Real hope

It is hard for us not to envy people who have good things happen to them. When something good happens to a friend or family member, we can sometimes become bitter with a “Why not me?” attitude. How do you react when something amazing happens in the life of one of your friends? How did God’s blessings for a friend benefit you?

Consider the life of Zechariah and Elizabeth in Luke 1. There is nothing extraordinary about this couple. He was a priest of God, but not the high priest. They were godly people, but not nobility. In fact, with no children to succeed him, Zechariah was looked down upon, until Elizabeth was found with child. Notice the reputation he had unfairly garnered because of their circumstances:

“Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.” – Luke 1:25

But Zechariah and Elizabeth forgot something – something we seem to have forgotten as well: God does not need extraordinary people to do extraordinary things. Don’t think for a minute that you are not ordinary enough for God to use to change the world!

This childless couple was viewed as suffering some divine judgment, for that is what a lot of the world believes when a person who is trying to be godly is not blessed. There must be some sin. But then, there was hope. There was the promise of a child. An angel visited Zechariah and made this unbelievable announcement. Now a real hope existed for Zechariah and Elizabeth, a hope that would make it possible to overcome the hurdles that life placed before them. Notice what this hope involved:

  • Their patience had been tested. Were they willing to wait, to tolerate delays, to let God’s events unfold in their own way?
  • Their wait required courage. Did they have a quiet confidence that even when facing the unknown and the unexpected, they remained optimistic?
  • Their lives required persistence. Could they remain determined enough to keep going no matter what the circumstances and how bleak they may have appeared?

The reactions of Zechariah and Elizabeth are telling. Initially, he doubted the message. An angel testified to this miracle, and yet Zechariah doubted. The angel miraculously muted Zechariah – he could not speak – as proof that what the divine message was true. Human reason told Zechariah this was not possible, and so he listened. But God was involved! This was beyond her wildest dream, because neither of them, initially, understood what really hoping in God entailed.

Godly hope is not what we expect to happen, it is what we would never even dream. Godly hope is way beyond our expectations. It is a moment that seems surreal, when we might guess we are dreaming, but we are not. Godly hope is manifest to great people throughout God’s word… Abraham, looking down lovingly through failing eyes, not at his grandson, but at his son (Genesis 21:3); Moses peering out over the Promised Land, not with Aaron or even from Pisgah, but with Jesus and Elijah as they are transfigured (Matthew 17:1-3); Zechariah staring speechless at an old and graying Elizabeth, pregnant after so many years of trying (Luke 1:24); two men of Emmaus reaching out to take a piece of bread from a stranger, and suddenly noticing that His hands are pierced (Luke 24:13-31)! Hope is not a favor from God. It is having the patience, courage, and persistence to believe in a God so powerfully that we expect Him to do things that confound us. Unfortunately, our view of hope is often different. In our minds, hopes are things that are reasonable and even likely to occur. Dreams are things we wish were possible, but we doubt them. But if we doubt God will fulfill our deepest longings, what does that say about us? Do we doubt God’s ability, or His will? Do we doubt that God can do something? Or do we doubt that God will do something?

It is a shame we think of God in such limited ways. We must recognize that there is a difference between expecting God to be faithful, and anticipating the specific ways that He will demonstrate His faithfulness. Zechariah and Elizabeth prayed fervently for a child, and believed that God could answer their prayers. But when the time came for God to answer, the way that God answered their prayers was disappointing, because it did not fit their idea of how God should bring this about.

We have hopes and dreams, and sometimes we are disappointed with how God brings things about. Yet like Zechariah and Elizabeth, we can’t see the whole picture like God can, and we can’t fully understand what God is trying to do through His providential care for us.

So what can we learn from Zechariah and Elizabeth? We can expect God to be faithful when He promises care for us. But we shouldn’t place limits on God when we anticipate how He will provide this care. When life seemed most hopeless for Zechariah and Elizabeth, God stepped in and showed them what real hope is all about.

Do you think that the difficult and frustrating life you have at times is because God has abandoned you? God is working out His plan for all those who love Him (Romans 8:28), and it will redound to our eternal benefit, no matter what things in this life may seem to imply about our discipleship. Renew your hope that He can change your life in ways you never imagined.

May grace reign in your life through righteousness.

– Bo Couchman

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