Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Advent 2007 / Daily Doses of Hope - #4

Read: John 16:19-22; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

DESCRIBING BIBLICAL HOPE. Here’s my working definition of hope (hot off the press!); try it on for size:

Hope is a grace that generates within us a knowledge and confidence that our future is secure and full of promise. It draws us forward in the face of sometimes overwhelming circumstances, empowering us to overcome difficulties, stand fast against evil, and live in dynamic witness to the truth. Biblical hope is based on the Word of God, which challenges us to anticipate the future in terms of salvation, restoration, completion, fulfillment, triumph over evil and the ultimate defeat of death itself. More than anticipation, the Bible invites us to participate in this future now by faith, embracing the principles, values, and graces that will be the norm in the Kingdom of God.

AND YET WE REALLY SUFFER. We live in hope. But we also live with the present-day realities of suffering, loss, disease, decay, separation and death. These are not just physical realities; they are often experienced in relationships or changes. Our church--and individuals and families within our faith fellowship--currently grapple what seems like more than a fair share of these realities. I am aware that while I offer “daily doses of hope,” some folks are reeling with unsought grief. Advent and Christmas call to the most hopeful places in our souls, and yet this season seems to compound grief for those of our community who have suffered loss or who are grappling with affliction or separation.

UNRESOLVED GRIEF. Yesterday, I described the importance of dealing decisively with the past, particularly with sins. Grief is an altogether different challenge than sin. But unhealed grief and unaddressed woundedness from heart-wrenching losses can cast a heavy shadow over the horizon, distorting a healthy sense of the future. One of the tough things about grief is that we cannot plan for it or know just how significantly a loss is making an impact on us until we’re in the middle of it. Once we realize we are grieving some kind of significant loss, however, we can begin to gain perspective and receive help for the journey we are on.

GRIEF TAKES TIME. Confessing sin and accepting complete forgiveness for sins usually brings immediate relief and restoration (Read Psalm 32 and 51). But acknowledging grief, receiving God’s comfort and cleaving to the promises of God’s Word does not usually bring immediate relief and recovery. Grief takes time. A person who is going through it is often described as doing “grief work.” Elizabeth Kubler-Ross famously delineated observable stages of grief: denial, bargaining, guilt, anger, depression, acceptance and hope. We can’t rush the grieving process, but we can find gracious hand-holds and guidance all the way through.

YOU WILL GRIEVE. Grief is not foreign to Jesus. “A man of sorrows and familiar with suffering” (Isaiah 53:3), he counseled his disciples to anticipate grief. Preparing them for the time when he would be taken from them, Jesus declared: “You will grieve” (John 16:20). Christians are not immune from grief. Beware of those who proclaim that the emotions and suffering exemplified in grief are “not of faith.” Beware of those who seem to live in perpetual denial of this emotional and spiritual reality.

NOT WITHOUT HOPE. On the other hand, it is true that those who have faith and hope in Jesus Christ grieve differently than those who have no such faith-based hope. This is Paul’s important counsel to the Thessalonians. Christ’s resurrection changes the trajectory of our grief from resignation and despair to hope. In light of confidence in Christ’s resurrection power and promise, grief is not a journey we need fear.

GRIEF TURNS TO JOY. Finally, Jesus promises his disciples: “Your grief will turn to joy” (John 16:20-22). Unparalleled suffering will eventually be followed by surpassing joy. Grief counselors tell us that hope eventually emerges for those who are going through grief. It doesn’t happen all at once, but it does come.

REFLECTING JESUS' CARE. Maybe you’re not going through grief right now. If not, you can be an encouragement to someone who is. Your prayers of intercession and acts of comfort and care speak strongly in reflection of Christ’s care. They are a living reminder of God’s presence and promises to those who are suffering. God bless you as you are faithful in comfort and compassion.

GRIEF & HOPE IN TENSION. We often hold grief and hope in tension, experiencing both in close proximity. We are people who learn to mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice. We can do so because we hold fast to the grace of hope that God has given us through faith in Jesus Christ.

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