Full of Hope
For I know the plans and thoughts that I have for you,’ says the Lord, ‘plans for peace and well-being and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.
The prophet Jeremiah shared this message from the Lord after the people of Israel had experienced crushing disappointments. God wanted to remind them that He is the author of peace and hope.
Our dreams can take a beating too. We get excited when we feel that God has called us to do something important, then find we may not be ready to face the inevitable setbacks and criticism. We end up getting discouraged and wanting to quit.
For some of us, delays in fulfilling our dreams throw cold water on our enthusiasm. Instead of persevering, we become distracted by other things- often good things- and we lose focus on the thing God had burned into our hearts. Our impatience short circuits the plan, and we settle for less than God’s best. Keep in mind that the enemy of the best is settling for something good.
Imagine how refreshing God’s words were when Jeremiah spoke them to the people! He reminded them that they weren’t alone-God hadn’t abandoned them. They had experienced severe problems and had doubted Him again and again. But in His grace, God would even weave their problems into his plan for them. God’s faithfulness is never dependent on our perception of our current situation.
Most of the greatest leaders we find in the Bible went through times of struggle and doubt. Abraham lied about his wife to save his own skin. Moses gave up on God and hit the rock to get water for the people. Peter proclaimed his loyalty to Jesus and a few hours later denied Him three times. But God reminded each of them of the hope they could have in their future because He is faithful and forgiving. As long as there is hope in the future, we’ll have power in the presence to persevere.
That the Almighty does make use of human agencies and directly intervenes in human affairs is one of the plainest statements in the Bible.I have so many evidences of His direction, so many instances when I have been controlled by some other power than my own will, that I cannot doubt that this power comes from above.
Future- expressive of a time yet to come. It’s antonym is the past- expressive of what has already been. Both of these two words make up the composite of who we are. Our past is a collection of choices, decisions, and experiences that have shaped our thinking and developed us to be who we are. The value of the past is the lessons learned and the shaping of our character. Paul would say that it’s our foundation, a foundation that for Christians that has Christ as the Cornerstone. Modern builders use levels and transits to set the squareness of a building but in Jesus and Paul’s day the first foundation stone that was laid was the cornerstone. It was painstakingly cut and set into place and everything that was put in place in the building was measured from this stone. As important at this stone was, it was only part of the larger plan. At the risk of someone thinking that I would in any way minimize the work and sacrifice of Christ, as the Cornerstone, He is incredibly valuable, but He is only part of the larger plan that God has to redeem the whole of humanity. Like the natural cornerstone, He is the One from whom we measure everything else. So frequently we must visit the Cornerstone and measure our activity by that stone. Paul says that the apostles laid a foundation upon which those coming after were to build upon. The foundation is critical because it has to support everything else that is built. If the foundation is out of square, so will everything else. If the foundation crumbles so will the house. In natural homes, quite often poor foundations create many ongoing problems that are continuously having to be patched. The same is true for us spiritually. Jesus taught us that the foundation upon which the house was built was critical. We could choose sand which requires little effort to shape and begin to build or we could choose rock that take time and effort to shape. Those who build upon the rock, Jesus said, would stand in the storm but those who built upon the sand would crumble beneath the wind and rain.
The importance of the past cannot be overstated but neither can it become the sole object of our focus. In the building of a house, while the foundation is important, we must build beyond the foundation itself. The future is just as important as the past. We certainly don’t wish to discard our experiences and lessons for those who do so are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. But we also don’t want to just keep looking back and become trapped in our reminiscing that we fail to move forward.
Charles Dickens, in his story Great Expectations introduces us to Amelia Haversheim who has stopped the clock from the day she was jilted. The house still has a room with the table set. The food has long decayed, the wedding dress has rotted away, but still she is living in that past. What is more sad is that she takes a little girl and trains her to break the hearts of young boys so she can somehow make them pay for what she suffered. She really doesn’t live, she only exists and that existence is one of misery.
Those who become trapped by the past, whether its failures or successes cease to live. They only exist. As God speaks to Israel through Jeremiah, He reminds them that He is the eternal God who lives not just in the past but in the future. As a matter of fact God is so much in the future that the Bible says He knows the end from the beginning.
If we think logically as believers, we all would have to give assent to the idea that what is to come will eclipse what has been. The future God has prepared for us will be truly so glorious that Paul said to us, “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present world is not to be compared with the glory that awaits us.”
So what do we do? I’d offer this advice. Celebrate the past. Enjoy every memory. Tell the stories. And after you’ve done all that look toward the future. Seek God to know His plans and purposes for the life you have yet to live. Face forward with hope and expectation that the God who has brought you this far and blessed you throughout your past is leading you to a greater experience and greater blessing in the future yet to come.
The book of Ezekiel tells of God leading Ezekiel through water. In the progressive leading Ezekiel begins walking in ankle-deep water. He doesn’t linger there but moves to calf deep and thigh deep and on to the place where the water was over his head. You see God who has called us, calls us out into the deep where we must totally trust Him. Our past should be faith building. As we trusted God in ankle-deep and He kept us by His power, that should develop our faith to trust Him in deeper water until at last we let go of everything we can control and trust solely in Him.
The past may feel comfortable and the future may seem scary, but we can never be complete until we move into and learn to enjoy the future that God has designed for us. Along the way we may have to let go of things we have been holding on to. Like Miss Haversheim, in order to have a future we may have to give up our past, but let us remember that at some point our past was our future. We didn’t know the experiences of the past until they occurred and we won’t know the blessings of the future until we seek for them.
We choose then to remember our past but build for our future.
Dr. John Thompson