Before I began writing today’s sermon, I spent some time in prayer and decided to read a few pages in my devotional. Without really looking, I opened the book to the topic of “Hope.” If you will forgive me for departing from our usual lectionary series, please
allow me to share with you what it says….
Lord I need a big dose of hope today.
None of the pie in the sky kind.
Not even a pretty sure guess.
I need the real kind of hope that brings lightness to a heavy day.
I am tired of gritting my teeth, trying to swallow the pain that is my reality.
When I look back on my life, I see how you proved faithful time after time.
There were moments I thought you had forgotten me only to discover you were holding me so close I couldn’t see.
So if the stubborn pain refuses to subside for a while,
I will still whisper your name in praise.
Refocus my mind on you Lord.
Only on you.
It is there I find hope.
How many of you here can understand and relate to what the author is feeling in this text? Of feeling the need to have a big dose of hope, of being tired of trying to swallow the pain that is reality? I think the longer we live, the more we can identify with what the author is feeling here; that life is hard, life is filled with a lot of valleys, a lot of storms and a lot of pain. Even though I am still relatively young, from my limited life experience, I see this to be true already.
In every situation we frequently encounter many storms – illness, surgeries, funerals, job loss, financial problems, conflicts with family and friends.
In the midst of all these storms and trials, let me ask you, what are the things that you find yourself hoping in or have hoped in the past? Sometimes we use the word hope as being synonymous with the word “wish.” When we say, “I hope,” what we are really saying is, “I wish.” When our hope is inappropriately placed, it doesn’t matter how much we hope or wish for something, it’s not going to bring us fulfillment. Instead we’ll find ourselves being disappointed, disillusioned, and maybe even depressed.
Isn’t that our common experience in the things of the world we’ve hoped in? I think a lot of us here who have placed our hope in money, romance, friends, and even family have seen how they have failed us at one point or another, and so it’s easy to see why people become cynical and apathetic. The common attitude nowadays is – “Who cares? Is there any hope?” We see around us defeatism, fear, indifference, apathy, and lethargy.
So how are we supposed to have hope when the reality is that there are so many problems, troubles in our lives, so much going on to really not have hope for? What does the bible have to tell us?
Psalm 31:24 says,
Be strong and take heart all you who hope in the Lord.
This verse reminds us that we are called to put our hope in the Lord. Why is that? For Christians, hope is a future certainty grounded in a present reality. The present reality is the faithfulness of God; not merely God’s faithfulness in our personal lives but throughout history as well.
Perhaps some of you here are thinking that you don’t see God’s faithfulness. If he was really there, then why would he allow certain painful, difficult situations to occur in your life? We look around at what’s happening and we think God doesn’t care. I know there have been times in my life where I have lost hope because I feared that I had somehow disappeared from God’s radar screen. I felt like my circumstances at times have caught God off guard. There were things that happened in my life that caused me great heartache and led to a long period of uncertainty in my future and a long period of unemployment. During that time, there were numerous times when I found myself wondering if God really cares. If God really cared, why would He allow me to unemployed for so long? Why would he allow me to go through so much pain? Sometimes we are disappointed when our expectations are not met by our circumstances. But the bible clearly teaches that to have hope does not mean the absence of problems in our lives.
In the bible, I think the story of Job really captures this idea of having hope in the midst of suffering better than I can try to describe. Let me summarize for you the story of Job.
Job was a man who was wise, rich, and good. Then suddenly, all these terrible things happened to him all at once. His ten children are killed. He loses all his wealth. And on top of all of that, he becomes ill with a painful skin disease.
Three friends come to visit him, and they try to explain to Job why these bad things have happened. They tell Job that sin caused his suffering and God was punishing him.
Job insists it is not true, but no one believes him. Job becomes very discouraged and angry but he still believes God cares about him, although he doesn’t understand why he must suffer so.
In the end, God answers Job by reminding him that humans can never understand how great God is. After Job hears God speak, Job realizes that his trust in God should not depend on what happens to him. God says that Job’s friends didn’t know what they were talking about. Finally, God restores Job’s health, makes him twice as rich as he had been before, and gives him ten more children.
Think about how you would have reacted if you were in Job’s shoes? Isn’t it so amazing that Job never lost his faith in God, even under the most heartbreaking circumstances that tested him to his core? It’s hard to imagine losing everything we own in one day—property, possessions, and even children. Most men would sink into depression, I know I probably would and even become suicidal after such a nightmare. However, although Job must have felt all those emotions, he never wavered in his understanding that God was still in control. Job’s three friends, on the other hand, instead of comforting him, gave him bad advice and even accused him of committing sins so grievous that God was punishing him by making his life miserable. Job knew God well enough to know that He did not work that way.
I think the author of the devotional passage we read also shares the same sentiments as Job. Like the author writes, “When I look back on my life, I see how you proved faithful time after time. There were moments I thought you had forgotten me only to discover you were holding me so close I couldn’t see.”
Both Job and this author through their personal life journeys have realized that even though at times they have felt that God has abandoned them, the reality is that God has always been there for them. One of my favorite poems really captures this idea, I think many of you here probably are familiar with this poem as well.
Footprints in the Sand
One night a man had a dream. He dreamed He was walking along the beach with the LORD. Across the sky flashed scenes from His life. For each scene He noticed two sets of footprints in the sand. One belonging to Him and the other to the LORD.
When the last scene of His life flashed before Him, he looked back at the footprints in the sand. He noticed that many times along the path of His life there was only one set of footprints. He also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times of His life.
This really bothered Him and He questioned the LORD about it. LORD you said that once I decided to follow you, you’d walk with me all the way. But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life there is only one set of footprints. I don’t understand why when I needed you most you would leave me.
The LORD replied, my precious, precious child, I Love you and I would never leave you! During your times of trial and suffering when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.
I know perhaps some of you here feel abandoned by God, feel like the man in this poem, that in the darkest moments of your life, you only see one set of footprints in the sand. But I want to remind you that that is not the case, that even in the darkest moments of your life, God is there to be with you. How do we know that to be true, how do we know God is faithful? Hopefully, as you look at your own life, you can see instances of God’s faithfulness in the past, but we can also see God’s faithfulness throughout history to mankind in the bible. Ultimately, we see God’s faithfulness to each one of us through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
As it says in 1 Corinthians 1:9:
9 God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.
Whenever I find myself going through difficult times in my life and when I find myself wondering if God is really there for me, if he really cares, then what I do is I remind myself of the cross. I remind myself of what God did for me on the cross and I remember once again how much God does really care for me. So, I encourage you to do the same when you find yourself feeling discouraged, or going through tough times. Remind yourself that God so loved each and every one of us that he was willing to allow his one and only son to die on the cross for our sakes, for our sins so that we can have fellowship with Him.
Finally, I want to close with 1 Peter 1:3-4:
1 Peter 1:3-4
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.
Peter shares with these first century Christians the secret of maintaining their hope. We read that the hope Christians have is a living hope through the power of the resurrection of Jesus.
So what is this inheritance that God has given us that will never perish, spoil or fade? It is the inheritance of eternal life in heaven. We have this living hope knowing that not only will God be with us through all the storms of life, but even through our greatest fear of death we no longer have to fear anymore because of the hope of heaven. The hope that when this life is over…when we are freed from all the stress, the pain, the anxiety, the sadness, illness, loneliness, the many burdens of life……we will be met with open arms and the greeting, “Well done my good and faithful servant!”