Last Monday I hit the snooze button a few times too many, and missed my train. As a result, I drove in to work later and had to work quite a bit later (traffic being what it is, there is just no sense trying to drive home before 6:30 or 7:00 pm). By the time I got home, ate a little supper, did Rachel’s Special Day with her and read the Chapter to the rest of the kids, it was nearly time to go to bed. Weekends are much too far apart, in my opinion.
I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about hope. It seems to me that hope is a critical ingredient to happiness (or maybe joy) and is one of the major advantages that followers of Jesus have over the rest of mankind. I am frequently astonished that people who don’t love God are able to face their days at all, without the hope that we have in Christ. Sometimes it is no picnic even for those of us who have that hope … it is quite possible to become bogged down in the hopelessness of daily existence. One of the things I have had trouble with in my job is that there is no particular hope for advancement or improvement. For a few weeks after Christmas, I have been moping around, allowing myself to act as though I had nothing better to look forward to than a series of tedious and mundane workdays, briefly and occasionally interspersed with weekends. The promise of eternity seemed a long way off, and I found myself becoming depressed.
I think one of the big lies that Satan would have Christians believe is that our hope is only good for eternity, and that here on earth, we are no better off than the next guy. Nothing could be further from the truth! It dawned on me with surprising force that the hope that I have is a daily and powerful hope … I can eagerly look forward to each day to see what God is going to do in it, in spite of my distaste for the work that I do. The God that I serve is powerful and active and regularly intervenes in the most dismal of circumstances … I run the risk of missing His activity in my life if I wallow in gloomy hopelessness.
One of my favorite stories in the Old Testament is the account of Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego … three teenagers brought to Babylon after the fall of Jerusalem. I think it would have been very easy for a young Jew to become depressed and feel hopeless during that 70-year period of exile from Israel. These young men, selected for the service of this pagan enemy king, almost certainly resented being wrenched away from their families and the comforts of home, particularly if they were of the nobility. I think I would have been daunted by the hopelessness of captivity and reports of the eventual complete destruction of Jerusalem. But these young men held firm to their faith in God and continued to honor and glorify Him, even to the point of being willing to be burned alive rather than deny their Lord.
The other night Kathy asked me why it was that following God was so hard, sometimes. It made me think for a moment … is that necessarily true? I guess it all comes down to your view of the flesh and the unregenerate heart of sinful man. If you accept the Biblical description of the flesh and the way it wars against the spirit, then it is not surprising that obeying God would be hard, much, or even all of the time.
In the letters to the seven churches in the first few chapters of Revelation, the apostle John, writing through the Spirit, reports on what will be given ‘to he who overcomes’:
- the right to eat from the tree of life
- will not be hurt at all by the second death
- some of the hidden manna
- a white stone with a new name
- authority over the nations
- the morning star
- be dressed in white
- never have your name blotted out from the book of Life
- be acknowledged before the Father and His angels
- be made into a pillar in the temple of God
- the right to sit with Jesus on the throne of God
So, what is to be overcome? Certainly temptation to sin and the persecution of others. But for many of us, the most difficult thing to overcome is more subtle … it is the struggle between our spirit and our flesh, and it is not something that can be overcome once for all. Jesus said that the one who would follow him must take up his cross daily — a strange juxtaposition of the mundane daily struggle with sin and selfishness and the extreme heroic imagery of Jesus carrying His cross to Golgotha.