My Facebook feed is full of comments about 2020 versus 2021. From humorous and sarcastic to poignant and longing, there is a common theme: no one really enjoyed 2020 and all of us long for life to get back to normal in 2021. Conversely, deep down inside, we all know that the new normal will never the like the old normal. Our lives and our world have been irrevocably changed by the fallout from a micro-organism that no one can see or touch, but all too many have felt.
It seems like my hope is always being challenged
From the very beginning I have called this the “Hope-Challenged” blog for a reason. If I’ll be honest, it seems like everything in my life has been designed to challenge my hope. What do I hope for? Why do I hope for it? Is my hope based on things, events, people, or a person – and if a person – is it the right person?
Quite honestly, all too often I wake up and realize that I know where my hope should be, but discover that once again, I did not place my hope in the right place. Disappointment and depression have always followed. These past few months have been a real battle for me. As restrictions in Israel started to ease, I started hoping to get to the gym again, to go out with friends again, only to be disappointed more than once. For a few weeks this summer the gym reopened, only to be closed shortly afterward. Likewise, this summer I was able to attend two public meetings with my congregation before new restrictions were imposed.
I have longed to see God take the upper hand in this situation, to see Him reveal Himself to people, to leaders, to the nations. I kept thinking that maybe now, people would come to their senses and look to God. Instead, it seems to me (correct me if I’m wrong) that the whole world is becoming more and more divided over politics, medicine, conspiracy theories, and religion than ever before.
When you lose something, what do you cling to?
I could be wrong, but I have a feeling we notice the lack of hope more than the presence of it. Why do I say that? Because, while doing some research on “hope” for this post, I discovered something – the first use of the word “hope” in the Old Testament is in the book of Ruth where Naomi expresses her lack of hope! In fact, there seem to be an abundance of verses expressing the sense of feeling “hope-challenged” as I would put it. Job had to fight to keep his hope, but he succeeded.
In Hebrew, the verb for hope (kaveh) is connected with other words that mean a line or measuring line, and came to be associated with the idea of eagerly waiting for something, or having steadfast endurance. In other words, the concept of hope can be pictured as clinging tightly to your rope, hanging on for dear life, because if you can just endure, something good will happen.
Thinking of Naomi, at first, she had lost everything and was clinging to nothing. She had no hope and planned on returning to Bethlehem alone and hopeless. Thankfully, Ruth had hope and was clinging to a rope that turned out to be the hand of God. That kind of hope is contagious, and we all know the end of the story. Her hope led to the birth of our Messiah!
As I pondered the meaning of hope, I wondered, when I am losing my hope, what am I clinging to?
I had it all wrong – it’s not I who cling to hope – it’s hope that grasps me and won’t let me go!
In my heart of hearts, after I’ve let go of all the ropes that disappoint me (from the COVID stimulus check that never arrived to a less than successful surgical procedure) I realize there is only one rope that remains. As I look at it, I realize that this rope is different. It is not a cord that can uncoil, unravel, or break – rather, it is an outstretched hand extended from on high – a hand with wounds that will remain through eternity.
And the hand of Jesus reaches down and grasps me, and will not let me go. Suddenly I realize that I have completely misunderstood hope. I thought it was something that I had to do. Instead, I realize, that hope is something God fills me with, something that He gives to me, and that God’s hope grasps me and will not let me go.
That’s why I must let go of all those other ropes I’d been hoping in, and they seem so silly when I compare them to Him.
Grasping His hand of hope
As I said when I started writing this post, everything in life seems aimed at challenging our hope. All we have to do is listen to the news or try to balance our bank accounts and suddenly we begin wondering… how will we make it? The challenge is this: to accept the hope that is there for us in Jesus, or to take our eyes off of Him and focus on the ropes of this world. We can’t have it both ways. Either our hope is on the Name of the Lord who made the heavens and the earth, or our hope is in the ways of the world.
We have fought this fight all through 2020. It’s been hard, and I dare say, sometimes we’ve failed. I know I have. But the challenge lays before us. Do we hope in God or not?
I am not sure if I’ve learned all that much in 2020, but of this I am sure. God is faithful. He will complete the work He began in me and in you. And so, I thank him for giving me hope by giving me Himself.
My prayer for 2021
My precious Lord Jesus – You are my beautiful Savior – You are the love that will never let me go. Thank you for bringing me, for bringing us, through this past year. It was not what we expected. To be truthful, this past year has been a huge disappointment. I know that You were not surprised, but to be honest, that doesn’t comfort me.
But what does comfort me is this, the knowledge that You are my hope. Your hand will always be extended to me. Your voice will always speak to me, and urge me in the right way. You will always give me strength for what is ahead. You have already warned me that in the world we would experience tribulation. But you also said that we must take heart, because You have overcome the world.
My Friend Jesus, it’s hard. The world doesn’t act like it’s been conquered by You. In fact, it seems to hate you more and more. I have brothers and sisters paying a terribly high price for believing in You. Maybe I’m a little bit afraid. I don’t think I’d make a very good martyr. I like my creature comforts and if anything, I realize that despite all that has happened, I am so very blessed. Oh Jesus, who am I to be so blessed with what I have and the people in my life, when there are so many of your children suffering? Forgive my lack of gratitude. You really have taken such very good care of me this past year. I ask you to take care of my suffering brothers and sisters as well. Meet their needs, and shine brightly through them.
Forgive me for fearing the new normal. The instability of this world is only that. But it cannot undo the resurrection. Restrictions, lockdowns, and whether the vaccine works or not cannot change the fact that you remain sovereign.
I see the beauty of nature, the wonder of a sunset, and stars in the desert sky and am in awe of the order of creation. O my Lord and my God – I long to see Your power revealed in this world. But I forget that You have asked me to be Your witness, to shine Your light, and to tell others about You. I forget that for some crazy reason, You want to work through broken people like me, and that in so doing, your true power is revealed.
O Lord, my Friend, my Savior, my God, I forget that You are already holding me – and that You have never let me go, and you never will. Please help me to cling to You now, and always. Let 2021 be a year of revival for Your people. Draw us back to You, with our eyes on who You are, and what You want to do – to draw men and women into a life-giving hope-filled relationship with You that is eternal and starts now. To let Your love and Your forgiveness guide our actions, our work, our choices, and our relationships.
And thank You that You are coming back soon, and that the hope You have planted in my heart will be realized, and I will see You in glory.
Come quickly Lord Jesus, even so, come quickly! Amen
Pictured: Washed in the Pool of Grace by Joseph D. Aho. This picture perfectly displays the wonder of our God’s grace and the hope we have in Him. In His hands, He is all I need to hang to onto. Because of His grace, I have hope! Joe drew this photo for me and it is included at the end of my book, Connecting the Dots of a Disconnected Life.