Hope’s uncomfortable bedfellow 2

‘…we glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.’ Romans 5:3

Sometimes it’s best to begin a story at the end, rather than at the beginning. If there is a shaft of light into the darkness of your suffering, what does it look like? What does hope look like for me? I’ll be the first to say that it likely looks painful. Hope can be painful. And difficult to consider. But, if we’re going to be willing to open ourselves up to that possibility, where exactly will the vulnerability touch?

The dictionary doesn’t seem much help.

hope
həʊp
noun

a feeling of expectation and desire for a particular thing to happen.
synonyms: aspiration, desire, wish, expectation, ambition, aim, plan, dream, daydream, pipe dream; longing, yearning, craving, hankering

We know what the feeling is about. But what is the particular thing or situation? And if I had it, would the suffering end? Would the darkness be gone?

What if true hope – the kind that transforms a soul – is not a particular thing or situation but rather results from a significant change within me?

Father, when hard questions come which may have painful answers, help me to remember those four little words from Psalm 23: ‘You are with me.’ Thank You that You have said that You will never leave me. Thank You that Your desire for me is never to stay in the darkness, but to walk in the light. Help me to consider hope.

Advertisements

Hope’s uncomfortable bedfellow

‘…we glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.’ Romans 5:3

If you feel as though you are in the depths of a valley – no matter what kind it may be – the idea that hope is possible for you may seem ridiculous. Like someone who has spent a long time in a dark room, you may lift your hand up to shield you from the glimmer of light as it hurts your eyes. The idea that this hope may ultimately be produced from your suffering would be a notion you may not even have the energy to refute.

But if we look at this verse from the apostle, Paul, we have to admit that God’s word says it is so. Suffering can ultimately produce hope. Over the next few days, we will mull over this truth and see if we can let our hands fall and let in the light.

Why should we believe Paul? Does he know what suffering is?

There is a lot of history behind the following passage but, for today, let’s take it at face value. Imagine it’s your brother or sister giving you this list. Or a friend. Or the bloke at the till at the checkout at your local supermarket.

Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.
Three times I was beaten with rods,
once I was pelted with stones,
three times I was shipwrecked,
I spent a night and a day in the open sea,
I have been constantly on the move.
I have been in danger from rivers,
in danger from bandits,
in danger from my fellow Jews,
in danger from Gentiles;
in danger in the city,
in danger in the country,
in danger at sea;
and in danger from false believers.
I have labored and toiled
and have often gone without sleep;
I have known hunger and thirst
and have often gone without food;
I have been cold and naked.’ 2 Corinthians 11:25-27

It sounds like something out of movies like Mission Impossible or Taken! I think it’s fair to say that if my local grocer had said this to me, I would believe that he knows what he’s talking about if he’s talking about suffering. Paul, then, would understand the bit in Psalm 23 which says ‘…I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…’. And perhaps there, in that well-known passage, we can find a tiny clue to how Paul could say that suffering could ultimately produce hope. Four little words.

You are with me.’ Psalm 23:4

Father, thank You that whether it feels like it or not, the truth is that You are with me. Help me to open myself up to the possibility of hope today.

Gold

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. Romans 12:1-2 (MSG)

A gold digger. It’s a good description for God at work in our lives. The gold that He’s digging for and purifying is ‘well-formed maturity’.

He knows from the beginning that the gold is there. He put it there.

For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. Ps 139:13

He is always, even in the midst of difficulty and suffering, working to draw the very best out of you. He is working to bring to beautiful completion His original design. You and I can surrender to this or work against him.

The enemy of our souls is always doing his level best to drag us down and keep us immature. I have found, in my own life, that it is small, daily choices that allow him either to do what he wants or resists him so that he flees. It is small, daily choices that continually offer my life to God to keep digging for the gold that He placed there.

Today, as choices are offered to you, choose gold. And the Gold-Digger. Choose surrender to the One who created you with intent and purpose.

[I am] confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:6

Father, thank You for creating the gold of maturity within me and that You work to bring out my best. Help me to surrender to what You are doing in my life and to make the small, daily choices which grow me toward well-formed maturity.

Inside Out

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. Romans 12:1-2 (MSG)

I love Sundays. I know that I will get to spend time with my church family, sing praise to God and I will hear a message from God, whether that comes through the pastor, the worship time, someone sharing a story about what God has done for them or even through a friend talking about their week over coffee. I know that I will inevitably go home secure in the knowledge of God’s love for me and His power to help me become more like Jesus.

Mondays, on the other hand, are often not quite the same. Sometimes from the moment that I open my eyes, it feels like the enemy of our souls has a particular plot to make me think that God’s not very impressed with me and that there is no way that I’m going to be anything like Jesus any time soon. Have you ever felt that way?

This passage gives three points which help to prevent a Monday to Saturday slide. Firstly, fix your attention on God. This is what we do on a Sunday, but it’s much easier because everyone is doing it and our church family are helping us along with that. Now it will need to be more intentional. The result is noted in the verse: You’ll be changed from the inside out. Heart first. The more I focus on God, the more my heart changes.

Secondly, recognise what God wants of you. The more you learn about God, the more you speak to Him, listen to him and the more you read His word, the more you will recognise what God wants of you in any situation. Thirdly, respond quickly.

It helps to write down a verse which God used to speak to you on Sunday and think about it each day of the week. There is a beautiful verse in God’s word which has seen me through a lot of difficulties. It’s a really good verse to learn.

‘…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.’ from Hebrews 12:1-2 (NIV)

Father, please help me to fix my attention on You every day of the week. Help me to learn to recognise what You want of me and to respond quickly. Help me to change from the inside out.

Monday to Saturday

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. Romans 12:1-2 (MSG)

I hope that these two verses from The Message version are becoming familiar to you now, as we work our way through them carefully. It’s always a good idea to learn verses from God’s Word as they help us to stay on His path and to fight the enemy of our souls, the same way that Jesus did when He was tempted.

Have you ever met someone who goes to church on a Sunday and who speaks and acts in a particular way at church but when you bump into them in the week they seem so different. Perhaps you wonder why they are so different away from church.

Maybe you feel like that person and you feel powerless to change. Maybe all your good intentions and your desire to change after worshipping God and listening to what He has to say to you through the pastor and your church family dissipate as you walk through the door at work on Monday morning. You might be surrounded by people who don’t believe in Jesus and you can feel yourself sliding down that slippery slope even as you start listening to their stories – in less-than-pure vocabulary – about their weekend.

As Christians, we can feel awkward talking to friends and colleagues about our weekend and going to church when it may be very different to the way they spend their weekends. This verse tells us that this awkward feeling is normal and we should expect it. We are not to become very ‘well-adjusted’ to the culture around us.

What is ‘your culture’? Take the time to write down the various parts of it in a paragraph or a few points. Compare the points to the God’s Kingdom culture. Identifying how the culture of God’s Kingdom is different to the culture of the world is an important part of not becoming well-adjusted to it.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at the solution to the Monday to Saturday slippery slope slide.

Father, I know that the culture of the world around me every day is not the same as the culture of Your Kingdom. Give me eyes to see the differences and to choose Your way every day of the week.

 

Every day 4 – Embracing

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. Romans 12:1-2 (MSG)

I wonder if you think about this very much…the best thing that you can do for God. I might think that giving to the poor is the best thing that I can do for God. Certainly, it is a good thing to do for God. Perhaps you feel that sacrifice is part of doing the best thing for God. Often that is true, and our willingness to sacrifice comes from His willingness to sacrifice His only Son for us.

There is a verse which is helpful in understanding what God wants of us:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8

This is a very beautiful, challenging, verse but it’s still talking about what is good and what’s required. The Romans verse is talking about what is best. And it says that the best thing you can do is to embrace what God does for you. Embracing what He does for you means that you will need to notice what He does for you. That you will need to remember what He does for you.

Think back over your day today. What did God do for you?

Two ways to embrace that may be thanking Him and telling someone else about what He has done, even if it seems small and simple and that they may not understand.

Thank You, Father, for what You do for me each day. Thank You that Your relationship with me is not only about what Jesus did for me all those years ago but that it is also about how You love me in each moment of each day of my life. Help me to notice what You do for me. Enable me to embrace what You do for me. 

Every day 3 – An offering

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. Romans 12:1-2 (MSG)

How did you get on yesterday, thinking about your everyday, ordinary life? Did you make a list of the various parts? Did you have a list like the one above?
Sleeping
Eating
Going-to-work
Walking-around

My list was longer than expected and it made me think about how often, during one of the parts of my day, God brings His unexpected God-incidences and connects me with a person or a situation where He wants to bring light in the darkness. Sometimes within me. Sometimes within them or within the situation.

And I thought about how much  more He would do this – and I would notice it! – if I placed my everyday, ordinary life before Him as an offering. There’s a beautiful verse in Psalm 5 which shows King David doing what this verse encourages us to do:

Every morning You’ll hear me at it again. Every morning I lay out the pieces of my life on Your altar and watch for fire to descend. Psalm 5:3

In the psalm, David is in difficulty, but there’s something beautiful about us doing it each ordinary day whether in sorrow, frustration, heartache, joy, delight or obedience.

May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart | Bless Your name, bless Your name, Jesus | And the deeds of the day and the truth in my ways | Speak of You, speak of You, Jesus.
(extract from Tim Hughes’ ‘May the Words of my Mouth’)