A Time For Hope

 

Right now, this minute, this very hour and day is a time for hope if you are a child of God. For those reading this whose lives have been shattered by death, disease, destitution or one of a host of other tribulations which all lives in a fallen world encounter, this statement may seem callous, bereft of truth, even deceptive. “Look at me. Really look and consider what has happened to me. Can you still tell me, in all honesty, This is a time for hope?” Without hesitation, I can, in all sincerity, say yes.

 

Whatever your trial, whatever your struggle, Jesus tells us, “Today, if you will hear his voice, harden not your hearts,”[1] rather labor for one thing, to enter his rest.[2]

 

Jesus calls me o’er the tumult

Of our life’s wild restless sea

Day by day his sweet voice soundeth

Saying Christian follow me[3]

God has prepared a table of abundance for you, even in the presence of your enemies. He makes you lie down in green pastures. He leads you by still waters. He restores your soul. He makes it so you lack for nothing, because by his stripes you are healed. By his completed work you have been made a joint heir of all the Father has if you but choose to enter into his rest. By simple, childlike belief you can have a certain expectation of attaining everything that you really need, in abundance, pressed down and overflowing. Only trust him now.

 

“The LORD is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup: thou maintainest my lot. The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage. I will bless the LORD who hath given me counsel: my reins also instruct me in the night seasons. I have set the LORD always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope.”[4]

 

The Nature of Christian Hope

 

A Christian’s hope is, by nature, different than a non-believer’s hope. In the natural realm, hope is a desire or wish for a future apparent good. I use desire or wish in this definition of hope to indicate its various levels of intensity. One may earnestly, and with great commitment to its attainment, desire an apparent good, trusting in one’s efforts to grasp it. Conversely, one may merely wish for an apparent good, with little confidence that it can be attained and therefore, little effort to realize it. Whether it is a desire or a wish, this type of hope is, by nature, different than Christian hope. I use the term apparent good to indicate what is desired or wished for, in the natural realm, may or may not be really good for you. Many, if not the vast majority, of our natural desires or wishes, in their attainment, leave us empty and joyless. What we thought would bring peace, joy, contentment or fulfillment simply leaves us where we began, in search of that good that will satisfy our desire or worse, despondent and despairing on the realization of the fruitlessness of the attainment of that desire.

 

The opposite of an apparent good is a real good. To give a simplistic example, a child may want to eat chocolate cake everyday for breakfast, but such a daily course would lead to poor health consequences. The daily chocolate cake breakfast is an apparent good. A daily wholesome breakfast, by contrast, is a real good because it meets a real need: a healthy body with which other real goods can be attained. A real good, or a real need, is that which contributes to a whole life well lived, fulfilling the potentialities of the human condition. The natural man, through intellect, reason, and observation can perceive what his real mental, physical, and social needs are. He can even have hope in meeting these needs and, by planning, persistence, and perspiration, as well as good fortune, satisfy them, thus developing those character traits consistent with achieving, in many aspects, a whole life well lived; health and vigor, wealth at least sufficient for sustenance and perhaps for leisure, learning sufficient to improve his lot and provide for his necessities if not simply to satisfy man’s natural curiosity about his world, friendships to share life’s joys and help lessen life’s burdens. Such character development also engenders a measure of hope in one’s ability to realize, in this life, a measure of happiness, or at least the satisfaction of one’s diverse desires for physical, mental, and social well being. Unfortunately, what the natural man cannot perceive through intellect, reason and observation are his spiritual needs, the most important of which is our need to know God and have a relationship with him. Additionally, the natural man’s hope is contingent upon his works, his fortune, and his natural abilities. In a world of limited resources, with all in competition to realize their diverse passions, the hope of the natural man is necessarily insecure. To add insult to injury, as attaining the spiritual needs are the only eternally satisfying, versus temporally gratifying, attainments, all else leaves one unfulfilled and wanting, still seeking, after countless pursuits, that which will bring true and lasting happiness and real and enduring joy.

 

A Christian’s hope is fundamentally, by nature, different because of what it is founded upon and what is hoped for. Christian hope is a certain expectation for a future real good. It is not contingent upon our works, fortune, or abilities, but upon the finished work of Christ, his promises, his character and his limitless riches in glory. What is hoped for is always really good for us because it is the Father’s, the giver of all good and perfect gifts, will for us. The attainment of what is hoped for is always satisfying because it meets a real, rather than an apparent, need, thereby contributing to a whole life well lived and true joy. The differences between true Christian hope and the common, or natural man’s, hope are so fundamental that many, even those who have confessed and believed in Christ, unfortunately and often miss out on the blessings which our acting on it set God free to release to his children. David exclaimed, “And now Lord, what wait I for? My hope is in thee.”[5] Our Father has a storehouse of blessings he has laid up with which to bless his children and, if we have accepted his grace by trusting in his Son, we are joint heirs with him of all the Father has. We are not relegated to having a longing wish for these blessings. The Father has said he wants to give us every good and perfect gift. As hard to believe as it may be, we are the apple of his eye. We hung the moon. We should have absolutely no doubt that , if we trust in him and submit to his authority, he will give us the desires of our hearts, not only because he loves us so, but because our desires will be shaped by the Holy Spirit to be aligned with his desires for us, which always align with what is really good for us. Our hope, a certain expectation of a future real good, informs, shapes and guides our current lives and actions and, because it is a certain expectation, gives us real joy, even though the present circumstances may be difficult to bear. In every circumstance, we are confident that God is working all things together for good, and we look with the expectation of a child for the fulfillment of the promises of our loving, always faithful Father.

 

The Source of Christian Hope

 

As the song so appropriately says, “Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness.” The LORD is the foundation stone on which our hope is built. Now, the foundation having been laid, that work is complete. The great love of the Father for us, who spared not his only Son, has removed us from under the curse of the law and, by grace through faith, and that not of ourselves, continually gives us, as we walk in obedience, an ever more certain expectation of future real blessings. By this we see that the foundation of our hope and the source of our hope are distinct. The measure of faith and hope we have is built upon God the Father’s and the Son’s foundational acts of love , built up and sourced from God’s continued revelation to us of his nature and reality as we walk in the faith which he, by grace, bestows. The building of our faith and hope, so long as we abide in Christ, is a continual process, grace upon grace, faith to faith, hope upon hope. The gospel of grace is not only that our eternal souls are secure. That is certainly unmerited favor which we receive believing and trusting in Christ, but that is only the beginning of the constant flow of grace upon grace which the branches receive from the living waters flowing from the true vine.

 

Paul says in Ephesians, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people and his incomparably great power for us who believe.”[6] Carol Stream, in her hymn “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” described that hope this way.

 

“Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth

Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide

Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow

Blessings all mine with ten thousands besides”[7]

 

This is a constantly expanding hope, with new grace and mercy every morning, his own dear presence making his word real and alive to our hearts and minds as we abide in him. It is a certain expectation of “blessings all mine with ten thousands beside.” Deuteronomy 28 highlights just a portion of what is included in the ten thousands beside, this phrase being a figure of speech for the grace upon grace which Father God showers upon his children. It tells us that these blessings will come upon us; that they will overtake us. It is as if we have waded out into the ocean of God’s grace to our knees and experienced a small portion of God’s goodness, graciousness and love towards us when, turning towards the shore, the swelling sea of blessings overtakes us and we are immersed and carried gently on our way. “Blessed shall thou be in the city, and blessed shall thou be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of thy body, and the fruit of thy ground, and the fruit of thy cattle, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep. Blessed shall be thy basket and thy store. Blessed shall thou be when thou comest in, and blessed shalt thou be when thou goest out. The LORD shall cause thine enemies that rise up against thee to be smitten before thy face: they shall come out against thee one way, and flee before thee seven ways. The LORD shall command the blessing upon thee in thy storehouse, and in all that thou settest thine hand unto; and he shall bless thee in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.”[8] All these blessings, and more besides, are ours if we abide in him, he who has perfectly fulfilled the law and, by his death and resurrection, raised us up with him and made us co-heirs with him. And this abiding is not of works, lest any man should boast. It is abiding in and claiming his finished work and his great love for us. Our abiding place is a place of rest; rest from self condemnation, rest from striving for justification, rest from fretting about the problems of today and the uncertainties of tomorrow, but rather resting in his strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow with a certain expectation that, because his love for us is certain, his provision for our every need is certain. God further makes our hope certain by giving us the Holy Spirit, the down payment on our inheritance, through whom we are empowered to abide in his love. In him we live, and move, and have our being, for this is Christ in us, the hope of glory.

 

As we abide in the Word, and the Word abides in us, the Holy Spirit makes him alive to our hearts and minds so that, believing and trusting in him, we act in obedience to the revelation given. Even as we set our will to respond, in obedience, to that measure of faith graciously given us, God begins, in his omniscience and providential care, to work all things together for good, according to his purposes. He proves to us, over and over and over again, his reality in our lives and his plans toward us for good. It is this repeated evidence of his response to our obedience, his providential care for us, and his great love for us which gives us hope upon hope, and that hope a certain expectation of future real good.

 

God tells us in Jeremiah, “For I know the plans I have for you, ‘says the LORD,’ They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and hope.”[9] And how does God give us that hope? Paul tells us specifically in Romans, “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.”[10] “The God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.”[11] Just as God gives us grace and faith, he gives us hope by enlightening our hearts and minds to the truth of his precious word through the power of the Spirit. The result of true belief is behavior in accordance with the revelation, which our Father always honors with more grace, more revelation, and more hope; grace upon grace, faith to faith, hope upon hope.

 

The Object of Christian Hope

 

That sin and death have been defeated and that we can have a certain expectation that Christ will someday receive us unto himself that we will be forever with him in glory is a lifelong, life sustaining object of hope for every Christian believer. Paul said to the Corinthians, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.”[12] The reverse of this is also true - if in the afterlife only we have hope in Christ, we are, at a minimum, forsaking a lifetime of blessings and joy which the Father has in his storehouse for us. That the end of the story has already been written, and that we are eternally secure in Christ, our hope of glory is wonderful, but there is so much more!

 

Christians ought to have a certain expectation for the provision from God to accomplish what he has asked us to do. This truth is demonstrated again and again in God’s word, and quite poignantly in the story of the widow of Zarephath’s life and her encounter with the prophet Elijah. God had brought a severe drought on the land because of the sins of Ahab the king by which he had caused Israel to sin, but the LORD sustained his prophet by the brook Cherith. By and by, because of the duration of the drought, the brook dried up, and the word of the Lord again came to Elijah saying, “Arise, get thee to Zarephath, which belongeth to Zidon, and dwell there: behold, I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee.”[13] Elijah’s certain expectation of God’s provision in Zarephath had nothing to do with the circumstances he would encounter there, and the circumstances could hardly have appeared less propitious. Zarephath was a Canaanite town in the country Jezebel was from. The Canaanites were enemies of Israel and worshippers of Baal. Jezebel, the wicked queen of king Ahab, sought to kill God’s prophets. Additionally, Elijah was to be provided for by a widow woman, unlikely to have means, but God’s revelation was clear, so Elijah rose and went. When he arrived at the gate of the city, he met a woman gathering sticks. Could this be the widow woman the LORD had in mind? The prophet asked her for a drink of water and, as she was going to fetch it, to bring him some bread also. At this, the woman cried out, “...I have not a cake, but a handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse: and, behold, I am gathering two sticks, that I may go in and dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it, and die.”[14] Against all probability, providentially, Elijah had found the widow woman the LORD had commanded to sustain him on his first encounter in a strange city. His certain expectation for God’s provision was reinforced by God’s continued revelation of his plan as Elijah went in obedience to the first revelation given. Emboldened and assured, Elijah said to her, “Fear not; go and do as thou hast said: but make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it unto me, and after make for thee and thine son. For thus saith the LORD God of Israel, The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the LORD sendeth rain upon the earth,”[15] and it was so. We can have a certain expectation of the provision to accomplish what God has asked us to do because the provision is from God. In spite of the circumstances, as we step out in that measure of faith given, we proceed from faith to faith, revelation to revelation, and experience hope upon hope.

 

Christians ought to have a certain expectation for the protection of God to preserve us fully able to perform his will. God beautifully affirms this for us in Psalm 91, often called the soldier’s psalm. Verse 1 says, “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most high shall abide under the shadow of the almighty.” This secret place under the shadow of the almighty is our refuge and our fortress within which we can rest in perfect assurance that our God will shield us from every instrument of spiritual warfare our enemy wields against us and from which God himself sallies forth to fight the battle for us. Some commentators have suggested that this secret place is symbolized by the tallit, or prayer shawl, in Jewish tradition on the fringe of which are tassels used to count the commandments. For those under the law as was the nation of Israel in the Old Testament, this is a fitting symbolic depiction, but Christians are not under the law. We are under grace, our secret place symbolized by the cross on which the perfect lamb of God was slain to remove us from the curse of the law. The apostle John found this secret place in the upper room: “Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved.”[16] Mary found this secret place at Jesus’ feet listening to his word. (Luke 10:39) Christ revealed this secret place when he said, “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.”[17] Our secret place is in the great love of our savior for us and in the living water of his word which he gave us.

 

The psalmist tells us, “Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence. He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.”[18] Here, our Lord is likened to a mother hen who gently gathers her chicks under her wing, close to her heart. In Isaiah, he is our rock of ages, cleft for us, whose shadow provides a cool, refreshing shade in the midst of a dry, weary land. (Isaiah 26:4/32:2) In the Song of Solomon, he is likened to the most beautiful fruit. (Song of Solomon 2:3) Again, in Isaiah, his children rest secure in the shadow of his hand. (Isaiah 49:2) His protection is assured for those who abide here, not for visitors, feeding on the precious, life giving fruit of his word, bathed in the living water of his very presence, close to his heart, leaning on his everlasting arms. His word is not only precious fruit for our souls, but our means of defense and offense against our adversary. Here, his truth is a shield and buckler. In Revelations and Ephesians, it is a sword, “...piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intent of the heart.”[19]

 

The psalmist goes on to say, “Because thou hast made the LORD, which is my refuge, thy habitation, There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling. For he shall give his angels charge over thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.”[20] These protections are not mere possibilities, but rather the proclamations and assurances of almighty God for those who abide in him. What then shall we say of the suffering of the saints? It is the ageless question of why do bad things happen to good people, in this context the good being the saints. How can we believe God’s promises for protection given the reality of suffering? I don’t presume to have the wisdom of Solomon, this question having been contemplated by some of the world’s greatest theologians and philosophers; however, I humbly offer the following.

 

First, have you affirmed God’s promise regardless of your circumstances? One of the most miraculous events in God’s word shows us the necessity of this step - the conception of Christ in Mary’s womb. After the angel Gabriel’s proclamation of the promise, Mary responded, “...be it unto me according to thy word.”[21] Though she had known no man, and though the conception would occur by no process understood by man, Mary said amen! She believed in her heart the promise, and she confessed with her mouth that belief. This is the same process by which all believers begin their walk with Christ, as shown to us in Romans: “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.”[22] Our amen to the miraculous conception and resurrection of Christ, two events which from every circumstance that could be seen would seem impossible, form the foundation for a lifetime, and eternity, of amens to the revealed promises of God which he, through his grace and abundant storehouse in heaven, showers on his children. The mother of our LORD opened the door and led the way into the age of grace by her inward belief and outward confession of God with us, through whose crucifixion and resurrection would the law of sin and death be forever vanquished. We align ourselves with the blessings of God when we likewise believe and confess them over our lives.

 

Second, have you acted on that affirmation regardless of the circumstances? Consider the example of the prophet Jeremiah. God had told him that, although the Babylonians would defeat them and take them captive, he would restore them to their lands. While Jeremiah was in prison because of his faithful proclamation of God’s word, his cousin visits him and offers him the right of redemption for a parcel of family land. Not only was Jeremiah in prison, but the Babylonians were at the gates of the city, and this offered land was already under their control. No doubt his cousin offered him a good price considering the circumstances, but Jeremiah did not consider the circumstances. He counted on the promise and bought the land. Consider the example of Joshua, having been told to go into and take the promised land, for God had given it into their hands, yet it was inhabited by giants, “...and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.”[23] Joshua looked beyond the circumstances and took hold of God’s promise. Consider the example of Caleb who, at eighty five years of age, with the same challenge before him, said to Joshua, “Now therefore give me this mountain...”[24] For us to claim what God has revealed to us by his Spirit to be ours, we need to act on that revelation.

 

Third, are you truly abiding in him? Are you daily being washed by the Word? Christ said to Peter at the last supper, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” In response to Peter’s request that he then wash also his hands and his head as well, Christ replied, “...those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean.”[25] The psalmist proclaims, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.”[26] Are you walking with and talking to Jesus every day? Are you earnestly pursuing his will for you in his word every day? Are you responding, with your feet, to his revelations?

 

Fourth, have circumstances prevented you from performing his will? Christians ought to have a certain expectation for the protection of God to preserve them fully able to perform his will. This is not a promise of protection from all difficulties or adversities. In fact, we know that God uses trials to refine us and make us better able to perform his will. Paul tells us in Romans, “...that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope.”[27] If you are believing, confessing, abiding, and acting on the revelation given, then look for his will being worked out in and through the circumstances you are experiencing. God did not keep Daniel out of the lion’s den. He protected him in the lion’s den. God is with us as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. The word does not say we will not go through the valley. Consider Moses’ exhortation to the children of Israel caught between the sea and the advancing Egyptian army. “And Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid. Stand still and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever. The LORD will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.”[28] Israel was in the valley, but the LORD told them do not be afraid. Their job was to stand still. They were to stand unflinchingly, in perfect peace, against the seen powers of destruction bearing down on them while the unseen God fought for them. Sometimes, all that God requires of us is trust in him and peace and stillness in the storm. Our cross in these times is not a burden to bear but a peace to portray to a world lost outside of the shadow of the Almighty. Consider the story of the healing of the man born blind. “And this disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.”[29] The LORD had preserved this man, although blind from birth, to be part of this great manifestation of the Messiah to Israel, foretold by the prophets: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert.”[30] If you are believing, confessing, abiding, and acting on that measure of revelation given and remain challenged by life’s circumstances, then you can have a certain expectation that the LORD will use that circumstance to manifest the works of God in you! The circumstance was not brought on you because of your sin, nor is it kept from you because of your works. They exist that God may be manifest through you.

 

Christians ought to have a certain expectation of the presence of God to guide and uphold them. This great object of Christian hope is transformative if we really let its reality sink in. The God who hung the stars in space and set the planets in motion wants to be, and promises to be, with us always! The God who knit our bones together in our mother’s womb wants to walk with us and talk with us. The God who loved us enough to leave his glory in heaven, take on human form, and die for our sins seeks companionship and a relationship with us, and has fully paid the debt of sin we owed to make that possible. Even if we run from his presence, he will never leave us or forsake us. The psalmist declares:

 

“Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me”[31]

 

The LORD declares: “And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.”[32] Christ’s last words recorded in the Gospel of Mathew were, “,,,and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.”[33] Paul tells the Philippians: “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.”[34] Christ told his disciples: “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth.”[35] There are no conditions in any of these declarations save the acceptance of God’s prevenient grace unto salvation. This is the gospel of grace. It does not depend on our perseverance, but solely on the promise of God and his perfect work at Calvary. By his stripes, we are healed. By his sacrifice, we are made the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. By his Spirit, we are guided into all truth. By the right hand of his righteousness, we are upheld. (Is 41:10) Hallelujah, amen! Let these truths sink in. Grasp them firmly with your mind, and hide them deep within your heart. Let that hope, that certain expectation, of his presence to guide and uphold you, complete your joy unto the perfection of your faith through your thankful response to the Holy Spirit’s revelation of the Word of Truth.

 

Christians ought to have a certain expectation of the fulfillment of the promises of God. Such hope leads us to expect great blessings as we walk with and abide in Christ. “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this, says the LORD Almighty, and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.”[36] Do not assume these blessings are spiritual only, although spiritual blessings are much more to be desired. These blessings include, “...houses full of all good things, which thou filledst not, and wells digged, which thou diggedst not, vineyards and olive trees, which thou plantedst not...”[37] These blessings include health, wholeness, and vitality. We are told, “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows...[38] The primary translations of the Hebrew for griefs and sorrows are diseases and pains. The prophet punctuates this promise by declaring, “...and with his stripes we are healed.”[39] Paul tells us, “For in him dwelleth all the fullness of the godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him.”[40] James tells us, “But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.”[41] Is your wholeness of mind, body, and spirit not completely manifested? Persevere in believing. Continue to wash yourself in the Word by whose stripes you are healed, and the fruit of your wholeness will spring up, “...first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ears.”[42] Believe you are whole, and do not doubt though you see now only the blade. Understand the promise of the blade, which is the Word sprouting forth in your life to yield 30, then 60, then 100 fold. The psalmist tells us that he who meditates on the word day and night, “...shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.”[43] His strength shall be renewed. He will soar on wings like eagles. He will run and not grow weary. He will walk and not faint.[44] This is a picture of vitality, fruitfulness, strength and endurance. In Deuteronomy we are told, “Although Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died, his eye was not dim, nor his vigor abated.”[45] At 85 years old, Caleb declared, “I am still as strong today as I was in the day Moses sent me; as my strength was then, so my strength is now, for war and for going out and for coming in.”[46] At 90 years old, Abraham;s wife Sarah retained her beauty, so much so that king Abimelech desired her for his harem. In the exodus from Egypt, well over a million Israelites departed that land, with much gold and silver from their former captors, and there was not one feeble person among their tribes.[47] These promises and examples of their fulfillment, and many more besides, clearly show us that the blessings of health, wholeness, and vitality are not simply spiritual and mental, but physical as well. Christ tells us, “I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance [to the full, till it overflows].”[48] Those who are in Christ should have a certain expectation of these blessings.

 

Not only should we expect great blessings, but we should aspire to great privileges as we abide in Christ. Special privileges and advantages accrue as a matter of birthright, the greatest of which were given, in Jewish tradition, to the firstborn son. He became the priest of the family. He had allotted to him a double portion of the paternal inheritance. He inherited the judicial authority of his father.[49] As Christ is the firstborn of God, these privileges are his, but we are co-heirs with him. All that the Father has he gives to the Son, and all that the Son receives, we receive as co-heirs. Christ receives not only a double portion. He receives all the Father has. This is beautifully pictured in the story of the prodigal son, where the father, a type of our heavenly Father, responds to his elder son who complained of the lavish treatment of the prodigal. The father, no doubt sorrowfully because of his elder son’s protests, told him that all he had was his. That son trusted in his flesh to earn such rewards, not realizing all along that all was already his by grace. The prodigal simply cleaved to the father and pled for his mercy and grace, expecting only to be allowed to return as a servant. The father put a ring on his hand, a sign of authority. He arrayed him in fine garments, a sign of great provision. He threw him a lavish party, a sign of great love and joy. The Reverend Charles Spurgeon spoke beautifully and assuringly of our inheritance with Christ thusly: “...if Christ as God’s heir has a perfect right to what his Father has bestowed upon him, even so have we, for our rights are co-existent. If our title is true and just, so is his, and if his rights of heritage are true and just, so are ours. Oh! blessed thought for the believer! Jesus must lose the reward of his agonies before we can lose the fruits of them. Jesus the Mediator must lose the glory which his finished work has procured for him, before one of his coheirs can lose it too; he must come down from that glory which he now inhabits, and cease to be honoured as ‘the Lamb that was slain, and has redeemed us to God by his blood,’ if any one of his people shall be deprived of that glory, and are cast into hell. The will, if valid for one, is valid for all.”[50]

 

Of course, with great privilege comes great responsibility. The privileges of the firstborn are his birthright. The fulfillment of the responsibilities of the firstborn are a consequence of his being right and living in accord with the father’s will. Fulfilling these responsibilities, through the empowerment of the Father, is also a great privilege to which we should aspire. Christians ought to expect, as a matter of birthright, great privileges of authority and provision. They should also aspire to great responsibility to use their birthright in accordance with their Father’s will. That the authority and provision is ours by birthright in Christ is clear by many evidences. Paul tells us, “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.”[51] The privileges of authority and provision are his birthright. Romans tells us, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may also be glorified together.”[52] The birthright of Christ, his authority and his provision, is also our birthright, being joint heirs with Christ, if so be we aspire to and accept the responsibilities inherent in this birthright. Christians ought to have a certain expectation to be given authority and provision as they attempt great duties in fulfillment of their birthright responsibilities revealed in their Father’s will - his Holy Word. Claim your birthright of great privilege by accepting your responsibility of great duty!

 

The Cultivation of Christian Hope

 

Why must Christian hope be cultivated in the believers and in the church? One reason is that the church, for the present time, remains in a fallen world and is continually assaulted with challenges to its faith. One of these persistent challenges is moral relativism. Lest this be thought to be only a recent phenomenon, one need only turn to Pontius Pilate’s interrogation of Jesus where, looking at the Truth, he asks, “What is truth?”[53] That there is such a thing as universal, eternal moral truth and that we can know this truth is antithetical to the common world view of this age. Our ability to know what is that good which we should desire is questioned. The pursuit of a virtuous life and development of a virtuous character in our personal, social, and political lives is abandoned, each sphere of action reacting to this loss of certainty in different, but equally destructive, ways. The loss of certainty drives the individual to seek security in himself. It drives social systems to attach prime importance to the human rather than the divine. It drives political systems toward radical individualism and abandonment of any effort to inculcate, by means of government, individual and social virtues necessary for a free and democratic system to endure and prosper. For the Christian, it means the destruction of Christian hope.

 

Another challenge is objectivism in its many modern expressions; rationalism, humanism, and radical individualism being examples. Although the term was coined by Ayn Rand, its philosophical underpinnings trace their roots to Aristotle, modern social, ethical, and political expressions simply reflecting varying points of emphasis. With humanism, that emphasis is the near deification of man. With radical individualism, it is a pursuit of fulfillment of human potentiality apart from the recognition of the spiritual nature of man. With rationalism, it is the total reliance on reason from objective perception of the individual, discounting revelation by the Spirit through the Word. If reality is knowable by reason, and only by reason, the revelation of Truth by the Spirit through the Word is simply an illusion, fabrication, or an outright lie. Down through the ages of time, that familiar voice calls, “Hath God surely said.” (Gen 3) Doubt remains the Devil’s primary device.

 

Where all this leads is pessimism, the opposite of hope, our world precipitously balanced on the precipice of despair, expecting, without certainty, the wherewithal, within ourselves, to achieve happiness and avoid catastrophe. My mother-n-law’s favorite expression is, “As you go through life brother, whatever be your goal, keep your eye upon the doughnut and not upon the hole.” I believe this was an advertisement in the WWII era, she being from that generation. How, pray tell, do we remain optimistic apart from an enduring belief in a God who is in control of both history and our lives and well being? Do we hope in the goodness of man? History is replete with examples of this error. Do we hope in our own abilities? No matter how capable you are, chance and circumstance impact us all, and there will always be someone stronger, and smarter, and swifter in this worldly competition of life. Do we hope in government? I think our current state of affairs is enough to dissuade us of this. Disregarding various individual capacities, apart from spiritual perception, we are all constrained by physical heredity, environment, chance, and disinformation and misinformation, the latter of which we see daily in fake news. Christian hope must be cultivated because of the pervasiveness of worldly philosophies which dissuade us from such a hope.

 

When must Christian hope be cultivated? As one of its fruits is joy, this provides our clear guidance. Paul tell us, “Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say rejoice...”[54] In the Interlinear Bible, we learn the original Greek is translated, “...to delight in God’s grace.”[55] We are to continually live our lives basking in the delight experienced in receiving God’s unmerited favor. When we fall short, delight in his grace. When we overcome by his strength, delight in his grace. When faced with trials, delight in his grace. In abundance, delight in his grace. At all times and in all things, delight in his grace knowing that we are the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus and joint heirs with Christ of all our heavenly Father has. Our certain expectation for the provision, protection, presence, and promises of God should be continually cultivated so that our joy may abound, our spirits responding to the Holy Spirit within us to delight in his abundant favor given that we might be fitted unto good works which he hath before ordained we should walk in.

 

How must Christian hope be cultivated? First, we all require a daily washing in the word by which we are cleansed through the renewing of our mind and a right spirit within us. The evil one, the worries of this life, and the deceitfulness of worldly desires snatch up and choke out the good seed sown in our hearts and minds, negatively focusing our thoughts and emotions. The negative must not only be swept out, but must be replaced with the positive, else your latter state will be worse than before. As you wash in the word and are reminded of what you hope for, visualize yourself receiving the object of your hope. As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he. (Proverbs 23:7) Visualization is not a means by which we, of ourselves, cause a manifestation, but rather our belief in and acceptance of those gifts the Father has told us he desires to freely give us. Jesus declared, “Therefore I say unto you, what things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye have received them, and ye shall have them.”[56] Visualization is simply a way to focus on an object of hope and solidify our belief. If it is something God has already revealed he wants to give us, and if we do not ask amiss, that we might consume it on our own lusts, believe and do not doubt and you shall have it. Visualization helps to drive out doubt, strengthen belief, and cultivate hope. Do not simply hide the word of faith in your heart, although this is important, but work it into your life. Visualization is enhanced by reminders. Verbalize the word of faith. Write it on a post and stick it on your bathroom mirror. Prepare for its manifestation. We see this principle with king David who was told by God that his son would build the temple he had purposed in his heart. “So David made abundant preparations before his death.”[57] We see this principle with Elijah who, seeing one lone small cloud on the horizon, said to the king, “...Get thee up, eat and drink; for there is a sound of abundance of rain.”[58] What are you hoping for? Visualize it, verbalize it, post it, and prepare for it.

 

Cultivating hope also requires that we consider the evidence. As we abide in Christ, his unmerited favor flows continuously to us, as a vine continuously supplies its branches with nourishment. The evidence of this continuous supply are the leaves, the growth, the buds, the flowers, and the fruit of the branches. Likewise, in our Christian lives, there will be evidence of God’s continuous supply of grace as we, like the branch, rest in the vine. The leaves of the branch are the means to convert the provided nutrients into useful work. God’s grace provides both the nutrients and the means to convert this supply into useful work for his kingdom. The supply may be a spiritual insight and the means God’s providential care in presenting you the opportunity to share this insight with an individual or community of believers prepared to receive it. The supply may be a material provision, and the means its providential timing in your life or the life of your faith community. The supply may be mental, a word of knowledge, and the means God’s providential provision of a platform to share that knowledge. If you are abiding in the vine, the evidence of his provision is not difficult to find.

 

Cultivating hope requires that we count our blessings. As the old hymn goes, count your blessings name them one by one, count your blessings see what God has done. This not only helps us dwell on the positive, it also helps us fix our attention on the many ways in which God is an active reality in our lives. Our blessings are an objective reality of God’s grace in our lives. This goes beyond considering the evidence. It is an enumeration of the evidence of how, over time, the Father has richly blessed you with every good and perfect gift you have in your life. I challenge you to set aside one morning to count God’s blessings in your life. As you list each one, consider all the areas of your life, and others lives, this blessing has enriched. As you do so, a spirit of joy and thankfulness will well up in your heart. Pour it out to the LORD. Give him thanks and praise as you realize the richness of his love for you. When you are done, be sure to save the list. This is the Father’s love letter written expressly to you, each and every blessing a special gift prepared by one who knew your heart, your need, and your passion as only he could.

 

Cultivating hope requires that we respond to God’s revelation. As we feed on God’s word, the Holy Spirit makes it alive and real to our hearts and minds - our emotions and our intellect. Rather than just words on a page, it becomes substantive and evidentiary, speaking truth into that moment and those circumstances of our lives in which we find ourselves. We cultivate hope when we stand firm and walk in that revelation because God is always faithful to his word of truth. Accepting, affirming, and acting upon the word of faith provided allows God’s provision, protection, presence, and promise to flow in your life. This is the substance and evidence of faith which, as we respond to each revelation, gives us hope upon hope. God’s grace continuously flows into our lives, leading us from faith to faith, and to hope upon hope.

 

The Satisfaction of Christian Hope

 

The satisfaction of Christian hope is the laying hold of, obtaining, what is hoped for. Although there are some objects of Christian hope which lie beyond the temporal realm, many more can be laid hold of in the present and in this life. Paul exhorts us, “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.”[59] He also instructs us to rejoice in the Lord always. (Philippians 4:4) Proverbs tells us, “Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life.”[60] Christ said, “Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.”[61] As there is spiritual fruit brought about through the Spirit by the satisfaction of Christian hope, it is clear the Father wants that for his children in this life, as well as in eternity.

 

The satisfaction of our Christian hope, which we can lay hold of right here and now, is founded on the completed work of Christ on the cross and his resurrection. On him, on the cross, were laid the iniquities of us all, past, present, and future. Through his resurrection, he became the mediator between us and God, daily making intercession for us. When the evil one accuses us before the Father demanding justice, our mighty counselor is there to proclaim God’s perfect justice has been satisfied in him. When Satan points us to our failings, we can hold fast to the truth that we are the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. We are not growing into that righteousness. We are that righteousness. We cannot attain that righteousness by keeping the law. We have that righteousness by grace through faith, and that not of ourselves. It is the gift of God. If we are in Christ, the provision of righteousness and the protection from condemnation are ours. No amount of striving on our part is necessary or useful for making this more sure.

 

The satisfaction of Christian hope for God’s presence in our lives is a present reality. If we are in Christ, the Holy Spirit dwells in us. We see this, if we are looking, by how the Spirit continually reveals to our hearts and minds the reality of God in our lives. Through the Word, through nature, through our interactions with other people of faith, through God’s providence, through miracles big and small, through things that the world calls coincidences, the Spirit reveals the real, objective, loving presence of God. The evidence of God’s presence in the life of the believer is overwhelming if we would truly seek it. Our hope for God’s presence is ours to take hold of right now. Jeremiah tells us, “And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.”[62] Search out God in his word. Search for him in nature. Search for him in your life circumstances. If you seek him in earnest, you will find him, and find that he was right with you all along.

 

The satisfaction of Christian hope for God’s provision in our lives is a present reality. The most important provision which we can daily experience is God’s gracious provision of faith as we read and meditate on his word. The psalmist declares, “Oh, how I love your instructions! I think about them all day long.”[63] In addition to bringing healing to your flesh and strength to your bones (Proverbs 3:8), it supplies a revelation of truth to your heart and mind. The Holy Spirit makes the word come alive and substantive to your emotions and your intellect. He provides the evidence to persuade you of its truth, and where it is applicable to your life, where you are in that moment and in your current circumstances. This is not a hope for future glory. The object of this hope can be obtained daily, continually, as we meditate on God’s word. It is real. It is substantive. It is life changing if we follow the revelation. It is ours, right now, to take hold of. God is calling. Pick up the phone. Answer the call.

 

God’s provision is not only spiritual, as wonderful as that provision is. It is also mental, physical, and material. The Proverbs opens with a statement of their purpose. “To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding; to receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity. To give subtlety to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion. A wise man will hear, and will increase in learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels.”[64] Knowledge and wisdom, the ability to understand the proper and effective use of that knowledge, is also a present provision if we seek it and ask the Father for it. The proverbs further tell us that such provision is more to be desired than rubies or fine gold, for by it, “...thou shalt find favor and good understanding in the sight of God and man.”[65] This harkens to the old story of providing a man with a fish or teaching him to fish. By which is he made better off? Knowledge and wisdom are keys to physical, mental, and spiritual health and prosperity.

 

God’s word is full of practical knowledge, and the revelation of that word by the Holy Spirit gives understanding and wisdom. Proverbs tells us, “Through wisdom a house is built, And by understanding it is established; By knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches.”[66] In Proverbs 3 we are told of wisdom, “Length of days is in her right hand; and in her left hand riches and honor. Her ways are the ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her: and happy is everyone that retaineth her.”[67] The attainment and exercise of God’s wisdom leads to health and prosperity, not by a miracle but as a matter of course. The miracle is the revelation to men, by the Holy Spirit, of God’s wisdom through the word. The benefits of wisdom naturally flow when we walk in obedience to what has been revealed.

 

The Apostle Peter tells us, “Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.”[68] The root word for peace here used, eirene, has the meaning of all essential parts being joined together.[69] It is the same word used by Christ when he said, “Peace I leave with you; My [perfect] peace I give to you...”[70] The knowledge of God and of Jesus our LORD joins all of our essential parts, mind, body, soul, and spirit, together into perfect wholeness. This is a real, tangible good we can expect in our lives as we abide in Christ. It brings strength and health to our bones and marrow, vigor to our bodies, keenness to our minds, and joy to our souls.

 

All of these things, knowledge, wisdom, emotional, mental, and physical health, are essential elements in anyone’s life to enable them to obtain the necessities of life. Our gracious Lord, however, does not give them to us for that purpose. In fact, he explicitly tells us not to worry about what we shall eat or what we shall wear. He knows what we have need of, and he will supply it. He tells us, “...My God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”[71] All means all, and God will supply, not us by our striving. The Lord tells us the birds of the air do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet God feeds them. The flowers of the field do not labor or spin, yet God richly adorns them. How much more will he care for us? He tells us rather to seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to us as well, freely from his bounteous supply. And where is this kingdom? It is Christ in us, whereby we have a certain expectation of sharing his perfect provision of all good things from the Father. As he is, so are we in this world. (1 John 4:17) Revelations gives us insight into how he is in the heavenlies. He is worthy to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing. (Revelations 5:12) We do not claim those things of our own right, nor do we dare equate ourselves in any way with God. We claim the worth of the Lamb who was slain, the perfect sacrifice, who lives in us and with whom we are co-heirs, “...if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”[72] What, pray tell, you may ask is the use of all of these benefits if we must share in his sufferings? To glorify the Father! The water from wells we did not dig, the grapes from vines we did not plant, houses filled with all kinds of goodly things we did not provide, blessings overflowing which we could never deserve are freely given out of the Father’s abundant storehouse that we might glorify him in their use and that his covenant might be confirmed. (Deuteronomy 8:18) We are worthy, in Christ, to bear that cross which he has specifically prepared for us, and we for it. He tells us his yoke is easy and his burden is light. It is so because we carry it in his strength with his provision as we rest in him. Not only do we have provision, protection and providential care, we are given purpose and, most importantly, his presence as we move from faith to faith and receive hope upon hope.

 

The Obstacles to Christian Hope

 

The fruits of Christian hope are joy, love, peace, patience and steadfastness. Wow! That’s a lot of fruit. These are, of course, fruits of the Spirit through whom the truths in the word are made real to our hearts and minds giving us this blessed assurance - this hope. Surely this is something every Christian should earnestly desire to take hold of, yet many do not. Before we discuss the fruit, then, let’s consider what obstructs its expression.

 

I raise grapes. Actually, they are scuppernongs, but the process is the same. One spring, several years ago, I was looking at my vines, very pleased with their spring growth after my February pruning. Tiny leaves were sprouting out on every vine, promising a rich crop in September. I watched them grow and mature from their tiny grape clusters with great pleasure, thinking of the abundant crop these early beginnings promised. Then, one day in summer, I noticed the leaves on one of the vines looked less vibrant than the others. Watching it over several days, the leaves began to whither and die. I continued to hope that the early promise of fruit would return, but the vine continued to decay until it became clear it was dead. I inspected the vine to determine the cause of this sudden and dramatic change. What I found was that I had left the twine with which I had trained the vine years before. Although the vine had grown around this twine and had continued to grow, the twine had constricted the ability of the branch from drawing nourishment from the main vine. It is amazing how God uses nature to teach us profound and valuable lessons.

 

One lesson, on which T. D. Jakes has eloquently expounded, is that we must have a relationship with the vine, not the fruit. The fruit is something freely given to be used for God’s glory, not to be consumed on our own lusts. If we abide in the vine, the Holy Spirit reveals to us how we are to use that fruit. In the case of my care of my vineyard, I became focused on the fruit and failed to take proper care to ensure the healthy relationship of the branch with the vine. As Christians, we don’t need to worry about the fruit. If we are abiding in the vine, the fruit will come. An obstacle to Christian hope is being overly focused on the fruit to the exclusion of what is really necessary; abiding in the vine. We must learn, like Paul, to be content in whatever season we are in. Spring is a time of new promise of a bountiful harvest to come, but fall, the time for gathering, is still a long way off. Our hope for the harvest can be a certain expectation only if we continue to abide in the vine.

 

The twine I used to gently train the branch was never meant to be a tourniquet. At some point in the branch’s development, it should have been removed. I am reminded of another story of when my father was teaching me to ride a bike. I started out with training wheels. One day, Dad took off those training wheels and, holding onto the frame, asked me to get on and ride while he guided me with his hand on the seat from behind. I was six or seven at the time, making Dad , now Great Granddad, a spry 35. Dad was always quite strong, his grip like a vise. I knew I had nothing to fear, so I peddled along without the training wheels knowing my father was in control. At some point in that day, unbeknownst to me, Dad let go of the seat and trotted alongside. He knew the bike had reached a self stabilizing speed. He, and I, also knew he would catch me if I fell. That day progressed from training wheels, to guiding hand, to protective presence and, eventually, to a lawn chair as he watched me revel in “my accomplishment.” The Father wants us to revel, have joy in, the good works he has prepared for us to walk in. An obstacle to our Christian hope in accomplishing these tasks is fear. We become confident and dependent on the training wheels and fear attempting to progress beyond them. This prevents us from experiencing the hand of God and his wisdom as he guides us beyond our wobbly start to the thrill of greater expertise in the tasks he has set before us. Like the branch with the twine left on, the flow of God’s provision, protection and providential care is choked off because we are not following his plan. God’s plan for our lives is that we continue to bear fruit, and that we bear it more and more abundantly throughout our lives, but we must follow his plan for this to occur. Our figurative training wheels may be a safe employment position when God is encouraging us down another path of opportunity. They may be an easy educational path when God is opening the door to something more challenging. They may be a comfortable retirement when God is telling you it’s not time for you to retire. I have more for you to do. To have a certain expectation for future good, we must trust in the vine, not the fruit, allow him to remove the training wheels and, even when we cannot see his entire plan, trust in his hand to steady us and guide us into ever more abundant growth and fruit. All the while, we can trust that he is in control, that he will catch us if we fall and make us stand, and that he is ever watchful, a loving father, whose heart rejoices when he sees us rejoicing in the works he has prepared for us, and enabled us, to accomplish.

 

Another obstacle to Christian hope is doubt, a principle and time tested tool of the enemy. “Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made, And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?”[73] What a subtle contradiction of God’s word: “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”[74] Where the words of the Lord focused on grace and provision, Satan twisted them to focus on grievance and proscription. The Lord said, trust me and my word. Satan said, trust yourself and your senses. See the apple, that it is pleasant to look upon and good for food. Why would God deny you this? Take. Eat. You will become like God, knowing good and evil.

 

Although we are warned of the wiles of the enemy in the first pages of God’s word, we still allow this tactic to obstruct our hope. Hath God surely said you are the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus? How can that be? You are a sinner. You continually do that which you would not do, and do not do that which you should do. Hath God surely said blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee? Where is the evidence? How long have you waited for the manifestation of that blessing he has promised you? Hath God surely said that he will allow no one and nothing to take you out of his hand? Then why does he also say work out your salvation with fear and trembling? Hath God surely said you are a co-heir with his Son? His inheritance was shame, sacrifice, and suffering. Congratulations! I shudder to write these words, yet who has not heard them in one form or another? They grow every day more pronounced as this world continues “slouching towards Gomorrah.” The key to defeating doubt is daily washing in God’s word, following his plan, and seeing the objective evidence of his reality as he works in and through you.

 

Another obstacle to Christian hope is distraction. Although not quite as pernicious as doubt, distraction is a key tool of the enemy. Through distraction we are kept from our daily washing in the word. The cloying call of worldly duties and pursuits, if only for the moment of time we have dedicated to daily reading the word, causes us to believe that we haven’t the time for this most essential part of our day. We forget the example of Daniel who, although a principle advisor in the court of the most powerful king of his day, paused three times a day to pray to his God. Daniel was just a man, such as you or I. He was not innately provisioned with super human time management skills. He was uniquely positioned in a place which required these skills, and he understood that his provision was from God. God is the creator of time, and all things else. Do you think you lack time to spend with God? Ask the Father of time for more. Joshua prayed for time to defeat the Amorites and the sun stood still over Gibeon. Do not allow the distractions of this world to choke out the word. The word is life to your soul.

 

Distraction keeps us from prayer. I am reminded of a story my mother tells of when she was witnessing to one of her grandchildren about salvation. It was at my son’s funeral, and my nephew was receptive to issues of eternity, yet every time my mother thought in her spirit the moment was right to share the plan of salvation, another distraction arose. People interrupted their conversation. Loud noises drew their attention elsewhere. Mom persisted through the distractions, and my nephew prayed to God for salvation. Satan lost that day because my mother refused to be distracted from what the Holy Spirit was leading her to do. As a result, another soul was added to the kingdom and angels rejoiced in heaven. Consider ways to keep distractions from entering into your prayer time with the Father. Pick a place and a time where distractions are minimized.

 

Distraction keeps us from praise, the natural reaction of the Spirit within us to the Word of Truth. Praise to God is our joyful response when the word is revealed to our hearts and minds, touching our real needs. It is an emotional outpouring of thanksgiving to our Father, further confirming in our hearts the reality of his revelation. The psalmist tells us, “But you are holy, Enthroned in the praises of Israel.”[75] In some of my most difficult trials of life, after pouring out my heart to God in anguish, praise is where I ended and where I found comfort in his presence. In those instances, I had sought solitude to be alone with the Father. One time was deep in the woods. Another time was in a chapel. They were times of deep emotional grief and intense supplication. Neither time did I intend to end in praise. It simply came and, with it, a wellspring of peace. Do not let distractions keep you from praise. This is not to minimize or belittle the deep pains which we encounter by calling them mere distractions. Indeed, they are great distractions and invariably, and necessarily because we are human, focus us on our pain or loss. The Father wants us to turn to him at these times and to share with him the deep suffering of our hearts, and then to lay them at the foot of the cross, looking up to him who withstood that cross to bear all our grief’s and sorrows. As we focus on him, healing flows down, allowing us, in the midst of our suffering, to experience his incomparable peace and emotional healing, for which all praise is due him, which praise escapes our lips as necessarily as our previous anguished entreaties. Of course, less poignant circumstances also distract us from praise. Our personal inhibitions at emotional displays distract us from praise, again a self focus. Our rush to the next daily task after viewing one of God’s beautiful sunrises or sunsets distracts us from praise. In all things, even if only for a moment, give God praise and experience the great peace of his presence. Do not let distractions keep you from praise.

 

Distractions keep us from seeing his hand. If we are his, the Father is at work in our lives daily, yet we often fail to recognize the work of his hand. The enemy constantly assails us with the regrets of the past, the problems of the present, and the worries of the future. Beyond the personal assault, he does everything in his power to get us to take our eyes off Jesus and the Father’s work in our lives. When we see one of those “God winks,” those times where circumstances have perfectly aligned for us to walk in that good work the Father has prepared, the enemy gets busy. He distracts us from seeing God’s grace by reminding us of past failures. He distracts us from seeing God’s power and providence by reminding us of the present peril. He distracts us from seeing the possibilities of the future good by reminding us of the probabilities of future ill. Our loving Father does not remember our past failures, is greater than any present peril, and has promised us future good. Like Peter walking on the water in the midst of the raging sea, we must keep our focus firmly on Jesus. With a certain knowledge that we are in his grace, that he is in control, and that he is greater than any present peril, we can have a certain expectation of the future good he has promised.

 

The Fruits of Christian Hope

 

Have you ever received a promise from your earthly father of a wonderful gift he was going to give you in the future? Perhaps it was a car on graduation, or a pony on moving to the country, or even something as simple as a cherished family heirloom, more of sentimental than monetary value. If you were as fortunate as I, you knew that your father’s promise was as good as money in the bank. It was a sure thing. Hearing that promise set your mind to racing, imagining yourself already in possession of the gift. You became giddy at the thought of the joy in using that gift or simply possessing that cherished item. Real joy is an inevitable fruit of Christian hope. First of all, if our earthly fathers desire to give good gifts to their children, how much more does our heavenly Father? Secondly, although our earthly father’s intentions may be good, chance and circumstance often make our plans go awry. With our heavenly Father, this is impossible. What he has promised, he will perform. He is above chance and circumstance. In him, all things hold together, and his will can be thwarted by nothing. Thirdly, the good gifts he has to give far outnumber and out value what any earthly father could give. When we understand the character of our heavenly Father, and his promises to us for good, it is inevitable that joy springs up in our hearts. When we consider his character, his love, his goodness, and his resources, we can consider his promised gifts as already ours - already received. When we see the manifestation of these gifts in his perfect timing, it simply adds to the joy we had in the certain expectation of their manifestation. We then see the objective reality of how our Father worked all things together for good so that, at the proper time and in the proper place, the gift to us would bring us an abundance of joy and allow us to use that gift and that overflowing joy to bring more honor to him and more blessings to others. What an awesome God we serve!

 

Our Savior tells us, “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.”[76] And what did he speak? That he is the vine and that we will bear much fruit if we simply abide in him. Abiding is resting, knowing that we can do all things through Christ if we simply rest in him. We know this because he has told us it is so. We believe it and claim it because of who he is. We rest in it as an accomplished fact, basking in the joy of our precious Savior, looking expectantly for opportunities he presents to show his love to others and to walk in those tasks he has before ordained that we should fulfill. Never a dull moment. Never a lack of purpose. Never a lack of supply. Never a lack of his presence to cheer us, uplift us, carry us, support us, provide for us. Praise God! Our certain expectation of realizing all of these precious gifts inevitably brings joy, the first fruit of Christian hope.

 

Great peace follows in the footsteps of great joy which comes from Christian hope. This is the rest we have in the Lord. We are not resting in our accomplishments but what he has accomplished. We are not resting in our abilities but in his omnipotence. We are not resting in our wisdom but in his omniscience. We are not resting in our goodness but in his perfect holiness. We are not resting in our works but in his grace. We are not resting in our steadfastness but in his faithfulness. “Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound: they shall walk, oh LORD, in the light of thy countenance. In thy name shall they rejoice all the day: and in thy righteousness shall they be exalted. For thou art the glory of their strength: and in thy favour our horn shall be exalted.”[77] We need not struggle and strive for righteousness, for we are the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. We need not be anxious for the future, for he holds the future in his hand. His burden is easy and his yoke is light because he is our strength. He sallies forth as a great warrior to defeat our enemies. He opens his storehouse in heaven to provide us with every good and perfect gift. He works in the hearts and affairs of men to show us favor. If God be for us, who or what shall we fear? “...Neither death not life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”[78] Our certain expectation for his provision, protection, presence, and promises brings great joy and great peace as we rest in him.

 

Patience and steadfastness are fruits of Christian hope. Although many of us are quite adept at stubbornly plodding along with a worldly hope for success, Christian hope brings with it a cheerful, patient anticipation for the future good and our best efforts in those areas the Lord has revealed to be our small part. Cheerful, patient anticipation is born of knowing God’s timing is always perfect and that his promises are sure. We can be certain that a delayed manifestation of the good is only so that our Father can perfect that good. Men are able to give good gifts. Only God can give perfect gifts. The perfection may be in the quality of the good. Whereas we may settle for second or third best now, our Father wants for us the very best. If what we hope for is delayed, we know that, very well, it is because our loving Father is working all things together to give us the very best. The delay simply heightens the excitement because we know he is perfecting the gift. Not only is he perfecting the gift, he is perfecting the circumstances and the timing to render it of most benefit. That benefit may be to increase our trust as we see him provide for our need just in time. It may be to ensure the provision has the greatest impact, both for us and for others, whether they be participants in providing the good or recipients of its benefit. Knowing who God is, his character and his love for us, brings cheerful, expectant and joyful patience.

 

Instead of plodding, our best efforts are elicited. Our certain expectation increases our commitment to do well those small things the Lord gives us to do. We have a certainty that he will multiply the effects of our feeble efforts offered in obedience to his revelation. Science has coined a theory called chaos, where an infinitesimally small cause produces a disproportionately large effect, unexplainable because of man’s inability to see all of the complex interactions. God is not so constrained. We can have a certain expectation that our infinitesimally small contributions offered in obedience to his revelation will have a disproportionately large effect. All of these assurances produce an unwavering steadfastness as we stand firmly anchored on the rock of ages, in his strength, in his wisdom, and in his grace, mercy and love.

 

Lastly, love is a fruit of Christian hope and a completion of the circle which began at God’s love, his grace and his faith. As we act on that measure of faith, through God’s grace, that we have been given, our Father shows himself always faithful to respond. This objective evidence of the reality of God in our lives makes even more firm our hope for those goods not yet manifest. As he showers us with blessings, pressed down and overflowing such that there is not room enough to receive them, his bountiful goodness to us makes us love him even more, and from that love, seek to more ardently serve him and more completely abide in him. As we feast on his living Word, he makes it come alive to our hearts and minds. Living out each new revelation, we see his faithfulness, making more firm our hope for those things not yet manifested. As God is infinite, abiding in him is a never ending cycle of love, faith and hope producing fruit in our lives to the glory of God. What an awesome God we serve!

 

A Time For Hope

 

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, wherever you are in your journey today, this is a time for hope. If in the midst of a trial, you can know for certain the Father will never take his presence from you and will work all things together for your ultimate good according to his purpose. That certain knowledge may not stop the tears of today, but it can provide peace today, even in the midst of mourning. The Father does not always remove us from the storm, but he does provide peace within the storm and great hope for tomorrow. Trust his heart and pour yours out to him. He is listening and longs to fellowship with you. If you are sailing through a great calm of life, this is a time for hope for, if you have lived much time at all, you know there will be further storms ahead. It is in the calms of life we have the opportunity to rest from our burdens and draw nearer to God. Do not waste the calm, but use it to rest more completely in Christ, storing up his words in your heart to supply you that certain expectation that the Father will see you through all that lies ahead. In both the storm and in the calm, praise God and give him glory. As illogical as it may seem under your circumstances, the Holy Spirit will respond, increasing your faith and hope and providing a peace that passeth understanding. With all that may look ominous in the world around us, this remains a time for hope. Our God, who is unchanging, all knowing, and all powerful, full of love for his sheep, is still firmly in control. May these thoughts give you peace and help you, today, to find your rest in him. This is my sincere hope - my certain expectation!



[1] Hebrews 4:7, KJV

[2] Hebrews 4:11

[3] “Jesus Calls Us,” The United Methodist Hymnal, words by Cecil Francis Alexander, Music by William H. Jude

[4] Psalm 16:5-9, KJV

[5] Psalm 39:7, KJV

[6] Ephesians 1:18-20, NIV

[7] Copyright 1923. Renewal 1951 by Hope Publishing Company, Carol Stream, IL 60188.

[8] Deuteronomy 28:3-8, KJV

[9] Jeremiah 29:11, New Living Translation

[10] Romans 15:4, KJV

[11] Romans 15:13, KJV

[12] 1 Corinthians 15:19, KJV

[13] 1 Kings 17:9, KJV

[14] 1 Kings 17:12, KJV

[15] 1 Kings 17:13-14, KJV

[16] John 13:23, KJV

[17] John 15:7, KJV

[18] Psalm 91:3-4, KJV

[19] Hebrews 4:12, KJV

[20] Psalm 91:9-12, KJV

[21] Luke 1:38, KJV

[22] Romans 10:9, KJV

[23] Numbers 13:33, KJV

[24] Joshua 14:12, KJV

[25] John 3:8-9, KJV

[26] Psalm 119:105, KJV

[27] Romans 5:3-4

[28] Exodus 14:13-14, KJV

[29] John 8:2-3, KJV

[30] Isaiah 35:5-6, KJV

[31] Psalm 139:7-10, KJV

[32] John 10:28-30, KJV

[33] Mathew 28:20, KJV

[34] Philippians 1:6, KJV

[35] John 16:13, KJV

[36] Malachi 3:10, NIV

[37] Deuteronomy 6:11, KJV

[38] Isaiah 53:4, KJV

[39] Isaiah 53:5, KJV

[40] Colossians 2:9-10, KJV

[41] James 1:4, KJV

[42] Mark 4:28, KJV

[43] Psalm 1:3, KJV

[44] Isaih 40:31

[45] Deuteronomy 34:7, NAS

[46] Joshua 14:11, NAS

[47] Psalm 105:37

[48] John 10:10, AMP

[49] See https://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/birthright

[50] Retrieved from the web on 5/30/2018 at https://answersingenesis.org/education/spurgeon-sermons/402-the-joint-heirs-and-their-divine-portion/

[51] Colossians 1:15, NIV

[52] Romans 8:16-17, KJV

[53] John 18:38

[54] Philippians 4:4, KJV

[55] Retrieved from the www on 5/31/2018 at www.biblehub.com/greek/5463.htm

[56] Mark 11:24, KJV

[57] 1 Chronicles 22:5, New KJV

[58] 1 Kings 18:41, KJV

[59] Romans 15:13, KJV

[60] Proverbs 13:12, KJV

[61] John 15:8, KJV

[62] Jeremiah 29:13, KJV

[63] Psalm 119:97, NLT

[64] Proverbs 1:2-5

[65] Proverbs 3:4, KJV

[66] Proverbs 24:3-4, NKJV

[67] Proverbs 3:16-18, KJV

[68] 2 Peter 1:2, NIV

[69] See www.biblehub.com/greek/1515.htm

[70] John 14:27, AMP

[71] Philippians 4:19, KJV

[72] Romans 8:17, NIV

[73] Genesis 3:1, KJV

[74] Genesis 2:16, ESV

[75] Psalm 22:3, NKJV

[76] John 15:11, KJV

[77] Psalm 89:15-17, KJV

[78] Romans 8:38-39, NIV