God is the source of hope for the New Year

Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve. Lots of people are gathering food and party supplies to ring in the New Year with snacks and togetherness. Some folks (like my family) are planning a quiet evening of movie watching. And then? Well, the New Year will begin, and we’ll all get back into our routines. And, if previous years are any indication, the momentum we gathered at the beginning of the year will run out about a month into it.

And there are all sorts of explanations. It might be a lack of discipline. It might be general laziness. It might be too much stress or too little sleep or both. Many factors play a role in derailing resolutions. But in my experience, there’s nothing that can derail me worse than a loss of purpose or direction. If I don’t know where I’m going or if I don’t have a goal to reach, I wander. I hesitate. I second guess myself. I give up. And I don’t think I’m alone in that.

 

nature-flowers-plant-springToday’s verse is Romans 15:13.

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.

People have to have hope. You can’t live without it. Love lasts forever, yes, and your faith can fail. Mine does often. But if I ever lose hope, I’ll stop completely. I’ll lose faith if I lose hope. I’ll stop loving if I lose hope. My hope in the Lord gives me the strength to have faith, to love people who don’t love me in return.

When we get home and receive everything God has promised us, we won’t need our hope anymore. But while we live on earth, hope is a necessity. And fortunately for us, God has given us everything we need to cling to hope in Him. He’s demonstrated His goodness. He’s proven His Word. He’s shown us that He never makes mistakes and He always keeps His promises.

When you know God like that, you trust Him, and when you trust Him, He gives you joy and peace. At that point, your hope becomes something confident, something unbreakable, something unquenchable. And that’s how I want to face 2016, with unquenchable hope.

Don’t mistake hope with naivete, though. I think a lot of people do. Just because you hold on to hope doesn’t mean you’re living in denial. It doesn’t mean you’re ignoring the facts. It just means that you’re placing your trust in Someone who is big enough to make all the negative facts work together into a positive result.

2016 is going to bring a lot of challenges, but you know what? God is bigger than the challenges I’m facing, and I trust Him completely. So the hope I have in Him can be confident, because He is where hope comes from.

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Penguin at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Choosing to rejoice

Christians are called to rejoice. Did you know that? We’re supposed to rejoice. It’s all over Scripture. Over and over again. Rejoice in good times. Rejoice in bad times. Rejoice when we get what we want and when we don’t. Rejoice, rejoice, rejoice … and again I say, rejoice!

It’s even in today’s verse!

Penguin at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Penguin at the Sedgwick County Zoo – Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Romans 12:12.

Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.

But what is rejoicing? It’s not exactly one of those words we use a lot in our culture. For me, it usually only comes up when somebody is making fun of old-fashioned ways of speaking.

So, grammar and language nerd that I am, I decided to look it up on Dictionary.com. And this is what it had to say: 

Rejoice (verb used without object): 1. to be glad; take delight (often followed by in ): to rejoice in another’s happiness. (verb used with object) 2. to make joyful; gladden: a song to rejoice the heart.
 
Again, I love words. So this caught my eye. That rejoice can be both a transitive verb and an intransitive verb, meaning that it can be used with or without an object. Not all verbs are like that. Let me rephrase for the non-grammarians who I know are rolling my eyes at me right now:  
 
It means you rejoice because of something or it means that something makes you rejoice.
 
Maybe that sounds the same, but if you think about it, the context is completely different.
 
If something makes you rejoice, you don’t really choose it. It’s something so wonderful you just can’t help but be glad. But if you rejoice because of something, that doesn’t generally mean it’s something wonderful. That just means you choose to rejoice, and it can mean you choose to rejoice in spite of what has happened.
 
The verse says rejoice in our confident hope. I’ve blogged on this verse before and on the phrase confident hope, especially because there are other instances throughout Scripture where confident hope plays a big role in our walk. But at this point in my week of Mondays, I think I need to focus on rejoicing.
 
When I hear the phrase, “Rejoice in our confident hope,” my first reaction isn’t to think about hope. My first thought is an exclamation of how am I going to rejoice at all? In anything?
 
I’m exhausted. I’m stressed out. I’m worn down with waiting, and even though I’ve gotten some answers, they weren’t the answers I wanted. So how can I rejoice about all of that? Any rejoicing I do for any of that is likely to come off as half-hearted or sarcastic, and I don’t think God would appreciate that.
 
Remember the confusing discussion of transitive and intransitive verbs above? This use of rejoice is intransitive, meaning it doesn’t need an object. In my meager definition, it means you rejoice because of something. You choose it.
 
We can choose to rejoice in our confident hope, no matter what our circumstances are. Why? Because it’s confident hope.
 
So if you’ve had a great week and everything is going right in your life, that’s something that will make you rejoice.
 
But if you’re like me and have had a frustrating string of days where nothing goes as planned and you don’t get what you want and all you really want to do is stay in bed, choose to rejoice anyway.
 
If your hope is in Christ, it’s confident. Even if you don’t feel like it’s confident, it is. Because Christ is trustworthy. And He knows what you need. And He’s working everything out. And He never makes mistakes, and He always keeps His promises. Your hope is confident, even if you don’t feel like it is. And that means, you can choose to rejoice.
 
Try it. It makes all the difference in the world. And after a few days of choosing to rejoice, you’ll find it’s a lot easier to rejoice without thinking about it.

Keep on keeping on

Perseverance. Dictionary.com identifies it as “steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state, etc., especially in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement.”

I’d like to think that I’m good at persevering. I think a lot of people would like to believe that about themselves. Perseverance is one of those character qualities that everyone knows is good to have. Unfortunately, it’s one that’s a real struggle to keep hold of.

By its very definition, having perseverance means you’re going to run into trouble. I mean, sure, you can persevere without trouble, but if can you really say someone is persevering if they don’t encounter trouble or danger or discouragement? Can you persevere through good times? Sure. But it doesn’t feel like persevering.

I thought of this word when I read the verse this morning, Romans 12:12.

12 Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.

 It’s a very simple verse. Nothing fancy. No frills. But when you get right down to it, it makes no sense at all. Talk about a non sequitur! It goes from rejoicing in the hope we have to exhorting us to be patient in trouble. That doesn’t really flow. If I had been writing, I would have said to rejoice in our hope and then I’d go on to talk about something happy. But I didn’t write this. God did. And He knows what He’s talking about.

Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.

I kind of talked about this yesterday, but have you ever not gotten something you asked God for? Have you spent your entire life serving God and you feel like all He ever seems to give you are trials and tribulations and tests? I know people like that. I know people who have encountered ridiculous things in their lives for no reason I can see. They don’t deserve it. They’ve never done anything to deserve it. Yet God seems intent on allowing every possible bad thing on Earth to happen to them. But some of these folks never give up. They are able to look past the awful circumstances in their lives and see that God is still working and that He has a plan. And on days where I would be crushed underneath a weight of gloom and doom, they’re rejoicing. That is true perseverance.

I was curious this morning about the phrase “confident hope.” I have blogged on it before, but I’ve never searched for it. So I did a Biblegateway.com search and the exact phrase “confident hope” appears five times in the New Living Translation of the Bible. Three of those times is in Romans.

Just glancing through these verses, the confident hope Paul (through God) is talking about is our salvation. And not just our faith in Christ, but our lives down here as well (part of our salvation is living out our life on Earth). Because of what Jesus did for us, because of His sacrifice on the cross, we have hope. And not just hope but confident hope that God knows what He’s doing, that He never makes mistakes, and that He always keeps His promises. And because we have that confident hope, we can rejoice in it and in what God is doing in our lives.

By rejoicing in that confident hope, it’s a lot easier to have patience when trouble comes my way. I’m know if I’m focused on what God has done in my life and what He is currently doing, it’s a lot more natural for me to keep rejoicing when everything crumbles around me. And if I’m still in that frame of mind to rejoice even when the world is falling apart around me, prayer becomes an instantaneous response as well when I don’t know what to do — or even if I do know what to do.

I have to mention that the verse does say “keep on praying” which indicates to me that it’s something I have to repeat. Paul here is assuming that I’m already praying and that I need to continue, persistently. I need to persevere, which means I need to continue in spite of the discouragements, the disappointments, the sadness or the trouble that weighs me down.

It’s not easy. But if it were easy, it wouldn’t be perseverance. It it were easy, it wouldn’t be worth it.

Trust first. Ask questions later.

Do you know people who can remain hopeful even when the world is falling apart around them? And I’m not talking about the kind of hope characterized by plain old denial. Unfortunately, that’s usually the kind of hope I brandish, refusing to deal with a situation until I absolutely must, ignoring it until it becomes undeniable. After all, it’s a lot easier to live in denial than it is to actually face your troubles, confidently believing that everything will work out.

But is that real hope?

I guess to find out what real hope is we need to find out where it comes from. 

If you listen to the message coming out of the world and the opinons in television shows and movies, hope comes from some ethereal belief in the human spirit. Or from following your heart. Or from believing in the general goodness of Mankind. And everyone knows that’s a bunch of bologna. Well, maybe not everyone knows . . . . but if they’d really think about it, they would.

What good does the human spirit do, other than get us and others in trouble? What hope can you derive from your heart when it’s often what causes the problem to begin with? And is Mankind really good? Not in my limited experience. On occasion we do kind things, but does that kindness come from us or from somewhere else?

So what is the source of hope? That answer, I believe, is found in today’s verse.

Romans 15:13

 13 I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.

God is the source of hope.

I know I say it all the time, but it’s true: God knows everything. He knows what happened in the past. He knows what will happen in the near future. He knows what will happen in the far future. And so who else better to help us through today that Someone who already knows what it will bring? Someone who already helped us survive yesterday?

This is a terrible example, but it’s the only one I can think of until my coffee kicks in. In March 2010, I went to visit my incredible, awesome friends Jim, Shelley, Jonah and Silas Dinsmore in Guatemala. Originally, I had hoped other people could go with me, but the way everything worked out I was going by myself. Oddly enough, however, I wasn’t concerned. Plenty of other people were concerned with me travelling internationally for the first time by myself, but I wasn’t. Why? Well, Jim had given me clear instructions on how to navigate the Guatemalan airport, even down to giving me Spanish phrases to use if I got in trouble. And I had his cell phone number.

I know there was plenty of opportunity for something to go wrong. Looking back on it now, there were LOTS of opportunities for something to go wrong. And I’m certainly not saying that Jim knew what would happen. But he knows Guatemala. He knows the people. He knows the culture. He knows the airport. He knows the airlines. And I trusted he knew what he was talking about, and on account of that trust I didn’t worry about my trip down or my trip back home. I had hope that everything would work out just fine because Jim had given me instructions and I had followed them.

What would have happened if I decided that Jim was just faking when he gave me directions on how to navigate the Guatemala City airport? What would have happened if I hadn’t taken him seriously and tried to talk to a child in Guatemala City (very bad things would probably have happened, just so you know)? What would have happened if I didn’t bring the medicine or the supplies Jim told me I needed?

Disaster. The trip would have been a bust. I would have spent all my time miserable or terrified or lost or struggling to make do, unprepared, unhappy and unfocused.

Does that sound like us in life?

God is the source of our hope because He knows what has come and gone, and He knows what is coming, and He has given us instructions not only on how to face it but how to overcome it. If we really believe that God knows everything, we need to take Him at His Word and do what He has told us to do. We need to follow His instructions (the Bible) and live the way we’re supposed to live.

If we really believe that He knows everything, we need to trust Him.

And when we trust Him completely, the automatic, instantaneous result is peace and joy, followed by hope. Real hope. Confident hope. Not the fake smiles and “I’m fine” sort of hope that gets people to leave you alone but turns your hair gray. Hope that lets you see no matter how difficult a situation might be God is in it.

That’s the kind of hope I need. That’s the kind of hope I can have if I trust God truly. It’s the kind of hope the world needs too, especially now in this time of economic crisis and natural disasters. We absolutely can’t understand everything, but God can. When I’m in a situation that’s too big for me, I usually default to people who know more than I do (in algebra, I always took my brother’s word for everything; I still do).

I could struggle through life on my own understanding, but why? My own understanding is limited and claiming that I comprehend why bad things happen to good people is nothing but pride on my part. Pride hurts me, it hurts people around me, and it does absolutely nothing to accomplish what God left me here to do.

Trusting God to resolve a problem is a lot harder than denying it exists — but trusting God works better. Because if you’re so busy trying to figure out why God has done the things He’s done or allowed the things to happen that have happened, you’ll very likely miss the point of why it happened in the first place.

Encouragement for a Monday morning

Ephesians 1:18 – I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he has called – his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance.

This was my verse for today and it really encouraged me.

With the end of Judgement House this year, I’m expecting a bit of gloom to settle over everything. It always does. So I was super excited to pick up my e-mail this morning and see this verse smiling at me.

What a difference a single little modifier makes! The word confident shouted out from the page at me this morning. Paul didn’t pray just for us to remember the hope we have in Christ . . . but that we would remember the confident hope we have. Confidence makes all the difference in the world.

You can hope for something without really believing it will come true. I do it all the time, I hate to admit. I’m an unpublished writer. =) Hope is my bread and butter. But confident hope? That’s something different.

We can hope confidently in the promises God has made to us because He is trustworthy. We can trust Him–and be confident in Him–because He is who He is.