Finding Lost Hope

“But as for me, I will always have hope; I will praise You more and more” (Psalm 71:14).

I have a confession to make.

I lost my hope.

I had hoped in a dream that I believed was God’s plan for me – it was exciting and I was filled with anticipation.  But when my life turned in a different direction, I set my backpack full of hope down and shuffled off on this unwanted new path.  It all seemed more like a heavy burden – just another unfulfilled longing.  It was easier to leave it behind than to continue carrying it around like so much dead weight.

The Bible mentions quite a few people who stood at the same crossroads.  Moses, Elijah, and Naomi come to mind.  Peter and several of the disciples, uncertain of where their lives are going after Jesus’ death, dejectedly went back to fishing (John 21).  And then there are two of Jesus’ followers  walking on the dusty road to Emmaus when they encounter a stranger.  They tell him about Jesus (isn’t that a kick), sadly saying: “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21).  They saw their lives going in a completely different direction than they expected.

Part of the problem is our understanding of the word “hope.”  We say, “I hope it doesn’t rain out the picnic today.”  “I hope he asks me to the prom.”  “I hope you feel better soon.” – but these are spoken like “wishful thinking.”  That’s a “cross-your-fingers” kind of hope.  The Bible portrays hope as “an attitude of confidently looking forward to what is good and beneficial.”  It’s a hope that serves as “an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Hebrews 6:19).  It’s not a hope in circumstances, but rather a hope in the One who called us and sustains us and guarantees a good outcome.  It’s a hope that we can carry with us no matter what twists and turns life takes.  Better yet, it’s a hope that carries us no matter what.  That’s the kind of hope you and I need.

Remember Peter and those disciples on the road to Emmaus – the ones who had lost hope? Their stories didn’t end there.  At the end of that fishing trip was breakfast with the risen Jesus and restored hope for Peter.  At the end of the Emmaus road was the joyful realization that the stranger in their midst was the resurrected Lord Himself.  In the end their hope was renewed, in fact, it was even stronger than before.

One of my favorite verses in seasons like this is Proverbs 13:12: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when dreams come true at last there is life and joy.”  I believe this is an assurance that our God-given dreams don’t get cast aside when life takes an unexpected turn.  Because God expected that turn, even if I didn’t, and somehow my dreams will make the turn too. And when He brings them to reality, they may not look exactly like I envisioned, but they will be full of life and joy.  And hope.

Holy Father, I’m picking my hope back up and I’m going to walk this new path with the assurance that “He who began a good work in me will bring it to completion” (Philippians 1:6).  My hope is in You.  There’s no better place for it to be.  Amen.

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Refining and Sifting

“But He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I will come forth as gold.”

Job: 23:10

 

It seems that lately I write from the struggles of my own life, from the vat where grapes are crushed for juice, from the desert wilderness, and like Job from the smelting pot of the goldsmith. It’s a hard season with pressures coming at me from many different angles. I can understand Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 1:8: “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.” I look to the heavens as ask, “God what is this all about? What are You trying to do – break me?”

His answer? “Yes. But not to leave you broken. To make you whole. To purify your faith.” You see, God does not just pull us out of the pit of sin and death to go our own merry way in life. He saves us to transform us, to make us more like His own Son. And it is a life-long process that often requires pain and suffering.

Peter, Jesus’ friend and disciple, is a perfect example. If you know anything about him, you know Peter was impetuous, brash and often spoke before thinking. More than once, Peter’s mouth got him trouble. He could say profound and powerful things, like his great confession: “You are the Christ” (Mark 8:29), and a few minutes later, Jesus rebuked Peter for scolding the Son of God because He was teaching them about His coming death (Mark 8:31-33)! Jesus saw things in Peter that would both advance and hinder the Gospel.

At the Passover feast, which we now know at the Last Supper, while the disciples were arguing over their own status in His kingdom, Jesus made a terrifying statement. “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat” (Luke 22:31). The statement is given in the plural “you,” meaning Satan had asked to sift the entire company of disciples. And they would all be sifted, to a degree, when they see their Rabbi and Friend being arrested. Yet Jesus’ next statement was very pointed and personal. “But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail” (v. 32). In those words Jesus told Simon that he would carry the brunt of the devil’s evil deed, for the “you” here is singular – “I have prayed for you Simon.”

Why would Jesus give His friend and follower over to be sifted by the devil? Because there were things in Peter that needed to be removed. Pride, arrogance, stubbornness. Just like the things that need to be sifted out of me. What was left after Peter’s sifting? Two things: The prayers of Jesus and humble man ready to be used for His glory. Did you catch Jesus’ promise in verse 32 – “I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail.” Jesus prayed for Peter, that his disciple’s faith would not fail. And we know that whatever Jesus asks of His Father is granted, because He always asks according to the will of the Father. Peter could not fail, because Jesus has guaranteed it by His petition. When I am in the sifter, as I am now, my Savior is before the Father on my behalf – “Father, do not let her faith fail.”

The other part of Jesus’ promise in that verse is seen in one little word: when. “And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (v. 32b) (emphasis added). Jesus could assure Peter that he would turn back, because of His own prayers for Peter. Peter would survive the sifting and come through it with a refined faith. Jesus allowed Satan just enough heat and pressure to burn off the dross that lived in Peter, that would fight against the mighty work to which he was called.

The story is told of a woman who, having read in the Bible that God refines His people like silver and gold, visited a silversmith and asked about the process of refining the precious element. The smithy said he put the silver in a kettle and exposed it to extremely high heat that caused the dross, or waste to rise to the surface where he could scoop it out. This process took intense heat and so she asked, “how do you keep from burning it?” The man replied, “I lean in very closely to the kettle and watch it carefully, using only as much heat as necessary until it is just as I want it.” She asked “How do you know when it is ready to be removed from the heat?” The smithy answered, “When I can see my reflection in the surface.” We are called to be the reflection of Jesus Christ to the world and that image must be pure.

Jesus allowed friend to be sifted, to go through the crucible of intense suffering to remove what was marring His image in Peter. He became a mighty Apostle and preached the first Gospel message after Jesus’ resurrection. The Lord used a humble Peter mightily in the birth and growth of His church.

I did not welcome the suffering and pain of this season in my life, but I know that God is purifying my faith and refining me to be His witness to the world. I trust that He is leaning in closely and watching over me, allowing just enough heat to accomplish His purpose – to see His Son reflected in me. I know that my Savior is praying for me, and when the process is complete, like Job, “I will come forth as gold.”

Jesus, my Savior – as You were in the fire with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, come and stand with me now; carry me through this season of suffering on the wings of Your prayers. Let me come through as a reflection of You in the world. Amen.

From a distance…

“Peter followed at a distance…”  Luke 22:54b

I remember reading a quote, though I don’t know who said it, that asks the question –

“If you don’t feel close to God anymore, who moved?”  A quick internet search yields more than 112 million hits, of people who are wondering why they don’t feel as close to God as they once did.  People are leaving churches by the droves because they feel that God is remote, unavailable and uninterested in their lives.   The pop singer, Bette Midler sang a song with these lyrics: “God is watching us, from a distance.”  In this age of “spirituality,” fewer and fewer people can testify to a close and personal relationship with God.  I’d like to tell you that Ms. Midler’s theology is way off and God is as near to you and me as our next breath.

Peter is the prime example of one who walked closely with the Savior, yet allowed himself to drift.  One of Christ’s most passionate disciples, Peter swore allegiance to Jesus-even to the point of death, saying “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death” (Luke 22:33). But Jesus knew that Peter’s bold talk would not sustain his resolve.  He told Peter “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me” (v. 34).   And sure enough, Luke 22:54-62 tells us that Peter did just as the Lord said he would.

How does one who walked so closely with Jesus turn away from Him so easily?  I’d like to offer something I see in this passage:

First, our key verse gives us one important clue – “Peter followed at a distance.”  By the words used in this verse, we see a contradiction in Peter’s actions.  He “followed” – which means in the original Greek, “to accompany, to be a disciple,” so he heads out with the heart of a disciple, to accompany his Lord and Teacher.  But he followed “at a distance” and this Greek word means “far away, at length.” Out of fear for his own life, Peter fell back, and the distance between him and Jesus began to work on his heart.  When he separated himself, his passion for the Lord cooled, and rather than a heart warmed by his love for Jesus, he warms himself by a man-made fire.  His passion for Christ has chilled to the point that he openly denies the One he previously swore to follow to prison and death.

It is the same with you and me – when we begin to allow the cares and offerings of this world to draw us away from our Savior, our hearts begin to cool toward Christ, and rather than draw near to Him, we turn and warm our cold hearts at worldly fires.  Is Sunday morning more about a sports event than gathering with the saints in God’s house?  Are we more concerned about keeping up with our favorite TV programs or with reading and studying God’s Word?  Am I having more “Facebook” conversations than heart conversations with God in prayer?  Is there an unconfessed sin that is driving you away from the One who died for your sins?  Am I reluctant to confess that I know Jesus at all?

Now let me offer this a beautiful contrast. God has made a promise to you and me: “the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).  Our Heavenly Father has promised, no matter how far we roam, He goes with us and will never leave us.  He commanded the Israelites to build a place for Him, that He might dwell in the midst of His people.  He came in frail human flesh, Jesus Christ, and walked among the very ones He would give His life for.  And He has sent His Holy Spirit to all who will believe in Christ for salvation; His indwelling presence to be with us through this earthly life.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, He declares “Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any power, neither height nor depth, no anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).  God has proclaimed that He will be with His children, and there is no power or force or thing that can take us from His love.  God is never distant from His beloved child.  The gap that you feel is not God pulling away from you.  He can never separate Himself from us, if we are in Christ Jesus.  Pop songs are not theology, God is watching us, but not from a distance.  He is watching us, caring for us and loving us from within our own hearts, as He lives in us through His Holy Spirit. He is as near as your next prayer.

Holy Father, when I think I have lost my way, and have wandered far from You, I need only call on Your Name, for you are always with me.  Thank You for never giving up on me.  Amen