Publication: Pastoral Letter, October 2015
Dear Friend in Christ,
Henry Gilmour wrote a beautiful hymn, “The Haven of Rest.” The first verse says, “My soul in sad exile was out on life’s sea, so burdened with sin a distress, ‘til I heard a sweet voice saying, ‘Make me your choice’, and I entered the haven of rest.” All the verses are encouraging.
What I desire to do in this letter is to encourage us how to properly place our hope, which is so vital to our peace in a troubled world. Peace is the result of well-placed hope; a joyful anticipation of a good result.
When we place our anticipation of joy in a false promise and that continues to happen, people become hopeless. Hopelessness sickens our soul (our will, our intellect, and our emotions). “Life has cheated us.” The process of hopelessness leads depression and innumerable maladies.
Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” How sick? Well each year over one million teenagers attempt suicide. It is the second leading cause of death among them and does not include the figures on adults. The sadness of that is an unmistakable testimony to the problem in our culture.
How do despondency and depression occur? Hope has been placed on relationships, circumstances, and bad models that fail; this results in alienation, rejection, powerlessness, and a sense of doom. The Apostle Paul said, “If in this life only we have hope, we of all people are most miserable” (1 Corinthians 15:19). Far too many are miserable and their alienation is burned up on false promises. They have nothing left to give.
Life presents all of us with storms that test our hope. Storms can be useful to build character if we are well anchored (see Romans 5:1-5). Otherwise, storms blow away our sense of direction and often capsize our boat. Hopelessness is both a symptom of misplaced hope and a sign of worse things to come if one does not find an anchor to hold them in the storm.
Luke 24 records the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They were going downhill in hopelessness. “We had hoped” … past tense. The story tells how Jesus, Whom they did not at first recognize, restored their hope and excitement.
HOPE IS ETERNAL
Jesus might have quoted Zechariah 9:12, Jeremiah 29:11, Job 14:7 or any number of other verses that base hope upon His unfailing covenant love. Given that Jesus has entered into eternity and ratified His covenant with His own blood once and for all, our hope is eternal. Eternal life is the offer that Jesus makes, and our hope is in that now and forever.
Atheism, of course, denies God and therefore eternity. In that mindset, life must be fulfilled in this life and through other means. In other words, atheism is hope in something else, perhaps an “ideal” of some kind like Nazism, Communism, human progress, or economic benefits. Whatever it may be, when it crashes, there is no hope. And history has a lot to say about that. The great tragedy is that multitudes have lived and died for nothing!
Another tragedy is that many Christians live like atheists in that they place their hope in the temporal, and suffer the same consequences.They may go to heaven because they believe in Jesus, but go disappointed in life.There are far too many disappointed and depressed Christians because they too looked for fulfillment in this world rather than the eternal Lord who anchors the soul (see Hebrews 6:16-18).
The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers who struggled with division, immorality, confusion, and persecution. He told them to be steadfast and unmovable. How could they be? First Corinthians 15 gives us the answer: Look to the Lord’s appearing, don’t put your hope in this life but in the Blessed Hope of Jesus’ coming and the Resurrection.
The early Christians were constantly reminded of the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus. Those believers survived and multiplied because their hope was anchored in the eternal Christ. There were and are countless hopeless people who are discovering the misery of placing hope in this world with its injustice, poverty, sickness, violence, and untrustworthiness. Jesus offered a sustainable hope that would make them unashamed.
Jesus told His disciples, “Let not your heart be troubled, believe in God; believe also in me…” (see John 14:1-3). He would prepare a place for them, and believing that would lead them away from anxiety, disappointment, and being tossed around by what appeared to be true but was not. The epistles are filled with that same theme.
It is okay to have hopes in this life; that can fuel our motivations. But if hope is in this life only, then misery is the ultimate result. Eternal hope is the anchor that holds us when other hopes fail. As ministers of the Gospel of Christ and the apostles, we must be clear as to our ultimate hope lest we add to ultimate disappointment.
One of my favorite hymns is “Solid Rock”: “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.” When my dear wife passed away, we sang that at her memorial service. I believe in healing but my hope us in Jesus.
Until we get clear on where to place our hope, we will not be ready to live in peace and rest. We will certainly not be ready to face an often hostile world of rejection and persecution. It is vital that we now “Set our affections on things above” where Jesus is (see Colossians 3:1-5). That clarity is the force that enabled and enables those who endure in the face of the worst kinds of hostility in order to be true to the faith. The martyrs are speaking to us! Are we listening?
EVALUATE YOUR HOPE
So if we hear the Gospel and those who have given their very lives, what should we do? I want to make some suggestions:
- Let’s ask ourselves, “Where is my hope? What disturbs my peace?” Whatever disturbs our peace indicates where we have invested hope. Romans 8:36 says, “For your sake we face death all day long.” (Also see Psalm 44:22.) So if we comprehend the eternal love of God we can remain at peace when temporal hope evaporates.
- Don’t place your keys to life in someone else’ pocket. If your “haven of hope” is in others or other things, you have given your hope to that, and given up your place of rest. The information age has given us blessings and also curses. Too often our soul is rattled by the information we receive. It is a mixed bag. There is indeed a lot of bad news.
Job got a lot of bad news! Job 1 records that his children were attacked and killed. A messenger came to say, “I alone have escaped to tell you!” (see 1:15, 19). While Job was saddened, he was not shaken. (1:20-22). That theme runs through the entire book. His friends accused him, but he stood steadfast. The key to his stability was not in someone else’ pocket.
- Get a heavenly perspective. Colossians 3:1-5 tells us to set our affections above where Jesus is seated at the right hand of God. Notice that Jesus is seated; He is at rest in the One who rests.
“Look up” is a frequent word from God. Abraham looked up (see Genesis 15). Moses told the people to look up (see Numbers 21:8). David looked up (see 1 Chronicles 21:16). Jesus looked up (see John 17:1). Paul told us to look up (see Colossians 3:1-5). We cannot get a heavenly perspective while looking down or around. We only receive that from looking to Jesus (see Hebrews 12:1-2). He is seated.
- Keep looking until you receive peace. The Lord tells us to seek and keep on seeking (see Matthew 7:7). The words seek, ask, and knock are in the continuing sense. Intensity is to be denoted in our prayer. Cutting through the fog us not a casual process; it is for those who have become desperate (see Luke 18:39).
One of our obstacles is that religion becomes routine with certain hypnotic effects; once that happens, passion for answers subsides into accepting our situation. Prayers become rote and routine; we stop seeking and start settling. Once we settle for the routine, life becomes a mere series of habits instead of an adventure.
Breaking through and breaking out is a struggle, but is worthwhile. If we are going to “fly with a heavenly perspective” we must break through the cocoon of “normal” earth-bound thinking. Can we? Of course we can, if the resurrected Christ lives with us and is calling us upward (see Daniel 7:1-14). Keep on looking; this is not the whole story.
Once we seek and find the rest and peace of God, we will be steadfast, unmovable in serving Christ. This may be our best testimony to a culture that seems to shake with every news cycle. Shaky people have nothing to say to a shaking world. “Steadfast” becomes a testimony (see 2 Thessalonians 2:2-12). Paul’s message to Thessalonica was that nothing should shake them. The early Christians who endured were unshakable.
When Moses looked at the burning bush, he was struck by the fact that it did not burn up. When Christians burn and then burn out, they lose their testimony to a burned out people. We need an “energizer bunny” mentality. What is “hot” must remain “hot” if it is going to speak to a fad seeking culture. Natural passions burn, then burn out; but passion for the Lord and His purpose, need not. Holy Spirit fire is eternal. Endurance and steadfastness are true signs of divine passion.
So let us look for the Haven of Rest, the refuge for our souls (see Hebrews 6:17-20). Yes we are still in the world, but not of it. Our soul is anchored as we sail troubled seas. “When all around my soul gives way, He then is all my hope and stay.”
This letter is not mere theory and it will become more and more practical as we “sail on.” The Good News is, this world is not “the other shore.” Jesus is walking toward our boat that does not seem to be making headway. (By the way, in the story recorded in Matthew 14, Jesus was not swimming toward his disciples; He walked on the water.) Don’t let Him pass on by. Jesus and Jesus alone can still the storm and bring us safely to the other side!
P.S. If you believe this message of authentic, unshakable hope is relevant and needed in our society right now, would you prayerfully consider a special financial gift to support the work of the ministry this month?
Scripture References: Jeremiah 29:11;Proverbs 13:12; 1 Corinthians 15:19; Romans 5:1-5; Zechariah 9:12; Daniel 7:1-4; Job 14:7, 1:15, 19-22; John 14:1-3; Hebrews 6:16-20, 12:1-2; John 17:1; 1 Chronicles 21:16; 2 Thessalonians 2:2-12; Colossians 3:1-5; Matthew 7:7; Luke 18:39