When difficult times surround us, it can be a challenge to maintain a sense of hope. The impossibilities appear stronger than the possibilities. Yet we have a faith which can provide us peace and hope. A hope which comes from perseverance and character is based on the love of God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.
In the animated movie, The Prince of Egypt, this hope is spoken about in a song, When You Believe. May Lucy and Martha Thomas’s singing of that song remind you of the hope which is possible in our Lord.
A question that presents a challenge to us at times is, “Why do you do (fill in the blank)?” There are times when our answer to the question is simple and fairly straightforward. However, other times we struggle to answer the question because we struggle to come up with an explanation which satisfies even ourselves. Having the ability to answer this question may prove beneficial to our growth and even to the growth of others. Some occasions lead to great introspection which can develop self awareness. Our answers may open doors to insights and opportunities.
As followers of Christ, we are to emulate the behaviors and actions of our Lord. In reading Scripture, we see Christ was always serving and teaching others. One would certainly describe Jesus’s words and actions as good. If we are working to be an example as our Lord has been, our words and actions should be labeled as good by others. When/if this occurs, it is quite possible that we will be asked why we are doing/saying these things.
In the midst of the discussion in 1 Peter, we encounter the author speaking about explaining ourselves. “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” This hope is clearly linked to the good being discussed here. The reminder is that the good we do stems from the hope which we have in Jesus Christ. This good is going to cause others to ask questions. We need to be prepared to explain in a gentle and respectful way. What a wonderful opportunity to open others to the love of our Lord.
Many famous leaders and celebrities become concerned about the legacy which they leave after their time in the public spotlight is over or they have died. There is a part of each one of us desiring to be remembered. One of the reasons we erect grave markers is to ensure we are not forgotten. Monuments and memorials of every shape and size are scattered throughout our land, our schools, our churches, and our institutions. We expend a large amount of time and money to remember.
A very poignant moment in Luke’s account of Jesus’s crucifixion is when there is a conversation involving two criminals and Jesus. As the three men hang on crosses, one of them appears to be belligerent and mocks Jesus. The other criminal has a much different view of the situation. He sees Jesut as innocent and undeserving of this cruel punishment. He sees Jesus as who others claim him to be. The man rebukes the other criminal, acknowledges his own guilt, and then makes a request to Jesus. He asks Jesus to remember him. The man wished to be remembered by the King of Kings, who he recognizes even as he hangs in agony. Jesus not only promises the man that he will remember him but promises that the man will be with Jesus in the kingdom.
Throughout the gospel recordings of Jesus’s ministry, we encounter Jesus promising the disciples that he would prepare a place for them, they would one day join him where he is, and he would always be with them. The criminal who hung on a cross beside Jesus is unknown to us until we meet him in this passage. There is no mention by Jesus or the man or Luke that this man had been a disciple of Jesus. Yet he receives the same promise that Jesus had made to his followers.
The criminal provides us a lesson and a hope. Observing what the request was from the criminal is important. He did not ask to be released from his punishment. He did not ask for some type of a miracle. The man asked to be remembered. A request that is not unfamiliar to us. Jesus’s response to the man provides us hope. We have not spent years physically walking with Jesus. We have not stood in front of the Lord declaring our commitment to him. We have come to know Jesus at what may be determined as the end of our world understanding. Yet the promise Jesus made to the Apostles, the disciples, and this man on a cross is our promise as well. Jesus promised not to only remember us but that we will be with him in the kingdom as well.
Life is not always easy. There are periods when everything seems to be going smoothly; work, relationships, health, finances, and leisure time seem to be in sync and have positive outlooks. Then there are events which impact one or more of these and life can seem topsy turvy. All of us experience some level of this during the pandemic. During these times of challenge it may appear that we are all alone, having to face whatever situation on our own. We may even feel God has abandoned us. Hope may be fading for us.
This description of a life situation is exactly how the author of Psalm 143 is feeling. In a period of desperation and fading hope the author writes this song to be sung to the Lord. It is a plea, a prayer. The request is simple. The song calls on the Lord for hope. A desire to be led out of the current, difficult times is placed before God. There is urgency in the plea. The individual acknowledges the loss of hope and the crushing of the spirit. Yet, clearly there still exists confidence in the Lord.
This psalm is one which each of us could probably sing at different points in our lives. We may experience times of desperation. Our view may be that we are facing challenges alone. While we still believe in God, God can seem to be so distant from us. Hope can be fading in our lives. The weight of our situation is overwhelming and brings us to the point where our spirit feels crushed under it. However, we are not alone. The Spirit of the Lord is always present with us. Our prayers and cries for help are heard. We are being led to something better even though we are unable to see it at the present time. Our confidence does not rest in us but in the hope from our Lord.
Life can be difficult and filled with challenges. There are times when one can easily feel like everyone and everything is against you. The thought of another day may invoke fear. A person may sense enemies around each turn. You feel beaten up and without hope.
The people of Israel were feeling this way during their time of exile. They had been removed from their homeland. It seemed they had been attacked from every side. God appeared to have abandoned them. Into this situation, God speaks to the people through the prophet Isaiah. Part of that message is what we have read for today. In this section, God reminds the Israelites that they have been chosen. The people are assured that God has not rejected them. Then God communicates hope and tells them not to fear. The hope is found in the promise that God will provide the strength which they need to endure the difficulties. God will deal with the enemies and those who stand in opposition to them. The promise is that God will be their help.
The promise which Isaiah shares on God’s behalf was not only for the Israelites of that day but for all of God’s children. This is the promise which belongs to each of us. When we are feeling overwhelmed and/or having periods in life as described above, the message Isaiah speaks can bring us assurance and hope. Our God declares that being our help in these situations is God’s intention. By trusting in this promise and turning to God, we can endure because we know God is present to provide us strength. We also know that the situation is not permanent because our helper is offering a time when we no longer have anything to fear. Turn to and trust God because God has promised to be our help, strength and hope of a different future.
Life can have moments of great discouragement. There can be times when a person perceives a great deal of effort is being exerted but little progress seems to be obtained. Some describe this as “beating my head against a wall.” The idea of giving up comes into the person’s mind. It may appear that there is no chance of success. The discouragement seems to take over a person’s thinking and will. Then a surprising and unexpected change occurs. A new energy emerges in the person. There is a renewed vigor to continue and move forward. A lot of effort may still be required yet a feeling of hope returns.
Elijah faced a great time of discouragement. He had been holding Ahab accountable as God instructed but Ahab was listening to the counsel of Jezebel, his wife, instead. Jezebel greatly disliked Elijah because he was a threat to her and her following of Baal. Elijah had defeated the prophets of Baal and they were killed in the process. This angered Jezebel and she vowed to kill Elijah. Elijah fled in fear to the wilderness outside Beersheba. He is extremely discouraged and ready to quit. He even asks God to end his life before falling asleep. When Elijah is awakened, he finds food and drink provided to renew his energy. After falling asleep and waking a second time, he was encouraged to eat and drink more because the journey ahead would be long. Elijah was renewed and re-energized enough to travel to Horeb where he found shelter and rest.
Our journey can be a long one. We can become weary and discouraged. The idea of giving up can dominate our thoughts. During such a period, we would do well to remember Elijah’s story. When Elijah reached the point that he thought it would be better to die instead of continue, God provided what would be necessary for the journey to continue. God will always do the same for us. A certain person, a specific resource, a special message will arrive to join us on the journey. We will be fed, renewed and encouraged so with a new vigor we can journey on. When God perceives we have completed our journey, then rest will come and we will find blessing.
10 This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”
Jeremiah 29:10-14 (NIV)
When a young person prepares to graduate from high school, the standard question he/she is asked relates to their future plans. At “senior night” of whatever extra curricular activities the individual participates in, when they are being introduced with their parents, their future plans are usually included in the introduction. For some determining future plans is relatively easy but others struggle in determining their plans. This will be the first time when they are making life altering plans. It will not be the last time of making such impactful plans though.
Jeremiah sends a letter to the Israelites who have been taken into exile by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. The purpose of the letter is to deliver a message from God. At the start of the message God instructs the people to live normally in whatever city into which they are exiled. Then God’s message shifts to their promised return to Judah and Jerusalem. God then tells them that they will be brought back to Judah when the appointed time arrives. God says that there are plans for them to prosper, have hope and a future. When the people seek God, God promises to be found.
This is a valuable message for anyone who is in the midst of working on plans to hear. Even before we start planning, God has already made plans for us. These plans are intended to assist us in being prosperous. God intends to bring hope and a meaningful future into our lives. If while we are doing our planning we seek the Lord, we are promised a successful search. Then God will actively be engaged in our planning. The plans which the Lord has for us can be integrated into our planning process.
God has plans for you. Are you including those plans into your own?
13 When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, 14 saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.” 15 And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.
16 People swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. 17 Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. 18 God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. 19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, 20 where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.
Hebrews 6:13-20 (NIV)
There are a variety of situations in which a person takes an oath to seal a promise made. Elected officials take oaths, as do judges, military personnel, and non-elected government officials. The oath is to confirm their promise to fulfill their assigned duties and to support the Constitution of the United States of America. A witness in a court proceeding takes an oath confirming their promise to tell the truth as they answer questions. There are all types of oaths but they each exist for the one purpose to affirm the fulfillment of a promise made.
The writer of the letter to the Hebrew people talks about oaths and promises. Specifically, an oath made to Abraham and then a promise made to us. God promised Abraham that he would be blessed and have many offspring. The writer tells us that God swore an oath to God’s self to fulfill the promise to Abraham. God kept that oath. The writer continues by connecting the promise and oath God made to Abraham with the promise of our salvation. The writer indicates that knowing God’s previous fulfillment assures us of the promise made for us. This assurance becomes the anchor of our hope.
We have been made the promise that if we believe in Jesus Christ as God’s son who gave us a way to salvation from ourselves, we would experience our eternal life in God’s presence. This promise was given many years ago so some wonder if it is still possible. What we read here is an answer to that question. The promise is real and can be trusted to be fulfilled as seen throught history. This history includes what has been recorded in Scripture but also through the testimony of people present and past. In trusting in the oath and promise of God, we find hope.
7 How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” 8 Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices; together they shout for joy. When the Lord returns to Zion, they will see it with their own eyes. 9 Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem. 10 The Lord will lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.
Isaiah 52:7-10 (NIV)
These days there seems to be an endless amount of bad news to be shared. Throughout the day my phone gives me notifications of new posts from news sources and social media which contain accounts of negative events in the world. Turning on the local news at night also reminds me how bad situations are in my community. I am reminded of times during my life when watching a news broadcast carried a running count of trouble; Vietnam War deaths, Iranian hostage days, World Trade Center deaths, and soldiers killed in the Middle East. Now we hear each day the number of infected people and deaths connected to the pandemic. All sobering reminders of how difficult our world can be at times. But even in the midst of all the bad news, there is good news to be shared.
Isaiah speaks of the sharing of good news in today’s passage. He shares how beautiful are the ones who bring good news to the people. Here Isaiah is referring to God’s messengers who tell the people that they will experience God’s presence in their midst. This is the God who has redeemed them after years of submission to others. God will comfort the people. Joy will fill the people again. All of the people in the world are going to see God’s power and salvation. After years of struggle and sadness, the people will shout for joy.
Today we may struggle to see good news in our situation. Many people only see the illness, death, destruction, division, and economic crisis surrounding them. Each day people lose hope. Yet in the midst of all this, the good news of which Isaiah speaks remains and has been increased. God is still very present with us. Through Jesus Christ, God has redeemed the world and brought salvation to all. We are the ones who have the beautiful feet to bring the Good News, the Gospel, to the world. You and I can, and must, share the message of the Lord with a world of people searching for hope.
25 “To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One. 26 Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.
27 Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God”? 28 Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. 29 He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. 30 Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; 31 but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
Isaiah 40:25-31 (NIV)
The ability of long-distance and marathon runners to complete such long runs truly amazes me. I have never been an athlete or a runner of any type. How these athletes are able to go such distances without quitting or falling to the ground after a mile is beyond my understanding. To be able to complete a race takes strength, training and endurance. Similar qualities which can be necessary for times in one’s life.
The passage from Isaiah speaks of the qualities which I just ascribed to successful long-distance runners. First, Isaiah points out that God never is tired or weary. Then he speaks of the Lord providing the needed strength and power to the weary and weak. God understands the needs we have and is able to meet these needs. The tired are not only renewed but given so much that they are able to soar like eagles.
What truly comforting and encouraging words are shared in our passage today. Each of us has times in our lives when we are unsure that we can go forward one more hour, or even one more day. Life can beat us down and lead us to lose hope. Here we are reminded to place our hope in the Lord, the one who never grows tired or weary. God will not only carry us through difficult times but restore to overflowing the strength and energy for the next step in life. Imagine having so much that you are unstoppable in your soaring. It is possible if you turn to the Lord.