As I look outside, there are bare branches on the trees, and the grass is covered in fallen leaves. The beauty of early autumn has almost gone, and winter is coming. The air is brittle and chilly, but not as cold as it will be in another month.
Yet, this is My Father’s world. I trust that winter will come, and pass. Spring will follow, and the trees will once again be covered in leaves and filled with birdsong and new life.
As I listen to the news, I hear of COVID deaths and hospitals filled with the sick and suffering. I hear of political unrest, and people spewing hatred, anger, and fear for the future. There is chaos and uncertainty, injustice, and pain. There are hurricanes and fires, floods, and earthquakes.
Yet, this is My Father’s world. He sends rain on the just and the unjust; He brings healing and hope, even in the darkest hours. This world does not belong to any one nation, or political party, or natural disaster, or epidemic. Such circumstances have the power to cause destruction and fear, but they do not have power over the Creator of all things. Their reign is temporary and limited. And ” ‘tho the wrong seems oft so strong,” God is eternally sovereign– nothing that happens today can either take God by surprise, or cause Him to quake.
I meet with people who are discouraged, angry, bitter, and scared. And I cannot “fix” the world around me with good intentions, or hard work. I cannot give assurance based on my own efforts or my own wisdom. I don’t know the answers, and I don’t have the solutions. I will make mistakes. I will say things that cause confusion, or even offense.
But this is not my world; and it isn’t the world of those who try to discourage me, judge me, take advantage of me, or manipulate me. This is My Father’s world. And in this moment, I will choose to look for His hand and listen for His voice.
I have to start this by saying I don’t feel particularly hopeful right now as I look around and hear all that is happening. There are a lot of reasons to be discouraged, even depressed. Riots, plague, disasters, anger, death, and evil surround us at nearly every turn. I can say that my Faith sustains me, and it does, but I still feel beaten down and exhausted by all the chaos and hurt and anger and misunderstanding.
In 1 Corinthians 13, the Apostle Paul talks about things that are temporary– possessions, knowledge, gifts, prophecies– and three things that remain: Faith, Hope, and Love. Last time, I wrote about Faith. But Hope is a more difficult and more nebulous concept. The writer of Hebrews defines Faith for us– “the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). But there is no substance or evidence for Hope. Hope is not an anchor; it is not a realization. It is a wish, a dream; at best, it is an expectation. Yet Paul says it “remains,” even when other things pass away.
How is this possible– that a Christian should Hope after all else has been lost, abandoned, or destroyed? Isn’t Faith more solid, more important, than Hope? Aren’t knowledge, obedience, and perseverance more important and more tangible? Isn’t hope wispy, fleeting, and conditional? Lately, it sure seems so. I say that I hope we all get through these tough times; that we will come through all this stronger, wiser, more compassionate, more just, more prepared, etc., but what am I really hanging on to? Where is my Hope?
My Hope DOES have substance and a sure foundation–in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I may have wispy dreams and half-formed wishes of what I would like to see in my life or in the world around me tomorrow, or next year. I may have dreams and visions of what Peace and Justice and Health look like– and I may never see them materialize in my lifetime. I may have to adjust my vision within the temporary world of possessions, and gifts, prophecies and human systems of government and society. But I can remember the life of Christ; in spite of His circumstances, He remained true to His purpose. In His death, He remained compassionate, humble, and loving toward those who hated Him. In His resurrection, He brought eternal Hope to all who choose to trust Him. I can Hope because He brought Hope. I can be inspired by the dreams and hopes of other Christians throughout the years, even if their dreams have not been realized. I can be inspired by the prophecies of others, even if they don’t match my visions. And I CAN see beyond the darkness of the moment (or the year) to see that people (even I) can change; situations can change; circumstances can change; rhetoric and tone can change for the better. Painful valleys and unexpected upheaval may not be what I would want, but sometimes, it serves to clear out the “sinking sand” where dream houses would otherwise be built.
And Hope is necessary to Prayer– Faith tells us that God hears, even when we can’t see Him or hear His answer. Hope tells us that God cares. He is not aloof in hearing our prayers. He doesn’t answer us out of some worn sense of duty or obligation. He doesn’t just give us His law or even His forgiveness– He gives us restoration and Hope and abundant life! Hope for change in our own lives; hope for progress and healing in our world; hope for victory over sin and evil. Most of all, hope for eternity. God is just and merciful, but He is also gracious and loving beyond all measure. I can cry out when all other hope is gone– His Hope Remains! His Hope is a Solid Rock. His Hope comes with an eternal guarantee.
It rained all day. It was gloomy and wet. All my plans were ruined. I got nothing done. What a wasted day.
Instead of working in my garden, I stayed inside. My daughter was restless and whiny. I was distracted and had a headache. I ended up making hot dogs for dinner, instead of a roast. I snapped at the dog. I didn’t finish my “quiet time,” and I blew off my Bible study. I made a couple of phone calls and “liked” about a dozen Facebook posts. I wasted the entire day.
Yesterday was different. I worked in the garden, bought a brand new outfit at half price, did Bible study, and two loads of laundry before noon. I baked a pie and made a new casserole for dinner, walked the dog and got in 4000 steps, took my daughter to dance class, and got all my “fall” decorations up in the family room and the porch.
Today was my favorite day! Even though it was rainy, Mommy and I got to spend the whole day together! Yesterday, she was so busy, she barely noticed I was here. She didn’t even smile back when I got out of dance class. I tried to tell her about our new dance, but she was on the phone the whole ride home. She was busy, busy, busy! Today, she was grumpy about the rain, but she made hot dogs! My favorite. She read me a story, too. I know she wasn’t feeling too well, because she made me take a nap, even though it was to early for nap time. She even yelled at Daisy about the noises she made– she made the same noises yesterday, and Mom didn’t even notice! It was so silly, but it was still my favorite day!
Pamela called me today. I haven’t spoken with her in ages. It was so nice to get caught up. It really made my day. I haven’t been at church lately, and I didn’t even realize how much I miss the people there. When my kids grew up and left, I felt the loss, but now that Bud is gone, it’s so much worse. I spend so many of my days alone. They seem like wasted days, sometimes. But today was different. After talking with Pamela, I thought maybe I should call Jason– not to ask for anything, just to tell him I love him. Turns out he was having a rough day at work, but didn’t want to “bother” his mom. We didn’t talk long, but it left us both feeling better. It rained most of the day, but the sun came out for a little bit…it was a good day.
Colossians 3:17 English Standard Version (ESV)
17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Some days bring rain, and gloom, and loneliness, headaches, and heartaches. But no day is wasted in which we can touch another’s heart, share the love of Christ, and set our minds on all the Good that God has in store for us!
1 Thessalonians 5:18 English Standard Version (ESV)
18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
My husband and I visited the local Fair in the neighboring county last week. We love to visit local fairs and festivals (see Pass It On). We love the pageantry, tradition, history, celebration, food, and general enjoyment. We also love to see the exhibits– crafts, home arts, commercial exhibits, artwork, produce, and animals.
Our visit last week began as the fair was “waking up.” It was after dawn, but still early in the day. The animals were being fed and/or groomed– some were getting ready to be shown; others were happily munching away as ribbons earned earlier in the week fluttered above their pens. There were turkeys and rabbits, draft and work horses, ducks, pigs, shaggy highland cattle, newly-shorn sheep, calves, pigeons, roosters, racing horses, jersey cows, goats, geese, and baby chicks. And there were noises–crowing, lowing, neighing, and squawking, quacking, cooing, oinking and snuffling. Lastly, the noises of people– classroom groups of children exclaiming over the various animals; their teachers and chaperones reminding them of the rules (“Don’t touch!”, “Stay together”, “Don’t run!”); older couples reminiscing; owners and volunteers and caretakers discussing the tasks of the day.
As the day wore on, the noises changed. On the midway, announcements blared. Game booths and vendors hawked their wares and prizes. Even the animals were noisier– more restless as the crowds grew larger and the heat of the day became oppressive. The roosters were drowned out by the cackling of hens. The quiet “good morning” on the lips of strangers passing by turned into harried questions; “Where did you get that corn dog?” “How much did you pay for it?” “Do you know where we can get some ice cream?” “Don’t they have any restrooms around here?” “Who’s giving out the canvas bags/yard sticks/free popcorn?”
This wasn’t universal–the announcer for the harness races was amazing. Between races, he gave information about the racing program– how to read it, what the various terms meant, and how to use the guides to understand more about the horses, their training, their pedigree, the drivers, their records, and much more. What a wealth of knowledge, and what a great opportunity to listen and learn! And near the dairy barn, a young teen dressed in a cow costume (who had to be roasting from the heat) danced around, mooing and ringing a bell calling people to visit the dairy booth, where other teens cheerfully gave away recipe books, magnets, pens, and information.
What a contrast to some of the comments from fair-goers and workers. Some were sullen, some were rude, and some irreverent. Some of the language was not just unwholesome, it was discouraging, disparaging, and mean. Again, this was not universal; nor was it unique to this venue. Go almost anywhere in public, and eventually, you will hear crowing, cackling, snuffling, and quacking by bitter, impatient, and self-involved people.
Unwholesome talk– rude remarks, snide mumbles, bellowing guffaws, complaints, sarcasm–it starts out small, dripping out of our mouths before we even notice. But each drip flows into a stream, and then a river, until our words pour out in anger and malice and one-up-man-ship.
Ephesians 4:29New International Version (NIV)
29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
Psalm 19:14New Living Translation (NLT)
14 May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
I love quirky motivational posters. A friend of mine once had a poster with an awkward looking duckling– wide-eyed and still fuzzy–with the caption,
“Arise, Go Forth, and Conquer!”
The phrase comes from Tennyson in Idylls of the King, but it is reminiscent of phrases given to Joshua as he prepared to lead the Israelites across the Jordan and into the promised land.
Joshua 1:2-3 (NKJV) 2 “Moses My servant is dead. Now therefore, arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them—the children of Israel. 3 Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given you, as I said to Moses.
God tells him several times to “Be strong and courageous..” (Joshua 1:6), “Be strong and very courageous.” (Joshua 1:7), “…be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)
When I think of being strong and courageous, I don’t usually think of ducklings! I think of hero bodybuilders or armored knights of old…people who are prepared to crush and conquer and face an army. Yet God repeats the phrase to Joshua, including at last the command to “not be terrified; do not be discouraged..”, which indicates that Joshua was close to terror and despair, rather than filled with hope and adrenaline.
And little wonder. Joshua had to be experiencing a slight sense of Déjà vu. About forty years earlier, he had been part of the group of spies sent to scout out the promised land…spies who had come back terrified and discouraged. The entire nation was ready to rebel against Moses and even God. Now, forty years later, Joshua was to try again– this time as Moses’ replacement, a new leader for a new generation already prone to complain and rebel.
Some days I feel a little like Joshua– facing walled cities, giants, and feeling totally inadequate to the task. Some days it even feels like a struggle to “arise”, let alone going forth to conquer.
And then God reminds me…”Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given you, as I said to Moses.” It’s not that God is literally leading me into the promised land as I go to the grocery store or face a difficult customer at work or walk around the neighborhood. But, figuratively, He is helping me win battles against temptation, discouragement, anger, and bitterness. He IS with me wherever I go, and He wants me to trust HIS strength and wisdom to triumph. I become “more than a conquerer” (Romans 8:37) when I stop trying to fight in my own strenth and rely on His. My strength may be minimal, my motivation questionable, and my wisdom lacking, but I can waddle confidently into battle, knowing that the victory is certain!
This is also true for my pursuit of prayer– My prayers are often flighty, inadequate, sporadic, and even grudging. I keep a prayer journal, and that can help with motivation, discipline, and even praise, but it doesn’t guarantee that I will draw perfectly near to God or follow Him with total faithfulness. The more I rely on MY efforts, the more I am fighting to replace God’s strength and wisdom with my own. God doesn’t want me on the sidelines, or sleeping in– He wants me in the game. But the outcome doesn’t depend on my ability or my performance (or my lack of feathers!)