By Shane Bennett
Month after month, year after year, beyond the bounds of a decade, every “prayer and praise” list on my friend’s missionary letter started with this request: “Please pray with us for one family to follow Jesus.” This friend is one of the best people I know. He worked hard, pursued friends relentlessly, learned a tough language, and held on for a long time with a young and growing family. A border dispute between his home country and his adopted one resulted in his visa evaporating and his return home without a single family having followed Jesus as a result of his labor. Not one.
How do you hold onto hope through that? I don’t know. My friend is a much better person than I am. But hold on he did. And now, as a silver lining to the devastatingly black cloud over sections of the Middle East, he’s getting reports from among the people he was serving. Ones and twos reading the Bible. A dozen baptized this week. Families beginning to follow Jesus. Not just one, but many!
When Hoping Is Hard
Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life (Proverbs 13:12).
If you find yourself in the first half of that famous proverb and honestly wondering if the second half will ever happen for you, you are not alone. If you find your vision for God’s purposes taking on water and threatening to slip below the waves, you are not alone. If you wonder if God’s kingdom will come, if the good news of Jesus will ever make it to thousands of remaining unreached peoples, you are not alone.
A pastor friend of mine once confessed, “If I were ever to leave the faith, it would be because it’s been around so long and the world still looks as it does.” I can relate to that. I wish that the impact of God’s kingdom was already more pervasive.
Sometimes I walk among groups of people in my own country and see the sadness on their faces and bodies bent with worry and pain, and I wonder, “Where is the kingdom? When will it come?” And mind you, it’s not lost on me, this is in America; one of the healthiest, richest, opportunity-laden cultures in history. In many places, people struggle for day-to-day survival in ways I’ll never understand. Where is the kingdom?
I don’t want to be one of the scoffers Peter quotes in chapter three of his second letter, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:4). But sometimes hoping is hard.
So what can we do? At the risk of being trite, may I float out four things that help me?
1. Hold onto the Bible and a smart God.
Peter goes on to say, “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
God knows what he is doing and his timetable is not mine.
2. Encourage light where ever you see it.
For years I’ve prayed for reunification of the Koreas, that doors would open and the hope of the gospel flood the North. As I write, something new is afoot on the peninsula, maybe something huge. So I’m strengthening my hope by praying that today will be the day, that this is the answer to so many people’s prayers.
Where you see the smallest smoldering spark, encourage it to flame with the breath of your prayers.
3. Trade up on your hope.
Sometimes, perhaps in an effort to defer heart sickness, we only allow ourselves small and anemic hopes. I wonder if God finds our hopes too small. Maybe we should go after something bigger than not being “left behind.”
Can I share a big hope brewing in my heart? I’m scheming and dreaming for a huge move of God among immigrants and refugees in the Italian city of Catania. In the midst of great suffering and despair, I’m asking God to raise up six to eight churches who will focus their efforts over the next three to five years on sparking disciple-making movements among refugees in Catania.
If that sounds like a fun sandbox to you, hit me up for the dream sheet.
4. Follow Jesus with some friends.
Rarely will everyone in your posse find themselves without hope at the same time. As Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.”
As you can imagine, it’s smart to build your posse before you really need them. And when you’re full of hope, let it leak out on them!
God will accomplish his purposes: From the audacious “blessing to all families” promise to Abraham to the kaleidoscopic worship John sees in Revelation 5:9, what God has promised, he will do. Don’t give up. It doesn’t look exactly like we’d hoped, but it will end up better than we can imagine.
Photo: Long Chung, Flikr.