By Kathryn Graves, Crosswalk.com
Just when we thought it might be safe to go out again, another social crisis developed, and then we learned of new, increasing spread of the virus with no seemingly easy answers. Racism in the US’s system is being exposed left and right. Political tensions are rising in Asia, a plague of locusts besets Africa along with the virus, and South America reels from disease too. It seems chaos reigns the world over.
We wonder what the future holds for children—our kids and grandkids. Will they be okay? Can they find a way to make a living? Some jobs are already gone, others are “furloughing” workers without pay. Those of us with infant children or grandchildren may wonder what kind of world these little ones will inherit.
What will our country be like by the time they grow up? Despair invades our thoughts at night. Even though we manage to remain positive during the day, worry lurks around the edges of our minds.
We need hope—but where can we find it, and how can we catch hold of it?
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A Picture of Hope
A few weeks ago, I was out in the backyard with my almost-two-year-old grandson. He spied a rabbit near the edge of some trees along the back fence. He wanted to chase it, and it hopped into the underbrush to hide. The only way I could keep Connor away from the rabbit was to tell him about the poison ivy that I knew grew back there.
“Those are itchy weeds,” I said. “We need to stay away from the itch.”
The rest of that day, Connor repeated his new word “itch” while clutching the front of his shirt. “Itch, itch,” he said—because he wanted me to talk about the rabbit again.
We chase hope like Connor chased that rabbit. We want it badly. But we can get off in the itchy weeds if we don’t look for it in the right place. Connor’s happiness wasn’t in the rabbit, but in his relationship with me and that little journey we took together. Similarly, our hope isn’t in things or circumstances, but our relationship with Jesus Christ and the journey we take with him.
What is hope? In the English language, the word carries a caveat—the thing we want may not come to pass. But in the Bible, “hope” is actually synonymous with “certainty.” When we hope in the right things, we never have to be afraid of a let-down—and the Bible has a lot to say about this thing called “hope.”
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1. Hope in God—and Praise Him
Hope helps us battle discouragement. It seems like we often face headwinds in our quest for calm assurance that everything will be all right. We get trapped in the “what if” question and worry follows right behind.
Soon, we’re imagining all sorts of disastrous scenarios concerning the problem at hand. Moms and grandmas seem to be the best worriers in a family. Possibly because we women are in tune with our emotions, it’s easy to allow them to control our minds.
Just like weeds grow in the absence of vigilant lawn care, so worry and discouragement flourish when we fail to focus on God. In Psalm 42:1 the author compares himself to a deer starving for water, and God is the water.
Only God can meet his—and our—need for hope. The psalmist knows one other secret for us: praise is gate through which we enter into hope.
“Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again—my Savior and my God!” Psalm 42:5
2. Read Scripture While You Wait
If we spend time each day reading Scripture, it will help quell the dark, frightening thoughts that can beset us. Science tells us that meditation is a known strategy for stress-reduction and positive mental health.
I believe that reading the Bible—and studying the meaning of certain verses while praying for God to enlighten our understanding—counts as meditation. I know if I’m caught up in situations I can’t control, or if one of my children or grandchildren is, I can go down the rabbit hole of despair in a hurry.
But if I find a verse that speaks to me, and I read it every morning, it helps keep my attention on the problem-solver instead of the problem. I might even write out the verse and post it where I can see it throughout the day.
“ . . . the Scriptures [were written to] give us hope and encouragement while we wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled.” Romans 15:4
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3. Learn Biblical Promises
The Bible is full of promises. If you aren’t sure where to find them or what they are, you can use a resource like BibleStudyTools.com or even Google to discover them. I remember when my kids were young, we had a Bible promise dispenser—a box that looked like a small loaf of bread.
Inside were slips of paper with Scriptures printed on them. We pulled one out every morning at breakfast and I read it aloud while we ate. This little practice helped us begin the day with the right frame of mind. Focusing on the positive things God says he will do for his followers rather than negative news is a strategy for living in hope.
It is also a springboard for conversation with God, asking him to remember his promises—just like the Psalmist did.
“Remember your promise to me. It is my only hope. Your promise revives me; it comforts me in all my troubles.” Psalm 119:49-50
4. Remember Jesus Is Coming Soon
What is the ultimate promise from God? It is that Jesus Christ is coming—and in our present day we look to His return. When the world around us seems to be falling apart—or exploding—we can take comfort in the knowledge that Jesus is coming back. And when he does, he’ll rule with perfect justice and mercy.
All the wrongs will be righted. All injustices will be avenged. Because of this promise, we know our impossible circumstances won’t last forever. Respite will come. We can get through one more day if we know the end is in sight. Just imagining how wonderful it will be brings a smile to my lips. I release the breath I didn’t even know I was holding. The constriction in my chest eases.
“Rejoice, O people of Zion! Shout in triumph, O people of Jerusalem! Look, your King is coming to you. He is righteous and victorious . . . On that day the Lord their God will rescue his people... They will sparkle in his land like jewels in a crown. How wonderful and beautiful they will be!” Zechariah 9:9, 16-17
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5. Focus on the Right Words
I like to read—and because I am a fast reader, I digest volumes of information. I’m also a stress-reader. I know my life is crazy when I realize I’m reading three books at once plus several blogs that I subscribe to. Some people prefer audiobooks, podcasts or videos.
Some live with songs playing in the background all day long. And some—probably most of us—combine all of these media forms. What do we consume in all our reading, watching, and listening? Is most of it life-changing? Does it impact our daily choices? Our attitudes? If so, are these positive influences? Do they lead us deeper into our relationship with Jesus Christ?
If we’re chasing after hope, there is only one source where we’ll find it—God’s word.
“... I have put my hope in Your word.” Psalm 119:74
6. Pray Like Paul
The biblical author Paul often included prayers he prayed for the recipients of letters he wrote. These letters became much of our New Testament. He didn’t pray for things like certain people to be healed of disease, or unpleasant situations to end—the sorts of things we usually find in our prayers.
Instead, he prayed for the spiritual condition and growth of his readers. When we follow his example and pray this type of prayer over our families, and even ourselves, we’ll discover a new kind of peace that can’t be explained by any natural phenomena.
Prayers of this sort are a real hedge against the “itchy weeds” of distress, worry, and fear.
“I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13
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7. Trust the Power of the Holy Spirit
It really is the power of the Holy Spirit that fills us with hope when we can’t see our way clear of the weedy stresses in our lives. Only when we are in personal relationship with Jesus can we have this power. All the abilities of God and Jesus Christ also belong to the Spirit, because He is the third person of the Trinity.
When we trust Christ, the Holy Spirit comes into us, and then we gain God’s strength to face situations that otherwise might overwhelm us. We shouldn’t believe it’s up to us, that we don’t have enough faith, or that we’re too weak. None of that is true for Christians.
Somehow, when we realize that someone else is fighting our battles—not us—it takes the fear and doubt away. If the outcome isn’t up to us, then we can relax. Of course, we need to do whatever the right thing is, but then we can leave the result up to God.
“... now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ. For Christ himself has brought peace to us.” Ephesians 2:13-14
8. Maintain Mental Discipline
Once we catch hope, we need to hang onto it. This is a conscious decision that requires determination. It seems in family life that when we get safely through one crisis, another develops. Some of our kids live with constant drama.
I have a few mom friends who endure so many stressful situations with their children and extended family that I sometimes wonder how they can take one more calamity. We all can survive these troubles by employing mental discipline.
Remaining focused on the truth helps to see through distractions into the heart of a matter. Once we understand the base of an issue, then we can apply biblical principles to calm our nerves and help us cope. Hope helps us see the light of God’s presence in the middle of our mess.
“Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise.” Hebrews 10:23
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9. Rest in Assurance
One of my favorite Bible promises is Romans 8:28. This verse provides solid assurance that no matter what happens, God’s got my back. This knowledge provides the greatest hope of all. Sometimes life events make me forget it—especially when they happen to my kids.
I think I can handle most anything that concerns me, but I can’t stand to watch my children suffer, let alone a grandchild. In times like these, when we don’t understand, it’s easy to question God about his love and care. We say, “If I could just know why...”
The answer is that we can’t know all the “why’s” while we live on earth. We don’t have God’s perspective in all matters. But we do have this promise—that all things have a purpose, and they’re working out for our—and our family’s—ultimate good.
“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” Romans 8:28
10. Watch for God’s Unfailing Mercies
The best part of trusting God to keep his promises is that they never end. We don’t have to worry about expiration dates or deadlines. Our lives are too full of those already!
The vast, green promise lawn stretches out before us and beyond the horizon. At the same time, right when you believe another problem will be your undoing, our gracious God slips a fresh thought into your mind. A long-forgotten verse will suddenly be remembered. A friend will call just to chat—and listen.
The dog or cat will crawl into your lap. Your grandbaby will smile at you for the first time. Your granddaughter will perform her new, made-up dance in her princess dress. The little things are blessings from an all-loving Heavenly Father who understands better than we usually give him credit for.
“The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!’” Lamentations 3:22-24
The next time you face discouragement, anxiety, worry, or dashed plans for the future, remember that you know the end of the story—Jesus is coming back. Hold onto the certainty that in the end, you will triumph with Him. Until then, God is with you, offering hope, and keeping you out of the “itchy” weeds.
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