On Hope

If you know me, you probably know that I work shifts. If you know me well, you know that while I like the freedom this gives me to serve in certain ways and see different people. If you talk with me about it for longer than 5 minutes, though, you also probably know that I often struggle with sleep and depression when I hit the middle of a 3-11 week. And lately? Lately it’s been enough that I begin to feel dread sinking into the pit of my stomach by the time Saturday evening rolls around.

I’ve always looked towards the weekend before as a time to fill myself up. See friends, do things with people, talk to as many people at church as possible…but sometimes that doesn’t happen. Sometimes the weekend before is the loneliest and sparse…so waking up Monday morning can be difficult. This week it was bleak – even though I actually had plans for the week – Monday was hard.

I felt (read: feel) so very empty.

How many times do I put my hope where it shouldn’t be? I hope for things yet to come but I hope for the wrong things. I hope for goodness and I hope for peace. I hope for stability and I hope to move out. I build up my own kingdom of hopes and dreams…but when the things I hope for don’t happen when I want them to, when the walls of hope I’ve built to protect me come crashing down, I realize I’ve foolishly built them on my own strength.

And I’ve given up hope on the days I have left,
But I cling to the hope of my life in the next
– Deathbed, Relient K

I’ve not given up hope that the days I have left won’t be God-glorifying or worthwhile, but I have given up the hope that they will ever be everything I need. In my most despairing moments this week I had the above song lyric ring through my mind. I was tired, discouraged, and defeated … but even though hope felt lost it wasn’t. Hope was still available for me. I can cling by a desperate thread to the hope that I’m promised beyond tomorrow – my hope is for more than what I will have next week or next year. My hope is in the lover of my soul. My hope is that someday the suffering that I experience will pass away and I will be home. Home where I belong.

I don’t like feeling this way … but the more I live with crutches in my life – when my vices of fear and loneliness come to play – the more deeply I understand Paul when he said he was ok with his weaknesses.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
– 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

I used to take comfort in this verse thinking my weaknesses were things to be overcome – that they wouldn’t really be weaknesses anymore. But I don’t think that’s what it’s saying. My weaknesses will still be weaknesses. They don’t “go away”. Hardship isn’t any less hard just because Christ is with me. I don’t get to be glorified and look strong when I “accept” my weaknesses. It’s not like job interviews where your weaknesses are actually strengths…it’s still going to suck. Every day. But it’s in those weaknesses that he is there. In my fear he is my courage, in my loneliness my companion, in my doubt my truth.

When I contritely say the words “more of you less of me” I am saying that I want to have Christ shine out from me. He does that in my strengths but he does that in my weaknesses too. He carries me through the fire and the flood – but I still have to go through them.

As I begin to lose myself in him it matters less what my weaknesses or strengths look like to other people and it matters more how close I am to him today. And if I think about it? It is in my weakest moments that I have felt him closest and reflecting on those moments when I have learned the most.

I find hope when I’m let down
Not in me … in You
It’s in you
I hope to lose myself for good
I hope to find it in the end
Not in me … in You
– You, Switchfoot

I keep saying to myself that I want to live in such a way that if I died tomorrow I would be happy. Relieved. Satisfied. Overjoyed. Content that I would get to see my saviour face to face and tell him I tried – and to have him look at me and say that I had done well. The mere existence of love and joy here on earth can give me hope that someday I will be somewhere those are the only things – the things I experience here are merely a glimmer of what is to come!

I belong to a country without borders & politicians, I am a citizen of a kingdom where justice prevails and the weak are made strong. And one day we will be in the presence of love, know it fully in our beings, and be with him forever. But we get to start now. We get to begin to bring the kingdom to those around us on earth.

And today? Today all I can do is cling – cling with desperate hands and feet. I can hang on, clutching at the hope I have. I can breathe in and out, knowing that strength can be getting out of bed before 10:30 tomorrow. The words he speaks are hope – and that hope will get me through tomorrow.

Every word you speak is the air I breathe.
Air I Breathe, Matt Kearney

 

 

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Verse 11(2 Corinthians 13)

Only one chapter today in the reading plan, and I find myself drawn to the end of the passage with Paul’s last  points to the Corinthians (verse 11).

Rejoice. Paul tells them to be joyful. We should be joyful. When we consider everything that Christ has done for us and how he has interceded for us (as Paul has mentioned earlier), we should be moved to rejoice. I’ll line up to be the first to admit that I don’t always rejoice in what I have in Christ. Sometimes darkness closes in and it’s hard to rejoice, so a reminder to rejoice is always good.

Aim for restoration. I’m not completely sure on this, but I think the concept is something to do with restoring relationships and people through the love of Christ. Not sure though.

Comfort one another. Well. I’ve talked about bearing burdens before in this reading-bloging journey, so of course I love it when Paul bring it up again. Maybe it’s because I usually like trying to comfort people or ease their burdens, but the fact that Paul includes it in this short list of things to do must mean it is important to do.

Agree with one another. I’m really glad Paul put this one in here. I don’t think he’s telling us that we all need to subscribe to the same theology or what have you, but that we should be making the effort to be in agreement and not argue over silly things. It goes along with comforting and restoration, I think.

Live in peace. Nuff said.

And it finishes with the promise that “the God of love and peace will be with you”. Why wouldn’t you want that? It’s like icing on cake, because all those things before were great themselves.

Un-needed Defence (2 Corinthians 11-12)

It kills me that Paul – Paul, one of the greatest evangelists of his time – had to defend himself. People were doubting his authority and his strength in Christ based on a few criteria. I look at what he did, and I wonder how these people could have been so mislead as to think he wasn’t as good as some other disciples.

Then I realize I do the same thing today. There are still sets of attributes/achievements, that aren’t necessarily necessary, that we look for in people (how was that for an alliteration). But we are all gifted in different ways. Some of us are just not meant to do certain things. Just because someone isn’t using their beautiful voice to lead a worship band doesn’t mean they aren’t using it to glorify God. Just like how Paul talks about the body of Christ in other parts of his letters – we have different things that we can do for the kingdom. We shouldn’t have to defend our actions if we are glorifying God. I firmly believe that the manifestation of the spirit will look slightly different in everyone. There will be some similar things, but we will still be different. And in the things that we may not be super good at, God can still be glorified (in my weakness made strong!).

Cheerful Giving (2 Corinthians 9-10)

The first year I was at camp, a few of my friends and I went away for the weekend to someone’s cottage (typical occurrence). What wasn’t so typical about this, was basically everything that happened once we got close. I say close, because honestly, this cottage was nicer than my real house. It was like a resort in the middle of Michigan. A girl’s family chose to welcome a bunch of dirty young adults into their quite nice cottage, and they paid for all our food (we didn’t even get to eat like, half of what they bout us). They paid for us to go canoeing down a river the next day, and they wouldn’t accept anything in return.

Furthermore, we left (after thanking them profusely) and went to go eat dinner in town before we went back to camp. They happened to eat at the same restaurant, and when our bills came the mom literally walked over and picked them all up off the table and went and paid for all of us.

I bring this story up because Paul is talking about a cheerful giver. This family’s act of hospitality has stayed with me for a full two years, and it still astounds me. They were cheerful in giving what they had. It wasn’t a necessity that we get a pampered weekend, we could have stayed at camp. They weren’t particularly donating money to help other churches, but their giving showed me the love of Christ, and moved me to glorifying and thanking God for them and his providence. We didn’t need that weekend, but it was really really nice and appreciated. It made the following week that much easier to handle, and we were able to work in the overflow of this family to pour into the lives of other kids.

This is the story I think about when I consider how I can give of my time and resources to help/encourage other people. Sometimes it’s just a little thing, like providing a real bed to sleep on, and sometimes it’s a huge thing, like paying for 10 people’s dinners. In either case, it is the cheerful giving that brings glory to God and points to him as the sustainer of all things.

Grieve to Repent (2 Corinthians 7-8)

“As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting.” – 2 Corinthians 7:9a

Isn’t that crazy? Paul goes on to talk about the difference between godly grief and worldly grief, where one leads us to repenting and the other to death, respectively. I have to stop and think about how many times in my life I’ve been moved in some way, but not all the way to the point of repentance and life changing. And yet, this is what needs to be happening as I discover parts of my life that need to be realigned to Christ. I cannot just let things slide to deal with them later. But you know what? I’m probably going to do just that as soon as I finish this blog post. My heart isn’t in it, but I can pray for a change of heart. Not exactly the easiest thing to ask for, let alone want (who knows what radical ridiculousness I would get into?), but I’m asking to be willing to want to change.

New Temples (2 Corinthians 5-6)

One of my favourite symbols in the Old Testament is the construction and care of the temple. Particularly when Solomon builds it. I’m always flabbergasted by how much detail goes into building the temple (both Solomon’s permanent one and the moving one from the Exodus) and the riches that go into the temple. I love this symbol/imagery because today we are the new temples. So when I read the OT passages, I can reflect on how much MORE detail God put into me and how much MORE valuable he finds me than the temple filled to the brim with gold and expensive woods and jewels.

It is no wonder then, that in 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 Paul tells us to not associate ourselves with things that are opposite to what God has called us to. Paul is quoting from Leviticus for part of it, which is where God originally commands the Israelites to be holy because he is holy (11:44). We have to protect ourselves and continue to set aside our lives to follow him (picking up our crosses, anyone?)

Does this mean we don’t associate with non-believers? No. I can’t reconcile that with the life of Jesus who himself spent countless hours reaching out to those who were called “sinners”. I think it is more that we choose not to strongly attach ourselves to non-believers because it is much easier for them to pull us down to sin than for us to pull them up into righteousness. That doesn’t make it easy, but as God’s ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20) we continue to live in a way that shines his light to the world.

Inner Growth (2 Corinthians 3-4)

I was just talking to a sister about how much we still think we need to grow in various ways. It’s always a bitter sweet thing because we want to be able to be all these things (spiritually mature, patient, responsible, etc.) but we often forget that the steps getting there are important too. We see the sins that we do today, the mess ups of yesterday, and we forget that God is continually renewing us, and growing us day by day. Yea, we might not look like much on the outside all the time (clay isn’t always super pretty, though it can be kinda nice sometimes …) but on the inside we are treasure. I think that speaks volumes about how God perceives us, and gives us all the more reason to trust him in what he has planned for us. We are but clay in the potter’s hands.

“So we do not lose hear. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” – 2 Corinthians 4:16

Thoughts on Perfume (2 Corinthians 1-2)

Have you ever seen one of those cartoon depictions of perfume where it just hovers in the air like a pink cloud? That’s what I think of when I read about us being the aroma and fragrance of Christ. The sweet smell that hangs in the air, slowly permeating the rest of the room. I’m pretty sure it isn’t referring to walking by the boy’s locker room in high school where it was debatable if sweat or axe was a more preferred smell, but more to a soft, soothing smell that draws you closer to someone. I think this is how Christ should be evident in our lives – 100% there, you can’t deny that something is there that is a little different from normal air, and it slowly interests others, allowing them to see Christ working in us. But not so that we are shoving the gospel down people’s throats.

“But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.” – 2 Corinthians 2:14-15