Maintaining Hope

My friends, with all of the advantages and undying love and protection of Yahweh, have you ever wondered why the children of Israel never followed and served God with all of the joy and gladness He deserved? I better explain what I mean.

Deuteronomy 28:47 says, “You didn’t serve Yahweh your Elohim with a joyful and happy heart when you had so much . . .” and it goes on to describe the bondage the people would experience because of their hardened hearts.

Now remember, they had seen plenty of signs, and wonders and miraculous things happen, so you would think that they would be overflowing with joy, wouldn’t you? Well, out of fairness I think we could ask ourselves that same question! How many times have you lost your perspective when things weren’t going the way you thought they should? When your hopes and expectations weren’t met, was your heart exactly what you would call “glad.”

Now, Solomon understood this. He wrote, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Proverbs 13:12).  Hey! Maybe that was what the children of Israel were experiencing . . . Their hearts were sick. Well, possibly, because it was clear that their hope was in everything but the Lord. Their hearts had never been aligned with the heart of the Lord, and their plans and goals for their lives had little to do with His plans. So be honest, has that ever been true for  you?

Paul explained it this way:

“. . . we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope . . .” (Romans 5: 3,4)

Oh! That describes a path we should be following, but I had written that passage, I don’t think I would have ended with hope. You know what I mean? I would have started with hope! You hope your marriage will be happy; you hope your kids will grow up to love and serve the Lord; you hope your job will provide enough money to feed your family; you hope your health would remain strong . . . I mean, in their right minds, every human being starts with hope! But Paul ended with hope! Maybe he had a better understanding than I do.

Maybe so . . . you see, the hope you start with can very easily disappear. However, as Paul understood hope, it comes from the result of tribulation and perseverance and proven character – that kind of hope will never disappoint you! That is the kind of hope you can take to the bank! God is in the process of letting each one of us work our way through to this thing called “hope.” Real hope. Radical hope.

Think of it this way: when we first gave our lives to the Lord, we started out excitedly making plans about what we were going to do and what we are going to accomplish for God. We had a long shopping list of hopes and dreams for the future. We were just so excited about the endless possibilities of our new life in Christ, and we said, “I’m going for it!” So, you started praying and planning and hoping. But how many of you have discovered that many of those goals were never realized? You were praying like crazy, you were fasting and believing, you were giving it your very best shot – but nothing was happening.

On one of my blogs, The Wisdom of Faith, I recently posted a quote from Catherine Marshall that seems appropriate for this discussion:

“What do you do when strength is called for and you have no strength? You evoke a power beyond your own and use stamina you did not know you had. You open your eyes in the morning grateful that you can see the sunlight of yet another day. You draw yourself to the edge of the bed and then put one foot in front of the other and keep going. You weep with those who gently close the eyes of the dead, and somehow, from the salt of your tears, comes endurance for them and for you. You pour out that resurgence to minister to the living.” ~Catherine Marshall, Christy

I was thinking about this and then remembered the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Luke 24:21 gives a real clue as to why they were so downcast: “We were hoping [Oh! What?] We were hoping that he was the one who would free Israel.” Oh! They were hoping . . . but hope deferred makes the heart sick. These disciples’ hearts had become sick because their hopes and dreams had been dashed. These were men who had given their all, and now they believed their hope had just died on a cross at Calvary. But Jesus had told them, “‘How foolish you are! You’re so slow to believe everything the prophets said! Didn’t the Messiah have to suffer these things and enter into his glory? Then he began with Moses’ Teachings and the Prophets to explain to them what was said about him throughout the Scriptures” (Luke 24:25-27).

Wait a minute. Those sound like the words of the angel who spoke to the women at the empty tomb!

He’s not here. He has been brought back to life! Remember what he told you while he was still in Galilee (Luke 24:6)

This is a clue to what we are supposed to do whenever we find ourselves saddened and overwhelmed with frustration: without hope. The angel gave them an incredibly important exhortation from the heart of God: “Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee.” Remember? We need to remember God’s words to us. Our Hope lies in God and His promises for  us – not in a change of our circumstances.

Think about people you know who have started out so strong in their Christian walk only to abandon everything a few years down the road. Think about what those people were like. They were the “sprinters” who started out with great hopes and high expectations, but when their plans didn’t work out, they couldn’t handle the disappointment. Instead of readjusting their misplaced “hope,” they just disappeared from the Body of Christ.

There seem to be a lot of “sprinters” in the Body of Christ today, but not enough “long-distance runners.” Yet the most crucial part of our race (Hebrews 12:1) comes at the end. Those who make a strong finish are those who have exchanged their earthly hope for a radical new hope. The “end of the sentence” kind of hope that will not lead to disappointment.

The key to this is to fix our eyes on Jesus. He is the author and the finisher of our salvation. Galatians 3:3 says, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” So many of our disappointments come when we start trying to work out our own “goals and agendas” in the flesh. And the Lord says, “No, don’t do that.”

We live in a society that is so production-oriented. Several years ago I read an article by Charlie Moore, I loved what he said:

“The culture I was raised in believed that a man is only worth what he can produce, so when I started out as a pastor I was ready to produce a perfect bunch of Christians. Yet God had other plans – and right now I’m producing new bodies on old cars. I know the Lord led me to open this auto body shop, but recently I lost hope as I spied the stack of bills on my desk. I felt overwhelmed as I said, “God – this can’t be Your will. I’m doing all I can do and I still have all these bills. There are no more hours in the day left for me to labor!”

And so night after night I paced up and down on the road in front of my house crying out, “God! Pay these bills!” Now I’d been praying like this for many months, and nothing was changing. And finally one night the Lord quietly spoke to my heart and simply said, “Charlie, seek My face. Just seek My face.” That’s all He said to me.

So I began to do that. I began to just seek the Lord’s face and His presence, and a wonderful thing happened. As I began to focus on God, those heavy burdens and concerns began to slowly melt away. The pressures didn’t lift – instead God lifted me! The Lord gave me a hope that was not controlled by circumstances – a hope that is not of this world. I don’t pretend to have “attained” some spiritual superiority through this, but I really want to encourage you to take your misplaced hope and put it in God… and God alone.

Can you imagine being so radically different that your happiness never depends on your circumstances? Years ago I remember driving down the street and getting mad as I watched people coming out of a bar. I got mad because those people weren’t serving God – but was I mad for God’s sake? No! I was angry because they weren’t fitting into my religious program. Paul said, “I die daily.” But what did he die to? He died to his earthly hopes. He died to his idea of the way things should be. He died to his perfect agenda for the Christian life.

Does your hope lie in balancing your checkbook . . .raising perfect kids . . .a nicer house . . . a newer car . . .a fuller Sunday School class . . .a better-paying job . . .more respect from your co-workers? Do you realize the things that are causing you the greatest frustration are probably just what God is using to shift your focus to Him? Go ahead – make the shift! A former pastor taught me: “It is only at our point of greatest despair that our goals [worldly hopes] are exchanged for God’s goals [radical hope].” (The things in brackets “[” I added).

Look, we need to stop waiting for our circumstances to make us happy. If we don’t, we will be on an emotional roller coaster the rest of our lives. If we insist on putting our hope in earthly events we will be permanently enslaved to them. However, if we can turn our eyes to our Father and faithfully seek His face, we will  begin to experience the peace that passes understanding. It is that peace Paul felt in the Philippian jail. It is the peace that came on Stephen as he was being stoned to death and it is the peace David found in the barren wilderness of Israel when he sought the Lord’s face.

You make the path of life known to me.
    Complete joy is in your presence.
        Pleasures are by your side forever” (Psalm 16:11)

David wasn’t happy because of his circumstances – he was happy because his hope was in God! We need to fix our gaze upon the Lord Jesus Christ and hope in Him. Hope only in Him.

David says, “I was always beholding the face of God.” Isn’t that an awesome statement? David’s priority – the one thing he desired above all else – was to constantly behold the beauty of the Lord (Psalm 27:4). My friends, you will never see that destiny worked out in your life that God has ordained and set you apart for unless you fix your gaze upon the Lord. If we continue to be people who compare ourselves to one another and set goals based on the precepts of men – we will never be effective for God. We’ll just become like the children of Israel – a bunch of hard, critical, downcast, sad people who never entered the promised land.

It’s a humbling thing to lay down our earthly hopes and expectations, but for some of us it will be the greatest step of freedom we’ve ever taken. You just surrender yourself to the Lord, and say, “God, I’m going to just let You do what You want to do in my life. Maybe I’m not supposed to be a [you fill in the blank] – maybe I’m supposed to [fill in whatever you are doing right now] and serve in the local church. You show me who I am and what I’m supposed to do.”

I think that’s the cry of all of our hearts: “What am I?” God knows what you are, but you will only find out as you fix your gaze upon Him.

Some of the hopes we’ve entertained are nothing but the “worries of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things…” (Mark 4:19). Our goals have been our own and not necessarily God’s goals for us. We need to be humble enough to say, “God, I’ve put my hope in everything but You. Take away my hope for ‘other things’ …and give me the hope that does not disappoint.”

Let your goals proceed from the mouth of God. Don’t let them be empty schemes you’ve held onto from your past or from comparing yourself to others – that’s death and discouragement. The Lord wants us to put our hope in Him. Seek Him. And when God speaks His word to your heart, that will be a word you can take to the bank.

“My soul, wait in silence for God only,
For my hope is from Him.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
My stronghold; I shall not be shaken.”
Psalm 62:5,6

Doulos Studies

(I send out messages like this each morning in emails, and if you are interested in receiving them, send me your email address and I will add you—a to the list: Mail List)

I do thank you for your gifts. It is your faithful and continued support that makes these messages possible.

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