Reflections: Joy and Hope

*This post will refer to Saturday and the Hope of Sunday, so if you haven’t read that one, it might be helpful to read that first.

Abba, I have to confess that this morning I was not feeling celebratory. I know, I know… it’s Easter! It’s the day that we rejoice that You are ALIVE! How could I NOT be happy and excited?! Well, I was at first… but then I experienced the reminders of pain and suffering and knew the isolation of deep loneliness. No matter what I did, I could not get past the despair that seemed to hover over my soul as a storm cloud of darkness. I rested. I prayed. I read Your Word. I sat and listened. Nothing was working, and I was beginning to lose heart. I know that joy doesn’t equal happiness, but I so badly wanted even joy, if not Your happiness and tangible presence. I kept asking myself, ‘Why can’t I rejoice in this suffering, rejoice that I am carrying my cross for Jesus?!’ but then I came across 1 Thessalonians 1:6 — “You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.” Woah. What I realized after reading this passage is that I DON’T have to rejoice in the trials themselves — they are evil and Jesus tells us to avoid them, to pray against them in the Lord’s Prayer! He says that we are to ask Him to “lead us NOT into temptation”. Since God cannot tempt us to sin, I think this means to lead us not into trials and bad circumstances. Now, even if I am wrong in this, Paul still tells the Thessalonians to rejoice IN THE MIDST OF severe suffering — he doesn’t say that we have to say “Yay! Suffering!” with a smile on our faces and laughing, but he does say that we should rejoice DESPITE suffering, rejoice in who we KNOW Christ to be and what the eternal outcome will be. This brought me so much relief this afternoon as I rollerbladed as far as my tired legs would take me (I ran my first 5K yesterday, so they were already quite sore!).

Not only did the idea of rejoicing despite the suffering bring me relief, but it brought me hope. (Yes, now I’m finally getting to the reference you’ve been wondering when I was going to use!) I was feeling earlier as if all hope was gone, as though Jesus’ sacrifice didn’t give me any reason to be hopeful. Now, I know that feelings are not everything, so I was determined to not let negative thoughts and painful feelings get the better of me. So I meditated on all that God has done for me in the past; I KNOW that He is faithful and that He can (and will) work in every situation for my best. I brought to mind testimony of the past where I know that God has worked in my friends’ lives and in the lives of His people (in Scripture) in similar ways. I took captive the negative thoughts (that God can’t work in my pain) for Christ and spoke His truth to my soul. Through this process, God brought hope back into my heart, even though the pain and loneliness still resided there. I did not feel His presence, but I did not need to. I KNOW that He is with me always, whether I feel Him there or not. THIS is how I’m able to speak with conviction and sing with sincerity these words which I felt guilty singing only a few short hours before:

Jesus, hope of the nations
Jesus, comfort for all who mourn
You are the source of Heaven’s hope on earth
Jesus, light in the darkness
Jesus, truth in each circumstance
You are the source of Heaven’s light on earth

He IS the hope for the nations, no matter how corrupt, no matter how broken, no matter how destitute, no matter how far away from Him they may be. He IS the comfort for ALL who mourn, whether they mourn in the open, physically, or mourn in silence, too tender and personal to ever show it. He IS the source of hope to the earth, to this fallen, shattered, broken world. Hope isn’t just wishful thinking; it is an expectation of what we know is to come. He IS the hope that we have of redemption, of healing, of love. He IS the light in the darkness of this sinful world. He IS the truth in every circumstance, no matter how painful, horrifying, or remote it may be. He IS the source of light — not just physical light, but spiritual light, too. Jesus Christ brings HOPE through His miraculous resurrection. He IS hope through His remarkable, unexpected return. And He will return again — it will be unexpected and remarkable, just like the first time, but this is where Christians place their hope. This is where I place my hope.

In what or whom does your hope lie? My prayer is that it lies in the only One who can fulfill it.

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