Monday was January 13, and as I have been faithfully reading a chapter in Proverbs each day this year, I read Proverbs 13. When I got to verse 12, I let out a snort of resentment. “Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when desire cometh, it is a tree of life.” “Sick”, I thought, is monumental understatement for what my heart has felt like for the past year. As I have prayed, cried, fasted, whined and complained about my circumstances, there have been times when I felt a glimmer of hope that things were going to get better. I would hear a great sermon, have a good morning devotional, or get a note of encouragement from a great Christian friend and I would think, “Yes!” God can and will answer my prayers. Then… another shoe would drop; and something else would go wrong. My world would collapse afresh and I would dissolve into a puddle of hopeless tears and adopt Jonah 4:3 as my new life verse. “Therefore now, O Lord, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.”
As I was meditating on verse 12 with a bitter heart, the Lord gently spoke to me in my spirit. He quietly reminded me that I had placed my hope in the wrong things. My hope was in the fact that God would change my circumstances and other people’s behavior in order that my life would be pain free and happy. And the words to an old hymn started running through my mind.
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly trust in Jesus’ Name.
On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.
When darkness seems to hide His face,
I rest on His unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.
His oath, His covenant, His blood,
Support me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.
When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh may I then in Him be found.
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.
The Lord showed me the painfully obvious; my hope has been in the wrong place. All week, I could not get that song or the verse from I Corinthians 15:19 out of my mind, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” Sadly, “miserable” has been an apt descriptor for my general demeanor lately. The Lord has been dealing with me all week about “hope displaced”.
As Proverbs points out, “hope deferred maketh the heart sick”. I realized that my hope had not been “deferred”, but rather “displaced”. There is a significant difference. Hope displaced seems to make us remain on a never ending roller coaster ride from hopeful to hopelessness. For me personally, it can and often does progress into anger at God and others. Using what I have learned from our RU program, I did some defining and dissecting of Proverbs 13:12. According to Strong’s Bible Dictionary, “deferred” means to “delay” or “draw out”. That seems to imply that the thing “hoped for” is probable and will eventually come to pass. God’s promises are always true, but His timetable is rarely ours. That is when we exercise our faith. Hebrews 11:1 states, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” We can exercise our faith and be sure of what we hope for even when it remains unseen if God, Himself, in HIS WORD promises it to us. However, the word “displaced” means “to take the place of” or “supplant”. Hope is displaced when we assume that God will do something for us merely because He has done it for others, because we have prayed about it, we have fasted for it, we have read our Bible, faithfully attended services, done good deeds, we want it so desperately,… etc… When we are relying on our own righteousness to compel God to do what we expect or what we “hope” will make us happier and more content in this life, we are setting ourselves up for major disappointment. We can be full of hope and excitement one minute when it looks like our desires will be fulfilled, and emotionally dashed on the rocks the next as we realize that little is changed or that the situation has gotten worse.
In the middle of all of this, one thing is true…HIS WORD. God will keep His promises that are written in His word. Some of those are conditional; For example, Psalm One states that if we will avoid a certain lifestyle and mediate on His Word day and night, we will be blessed and prosperous. For a weak Christian like me, that Psalm was much easier to memorize and quote than it has been to consistently follow. However, some of our Lord’s promises are ours to claim just because we are His dear children. One promise we can count on is that God will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). In the middle of our worst trials, we can hold onto God’s promise that He will always be there for us – even when “darkness seems to hide His face” and “all around my soul gives way”, when He remains unseen and unfelt; that promise is a sure anchor. Hope is in the right place when is built on “nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness”. But our hope is displaced when we expect God to stop the trial immediately and fix our situation. Hope displaced causes our hearts to leap for joy when we see a small crack in the dark skies of our circumstances, only to have it sink into the pit of our stomach as even darker thunder clouds move in. If we expected God to end the storm, He appears to have failed us. But, if we expect God to remain with us in the storm, He has then kept His promise to never leave us or forsake us.
“Nothing is too hard for God.” And I know He is in the business of performing miracles. However, we must realize that God sometimes has deeper miracles in mind then our immediate comfort and freedom. There are times that He wants to carry us through the storm so we can learn to lean upon Him. There is a deeper spiritual walk and knowledge of my Savior to be gained by going through dark valleys. A very special pastor’s wife has told me several times that I am going to be thankful for this trial. And through it, I will be a stronger Christian and better able to help others. However, most days I don’t really want to be a “stronger Christian”, I just want the pain to end.
But, as we read the Bible we realize that God’s ways are far above our ways. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). He is not some magician we can call on who will wave a magic wand and make all of our troubles disappear. We see this fact demonstrated in the life of the Apostle Paul, that great preacher who wrote 2/3 of the New Testament, some of his trials were ended quickly, and some continued until his martyrdom. When he and Silas were in prison, they were supernaturally freed while singing. And although Paul had more faith than anyone I know… surviving shipwrecks, beatings, stonings… even his prayers to God to remove his thorn in the flesh received a firm “no”. “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” -2 Corinthians 12. For some reason, it was more important for Paul to experience the grace of God rather than God’s healing. Paul could have easily become angry at God and lost His grace to persevere, yet he held on to something deeper in Him. He was able to maintain an eternal perspective. He did not place his hope “in this life only”; because, he knew that this life is short and temporary. Romans 8:18 “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”
It is not just in the Bible we read of people with great faith. One modern day example is in the biography of Joni Eareckson Tada, a woman who is handicapped from her neck down from a diving accident when she was a teenager. At first she was angry and wanted to die, yet she overcame her anger and accepted her cross. She grew to become a leading minister to the handicapped, author and singer who has touched the lives of millions. Although God did not miraculously heal her, and she remains in a wheel chair today, her faith in God is strong. Her quote, “Real faith is not receiving healing from a God who can do it, real faith is when the God who can do it chooses not to and you serve Him anyway.” is truly convicting.
Indeed, if our hope (or expectation and demand) is that God will solve our problems instantly and He doesn’t, we will become discouraged and angry at Him. That is truly hope displaced. But, if our properly placed hope (understanding) is that God will never leave us or forsake us and will walk with us through the trial, we can better love and serve Him even when He chooses not to grant us our request. Like Joni, we can transition from wanting to die or disappear to accepting “our normal” (our cross) and allowing God to do a deeper eternal work in us. When we yield our stubborn will and allow God to mold our lives as He sees best, then, like Paul we can say “for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Philippians 4:11).
It is so easy for me to get frustrated or angry at God because my trial is still going on…and on… and on… I continually wrestle with the questions of “why?” Why did God allow…? Where was He when…? Didn’t He care that…? I am praying that God would give me grace to see that if I can just embrace these trials, I will grow closer to Christ and know more of Him than I could ever dream possible if my life was the bed of roses I prefer. However, as much as I long to change the past- I wish the past year, 2013, had never happened- that I would awake to discover it was all just a terrible nightmare, Jesus doesn’t rewrite history. But He can redeem it. Our present trial may not end, but when we are “at our wit’s end”; He can calm the raging seas of our soul (Psalm 107:23-30). And we can be confident that “In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil.”
I am going to continue to pray for a miracle. I know our God can restore and heal. And, I really feel that it’s quite alright to hope and pray that our trial will soon end, but our greater hope should be that we will be drawn closer to God. That is one hope that will not be displaced. Like Paul, the sooner we stop kicking against the pricks that have been placed in our life, the sooner we see Christ more as He really is.
These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. John 16:33