect us. As followers of Him, it’s our job to engage in His Word and His daily truths. It’s our job to empower others to do so too.
This week, as we venture into a new year, may I encourage and challenge you with this exercise?
- Make a list of the current fears you have and title it “My Fears.” Once your list is complete, change the name to “I Will Trust You” and pray daily for God to protect you against your fears.
- If you have difficulty changing the name of your list and with praying this prayer, instead begin by making a list of what is holding you back from trusting God and pray about that.
How is your hope? Does it bounce back after being hit? Does it cause you to doubt when you lose hope in a situation? God knows that we all struggle with finding and holding onto hope. When you are facing tests of faith, even the strongest Christians can find it a challenge to find hope.
When you need encouragement and refreshment for your soul, turn to the Scriptures from the Old and New Testaments that offer hope and encouragement. Everyone needs to be reminded from time to time of the hope that God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit offer to us through God’s Word in our daily lives.
A Prayer for Hope: Lord, I maintain my hope in You and I hold onto the assurance your will is right for my life. I pray that my will may now be aligned with yours so that all may be done in the name of Jesus. Your Word promises “no good thing does He withhold from those that walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11). I wait upon You for Your definition of the “good thing” You will not withhold from me instead of relying solely on my own. As David prayed in Psalm 18:1: “I love you, Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”
…looking forward, with hope, to all that 2022 has in store in Christ Jesus,