It’s been a dark, stormy day here – the perfect kind of day for continuous mugs of hot tea and books read under quilts and new words tripping across the computer screen. The gutter outside my window hums, and I can tell by the ripples in street puddles that the drizzle is still going.
Our cowardly pup hides in a dark closet. Eric slipped the dog bed in there this morning before he left for work, knowing that Ridley would seek refuge there (that is, after he learned that I would ignore his pestering paws begging to join me on the bed).
There are days when my heart acts in the same ‘fraidy manner, cowering in a closet to shut out the storm.
“Hope” has been a confusing word for me lately. I don’t quite know what to make of the concept. I am certain that we are called to place our hope in God, not in our circumstances, but translating that into real life has felt fuzzy. How do we hold onto hope in the midst of disappointment? How do we believe that God is able to do what we ask, yet not be devastated when He chooses to answer differently?
Connected to wrestling this idea of hope is wrestling my understanding of God’s promises. We are told to remember God’s Word, to call to mind His promises, yet we often unintentionally manipulate those promises to be self-beneficial. We forget to take into account correct context and the fact that many other places in Scripture state that, as Christians, we shouldn’t expect an easy breezy life.
But how do we hope for answered prayers in the midst of the trials we know we will walk through?
I read a really sweet blog post about the experience of walking through the wait for pregnancy. The writer spoke of her dreams for what that season would look like, and what realities she knew to expect, and the presence of God in the midst of her pain. But one statement stood out to me in a way that made my heart hurt. She referenced the prayers Hannah was praying for Samuel and said that in the midst of pain, we should whisper our own prayers for our promised one.
And this statement hurt because I knew it wasn’t true.
My “promised one” isn’t a reality.
God hasn’t promised me a child.
I am sure this writer had good intentions, and she may not have realized her error in thinking, but God hasn’t promised any of us a healthy pregnancy or a dream job or financial security or a successful marriage.
Hannah prayed earnestly for a child – so earnestly that the priest Eli thought she was drunk. When he spoke with her and heard of her sincerity, he blessed her by saying, “May God grant your petition.” She left the temple still having no promise from God about her request, no timeline with which to set her expectations. The Bible then tells us “in due time” that Hannah conceived — but not necessarily immediately. Certainly not in the timing she wanted. Hannah prayed earnestly, in hope, without guarantee that her prayers would be answered in the way that she desired.
We read Jeremiah 29:11 and cling to the “promise” that God has plans for our success and prosperity, not realizing the context of this verse relates to God telling the Israelites (through the prophet Jeremiah) to settle in during exile, because they will not be leaving in their lifetime. The Israelites found themselves dealing with the hope that rescue was on the way but at the same time grief that they wouldn’t experience that rescue the way they were hoping to. Their rescue did come, but it came in the form of God’s presence with them while they remained in a foreign land among a pagan people. Sometimes that’s how our rescue comes, too.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego hoped in God, knowing He was capable to save them from the fiery furnace but also acknowledging He might not choose to. “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Daniel 3:17-18). Tim Keller commented that, essentially, these three men were saying, “We serve and love God for Himself and not what we get out of Him.”
And that is how I want to rest in God’s promises.
My hope is found in Who He is, not in what He can do for me. And when I fix my eyes on Him, I find that He is true to all of His promises concerning Himself — regardless of our circumstances, His character remains certain.
He is a God of unconditional love – a love I cannot understand, cannot mimic, cannot describe. (1 John 3)
He is a God of grace, undeserved favor, sufficiency to walk through the fiery furnace. (2 Corinthians 3:5, 12:9)
He is a God of presence, Emmanuel. He walks with me in the midst of trials. (Isaiah 43:1-3)
He is a God on our side, telling us to approach His throne with confidence because Jesus intercedes for us as our better high priest. (Hebrews 4:15-16; 7)
He is a God with a plan for His glory, and even if we can’t see the full picture, we can trust that His “working all things together for good” has more to do with His purposes, with an eternal perspective and a “good” that is beyond our earthly definition or understanding. (John 12:27-28, Romans 8:28)
Going back to hiding in the closet —
I confess I still don’t quite know how to manage the balance of hopeful expectation in what God can do and what He actually chooses to do. I don’t know what I should be feeling as I pray in expectation but also pray in surrender.
But the dark closet is where I find myself waiting, and the more I fix my gaze on truths about God, the less I fix my gaze on myself, my plans, my wants. The more I look for His presence, the less aware I am of the storm outside. My joy comes from His presence and not from my circumstances.
Ann Voskamp writes about hoping instead of giving up and uses the image of the planting of flower bulbs in late fall.
“No!” Little One wails. “Don’t put the flower so far down in the dark!” She tries to wrest the bulb from his hand. I scoop her angst all up close.
“But it has to go down in,” I brush the hair out of her eyes, kiss tip of that pug nose. Because sometimes, Child — hope’s waiting is dark.
She turns her face up towards mine and our cheeks brush.
“Will we have to dig them up to get the flowers after the snow?” I squeeze her tight.
“No, Girl. When He’s ready — all that beauty will come up through the black earth as if by themselves.” […]
We bury hope in a tomb of its own.
Like the faith diggers do every day. We bury our swollen prayers in Him who’s raised from the tomb.
We lay our hope, full and tender, into the depths of Him and wait in hope for God to resurrect something good.
Good always necessitates long waiting. […]
Every person needs hope planted at the bottom of their hole.
Because that is the thing:
Hope is what holds a breaking heart together.
Hope in a Big God is what frees from big fears.
Hope is a thing with keys…..
And we live in wait —
because there’s an old and steadying wisdom cupped in the curve of just those two words, ‘Hope and Wait.”
“And we live in wait.”
Because He Who promised is faithful, and He will surely sanctify us as we wait (1 Thessalonians 5:24).
Because He longs to be gracious to us, though we may not understand His timing (Isaiah 30:18).
Because He is the type of God who uses periods of trials, of the wait, to refine us like gold (Job 23:10).
How can you approach God in confidence of Who He is, not looking for what He can do for you but simply knowing Him for Himself?
What truth do you need to believe about God regardless of how He answers your prayers?
How does He fulfill promises of His character in your everyday life?