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  • Writer's pictureRalph Felzer

Focused on Hope - Part 2

"Waybread" is food designed to strengthen travelers on a long journey. This little weekly column is intended to offer reflections that will strengthen and encourage you in your own long journey in following Christ.


"And now faith, hope, and love remain, these three, and the greatest of these is love."

~1 Cor. 13:13

One of the reasons I began this Waybread column was to speak a word of encouragement in the midst of the chronic suffering so many folks in the Church are battling these days. We all need encouragement, of course, but the temptation to lose hope in the midst of a long struggle is very real. In one respect, of course, every one of us is trapped in chronic suffering–the apostle Paul says that all creation is groaning in anticipation of the return of Jesus (Romans 8:22). And yet there are those among us who live every day with a whole variety of pain, illness, and loss. If you are one of these, know that you are not missed or forgotten or overlooked, but are even now being lifted up to Christ in prayer before the Father.

There is, as I said, a temptation for those who have suffered long to lose hope, to let go of their conviction that things truly will turn out well for them in the end. I know, it's easy to get cynical, to think that hope is just wishful thinking and not "real life," even to begin to believe that God does not see or know or care about your suffering. It is not a sin to wonder where God is, to question the absence of His help–just this morning I read Psalm 44 in which the writer complains of these very things at length! And he doesn't end with a "happily ever after" either, which is important; we need to know we're not the first to struggle with these kinds of feelings–these struggles of yours are normal, human, even biblical. The key is learning to acknowledge them without indulging them.

But all of this is precisely why hope is a virtue– because hope must be practiced. It is not natural; it is a grace gifted to us by God, a gift we need to remind ourselves to walk in daily. (Now, don't go beating yourself up because you only hold onto hope in fits and starts. We all have our moments of strength and weakness, of consistency and inconsistency–you have trouble enough already! Don't let these moments keep you from doggedly pursuing God; instead, make them an offering, a doorway into His presence.)

...hope must be practiced. It is not natural; it is a grace gifted to us by God, a gift we need to remind ourselves to walk in daily.

This hunger and thirst for God is reflected in another psalm I read this week, Psalm 42-43 (they're both actually just one psalm in some very old manuscripts). You've probably heard or even sung the opening verses, but I want to encourage you today to keep reading. There's more here for us than deer longing for flowing streams! Look at what he's writing about. Pay attention to what he's feeling as he writes:

1 As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.

2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?

3 My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually, “Where is your God?”

4 These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I went with the throng and led them in procession to the house of God, with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival.

5 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.

6 My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.

7 Deep calls to deep at the thunder of your torrents; all your waves and your billows have gone over me.

8 By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.

9 I say to God, my rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I walk about mournfully because the enemy oppresses me?”

10 As with a deadly wound in my body, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me continually, “Where is your God?”

11 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.

Psalm 43:1 Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people; from those who are deceitful and unjust, deliver me!

2 For you are the God in whom I take refuge; why have you cast me off? Why must I walk about mournfully because of the oppression of the enemy?

3 O send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling.

4 Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you with the harp, O God, my God.

5 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.

There's so much we could talk about here, isn't there? No matter where you're at these days (however smooth or rocky your road may be), take a few moments now to just steep yourself in this psalm like a teabag in a cup of hot water. Let your pain and grief be drawn right up and out of you–ultimately, that's exactly what's happening in this song. Seriously, go ahead, I'll be right here when you get back….

Now, let's reflect on how the psalmist deals with his dejection. Notice how he acknowledges right up front how down he is (see verses 5, 6, and 11 in Ps. 42, and verse 5 in Ps. 43). He doesn't shy away even a little bit from acknowledging his discouragement–you might even say the predominant theme of the psalm is his discouragement!

But notice, too, what he does with that dejection–he counsels his own soul to hope in God! And I mean counsels. He doesn't ignore it or indulge it or wallow in self-pity, he asks himself, "Why? Why are you downcast? What's going on in there, soul?" You see, it's not so much our feelings of sadness or discouragement that we're to take to the Lord, it's what lurks behind or beneath that discouragement. What's going on in your life or your heart that's leading you to feel this way? Feelings come and go, but what is fueling those feelings in your soul? You may know full well what it is, but there's a very real possibility that you don't. Ask God to show you and then name it, and offer it to God. Ask Him to take it, heal it, soothe it, speak truth to it–redeem it, and turn it to something good and beautiful for Him.

Another aspect to this "Why" question focuses essentially on the character of God Himself, as if to say, "C'mon, you know God! Why are you discouraged? You know He can be counted on! God does have a track record of faithfulness, after all!" I think both of these explanations of the "Why?" question are important, useful, and valid for us in our troubles.

And do you also see how he asks God to "send out your light and your truth" (43:3)? Without God's light we cannot see accurately what's in our soul! And furthermore, the problems we face and the feelings that buffet us like stormy winds, can deceive us, so that we also need God's truth to guide us. Light and Truth–invaluable aids when we're disheartened! That light and truth will usher us right into the very presence of God (43:3-4)!

Lastly, do you see how every one of those verses we talked about earlier (42:5-6 and 11, and 43:5) not only acknowledges the psalmist's sadness, but goes on to bolster his soul by stirring up hope in his heart? He boldly proclaims, "...for I shall again praise him, my help and my God." In other words, hope in God for this will indeed turn out well! God is my help!

So what we're left with regarding hope is just this: Hope is a virtue to be practiced. It is a gift to be held onto. And it is a grace to be welcomed. Hold fast to your hope, it is "an anchor for your soul" (Heb. 6:19).

Hold fast to your hope, it is "an anchor for your soul" (Heb. 6:19).

Be encouraged, friend, for God, the Maker of Heaven and Earth, who spoke all worlds into being, is both with you and for you.

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