Finding Hope in Expectant Hope

I have a friend who is fighting a tough battle with cancer, and today she has a new appointment with a new doctor in a new place for a new round of hope in her future.

I often don’t know what to say to someone else who is fighting a battle, but it’s just in my God-given nature (truly, not of my natural self) to pray that people never give up hope. So, I do.

Wondering hope leaves us wondering.
Expectant hope leaves us expecting.

There’s a huge difference between these kinds of hopes, and my prayer is that she can find even more expectant hope through her trial—more than she’s already had to muster up in all phases of this years-long journey.

“Expectant hope is powerful and never wasted.”

Those were some of the words I shared with her this morning as she reached out to her friends on social media before her appointment.


We’re all battling something. 

Maybe it’s cancer.
Maybe it’s abuse.
Maybe it’s racism.
Maybe it’s not being understood.
Maybe it’s legal trouble.
Maybe it’s prison.
Maybe it’s anger.
Maybe it’s pornography.
Maybe it’s bankruptcy.
Maybe it’s pride.
Maybe it’s worthiness.
Maybe it’s food.
Maybe it’s smoking.
Maybe it’s our boss.
Maybe it’s our wayward child.
Maybe it’s our church.
Maybe it’s shattered dreams.
Maybe it’s loneliness.
Maybe it’s fear.
Maybe it’s our past.
Maybe it’s self.

Wondering hope leaves us wondering.
Expectant hope leaves us expecting.

My encouragement to you today (and it’s a needed encouragement to my own self-talk, too), is to stop wondering and start expecting. Expectant hope is powerful and never wasted, especially when you stop hoping in the circumstance, and begin hoping in That which is greater than the circumstance.

 


 

Finding Hope in the Unexpected

This is a Palm Sunday re-posting,
originally written two years ago.
The questions are timeless,
and so are the answers we’re seeking.

Donkey.HS

What am I expecting?
Hoping for?
Looking for?
Longing for?

Two thousand years ago, they were hoping for a way out of oppression.
They were longing for freedoms.
They were looking for a king…
…a king who would do all of this and more for them.

This past Sunday, Palm Sunday, marked the commemorative start of the Christian Holy Week. In many of our churches, we marked it by handing out palm fronds. Sometimes the fronds have been woven into a cross-like symbol meant to be kept as a remembrance. Some churches give out a single spear from a palm leaf, some give a small frond, and some hand palms out to wave during a particular worship song.

Last year I happened to be in Montreal, Canada, for the start of the Holy Week, and I visited the Notre-Dame Basilica just before Palm Sunday. I had been there as a teenager on a senior trip with my French class, and I wanted to see the grandeur of that church again. The only way to see the interior of the church on that particular day was to pay for a narrated program, laser light show and brief tour. That wasn’t what I had been hoping for. It’s amazing how one’s perspective on a church building can change after a few decades.

I also wanted to revisit the Gardens of the Way of the Cross at St. Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal in Montreal.  We came upon the glass doors leading into the garden only to find them locked. Deep snows covered the ground, so we couldn’t take in the peacefulness of the Stations of the Cross. The “Gift Shop” with a book about the Gardens was closed, too, but, those palm frond crosses many churches hand out on Palm Sunday? They were selling them inside the entry on this particular afternoon. That wasn’t what I was looking for.

Two thousand years ago, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a young donkey.  His triumphal entry into the city is the day we now mark as Palm Sunday. On that particular day, the Jews laid their cloaks on the ground and laid branches, taken from nearby trees, on the road to hail His arrival and to celebrate Him as a the one sent to save them. This account is told in all four gospels, and it’s told from a slightly different perspective in each:

Matthew 21:1-17;
Mark 11:1-11;
Luke 19:28-44;
and John 12:12-19.

They were expecting Him to be THE ONE who would cleanse the Temple, free them from Roman oppression and help them to regain their national strength and identity. They expected a military leader, but instead, got a humble servant riding into the city on a donkey. He had come to save them for all of eternity, but not necessarily to save them from the Romans. That wasn’t what they had been longing for. When they realized He wasn’t there to do as they had expected, they turned on Him. Days later He was brutally beaten and nailed to a cross to die a criminal’s death.

That wasn’t what His followers had expected.

He was crucified on a cross on a hill outside of Jerusalem. The grave couldn’t hold Him, and His resurrection a few days later brought new life.
That wasn’t what His followers expected, either.

Life isn’t easy. We often make it more difficult by adding expectations to our anticipations. These often go unmet, and we’re left with disappointment. When hopes don’t turn into what we’ve longed for, do we turn toward Him, or do we turn on Him? Do we surrender our expectations, longings and hopes just enough, while yet still trying to control the outcome we’re looking for?

His resurrection did bring us the opportunity for new life.
With that life, we can find hope when we turn toward Him.

We’re heading into the heart of the Holy Week right now. It’s more than egg hunts, bunnies, chicks, chocolate, new clothes, a big dinner and church attendance.

I hope you can find a tad more than you are expecting.

What are you expecting?
What are you hoping for?
Looking for?
Longing for?


 

Great is His Faithfulness, Even in Grief and Mourning

CT.4-7
Photo and artwork belong to ComparisonTrap.org

This is the continuation of an earlier post about a Bible study in which I’m facilitating and participating.


Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness, I say to myself,
“The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”
~ Lamentations 3:22-24

The Comparison Trap:  Week Four, Day Seven… Some of my reminders and my takeaways from the daily devotional include:

It’s been an insightful day. My takeaways are from the Scripture verses and from some of Sandra Stanley’s shared thoughts, but not too much from today’s devotional content. This has just been one of those days, but the Scripture still applies to the day.

I spent the afternoon and evening serving at church for the visitation of a friend’s husband who passed away suddenly on Monday morning. That friend has been a part of this Comparison Trap group study. Tomorrow is the funeral (on the day you’ll probably be reading this).

When I walked her to the restroom today on a break from greeting hundreds upon hundreds of people who had come to pay their respects and to honor her husband, she told me a story about the amazing love she’s seen poured out over her family.

Her husband was a state trooper, and the fellowship given to her by his brotherhood has overwhelmed her. Her coworkers took her car and had new brakes, rotors and other needed maintenance done on it when she had to leave it at work after hearing the news of her husband’s death. Her table-mates from the study and many of the women from the group and church stepped forward to bring food and serve in the kitchen with whatever needed to be done today.

“Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail,”  the verse above reads. The body of Christ has surrounded her through this tragedy, and it’s through His compassion she’s been able to see it in others.

“God is compassionate. It breaks his heart to see us struggle,”  Sandra tells us in this final devotional. It does, and His way of showing us His compassion is often by using others to display it.

“Great is your faithfulness…” 

The book of Lamentations is full of lamenting, wailing and grief. It covers pain, judgment, mourning and suffering. The book paints a picture of suffering so great that it is often difficult to see hope and to remember the promises of God.

But tucked away within the mourning of Lamentations, there are promises of hope to come. Within the heart of the message of this book, we can see that the writer expresses his confident assurance that God does not turn away from those who turn toward Him for help.

Tomorrow is the funeral for my friend’s husband.

In her grief, I want her to know that the Lord weeps with her, and it breaks His heart to see her struggling. His compassions never do fail, and His love for her will not allow her to be consumed by her grief. His mercies are new every morning, and His faithfulness in her life is truly great. The Lord is her portion, and her faith in Him will get her through the challenges to come.

There will be thousands of troopers who will stand in honor of this fallen police officer; there will be hundreds of friends and family members who will come to grieve with her; there are dozens of small group members who are praying for her; but, there is one Christ Jesus who will be there to comfort her and to bring her His hope in the days, weeks, months and years to come.

Great is His faithfulness. Friend, you are loved.


 

Do I Trust in the Plans for My Life?

CT.3-5
Photo and artwork belong to ComparisonTrap.org

This is the continuation of an earlier post about a Bible study in which I’m facilitating and participating.


All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
~ Psalm 139:16

The Comparison Trap:  Week Three, Day Five… Some of my reminders and my takeaways from the daily devotional include:

Sandra starts today’s devotional with her favorite verse from the 139th Psalm (above), as she encourages each of us to think, individually, in the context of:

“God isn’t just aware of me.
He created me thoughtfully
and laid out a plan for my life.”

Can you just breathe that in for a moment? A couple of times… because it’s just too important to miss!

I don’t really understand all the “why” behind the things He’s chosen for my life and “why” He’s allowed me to experience certain joys and certain heartaches.

What I am understanding as my relationship with Him grows, is that it all has a plan and a purpose. It’s His plan and purpose (which I don’t understand much of the time), but within the glimpses of His plan (where He allows me to see some of the beginning and end happenings), I’m pretty awed at how He works His supernatural wonders in my life.

I want to believe that His blessings for me are unlimited, but that the agonizing moments do have their limits. I want to believe that His plan for me is unique and one of a kind. I want to believe that when He doesn’t answer my prayers, that the reason He doesn’t is because He actually has something better in mind for me.

I want to believe.
I want to have faith.

God’s plans for me are different from His plans for you. Envy, jealousy, and an inability to celebrate another’s blessings happen because we find it difficult to trust in the individual plans He has for us. Culture doesn’t help matters, either. Culture demands we keep up with the “Jones” family, and that our fast-food, just-google-it, prime-delivery society give us what we want, now.

Sandra encourages that “today’s verse reminds you that if you’re busy glancing to the left and right, jealous of someone else’s plan, you’ll miss the perfect one He’s written just for you.”

Look up, and allow Him to lead you toward your unique plan.

And while you’re at it, breathe in the rest of this beautiful Psalm, truly knowing He does have a plan for each of us:

O Lord, you have examined my heart
    and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
    You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
    and when I rest at home.
    You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
    even before I say it, Lord.
You go before me and follow me.
    You place your hand of blessing on my head.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too great for me to understand!
I can never escape from your Spirit!
    I can never get away from your presence!
If I go up to heaven, you are there;
    if I go down to the grave, you are there.
If I ride the wings of the morning,
    if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
    and your strength will support me.
11 I could ask the darkness to hide me
    and the light around me to become night—
12 but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.
To you the night shines as bright as day.
    Darkness and light are the same to you.
13 You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
    and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
    Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
15 You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
    as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
16 You saw me before I was born.
    Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
    Every moment was laid out
    before a single day had passed.
17 How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.
    They cannot be numbered!
18 I can’t even count them;
    they outnumber the grains of sand!
    And when I wake up,
    you are still with me!
19 O God, if only you would destroy the wicked!
    Get out of my life, you murderers!
20 They blaspheme you;
    your enemies misuse your name.
21 O Lord, shouldn’t I hate those who hate you?
    Shouldn’t I despise those who oppose you?
22 Yes, I hate them with total hatred,
    for your enemies are my enemies.
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 Point out anything in me that offends you,
    and lead me along the path of everlasting life.

 

The Worthless Pursuit of More and More

CT.3-4
Photo and artwork belong to ComparisonTrap.org

This is the continuation of an earlier post about a Bible study in which I’m facilitating and participating.


Then he said to them, “Watch out!
Be on your guard against all kinds of greed;
a man’s life does not consist in the
abundance of his possessions.”
~ Luke 12:15

The Comparison Trap:  Week Three, Day Four… Some of my reminders and my takeaways from the daily devotional include:

“We live in a world of accumulation,” begins Sandra.

We do. We crave abundance, and it’s almost scary how often we can catch ourselves thinking of more, more, more.

Sandra goes on to share the verses after the Scripture above. It’s a parable told by Jesus in Luke 12:16-21:

“The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest.   17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’  18 Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain.   19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’  20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?  21 This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.’”

There are a few things to note from this parable, outside of the obvious sense of greed and desire to have more:

  • Verse 16 tells us the man was rich and yielded an abundant harvest while he was rich. Apparently, God had blessed the man. Whether or not the man was a “good” man is irrelevant; God had still given him a gift in the form of abundance.
  • Verse 18 tells us what was said by the man. Do we read of him giving thanks?  Of acknowledging God for the abundance given to him?
  • Verse 19 tells us what the man desired from his abundance. Does this show his desire to live for God?  For others?  Or only for himself?
  • Verse 20 gives us some of the answers to these questions. God calls him a fool. Just in case you are wondering…fool basically means fool in the original language. God wasn’t impressed with what the man decided to do with the blessings God had allowed the man to accumulate.

Sandra’s devotional Challenge for Day Four was to mark some boxes designating some of our abundance.

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The boxes I checked in the Day Four Challenge

I’ve visited countries where having just ONE of these line items would be living luxuriously. Some of you have lived in or served in places like that, too. Even so, the trap of comparison keeps us wanting more, doesn’t it?

We’ve been given the blessings in our lives for a reason.

We need to work harder on appreciating those blessings and using them for His purposes, as God often says something different to us than what we are willing to say to ourselves. The richness, wealth and abundance of life does not have to equate to the amount of property, the dollars in our bank account, or the possessions we tend to hold valuable.

“The accumulation of more is a worthless pursuit if what you are accumulating isn’t put to good use for God.”

The material possessions we seek and acquire can’t ever fully satisfy us in comparison to an intimate relationship with God. When we’ve been blessed by Him, it’s imperative that we focus on Him and on how He would call us to use those blessings. Let’s not be a fool.