God keeps His promises. In the early sixth century, after a forced march of some 900 miles, the Israelites sat huddled in captivity in far away Babylon knowing the truth of that statement. Having denied God’s sovereignty by worshiping other gods, ignoring His commandments, and otherwise living up to their reputation as a “stiff-necked” people, the nation of Israel finally faced the fruition of God’s promise to take away His gift of the promised land if they did not change their ways.
But even in their exile, God, who never changes, remembered His love for them. Jeremiah the prophet tells the remnant of Israelites who remained in their homeland:
“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (29:11)
God’s gift of hope threads its way throughout His Word, and every time, what begins in hope ends in the fulfillment of God’s promises. Sara laughed because she thought herself too old to have a child, and yet Abraham is the patriarch of a nation. David, a humble shepherd, was hunted down and nearly killed by Saul and yet his son, Solomon, eventually ruled over a kingdom whose riches we can only imagine. A virgin gave birth to a child whose death on the Cross fulfilled the Law and saved the world.
Sometimes, when we get caught up in the hectic, busy business of living day-to-day, we forget God’s promise of hope counts for much more than our everlasting life. His hope means that in this life of trouble and woe and uncertainty, we have the promise that God, who sees all, has the endgame in sight. He wants us to have peace. He longs for us to be at rest in our trust of Him.
Jesus reminds us,
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. . . . I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take courage; I have overcome the world!” (John 14:27 & 16:33)
Leaning into the hope that is the promise of a world overcome by our Savior takes practice and patience. We have to learn to listen to our self-talk, correct a mind that wants to embrace gloom and doom instead of the love of God, and know the truths and promises that we believe so easily during times of joy so that we do not forsake them in times of trouble.
Hope offers peace when we wonder at the machinations of even the greatest government in the world, as we wait for test results in a crowded doctor’s office or worry over the bills we cannot pay. It is that feeling, deep down inside of us, that we will find comfort and rest, no matter how dim our present seems. It is the smile of a stranger on a bad day, the unexpected refund just when we need it most, the tiny victory of a good report from the doctor even when your condition is fatal.
Hope is for the courageous, but God gives courage. The world is always ready to mock those who claim a faith in God’s goodness and love. But those who believe have in their hearts a higher goal than the worries of this world can hold. They know the victory that comes with believing in the hope of heaven and embracing the evidences of our hope on earth.
That the communication of your faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus. (Philemon 1:6)
1: Know WHAT You are Fertilizing
When it comes to plant products that have been bottled to be sold as food supplements in a health store, I can tell you more than you ever wanted to know. But, when it comes to real plants in the real world? Well, I’ve been known to kill bamboo!
Despite my brown thumb, my West Texas roots have taught me that knowing your crop is the beginning key to success. When to plant, when to harvest, when to pray for rain–these are just some of the elements that go into the very hard job of being a farmer.
Just like knowing the plant you want to grow before you can expect to succeed in growing it, you should also begin your goals to grow your faith by understanding what faith means.
Hebrews 11:1 tells us that faith:
is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
Ralph Waldo Emerson states it this way:
All I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen.
The heroes of faith are further examples to help us define the concept. From Noah who believed enough to build an Ark to Mary who had the courage to bring the Son of God into the world, the Bible is replete with people who understood faith in the most profound way possible, by believing and doing.
The most important step of faith in this modern world is the one you take to submit your life to Christ as your Savior. When you admit to Him that you are a sinner who has no chance of redemption without Him, you climb the first rung of the ladder toward a closer relationship with God that is the ultimate goal of faith.
“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
― C.S. Lewis
Faith is believing in God when things are bleakest as well as when things are going well for you. Faith is the beginning of hope, which is the most important quality for us to have if we expect to make it through the valleys of this life. Faith is knowing that God IS and the He loves me.
2: Know HOW to Fertilize
“God will not look you over for medals, degrees or diplomas but for scars.” –Elbert Hubbard
As Elbert Hubbard explains, in order to grow a belief in God, we cannot expect to proceed easily. Christ promises us a light yoke, but not a life without trouble. In fact, it is through troubles that we learn perseverance, which builds character and ultimately leads to hope (Romans 5:4).
Faith is not the belief that God will do what you want. It is the belief that God will do what is right.
― Max Lucado, He Still Moves Stones
In order to grow our faith, we have to exercise it, like a muscle. As with all things concerning our relationship with God, we can begin that exercise by studying His word, spending time in prayer with Him and joining in fellowship with other believers to share our belief.
“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.” ― Corrie ten Boom
Other ways to fertilize our faith is to learn to listen with intent to the voice of the Holy Spirit in us. When we feel the pull to reach out to help a stranger or say something about our beliefs to our acquaintances, we should become more accustomed to following those feelings. The more we know about what the Bible says, the more we will know it is God talking to us and not our own interests.
Fertilizing our faith will often be uncomfortable because it will mean stepping outside our normal comfort zones. Sitting in my recliner writing a blog is not the easiest thing to do on a Sunday afternoon, since sitting here doing nothing at all would be easier, but writing has always at least been comfortable for me. Making my way to church on Sunday is stepping outside my comfort zone. As an introvert, I am highly challenged in group settings, and large groups can lead to sensory overload for me.
But, going to church improves my faith. Besides learning things about the Bible I didn’t already know, my church attendance has also allowed me to meet a wide variety of people who share my same goals and struggles but who approach them in ways I would have never thought of but greatly admire. I have learned better ways to approach life’s problems and even to pray by participating in church, fertilizing my faith.
3: Make Faith Personal
The beginnings of this blog post came when I was thinking about how helpful God has been to me in my life, despite my literally clinical problem with worry.
I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, which comes with unhealthy bouts of depression. With the proper medication, nutritional support, and help from my family and friends, I lead a pretty productive life. But the thought that I had earlier this week was thinking about how I spend so much time worrying about things that are going to happen, but when something really does happen, I am somehow able to be really strong and make it through the bad thing.
My power in times of crisis doesn’t come from medicine or me, but from God. So, as I was thinking about this earlier this week, I was asking myself, how come I’m not doing a better job at remembering how often God comes through for me when I let worry win out over my faith?
So, when I suggest making your faith personal, I mean just that. However you do it–journaling, scrapbooking, or making time to remember on a regular basis–make your faith stronger by building on your personal experiences with faith. We don’t have to be prophets to have real experiences with God.
In fact, when Christ sent the Holy Spirit to dwell in us, He made it more possible than ever for “regular” people like you and me to experience God every day. Of all the people in history, we can have as close a relationship with God as any of the heroes of faith you’ll find in Hebrews 11.
I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” –Psalm 91:2
In Nicole Nordeman’s song, What If?, the singer asks:
What if you jump, just close your eyes? What if the arms that catch you, catch you by surprise?
What if He’s more than enough? What if it’s LOVE?
Faith is personal, but it’s not something to be hoarded. Sharing our experiences of faith with others is what helps us spread God’s love in a broken world. Faith has the courage to admit that what good we do comes from God and not ourselves. Faith has the courage to step out knowing we may stumble. Faith knows that even if we wind up with egg on our face, God catches us and always loves us.
“I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice?” ― C.S. Lewis
Each time I hit post, I risk offending somebody, looking foolish, or making an actual mistake in a cyberspace where they say nothing ever actually goes away. But faith without works, as James tells us, is a dead faith. How can I not risk everything for the One who gave everything for me?
Grow your faith muscle this week. If we truly believe, what other choice have we?
Who told us we’d be rescued
What has changed and
Why should we be saved from nightmares
We’re asking why this happens to us
Who have died to live; it’s unfair
This is what it means to be held
How it feels when the sacred is torn from your life
And you survive
This is what it is to be loved
And to know that the promise was that when everything fell
We’d be held…..
Natalie Grant, “Held” lyrics
In Philip Yancey’s book, Where is God when it hurts?, he points out how important pain really is. Without pain, how would we know what it is to feel joy? Paul reflects numerous times on the many trials that he faced as he boldly continued to exalt the good news of redemption through Christ:
Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. –Romans 5:3-4
Just because we have chosen to believe in Christ and walk in the ways of righteousness does not mean that we escape the challenges of this life. For whatever reason, God needs us to grow into that hope in His promises. So, even when things are so low that you wonder, God, I have confessed my belief in You, can’t You just let me go home to You already, you have to continue in faith of the larger plan that only God knows.
The prayer requests in Bible class in recent weeks have included a growing number of believers whose lives are being not only challenged, but outright shattered. And yet, as believers, we must continue through faith to go before God in hope and pray for the “peace that transcends understanding,” the peace and strength that can only come from God and that is our only key to getting back into the good race that we must run (Paul writes about this race analogy too, in 2 Timothy for one, and you can also read about it in Hebrews).
I have been pretty down on myself in the last few weeks, feeling like I have too easily caved to recent events in my own life. I was pretty quick to give up hope when I had to put down my cat. She was very sick with nothing left to do for her, so it was the right thing. And when I hear the prayer requests I mentioned earlier, they are about problems way, way bigger than losing a cat. I wonder with trepidation what I will do when I have to face the really big challenges. Where will my hope be then?
Of course, then I remember that I have been facing challenges just like we all do in my 44 years. Both my parents are cancer survivors. I have had to live in the big city I never liked without being able to live near my family for my entire married life, and I am the kind of child who still talks to her parents every day on the phone, so this is no small feat. I have dealt with medical issues myself that haven’t been life-threatening, but have definitely reduced the quality of my life.
And yet, through all of these challenges, I have continued to work to grow my relationship with God. I keep trying to spread His word and do His will, even when a lot of days I wonder just what I think I am doing. So, maybe I am not so bad in the hope department as I thought.
I share these things because I have learned the hard way that being able to hear what other people really think deep inside can be helpful. When you hear somebody else express an emotion or reaction that you too have had, you don’t feel so alone in the universe. You don’t feel so guilty about having a thought. You realize you are not alone.
With God, of course, we really never are alone. That’s part of what Jesus meant when He told us, “my burden is light.” Being held by the Love of loves may be hard to feel when you are in the midst of overwhelming grief, but as you begin to come out of the deep hole of despair, you realize that the only thing that kept you from falling completely away were the Arms of that hope you foster every time you pray, join in fellowship, or read His word–what it means to be held, as Natalie Grant puts it.
May the grace of hope in Him bless all of us this week, whether we are dealing with the worst thing that has ever happened to us in our lives or just a flat tire on the freeway. As the Psalmists remind us:
The eye of the Lord is upon them that fear him, upon them that hope in his mercy. . . . Let thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us, according as we hope in thee. –Psalm 33:18, 22
Last week, I proposed that when someone brings up the concept of one’s legacy, what first comes to mind usually involves one’s progeny and worldly achievements.
This week, I want to consider the more important aspect of legacy, and that is from the perspective of how God defines the word.
It strikes me that perhaps the best way to approach God’s version of legacy is through the example that He offered when He came to earth to walk among us in the form of His son, Jesus Christ. Christ, after all, lived as a man in the world of men. If He had not been God made flesh, after all, the entire concept of salvation is turned on its head.
But Christ did live in human form, and in all ways possible we are admonished to follow the examples in living He gave us while He was on this planet.
So, from the perspecitve of Christ as man, what kind of legacy did He seem to be worried about?
The only record we have of anything Jesus did or said is through words He Himself did not write. (Those words, the Bible, being God-inspired, I take as a given and beside the point at the moment.) In fact, the only time Christ physically wrote anything of which we know anything about were tracings in the sand which sifted quickly away.
With a few notable exceptions, Christ healed and then usually admonished the receiver of His bounty not to tell anyone about it. Rather than grabbing the limelight, He taught disciples and sent them away from Him to go forth and duplicate the work they had been doing together, a sort of trial run for when He would have to leave them.
Even though when He came to the planet, He accepted the limitations and temptations of the human body, Christ didn’t define legacy from a typically human perspective. His priorities for legacy did not involve money or worldly success. Instead, His priorities revolved around love of God and the relationships that are essential between people when we love God first and others the way we want to be loved–the two commandments Christ explained entail all the rest.
Next week, I want to begin the biblical quest that offers proof of God’s definition of legacy, not in my own words but in the inspired words that are His alone. For now, I hope it is enough to know that legacy and love go hand-in-hand from Christ’s perspective.
In the end, is a life lived loving others such a bad thing? Last week, I quoted from Nicole Nordemann’s song, “Legacy.” Another line from that song is perfect for defining the kind of legacy a Christian should really concern him/herself with:
“In the end, just want to hear, ‘Well, done, good and faithful one. . . .'”