I Understand the Command, but What Does it Look Like When I Walk it Out?
Read: Romans 12:12; Jeremiah 29:1-11; Romans 4:17-21
I enjoy Christian fiction, especially the stories where redemption in the lives of one or more of the characters, takes place. An author I like is Amy Clipston, and today, one of her fictional characters caused me to think about a scripture verse that I have heard many times, Romans 12:12. The character who often quotes this short but rich- with-meaning verse is Elizabeth Kauffman. She seeks to encourage others throughout the five-book Kauffman Amish Bakery Series with these words:
Be joyful in hope.
Be patient in tribulation.
Be constant in prayer.
What a trifecta! We can't look at all three of these commands today; so, let's begin with the first one. It is only four words, but they present us with quite a challenge in our day to day walk with Jesus. If we are to be joyful in hope, we need to know why we can have hope. For what or in Whom should we hope?
1. Why can we have hope? There is only one reason why we can hope with any assurance at all. The reason? There is Someone Who is trustworthy. Therein lies a problem. The concept of true hope has been dashed to pieces in many lives by unreliable people. I'm not referring here to the unforeseen circumstances that render promises unable to be fulfilled. No, I'm thinking about those who have experienced disappointment after disappointment because promises have been repeatedly broken by those who made them. Their hopes have been shattered so many times that the exhortation to be joyful in hope doesn't really compute. They would say that they understand only the concept of being broken when they dare to hope.
2. For what should we hope? Anything we want? Should our joy come from anticipating all our desires being fulfilled? After all, God is the Giver of good gifts, James 1:17, isn't He? That presents us with another problem. What if God's definition of good differs from our own? Hope based on our own desires and wants--even those that aren't bad--might also be dashed when God turns us in a different direction than the one for which we hoped. Thankfully, in the books of Jeremiah and Romans, we have two examples, where God shows us what it looks like to be joyful in hope.
As we begin reading in this chapter, we meet God's people who had been exiled to Babylon. Lying prophets had been telling them that their stay there would be short and that they should therefore not settle in. They were presenting the people with false hope. They were as unreliable as the loved one who repeatedly promises a special outing but never comes through on his word. If the people had been joyful in hope based on these lies, they would have experienced disappointment and a lack of fruitfulness in their lives. Enter Jeremiah and the letter he wrote his people. Here was a true prophet who boldly proclaimed God's truth. He didn't give them the words that he thought they wanted to hear. Instead, Jeremiah told them to reject the lies and rest in God's truth. How different the prophet's words were than those that were spoken by the lying prophets who merely wanted to tickle the ears of their hearers. Jeremiah's exhortations told the people that they should live with purpose each day. Their captivity would not be short; therefore, they were not to wait around for false hopes to come to fruition. Instead, they were to build houses, plant vineyards and seek the welfare of the place where God has sent them. I love the truth that reminded both them and also reminds us, that blessing the place where they were would result in blessings being poured back into their lives. Where is the hope that Jeremiah offered? Why could they have joy even though most of them would never be able to return to Jerusalem??
For one thing, God was involved and had overseen their captivity. He was the One Who has sent them to Babylon, and He was the One Who would bring blessings into their lives as they obeyed His instructions while they were there. There was more. God was the One Who has set the parameters of their captivity. It was not random or Plan B. The day that they would be permitted to leave was as certain as the day their feet first entered Babylon. And the children and grandchildren who were born in Babylon? They would be the ones who would be alive and eligible to go back to Jerusalem when God once again opens the way for them to do that. They could be joyful in hope because God was ready to bless them right there in Babylon and this same Savior also had the power to bring the people out right on time. The time that was a part of the plan that He had for them. The plan that would ensure their future and give them true hope and joy, Jeremiah 29:11.
In these verses in Romans 4, we are permitted to look into Abraham's life and learn what he was thinking while He waited for God to fulfill an amazing promise. We read about Abraham's time of waiting in Genesis 12-21, chapters that summarize a waiting time of more than two decades. The promise that Abraham was anticipating? A son; however, there was a problem, at least when thinking of the probability that this would ever happen. To put it simply Abraham and his wife were too elderly for pregnancy to occur. Romans 4 pictures this vividly when Sarah's womb was described as being dead. In the earthly sense, there was no hope. Why could Abraham have hope? It was because he wasn't basing his hope on his and Sarah's desire or ability, but on God's promise which was rooted in God's ability and faithfulness. I love the statement that says that Abraham was certain what God had promised, He was able to fulfill. This is true because nothing is impossible with God, Luke 1:37. Abraham's ability to rejoice in hope was based on God's promise and His ability to carry that promise out.
What about us? We too can rejoice in hope when we hope in God's faithfulness for each day and cling to His sure promises, even when like Abraham, we don't know how they will be fulfilled. God is not like those who lack either faithfulness or ability.
Even so, this walk with the Lord often requires patience. Patience in tribulation. Lord willing, we will look into that next week.