"Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost." - Romans 15:13 (KJV)
One tiny verse towards the end of Paul's letter to the church in Rome. Yet within this one verse we see several truths we need to internalize as believers as we enter into 2013. The New Year is always filled with promise but things rarely turn out the way crooked televangelists would have us believe. The reality is that every year is filled with challenges, mountaintops, and valleys. Some years worse than others and other years seeming to burst wide open with the blessings of almighty God. While we often have no control over things that occur in our lives we always have full control over what we will do in response to them. Sometimes the valley runs deeper not because of the circumstance but because of the reaction to the circumstance. So let us turn to this heartfelt prayer from Paul to the Romans and see what God is saying to us today. What we need to remember as we head into the unknown of 2013.
The first thing we need to remember is that God is the God of hope. He is the God of all hope beloved. Now, the dictionary has two very interesting definitions for the word hope. First, hope is the general sense that things are going to work out well. If we were to be real honest with ourselves we would admit that this is sorely lacking in the world. Within the world system we generally do not have a sense that things are going to be ok. We have a government that cannot agree about anything; even common sense matters. We have a world spiraling out of control with ruthless regimes slaughtering their own peoples. We have an economy that is outsourcing loyal and good workers ever day to exploit people in poorer countries. We have 401Ks being turned into 201Ks. The planet groans louder every year with weather anomalies we never saw 20 years ago. But in the God we serve there is always hope.
Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow. -- James 1: 17 (NLT)
While we know the devil is working overtime to continue the decline of this world, God remains the giver of every perfect gift. He does not change and His shadow does not even shift! The promises that He provides in His Word have survived revolutions, world wars, and every dramatic event in the history of mankind. The second definition for hope reveals even greater power for us. Hope is also defined as a person or thing that our expectations are centered upon! Digest that slowly for a moment and savor it. The majority of disappointment in this world stems from unmet expectations. We are disappointed in our job because we expected something better. We are disappointed in a relationship because we had some ideal in our mind of what the other person was going to be like. The world can wax philosophically all day long about anger or depression but at the end of the day it will boil down to an unmet expectation. When we say God is the God of hope however -- we are affirming that it is only in Him that we must place our expectations! Why? Because God never changes!
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. -- Hebrews 13: 8 (NLT)
The same God that closed the lions' mouths in the den is the same God we serve! The same God that David relied upon to slay Goliath is the same God that we pray to. The same God that spoke everything into existence is the same God that lives inside of us as believers in Jesus Christ! When we choose to center our expectations upon this world we will always be met with disappointment beloved because the world changes in the blink of an eye. People you trusted last year are people you no longer see this year. God however is constant. His Word never changes and His promises have always come true. That is the purest definition of hope there is. That is why we must center what we expect upon God and His Word alone. Then we will never be disappointed. It never fails to confuse me when Christians get so excitedly upset when the world behaves like the world. The question that always races through my mind is -- what did you expect? What did you expect?
The second truth for us to take to heart as we head into 2013 is the relationship of our faith to the joy and peace that often seem so elusive in our lives. We hear all the time about joy and peace and how difficult it is to achieve these in our daily walk. We hear the comparisons of joy to happiness and they remain true. Happiness is something you feel based upon some external event in your life. If I can only be promoted I would be happy. If I could only find the man of my dreams I would be happy. If only I hit Powerball I would be happy. The reality is that when we base our happiness upon external things then we are again setting ourselves up for misery. Even when we achieve what we think will make us happy we only then move the goalposts back further and create another goal that will make us happy. Joy however is a state of being based upon our relationship with God, not an event or something. Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, generated from having a close personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. -- James 1: 2-4 (NLT)
When your life is centered upon Jesus Christ then even trouble is merely an opportunity for great joy because trouble draws even closer in our relationship with God. Then there is peace, which is another fruit of the Holy Spirit. I firmly believe that the lack of peace is the number one problem for most people. In a world where there is usually no peace to be had we serve the Prince of Peace. When you read the formula for peace found in Philippians we see that the peace of God transcends our mere mortal understanding! It is found by submitting anything that might concern us unto God -- with thanksgiving. Why thanksgiving? Because the believer knows that God is going to be God and there is no doubt that He will work all things out for our good because that is what His Word promises us! That is the essence of faith. The truth found here in the key verse if you read it carefully is that the joy and peace which we so desperately seek is directly tied to our believing -- our faith. You want the joy of the Lord and His transcendent peace? It all starts with your faith!
But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do. -- James 1: 6-8 (NLT)
The truth is we have far too many divided Christians these days. They lack joy and peace because they still consult the world for so many of the things that they should be going to God with. Look at what Paul is praying here for the Roman believers. That the God of hope would fill them with all joy and peace -- IN BELIEVING. We cannot have all joy in this world if our faith is spotty. If we believe God for some things but not others. We will never find that transcendent peace if our faith wavers. If we cherry pick which Bible verses we are going to believe and which ones we are going to turn a blind eye to. That is what the world does and why they are essentially recreating God in the image of man. It is also why the idols they have created will never provide them with what they desperately seek -- joy and peace. Within the Parable of the Talents we have three servants given money by their master based upon their abilities. One had no faith and buried his and as a result lost it. But the other two had faith and put theirs to work, earning more. Here was the response from the master, who is God:
His master said to him, "Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.' -- Matthew 25: 21 (ESV)
What kind of servant was he? Faithful! Because he was faithful with what he was given -- even more will be given unto him. Enter into what? The joy of your master! If we want to enter into the joy of our Master and live in His peace -- then it all starts with being faithful. In believing, we will find the joy and the peace our lives so desperately will need in 2013.
The third truth for us to internalize as we head into the New Year is that we need to start thinking bigger beloved. We need to stop living a meager Christianity. We need to stop placing God in a box and start believing Him for things beyond our mere mortal comprehension. The term Paul uses is that he prays that we abound in hope. Paul does not just wish that they experience hope or that they feel hopeful. No beloved -- he prays that they abound in hope! The dictionary defines abound as to "be filled with to overflow." Now that is how I want to experience hope! Unfortunately as Christians sometimes we place artificial limits upon God. We downplay who He is and what He can do. I remember having a debate recently with someone who was espousing the notion that it would be ok to pray for God to take someone home if they were suffering so badly. I know within our finite mortal mind that seems and sounds right. Ease their pain? Nothing wrong with that? Except there is. Please, this is not a discussion on the sovereignty of God. We always should be praying -- not my will but Yours be done. Also, there is nothing wrong with praying to ease someone who is in pain. But to pray to the Creator of the universe to take someone home before praying to heal them doesn't strike me as being very faithful in what we believe. It doesn't strike me as being sure of the power of the God we serve. It is like the father of the demon possessed boy who says to Jesus Christ -- "if you can have mercy on us and help us." Wow, there is a lame prayer, no? Can you imagine going up to the God who created everything and saying -- "if You can?" What kind of meager faith is that? What kind of meager Christianity is that! Yet how often is that the Christianity we practice as well? The person who was arguing it is ok to pray for God to take home a sick relative approached God with a very meager faith yet we are all guilty of that as well. We reflexively think as the world does sometimes. Where is our abounding hope? Where is the hope that screams "with Christ -- ALL things are possible?" You got a bad medical report? Our God heals all our diseases. No, you don't understand preacher -- they said it was cancer. Our God raises the dead! Laid off from your job? Our God provides in every circumstance. Is there anything that is too big for the God you serve? If so -- go find a better God! I know one and His name is Jesus Christ! The fighting men of Israel were all cowering fear one day because the giant standing in front of them was nine feet tall. Here was the faith of a shepherd boy:
David asked the men standing near him, "What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?" -- 1Samuel 17: 26 (NIV)
Circumcision was the sign of covenant between God and Israel. So what David is saying here is -- who is this guy who has no relationship with God that he should defy the very armies of God? That is the abounding hope we all need to live with. To pick up our slingshot and trust that God is going to God. There is a novel concept. If we would just believe that God is going to be God then we would find our hope overflowing into our lives in 2013.
Lastly from the key verses, is what ties it all together -- the power of the Holy Spirit. The truth is that we live in a fallen world that seeks to drag us away from the promises of God at every turn. We all lead busy lives that are filled with people and events that seek to rob us of our joy and steal the peace of God within us. It is easy to say God is my healer when you are not the one staring at the bad medical report. It is easy to say that God is our provider when you are not the one staring at the pink slip and the mountain of bills. None of this is very easy in our humanity and in fact it is nearly impossible. We see famous and rich celebrities every year come to their end due to the misery this world inflicts. The only thing we have to combat this; the only thing we need -- is the power of the Holy Ghost.
I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world." -- John 16: 33 (NLT)
Jesus has overcome this world and His Spirit lives inside of all who believe in Him. It is through His Spirit that we can affirm that the God we serve is the God of all hope in a hopeless world. It is through His Spirit that we can live in all joy even when the world is crashing down around us. It is through His Spirit that we can still walk in His transcendent peace in a world of persistent chaos. It is through His Spirit that we can be teeming with hope to the point of overflow in our lives regardless of what the enemy tries to do or say. It is only through His Spirit that we too can overcome the world despite of the tribulation we will face.
That is the heartfelt prayer of God for us as we enter into 2013. That we center our expectations upon God and God alone, so that we will never be disappointed again and the God of Hope will become all the clearer to us in our lives. That we start our pursuit of joy and peace by strengthening our faith in who God is. That our increased faith will lead to an inexpressible joy in the face of the plight of this world and a transcendent peace in the face of so much discontent. That we stop living out a meager Christianity. That our faith in the God of hope will result directly in an abounding Christianity filled with promise and lacking any human boundaries. Lastly, that we realize this is all possible and available for us through the power of the Spirit of God that is already living inside if us. Jesus already did the heavy lifting for us on Calvary. All we have to do as we head into 2013 is say amen to this prayer.
Reverend Anthony Wade -- January 2, 2013