It’s only just past 10 in the morning, and already I have found myself looking up at the sky many times today. What started out as blue skies has gradually been covered with ever darkening clouds. The wind is strong from the north and the temperature was already over 25°C at 8am. The humidity is well up and I am dripping. But what I am hoping for still hasn’t arrived. What has been promised by the weather bureau so many times may just pass us by again.
As we near the official end of summer, we are feeling the effects of very minimal rain over the last two months. The grass is a dry grey-brown and some plants are looking very much worse for wear. Even the weeds are dying! Being reliant on our rain tanks, we have had to pay for water to be trucked in.
Please let it rain today!
Perhaps you can relate to this - those feelings of disappointment about hopes that seem to never materialise and maybe you even feel as though disappointment has been a recurring theme in your life?
Back at Christmas, I was reminded anew of this struggle between hope and delivery.
In many ways, Christmas can be fraught with unmet hopes and disappointments. However, this year I was reminded of the depth and reality of hopes actually being met at that first Christmas.
In the lead up to Christmas, I experienced a number of disappointments. So I was really not feeling very celebratory at all and trying desperately to find some meaning in all the festivities.
Finally, on the morning of Christmas Eve in church I had my own little epiphany. I am not sure why - I am not aware of anything especially different being said, and the Christmas carols we sang were not unusual. But somewhere in the midst of the singing, I found myself reflecting "this really did happen". Jesus really was born to real people who experienced those things we are told about. Mary really had an encounter with the Holy Spirit, Joseph really had those struggles and those dreams. The shepherds really had an angelic encounter. Anna and Simeon were real people who finally saw their hopes birthed in Jesus. It really all happened.
Don't get me wrong. I hadn't been having a faith crisis or anything. This was simply a new level of 'knowing'. It was as though it almost became my own memory. Think of the Israelites, who told their stories over and over and other cultures where stories of the past are told - it becomes part of their cultural memory. It wasn't just a story that happened to someone else at some other time. It happened to their family.
It's a bit like the ownership we start to take of our ancestors when we find out more about them. Even if we never knew them, their story becomes part of our DNA. I have been sensing this particularly with members of my family tree who were involved in Christian ministry or mission - there is a greater level of affinity. (Although, I am not sure what this says about a large proportion of Australian people who would like to find they had convicts in their ancestry!)
Back to my own journey, this experience was not simply an anomaly or blip along the way. It tied in well with another insight I sensed from God around the same time.
This was to do with hope. I was reminded again of my own story and the realisation there are two ways to hope in God.
One is the belief that it is all about our ability. The belief that if we can cling tightly enough to God, we will get to the places and circumstances He has for us; we will be ok. But we have to do the work to cling to Him, to press further into Him. I recall the picture He gave me some time ago of how I had been when my first marriage ended, where I was like a little child being taught to float in the pool. Even as I was told, "lay back and relax, I've got you, I won't let go", I was clinging so tightly that I wasn't even in the water! My fear of the unknown, the future was preventing me trusting that God had it all under control.
What I sensed Him reminding me was that hope is not all about us. It is not even about our ability to hope.
Hope is about rest.
If we hope in God, it is not vain hope. It is hope at rest. We know He is good, we know He is able.
The alternative to hope is hopelessness, which can lead to despair. When we make hope all about our workings, then when those things we would like to see come about don't, we quickly fall into feeling powerless in our ability to do anything. Which, really, is the whole point of faith and prayer. It is the recognition that we are powerless to make God do anything, to change many circumstances we find ourselves in.
As I was doing my Lenten readings the other day, I didn’t get past the first few words of one of the Scriptures. As I read it, I just wanted to stop there and soak deeply in what God showed me. It was so freeing! The reading was from Isaiah 9:6-7
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders…Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.”
It is Jesus who shoulders the responsibility of the governments and the governance of every aspect of our world, human as well as all the physical, chemical and biological laws and so on.
So often, we feel as though we have to do something to change the world, we despair of where it is all heading and live in fear of the future. This reminded me that Jesus knows and has already done something about it.
We are not the answer. He is.
We can work hard at all sorts of solutions, but unless He is in the midst of them, unless they are His ideas, they will be temporary fixes at best. True transformation – of individuals, of communities, of our world – only comes through encounter with the risen Christ, encounter with the Kingdom of Heaven.
For me, this has become a resounding hope. I can look around at what is going on in our world: millions of refugees; another mass shooting; the effect of pornography, drugs and a permissive culture on our young people – on it goes, and find it easy to despair and wonder how it can change. However, two words keep resounding in my mind:
It doesn’t matter how big the problem or need, God is way bigger and He can change everything in an instant. We just have to connect with that close relative of hope, and TRUST His impeccable timing and His perfect ways to bring it all about!
Meanwhile, I’m off to hang the washing out.
"And this hope is not a disappointing fantasy, because we can now experience the endless love of God cascading into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who lives in us!"
(Romans 5:5, Passion)