hope

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Lessons from the Wasteland: Prison is Not the Same as the Wilderness

Published March 18, 2014 by joypatton

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Being in prison is not the same as wandering in the wilderness.  In Scripture, we see different characters deal with these two different challenges.  The Israelites and Elijah experienced the wilderness.  Joseph and Paul were familiar with prison.  Lately I’ve been identifying with Joseph more than the Israelites.  Unjustly accused, misunderstood, thrown away, discarded, locked up, prevented from going where I would choose to go.  I used to think that the wilderness was difficult, but prison is a whole different story.

In the wilderness, you still feel like you are moving forward.  Sure it’s slow and the steps are difficult and painful, but at least you are moving.  In prison, you don’t go anywhere.  You don’t feel like you are making any progress at all.

In the wilderness, you see the sky.  You are in a vast, expanding place.  In prison, it’s small and confusing.  There is no freedom; no illusion of freedom.  Everything you see, everywhere you turn you are reminded that you are not free.

In the wilderness, you are moving away from something bad, something that enslaved you.  Even though you dream of going back and long for the comfort of Egypt, you know that the wilderness will ultimately bring you to the promised land, a better place.  Each painful step is filled with the hope of a land flowing with milk and honey.

In prison, the good thing you had was taken away.  Joseph was taken out of a prestigious position.  Paul was taken out of his traveling ministry.  Both good things; both things given by God.  In prison, the good things were taken away without just cause, and there is no hope of a promised land.  Your only hope is early release, and years of working your way back to a good reputation.  But you have no control over when the locked door will open.  For Joseph, it opened and led to his ultimate dream.  For Paul, it opened and ended with a death sentence, which he joyfully received to enter the ultimate, eternal promised land.

You don’t really get new promises in prison.  You generally harken back to what God promised before prison. This is why it’s called faith; it’s difficult to see the promised land sitting in a dungeon cell.

In the wasteland, you know there is a purpose, a point you will eventually get to.  In prison, waiting is the point.  You feel stuck.  It’s like the progress is so slow and so small, you wonder if you are getting anywhere.

The lesson of the wilderness is to follow.  Step after painful step completely dependent on someone else to guide you.  The lesson of prison is to suffer.  To suffer joyfully.  To suffer and not lose faith.  To suffer and remain hopeful.

The wilderness and prison are both places of testing.  Testing of faith.  Prison is a test of character; you find out who you are and what you really believe when you are sitting alone in the dark.  Both test endurance and patience.

Prison makes you question what you thought you knew about yourself.  Joseph emerged from prison broken and humbled.  He was no longer the cocky kid brother boasting of his greatness.  He left a mature man who understood his fate rested solely in the hands of the sovereign God.  Paul was in prison so that he could write the words that impacted not only his generation, but many that followed.  I wonder if he would have taken time off from traveling if it hadn’t been for house arrest.  Prison is not without purpose.  Prison is not outside the presence of God.  He is still with me, and that is the hope that remains in this cold, confined space.

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Lessons from the Wasteland: Living by the Promise

Published March 26, 2013 by joypatton

“Are we going to live by what he promised or by what life gives us?”  This was the question Lloyd Shadrach posed in his sermon “He Breathed His Last.”  Right now I’m not crazy about what life is giving me and I’m finding it much easier to focus on that.  The last two years I have been writing a book, piloting a study, building a “platform,” and wholeheartedly pursuing the life of the writer/speaker I felt I was called and created to be.  I thought that would lead me to a place where I could get paid to do what I love.  But it hasn’t.  I thought I had laid the foundation beautifully and all God had to do was come in a bless it.  He hasn’t.  I have dug the ditches in anticipation of rain, but it has not rained.  I have set the sails, but the wind doesn’t blow.  So I sit in the wasteland knowing I have no ability to make it rain or make the wind blow.  I can’t make someone want to publish my book; I can’t make anyone pick up the phone and call me to speak.  So I wait in the middle of nowhere, in the wasteland, in the wilderness…at least that how it feels to me.

In the wasteland, there is death.  For me, it’s watching my dream career die, and I mean completely die.  Other times it’s the death of other dreams…dreams of marriage, dreams of having children, dreams of financial stability.  Or maybe it’s a literal death of a person or a death of a relationship.  In Luke 23, it was the death of the Son of God.  The one who represented hope to a nation.  Many watched their dream of peace and power die as Jesus hung on the cross.

Lloyd offered two “comforting” lessons from this place of mourning.  1.) God is present in our darkest moments and 2.) God doesn’t prevent the darkest moments.  Both true, yet both not exactly what I was hoping for.  In our modern Christianity, we want the doctrine that allows us to work hard enough to avoid the house of mourning all together.  We want the version where there are no more tears, and we try to make it so here on earth.  In the church, we don’t know what to do with people in mourning.  We offer trite sayings and try to see how God is going to work it all out for good.  But the truth is first there is death, painful, excruciating death.

Lloyd also said, “The essence of real hope is to lose hope in everything but Jesus and his promises.”  In his infinite mercy, God was weaning the disciples and true followers of Jesus from their false hopes of earthly peace and power.  When he died on the cross, every selfish reason they had for following Jesus had to die as well.  This is what he is doing for me.  I have lost hope in agents and publishers to help me fulfill my dream.  I’ve lost hope that building a platform will make the dream come true.  I’ve lost hope in my own ability and some days wonder if I was a fool to think I could be a writer/speaker.  And truthfully there have been very dark days when I have lost hope even in Jesus, wondering if he cared or if he loved me.

I stood in church at the end of the service praying and asking God what his promise was for me.  Often I have reminded women that the promise is his presence, that he would be with me through it all.  But last Sunday, that promise was not enough.  And then he brought to mind a different promise, one that I’m honestly afraid to share because I don’t even know if it counts as a promise.  It was I Peter 5:6 “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time.”  This one was enough; this one made me cry.

So I will hope for a resurrection.  A resurrection that will not come on my time table or in the way I think I should.  It will be a resurrection that comes exactly when God intends for it to come.  In John 11 when Lazarus died, Mary and Martha believed that Jesus had the ability to raise Lazarus from the dead, and they knew Jesus loved him.  When Martha ran out to meet Jesus, she says she believes that Lazarus will be resurrected, if not now then at the end.  Even in their own personal wasteland, they continued to hope for a resurrection.  I think Mary and Martha would have preferred Jesus to come and heal Lazarus when he heard he was sick, but he didn’t because it wasn’t time yet.  Why did Jesus wait and not go to Bethany right away?  Why did he wait until Lazarus had died?  Why did he wait for him to be buried in the tomb for three days?  “It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”  (John 11:4)

What Jesus wanted more than anything was to glorify the Father.  Because at the proper time, the resurrection will happen and no one else can take credit for it.  No one can say “he wasn’t really dead.”  No one can say “we prayed so hard and had so much faith that God had to act.”  I won’t be able to say “I just worked really hard at it and followed steps X, Y, and Z and that’s how I became a writer/speaker.”  More than anything what I want as His Princess is for the King to be glorified.  I know the wasteland does not end in death, but in life.  I don’t know when and I don’t know how, but for now I place my hope firmly in Jesus and his promises.  That is the difference between false hope and real hope.

Hope Restored

Published December 5, 2012 by joypatton

One of my words for December this year is “hope.” I’ve been reminiscing about 6 years ago in November when we found out we were having our first girl. All through the pregnancy, I had been hoping it would be a girl. We had two boys and I thought it would be perfect to have a girl the third time around. This was a very far off hope considering that no female child had been born in Andrew’s family for six generations.

But just hoping with some far off dream is much different than realizing that your hope has been fulfilled. For me that ultrasound changed everything in my world. Here’s an excerpt from my blog post after the ultrasound: Before the ultrasound, I told people I just kept hopin’ and hopin’ it was a girl. But to hope for something and to see that hope fulfilled are two competely different states of mind. For the past two days, everything about pregnancy has been different. I’m not as tired and crampy. Instead of complaining and crying out, “Why are we doing this again???” I know why I’m doing this again. It is for my little girl. Before every time I saw a mom with a baby, I would ask myself, “What am I doing? I have two boys that are completely potty trained. I don’t carry anything but my purse, no diaper bag, binkies or sippy cups. The boys dress themselves and buckle in their own car seats. It will be at least three years before I’m in this situation again.” But now when I change a diaper, I’ll be looking at girl parts! It won’t be the same old baby routine I went through with the boys. I’ll be watching for how she is like the boys and how she is all girl. I can buy some new baby clothes for a girl!!! Yesterday I almost bought a baby girl stocking for the mantle. The whole world is new.

Recently I have realized that there are certain situations in which I have lost hope. I no longer even have the courage to hope that some day a relationship could be different. I assume that it will always be the same and nothing will ever change. So instead of reaching out in the relationship, I hold back. Instead of being fully myself and being vulnerable, I hide myself. Instead of sharing my feelings, which could in turn bring healing, I am silent. I have convinced myself that the other person doesn’t desire change. I have also lost hope that certain professional dreams will ever come true. When that happens, I lose the energy behind my work, and I write less, sleep more and spend time worrying about whether I’m on the right path. You see…I have lost hope.

In Luke, we meet another person who had lost hope. Zechariah was “righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statues of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.” (Luke 1:6-7) At some point in their marriage, I’m positive they had hoped for a son. They had even prayed and asked God for a son. Yet even after many years of faithful living, there was no son. But on the day he went into the temple to burn the incense, he had lost hope. On that day, the angel Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God himself, appeared to Zechariah and told him he would have a son. But Zechariah didn’t believe him. He asked, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” (Luke 1:18) He was asking for proof that it would happen because his lack of hope led to a lack of belief. Gabriel then told him that he wouldn’t be able to speak until the baby was born because of his unbelief.

My lack of hope has also led to a lack of belief. Zechariah’s lack of hope is completely understandable considering the many years of prayers that went unanswered. All the evidence says that there is no reason to continue to hope. To hold out hope simply seems foolish. And yet, this is the very definition of faith…to believe what you cannot see. To continue to hope even when all the evidence is against you. Mike Mason wrote, “True faith requires painful waiting.” Waiting that is easy or makes sense because the outcome is predictable does not require much faith. But waiting and hoping in spite of the odds requires true faith.

A little later in Luke, we have a picture of what it looks like to continue to hope in spite of the odds. Shortly after his birth, Jesus was taken by his parents to the temple. There they met two faithful and devout people who had not stopped hoping and believing that they would see the Messiah. Simeon is described as “waiting for the consolation of Israel.” (Luke 2:25) The Holy Spirit had told him that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. Anna was an 84-year-old widow who was in the temple daily looking for the promised Savior. When they saw their hope fulfilled, they didn’t ask for proof or a greater sign. They simply believed. We know Simeon believed because he said, “My eyes have seen your salvation.” (Luke 2:30) We know Anna believed because she told others about Jesus. Both had been waiting a very long time, but had not lost hope.

Hope fulfilled changes everything. When Hope Renee arrived in our family, everything changed. No longer could Andrew and I run a man-on-man defense and each take a kid. We had to go to a zone defense, and someone always had two kids. I also had a daughter who would go shopping with me and be creative with me. When I hope for the God to come in and restore relationship and mend broken dreams, everything changes. I can press into the relationship when needed. I am energized to work towards goals for my writing. I don’t have to spend hours worrying about the future and feeling shame over all the “shoulds” that haunt me. The hope is not some vague, far off feeling. My hope is combined with faith in a sovereign God who keeps His promises.

According to Luke’s account, the Holy Spirit was active in the scene at the temple. He wouldn’t let Simeon or Anna missed the fulfillment of what they had been hoping for. I imagine him standing next to Simeon as Mary gently handed him her newborn babe. The Holy Spirit whispered in his ear, “This is it. This is the one you have been waiting for.” The Holy Spirit is the one who engenders hope and belief in our hearts. Because of the Spirit, I can trust God to be at work in all areas of my life. He is the One who brings hope because He is the One who delights in doing the impossible. He won’t let me miss it either. I’m really hoping I won’t have to wait until I’m 84 to see the hopes fulfilled, but I just might. And when I begin to lose hope, I turn to him to remember the source of my hope. Or I look into the eyes of my beautiful daughter and remember what he has already done. And in this season, I remember that my deepest longing in my soul, to be made right with God, has been fulfilled when his sent his only Son to earth in a manger.

Where have you given up hope?

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