Recently, I have found myself in a frustrating situation.
I'm earnestly and eagerly asking God to give me some guidance about my future. To this point, I don't have any idea what is next, or when 'next' is going to arrive in my life. It's an experience we all have a different points in our lives. For me, it's the second time in 5 years I've had an extended stay at this point. It's definitely not my favorite.
I've had many generous and kind people tell me with absolute confidence that God has something good for me and my family next. I appreciate each and every person who says this, because I know they care about me.
But the substance of what they say is conflicting to me. Let me explain why:
God doesn't owe me anything.
If God wants to give me a great, shiny new position, great!
But if I have to take a job at my local gas station to make ends meet (something I'm not expecting, btw), this doesn't take anything away from who God is.
There are no scriptural promises that I'm going to get a job I like, or one that connects with my personal desires and purposes in life. Trust me, I've looked for those scriptures.
If my talking like this scares or frustrates you because it sounds like a lack of faith, you're in good company. My wife would agree with you.
But here's the thing: I'm not suffering a crisis of faith. I know without a doubt that God loves me and my family and the Church and the world. I've been staying open with God in my prayer and scripture reading and other habits designed to keep me growing closer to Jesus.
I just find that when there's something I want God to do, I often set myself up for frustration - which is totally unfair because I can't create obligations for God to meet, then get upset when God doesn't meet them.
To reiterate: I want a super awesome job that lets me serve my passion in life - to strengthen and expand the Body of Christ. But just because I want that, it doesn't mean God has to give it to me.
And if I place my faith or my hope in that result, I can end up mad at God, who never promised to fulfill that "want".
I was talking about this with a good friend recently and he asked me a good question: what's the difference between having hope in God during a time like this and just putting expectations on God?
"What's the difference between having hope in God during a difficult time and simply putting expectations on God?"
One of my personal guidelines is, "Expectations are a killer". But I also don't want to go through life without any hope.
Hope is clearly supposed to be an important part of a life of faith. According to Paul, it's one of the three most important things in life.
David said, "I would have lost heart, unless I had believed
That I would see the goodness of the Lord
In the land of the living."
Isaiah famously wrote, "but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint."
So what's the difference between hope and just making a list that I want God to complete?
I believe the key lies in the book of Romans.
Paul writes this in chapter 5:
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.
Then he follows that up with this in chapter 8:
Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.” No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.
To summarize, tough times build our hope of salvation, which will not disappoint; and when things go bad, God still loves us and we can look forward to an "overwhelming victory", which I believe refers once again to salvation.
Tough times build our hope of salvation, which will not disappoint; and when things go bad, God still loves us.
Honestly, while I'm frustrated that God hasn't "fixed" my situation to this point, I'm so grateful that nothing can take away the salvation he has earned for me. I'm probably more grateful for God's love than I am when skies are blue and everything is wonderful.
My faith is getting stronger, not weaker - but it's not based on what I want God to do for me. It's not based on expectations I would love to have God fulfill for me.
Maybe all those people are right and God's got something really big and awesome coming my way. If that happens, fire up some dance music and I'll get my groove on!
But if that doesn't happen - if I don't get what I want from God, I'm going to know that:
- God loves me, my family the Church and the world.
- God is working everything together for good (Romans 8:28)
- God is making all things new again - fixing the brokenness in this world. (Revelation 21:5)
- Because of Jesus, I'm going to see a resurrected life after life after death. (1 Corinthians 15:20)
I certainly hope God blesses me with a job that lets me pour into it all that I am, but I will not place my hope somewhere that it may become a huge let down. Now, if I feel God tell me something, that's different, I have placed hope in specific promises I felt God has given me in the past.
Now, I want to be clear that I believe God has a plan for each of us. I do not believe God has any wasted sons or daughters. I've written elsewhere about finding that purpose.
But in absence of knowing that plan at any given point in your life (God certainly does not tell me all of the plans for my life ahead of time), I can always have hope in God's love, salvation, redemption and resurrection!
And if I truly have hope in those things, I can have joy no matter what my circumstances look like. This, I believe, is why Paul could write about joy while he was in prison, and why shipwrecks, beatings, stonings and knowledge of his impending execution couldn't rob him of that joy.
Paul didn't place his hope in his own comfort or convenience - God certainly never promises that to us. Paul placed his hope in unshakeable foundations.
We must remember that we follow a messiah who was murdered, as were nearly all of his immediate followers. If our hope is solely in what we can get out of this life, we're going to miss the primary promises that have empowered men and women throughout history to be willing to advance the Gospel through their lives or their deaths.
Next time you find yourself frustrated or angry at God or life or other people - remind yourself of the things you can always have hope in. Let that hope be an anchor upon which you are able to handle whatever comes your way!