by Steven Gledhill for FREEdom from MEdom Project
“Expectation is the root of all heartache.” —William Shakespeare
Of course, we have all been disappointed a whole bunch in our lives. Something didn’t work out. It didn’t come on time. Someone let us down. They weren’t there for us like we’d hoped they would be. It didn’t go the way we hoped it would. A promise was broken. It feels like we’re always waiting for something good to come our way. Rejected again. It’s as if time and hope has betrayed us.
What really does it mean to have hope, or to hope for something? What is it to feel hopeful, or hopeless, for that matter? What can be more dreadful than the feeling of hopelessness… that the thing hoped for is forever out of reach, beyond your grasp, despite the exhaustive effort doing all that you could?
Before going any further, perhaps we can define hope. According to Dictionary.com, hope is defined as follows:
So the conclusion to be drawn from the explanations of what hope is, is that to put hope into a thing, event, or person, is to make an investment into it. To invest into something is to expect a return on it. Investment typically associates with it expectation. Once we invest emotion into the thing, event, or person that we are placing are hope in—our trust; our confidence; our belief—we are vulnerable to disappointment due to unmet (failed) expectations. This is the reality of the human experience from the outset.
Hope deferred is at the center of all disappointment, pain and suffering. It is the enemy of a contented, satisfied life. Hope deferred is the empty void that is the polar opposite of fulfillment. Hope deferred promotes heartache and stress. And the heartache of hope deferred comes in so many forms, shapes and sizes.
A cheerful heart is good medicine,
but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength. Proverbs 17:22 (NLT)
We who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us…
This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. Hebrews 6:18-19 (NLT)
Scrat is the squirrel in the Ice Age movie series that seems to epitomize deferred hope. He wants that nut so very badly. He works so hard to attain the prize; unimaginable effort is required to overcome so many arduous obstacles. He is relentless in his pursuit to lay hold of the thing he covets. What is it going to take? One becomes heartsick for the little guy.
“Do we reach for nothing in life because our reaching opens us up to tragedy? Because of its vulnerable nature, desire begins to feel like our worst enemy… Hope rouses the desire from its slumber and makes us even more vulnerable to disappointment.” —John Eldredge
What is it in your life that seems to be out of reach that tends to make your heart a little, or a lot, sick when you really think about it? Is it the everything-you-want-for-your-family kind of thing that you cannot quite grasp? Is it the life that you want for your children that you cannot seem to get them fully on board with? Is it professional success, or financial freedom? Or, is perhaps the work of becoming and feeling more healthy that can be overwhelming?
So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. Hebrews 4:14-16 (NLT)
Scripture tells us that Jesus is uniquely qualified as our advocate before the Father since He during His time in the flesh experienced everything common to the human experience—physically, emotionally, and even spiritually. Can you think of events in the Gospels when even Jesus experienced sickness of heart because of deferred hope?
There was the garden experience when Jesus was tempted understandably by human desire to change the plan He was originally a part of from the foundation of creation that required Him to be sacrificed in response to my free will to choose against the will of God. There is the crucifixion that lead to the severing of fellowship with the Father; and there was three days of who knows what that likely included condemnation for my sin and yours.
There may also be deferred hope in the human-like spirit of Jesus today in anticipation of the time of perfection when we will all join Him in glory. There might even be the deferred hope for eternity while separated from those who rejected Him that may leave a portion of the heart of Jesus forever sick. It is in that vein that perhaps even Jesus, fully God, identifies with yearning for something even He can never have; fellowship with His sons and daughters who have rejected relationship with Him, and have therefore aligned themselves with their sins, the same sins condemned with Jesus in His crucifixion until His resurrection. I think I need to appreciate that more about my Lord.
The event I have in mind, however, is the time when Jesus would bring Lazarus back from paradise where he had realized the dream fulfilled having entered into the life and time of perfection with his Lord. Jesus brought him back and was not happy about it. Sure He was happy for his family and friends but I surmise that the heart of Jesus ached for Lazarus. In fact, the Gospel of John tells us that Jesus was deeply angered and troubled; perhaps because Lazarus would return to suffer in a life wrought with oppression and so much disappointment.
32 When Mary arrived and saw Jesus, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
They told him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Then Jesus wept. 36 The people who were standing nearby said, “See how much he loved him!” 37 But some said, “This man healed a blind man. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?”
38 Jesus was still angry as he arrived at the tomb, a cave with a stone rolled across its entrance. 39 “Roll the stone aside,” Jesus told them.
But Martha, the dead man’s sister, protested, “Lord, he has been dead for four days. The smell will be terrible.”
40 Jesus responded, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?” 41 So they rolled the stone aside. Then Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. 42 You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.” 43 Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!” John 11:32-44 (NLT)
It is often taught that Jesus may have been angry or frustrated at the lack of faith of his closest followers. I struggle with that. Except for the disciples, most had not seen a resurrection. His disciples had seen a young girl (the daughter of Jairus) resurrected that had been dead for a minute but Lazarus had been in a tomb for four days. I have to believe that the Son of God was bigger and deeper and more compassionate than someone who would be angry that believers doubted the possibility of resurrection; having seen their brother and friend suffer into death.
While Jesus could have been human enough to be a little bit unnerved when confronted by Mary (the sister of Lazarus), I do not for a moment believe he was deeply angry with her or anyone else. I don’t think he was mad at anyone. I think he was angry at evil and death and that he had regret about bringing Lazarus from the life of the dream fulfilled back into the sickness of deferred hope—considering that Lazarus will die yet again.. I believe that being deeply angered and troubled comes from his own deferred hope making his own heart sick. It’s in that sense that I believe Jesus brought Lazarus from life back into death—from resurrected new life back to the sin-infested process of imminent physical death.
“I don’t know if we can fully know the answer to why Jesus was deeply troubled; angry. But I do know this: If anyone who has walked this earthly sod understood the chasm between where most people are living and the “life that is truly life”, it’s Jesus.” —Fran Leeman
If you’re familiar with the Ice Age movies, then you may remember that Scrat the squirrel has, in his pursuit of the ever-so precious chestnut, perished from a fall while chasing his dream. Being that it’s a movie directed at children, it is more subtle than obvious that Scrat did not survive the fall. Scrat is seen in the scene below in squirrel heaven where his treasure abounds without end. His hope is realized; his dream fulfilled. And then… (watch the scene below to catch the parallel of what may have been the experience of Lazarus.)
There was probably a festive celebration for the return of Lazarus. Jesus likely attended. But only Jesus and Lazarus would experience the heartache of deferred hope now that Lazarus knew what he was missing. Having been present with the Lord, Lazarus would understand better than anyone the fulfillment of the promise of the inheritance. Jesus loved Lazarus so much, I believe it broke his heart to bring Lazarus back into the evil and death of the world. It is the death and hate in the world that stinks so bad. Deeply distressed about it, Jesus wept for his friend. (For a deeper study of this read If I Only Knew Then What I Know Now)
Lazarus had a treasure-troth of goodness in the palm of his hands. It was all right there. And then, like Scrat getting sucked out of squirrel heaven, Lazarus was sucked out of the very essence of life in glory, in sweet fellowship with his Lord and the saints, to return to earth and chase an unattainable nut until he would suffer in his trying and die yet again before returning home to the paradise he most loved. I believe Jesus was deeply disturbed about needing to bring that about for Lazarus. He understood it was necessary to recover a people that needed to believe in something more than the nut they’ve been chasing.
Are you dreaming?
I had not until recently even considered going deeper into the matter of hope. Then I attended a workshop in the western suburbs of Chicago by Margaret Nagib, Psy.D. called From Hoping to Coping. Since then, the matter about what hope is and what hope is not, has revisited my mind on a number of occasions.
I recently had a conversation with the Director of the agency where I work about following my dream. I shared with him an interest of mine and he immediately sensed that I was talking about something bigger than just another opportunity. He said that there isn’t anyone who can tell him not to follow an pursue his dream. Not his wife; not his best friend; not his employer; no one. He encouraged me to follow my dream; my life’s calling.
What is your dream today? What are you hoping for?
Remember that… Hope defined is “to want something to happen or be true and think that it could happen or be true.” Included in its definition is “to cherish a desire with anticipation”; “to desire with expectation of obtainment”; and “to expect with confidence”; meaning “to trust in”.
Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory. We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. Romans 5:1-5 (NLT)
So where does the problem lie? Why doesn’t this promise just solve everything for me? Why do I worry? Why am I anxious? Why so stressed? Why the heartache?
The deeper questions that need to be asked are these:
What really is it that defers hope? Why might be in the way of realizing that which I hope for? If what I hope for is the thing most highly esteemed, treasured, cherished, valued; then what is it that I am finding along the way that deters me in my pursuit of the dream?
(Author’s note: You will see that I write here in the first person. As you read, please read the following in the first person, attempting to gauge how it might apply to you.)
I can do all things in the strength of my relationship with Jesus, and indeed His grace is sufficient for me. So why do I ever doubt in the hope I have living within the confines of this transcendent reality of my life in Christ? Is it just me?
We are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. Philippians 3:20 (NLT)
Stuck in the Mud
The answer to these questions really is quite obvious when I dare to really think about it. It would appear that as long as I live in the human reality of this age, I have been set free from sin by the generous sacrifice of Jesus, bathed in grace, but my feet are still trudging through the mud, and I find myself preoccupied with how to move and get around in the mud. I become stuck until my heart grows sick. Especially when I know in my heart that, at least in theory, I have been set free. My focus of who I am in relationship with Jesus blurs until I do not even recognize that about myself.
“No,” Peter protested, “you will never ever wash my feet!”
Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me.”
Simon Peter exclaimed, “Then wash my hands and head as well, Lord, not just my feet!”
Jesus replied, “A person who has bathed all over does not need to wash, except for the feet, to be entirely clean. And you disciples are clean, but not all of you.” For Jesus knew who would betray him. That is what he meant when he said, “Not all of you are clean.” John 13:8-11 (NLT)
Peter the disciple wanted for Jesus to wash him from head to toe, not understanding that in relationship with Christ he was in a good place; in good standing in the favor of the Lord God. By the grace of God, Peter was a citizen of heaven. Jesus told Peter that he didn’t need a bath; that only his feet were dirty. So Jesus graciously washed Peter’s feet clean.
Peter’s hope was tied to a man he needed to believe in. Peter, a Jewish man, tried tirelessly as a fisherman to raise his family under the tyranny of a supremacist government that didn’t have much use for him or his kind. Peter came into a relationship with Jesus Christ, and in Jesus was birthed Peter’s dream that would bring an end to reckless injustice and ring in freedom and the blessing of living under the reign of a just loving righteous king.
Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. Hebrews 11:1 (NLT)
Jesus spoke of needing to die so that mankind could live forever but Peter did not understand the good news in those words. Peter understood that Jesus was the Savior for him and his people against Roman oppression but that dream of better days would not be possible if the Savior is dead. It made no sense.
Then Peter witnessed his would-be king get arrested and sentenced to death. Jesus promised resurrection but only Jesus had the power to raise the dead. How could Jesus do that if he himself was dead? Who would resurrect Jesus?
Oh how Peter would struggle with that. Peter would again walk in some mud. Hope deferred made Peter’s heart very sick. The same man who walked on water with Jesus would struggle again in the mud to the point that he denied even knowing Jesus when overcome by the doubt of his experience; losing hope as his dream of freedom under the rule of a loving king died with Jesus.
Peter would be sick for a few more days until his hope was reborn as his dream came back to life. The substance of his hope was fulfilled in the evidence of the resurrection of his loving king. It wouldn’t even matter that Jesus would leave him again since this time the Spirit of the king would come in and live inside the mind and will of the man and all men and women that believe. While this king was not visible to the eye, his presence was manifest in the real-life experiences of believers. As it was then, it is now.
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1 (NKJV)
Peter would be so certain in his relationship with God in the person of Jesus Christ that he would realize the presence of God to the extent that the experience of miracles was realized through the ministry of Peter; all done under the authority of the Father as powerful as it was through the ministry of his predecessor, Jesus himself. Peter would live the rest of his life in the realization of his dream fulfilled since he functioned as a citizen of heaven; not at all preoccupied with the mud his feet were in. As he died a martyr—himself crucified (upside down), while it was most certainly physical torture, Peter prepared in his spirit to meet the loving king he had served in the power and authority of the Holy Spirit. His dream fulfilled was his tree of new life.
The same Spirit that lived in Peter some two thousand years ago is alive in me, and is alive in you through a relationship with the loving king, Jesus Christ. So why don’t I live each day with the confidence that comes through hope realized in the experience of being in relationship with Jesus as a citizen of heaven? Jesus Christ by His Spirit lives in me. Since Jesus is with me and within me, who can be against me that stands any chance of taking anything from me? Why do I fear? What do I fear? Why the doubt? Why the lack of faith? What’s missing in me that Peter fully understood and experienced years before he died?
When you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago. The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. Ephesians 1:13-14 (NLT)
I have experienced the presence of God by way of His Spirit alive within me. I am confident that I am in real relationship with God through His Son, Jesus Christ. I have the guarantee of the promised inheritance purchased by way of Christ’s sacrifice for my sin.
Are you getting this so far, because I am getting to the point.
The sickness in my heart is tied to my sin. It is forgiven sin, but sin nonetheless. My sin nature is by nature dysfunctional in its addictive quality. So while I do confess my sin and God is faithful and just to forgive my sin (1 John 1:9)—meaning that when I confess my sin, God has to forgive me since the debt for it was paid by the sacrifice of His Son.
The issue then is not my standing in relationship with Christ. The issue at hand is the conflict within me that leaves me feeling unworthy. Scripture declares that you and I are worthy of the inheritance through the gracious gift of Christ’s sacrifice. However, I am holding on to the shame of my sin and for some reason cannot seem to let it go.
The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate… If I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it…
I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Excerpts from Romans 7:14-25 (NLT)
While I do take some comfort that Apostle Paul wrote all that about my ambivalence to doing what is right and best, I am all too willing to settle for instant gratification to remedy my need. It is this conflict that robs me of the experience of the peace and joy that comes from the realized hope of the abundant life that Jesus promised. It is in my ambivalence (internal disagreement between conflicting desires and motivations) that I have conflict and am resistant to going all the way in my recovery from sin addiction. It is in the resistance to repentance that I am disobedient to right best living that is the product of humbly surrendering my will—my intentions, motives, and desires—and my life—my decisions, behavior, and circumstances—to the will and care of the living God.
The Desire Conflict
Break it all down and there is the conflict inherent in human desire, which, until the perfect comes (Philippians 2, 1 Corinthians 13) and I am walking the streets of gold in glory with Jesus, is selfish and driven by self-centered intentions. This is the truth physiologically, psychologically, and spiritually. My cognitive make up is such that I want what I want when I want it. And there are judgment centers of my brain that attempt to suggest that I don’t, that I shouldn’t, that I stop, or at least that I wait. These are neurological inhibitors helping me to use caution. However, they too are motivated by selfish intentions.
Apostle Paul wrote about doing what he did not want to do, and not doing what he did want to do. When it comes right down to it, no one does anything they don’t in some way want to do. I might not want to get up to go to work and will say that “I have to get up and go to work”, but what is really going on is that I want not to experience the consequence of not getting up to go to work, and therefore in the end actually do want to get up….. And so I do just that.
Even Paul got something out of doing what he claims he did not want to do—some kind of perceived benefit—so he wanted something out of the deal. Same thing with the claim of not doing what he wanted to do. There was some degree of perceived benefit to what he did instead. What he did was chase and settle for the instant gratification that was the object of his desire, motivated by selfish intentions contrary to the will of God.
There are contrasting definitions of the word ‘desire’. According to Dr. Nagib there is the subject of desire as the wishing of the heart longing and hoping for something grand and ultimately satisfying; and there is the object of desire that is at the center of what the mind craves and covets.
Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death. James 1:14-15 (NLT)
Desire in accordance with the will of God leads to the positive outcome of peace and joy in the fulfillment of something met through the resources of the One who has it all to give, meeting and exceeding every expectation as the resources of God are limitless and unending. Desire in accordance with the will of man leads to the negative outcome of instant gratification that at its best is fleeting until the realization of unmet expectation sinks in since the object of such desire proves dissatisfying in time; every time.
Dr. Nagib explained that the object of desire—a lustful covetous appetite—according to the will of man is the demise of mankind in the end. Of course Scripture supports this so powerfully when Paul writes…
I have told you often before, and I say it again with tears in my eyes, that there are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ. They are headed for destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth. But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control. Philippians 3:18-20 (NLT)
Those enemies of the cross of Christ lack the constitution for repentance since their lustful covetous cravings for this life here on earth, full of unmet expectation and unfulfilled appetite, are reliant on their lust for control. Feeding on the illusion that they are in control is what finally results in their demise… or as Paul put it, their destruction.
Surrendering control that I never really had in the first place is liberating since it isn’t given over to the wind to blow away, or into the sea to drown, or into the flames to burn, it rests in the promise of the hope that is the bridge to freedom and happiness under the sovereign authority of the Savior who is in complete control.
When Paul writes that he did what he did not want to do in the seventh chapter of Romans, I believe what he is saying is that he settled for instant gratification under what he felt he could control in the moment, forsaking the longing of his heart; that being the life-giving satisfaction in the far bigger picture of all that is under the control of Jesus Christ.
Why settle? Why did he and why do I stoop to seeking gratification in the earthly objects of fleshly desire that leads to problems when I can literally dwell and abide in the experience of relationship with God, living in the realized hope of life with Jesus for an eternity… and then another eternity… and another after that… an eternity of eternity.
That sounds so great, right? So then, why do I forsake or put off great for what is good enough… right now? Is that not the deferred hope that makes my heart sick… settling for just good enough, because hope for the time of perfection to come is not tangible enough for my selfish mind to comprehend?
Communion with God through relationship with Christ is the treasure. It’s in plain sight. What was once hidden was brought to the surface into the light of a new day in the resurrection of Jesus. So why do I have a tendency to ignore the glory of new life in Jesus and continue digging for something already given to me? Why do I settle for the little gems of this life in the flesh that lead me to sin all the more? What is it about digging all over the yard that defers my experiencing the hope of glory in the full restoration into the wholeness of new life in Jesus?
What I am about to reveal to you, if you are fearlessly honest with yourself, will not be a shock to you. It will makes sense to your intellectual sensibilities. But emotionally is unsettling. It is the thing that can feel ugly inside. For me, it is the ugliness that leaves me feeling unworthy and heartsick; not that I am ever worthy of God’s favor, but do I feel unworthy of favor and blessing in the pondering of this thing.
So what is another word for the earthly objects of desire that prove to obstruct my view of the subject of my spiritual desire, the longing for the eternal plan and purpose of God to be fulfilled in my experience? Are you ready for it?
I don’t want to hear it, see it, or write it either.
The word for the object of my earthly desire is….. idol. That’s exactly what it is… a false god placed in front of God. It is my compulsion for satisfaction on my terms from an entitled condition of my soul. It’s why Paul did what he didn’t want to do and didn’t do what he wanted to do. Like Paul, that is a real problem for me. You too?
You worship your idols with great passion… You worship them with liquid offerings and grain offerings… You have put pagan symbols on your doorposts and behind your doors. You have left me and climbed into bed with these detestable gods. You have committed yourselves to them. You love to look at their naked bodies… You grew weary in your search, but you never gave up. Desire gave you renewed strength, and you did not grow weary… excerpts from Isaiah 57 (NLT)
“I was so obsessed with me and the reasons that I might be dissatisfied that I couldn’t focus on other people… What I trace this to is a certain selfishness on my part.” —Barack Obama
“Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them.” Jonah 2:8 (NIV)
The power of repentance comes in the putting away of childish things and regaining perspective on what it is all about. It is in this sincere act of repentance that the mercies of God are new every morning. (I wrote “sincere repentance” but insincere repentance is not possible since it is not repentance at all. What is possible, I suppose, is insincere confession.)
The Hope of the Surrendered Life
“Happiness and rest are what all men pursue. But the things of the world, wherein most men seek it, can never afford it; they are laboring and spending themselves in vain. But Christ invites you to come to Him and offers you this peace, which He gives His true followers, and that so much excels all that the world can afford.” —Jonathon Edwards
What things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ. Philippians 3:7-8 (NKJV)
I won’t speak for anyone else, but I so struggle with this. For I know that I trust in things far too much and too often to appreciate what I have and who I am in relationship with Christ. It is my trust in things that I believe defers my hope for that which is eternally satisfying. What it takes, though, is counting all of these things as loss for the excellence—the satisfaction—of what is possible, today—right now—in this life surrendered to God.
Deferred hope as it is chasing contentment in the stuff of my flesh makes my heart grow sick since the outcome of trusting in it is lacking and left wanting. I need to keep what God told the prophet Isaiah says in chapter 57 about trusting in the things in this earthly life that I have erected as idols; objects of human desire obstructing my view of the subject of what I long for…
“Let’s see if your idols can save you when you cry to them for help. Why, a puff of wind can knock them down! If you just breathe on them, they fall over! But whoever trusts in Me will inherit the land and possess My holy mountain (the best of God’s stuff).” Isaiah 57:13 (NLT)
When I say things, I am also speaking of relationships and circumstances that when I perceive are outside of the scope of what I believe I can control inevitably bring on anxiety and stress. But, oh, the difficulty of letting it go in obedient surrender in relationship with my Savior; not because it is required to be free of anxiety and stress, but because it is good and best for me to let go and surrender all things. They were never in my control in the first place. But what do I know?
Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses (is better than) all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:4-7 (NKJV)
So, if hope deferred makes the heart sick, and dreams fulfilled is central to a happy life, and as Paul wrote, the Lord Jesus Christ is involved right now (“the Lord is at hand”), then it is time to be celebrating that. This passage is not a command to stop being anxious (I can’t just turn it off) , it is a call to rejoice! Let me say it again… it is a call to rejoice! If I could actually get that, perhaps I wouldn’t be so reluctant to give up my stuff. If I let it go, it only makes sense that I am releasing with my stuff the anxiety and stress attached to it; opening the door to sustainable peace and joy.
Jesus said that the devil hopes to manipulate me through guile and deception so that I will focus so much on myself that I take my eyes off the prize, unable to see the forest for the trees. If I am consumed with what I want and then when I don’t get it I get uncomfortable, I will settle for an immediate remedy that is ‘good enough’ and ‘better than it was’.
The Hope of the Satisfied Life
The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. John 10:10
The best that Jesus has for me is the abundant life found in the tree of life in relationship with Him. The problem with receiving this blessing is that my hands are so full of my things that I obtained on my own in my strength, I am unable to receive what He is handing me. Worse than that is that I need only to let go and lay down my burden but I am unwilling since I have lost focus. What I am carrying is stacked so high that I don’t even recognize what God wants and has for me. And sadly, if what I am carrying was food, it would be a whole lot of empty calories with no nutritional value. What God has for me and for you is His very best.
Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? Matthew 6:27 (NLT)
Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. Matthew 6:21 (NLT)
Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Matthew 6:33 (NKJV)
The longer I dwell on this topic the more I understand that deferred hope is misdirected desire. The longer I perceive that I am content with my remedy for increasing discomfort, the more of a malcontent I become. The more I focus on my problem of what is missing the more I miss out on what God wants and has for me. He wants to bless me with his best while I continue to settle for blessing myself with what I can come up with, and the more I worry about what I cannot control and have never controlled. The more I struggle with what I cannot control the more I treasure the remedy I desire to address my growing dissatisfaction.
Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Romans 7:24 (NLT)
Then I am like the disciple Peter who denied his Lord and Savior, even though he loved Jesus, because he no longer knew Him and could not trust in what he didn’t know and understand. Peter had sunk so deep into the mud of his own pain that he did not appreciate what was happening in the grand scheme of things; something so big it would change the course of history forever.
What if hell is being forever stuck in the increasing sickening heartache of deferred hope, eternally preoccupied with that which will never satisfy? What if heaven is staying focused on the prize in the person of Jesus Christ, in relationship with Him, experiencing for real and forever the dream fulfilled; the tree of life?
As I take my eyes off Jesus, stuck in the mud of all my stuff, attending to my discomfort, the less I know Him and the less I trust Him, deferring hope due to my lack of faith.
Jesus said to look higher and bigger and focus on the Kingdom of God in relationship with Him. The Kingdom of God is eternal and glorious. It is the age of resurrection into grace, and it is at hand. That means it is right now. It is immediate. It is to be experienced today; the substance of things hoped for and in its experience the evidence of things unseen (that when the time of perfection comes will be seen). It is knowing with assurance that what I long for will in fact happen. It is realized hope. I can trust it with absolute confidence.
Now when people take an oath, they call on someone greater than themselves to hold them to it. And without any question that oath is binding. God also bound himself with an oath, so that those who received the promise could be perfectly sure that he would never change his mind. So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary. Jesus has already gone in there for us. He has become our eternal High Priest (divine advocate). Hebrews 6:16-20 (NLT)
Jesus said, as a citizen of heaven, to focus on and seek by experience the Kingdom of God and experience all that is right and best while living in it… TODAY! The peace and the joy is in realizing the hope that is real and certain… the sure thing until the time of perfection comes. It is in the experience of living in the very best of this new life experience that it is at work in me beyond what I would dare to imagine or even think in my finite mind to ask.
Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Ephesians 3:20 (NLT)