Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Hope Deferred...but Rejoicing in Hope

"They passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia; and after they came to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them; and passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, saying, 'Come over to Macedonia and help us.' When he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them" (Acts 16:6-10).

This is during Paul's "second missionary journey." He has been traveling through the Roman Empire "strengthening the churches" (15:41), with the result that "the churches were being strengthened in the faith, and were increasing in number daily" (16:5). And then block, block, vision.

I don't know about you, but the sequence is not what I have usually experience in my walk of faith. In my experience, it's usually vision, block, block, block, etc.

The Psalms are filled with this great longing for the LORD, and we can relate as the Psalmist sits between a vision and a roadblock:

  • "As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God; when shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all day long, 'Where is your God?'" (Psalm 42:1-3).

  • "I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched; my eyes fail while I wait for my God" (Psalm 69:3).

  • "My soul languishes for Your salvation; I wait for Your word. My eyes fail with longing for Your word, while I say, 'When will You comfort me?'" (Psalm 119:81,82).

  • "Answer me quickly, O LORD, my spirit fails; do not hide Your face from me, or I will become like those who go down to the pit" (Psalm 143:7).

What do we do? Pray against the devil? It wasn't the devil blocking Paul, though his intentions to go into Asia and Bithynia were wholly Kingdom-oriented. Beware lest we find ourselves trying to cast out the Spirit of Jesus in our spiritual warfare! What do we do?

"Now [Jesus] was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart, saying, 'In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man. There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, "Give me legal protection from my opponent." For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, "Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out."' And the Lord said, 'Hear what the unrighteous judge said; now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry out to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?'" (Luke 18:1-8).

We keep praying in faith and we don't lose heart. It's the second part that gets difficult, doesn't it? After all, "hope deferred makes the heart sick" (Proverbs 13:12). Paul, a man who knew difficulty and roadblocks, commands us to always be "rejoicing in hope" (Romans 12:12). How do we do this? This isn't, of course, the only time Paul speaks of "hope" in this letter to the Romans. Let's look at what else he says about hope, about avoiding a sick heart, and learning to rejoice while we wait between the vision and the roadblock.

We rejoice in hope because of the promises of the One in Whom we have hope.

"In hope against hope he believed, so that he might become a father of many nations according to that which had been spoken, 'So shall your descendants be.' Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah's womb; yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform" (Romans 4:18-21).

Abraham. Hope against hope. As good as dead. Amazing passage for those between the vision and the roadblock, for this is where the great patriarch pitched his tent for DECADES. What kept Abraham from the "sick heart"? In hoping he "he grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured." What was the factor that allowed him to be "rejoicing in hope"? The promise of God.

  • He hoped "according to that which had been spoken."
  • He hoped because of "what God had promised."

The Word of God had been given to Abraham, and so he was able to rejoice in hope, IN SPITE OF THE CIRCUMSTANCES. Everything about the outward reality, the facts of the situation, said that Abraham's hope was impossible. So it is in our lives between the vision and the roadblock. In this valley everything says, "give this up right now, it cannot happen." But God has spoken and the circumstances cannot silence this Word.

To keep hope deferred from becoming a spiritual heart disease, we trust in the Word of God alone, despite all the protestations of outward circumstance. This is the primary means God uses to bringing the one waiting in hope the comfort that sustains the heart: "For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope" (Romans 15:4).

The Word cannot be a tree of life to the one hoping unless you read it and are familiar with the God Who gives visions and roadblocks. We should make ourselves familiar with Him not mainly through the testimonies and experiences of others, but through what He has said about Himself in His Word. Read it while you wait. Make it your companion, and learn assurance that allows you to rejoice while hoping.

God the Holy Spirit wrote the Scriptures. They are written to tell us about the God Who is our Satisfaction, Comfort, Love, Joy, and greatest Peace. When we get separated from this Word, hope deferred can make our hearts sick. When we are in His Word, reminding ourselves of Who He is, we can rejoice while waiting on hope. Don't get self-centered in reading Scripture, though. We are meant to get lost in the glory of Christ not by "finding ourselves" (the pop-psychology word of this generation), but finding Him and finding that He satisfies all we could ever need. Make your Scripture reading about getting lost in His glory and greatness. Rejoice in hope. It is a hope that cannot disappoint.

We rejoice in hope because we have the One in Whom we hope.

We don't just have His Word. We have Him.

"Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit Who was given to us" (Romans 5:1-5).

I remind you that our God is One God, but He is Three Persons, all equally 100% God and the same in essence. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This thing is a profound mystery confessed by the Church for two millennia. Men anchored to the sod of a fallen world in every generation have tried to redefine this Triune God into something that can be put in a box, but a God Who can be completely comprehended in this world is not much of God, is He? We hold to the God taught by the Scripture, Who is One and Three. No one has seen the Father at any time. The Son came and went. But, to insure that we do not lose heart and grieve as orphans in this world, God the Holy Spirit has come and will never leave His Church. We have the Book He has Authored, and we have Him.

Rejoicing in hope is not something we can do without the work of God the Holy Spirit in our lives. It is a supernatural assurance that hope will be fulfilled and rejoicing in the comforting presence of the Comforter while we wait, worship, and serve during this time between the vision and the roadblock. It is He Who teaches us the Word He has written and causes it to be food to satisfy us while we wait on the banquet to come.

"Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit" (Romans 15:13).

We persevere for a high but unseen hope.

We dream BIG because it is not our dream, but the God Who gives light and goodness in His gifts. We dream as big as God Himself.

"For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him Who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it" (Romans 8:20-25).

Big dreams, longing for the dream of God to see "the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth" (Ephesians 1:10)...and in our lives. We long for what we cannot see, but we have been told about it in the promises of God's Word, and have God the Holy Spirit Himself within us to enable us to hold on to this dream too big to be grasped by the human heart unassisted.

"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1). We have faith that our hope will be fulfilled, and so we persevere, we endure to the end with faith in hope ever-growing through the nurturing and strengthening power of God the Holy Spirit Who dwells in His Church.

Difficult days may come when the groaning in our spirits seems louder than usual, but we endure to the end with faith and hope in the One Who has promised, the One Who is with us, and the One Who has caused us to hope in great and glorious (humanly impossible and even incomprehensible) things.