May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

Romans 15: 13

 

Hope is an amazing thing. It can take a seemingly impossible situation and bring a person through it when all tangible evidence would suggest that surrender was the only rational option. Hope seems to generate a sort of power for life and living that comes about out of that proverbial resource known as “Thin Air.” It is such a glorious thing that it is often likened to the sun and attached to the sense of possibility that arrives with its radiant appearance at dawn. Hope breathes life into the weak, it grants reprieve to the condemned, fills empty hearts with love, and defies reason and logic in doing it all. Hope is a gift, and its greatest expression in all of history is found in the Risen Christ as He goes from death into life and in so doing grants to us that same prospect and potential.

 

It is this hope, which is fulfilled in knowing Christ, that brings true joy and real peace into our hearts and minds. Although many forms of what is called joy surround us and its sources are made out of a very wide array of causes, none of them truly transcends all that life may throw at us over the course of our days. Also, if joy in its truest form is found in and through Christ, even more so this is true for that form of peace that settles deep in the soul and passes the through the tests that come to us all so that it is found to be genuine, enduring, and sound. This is a peace that redefines reality in terms that are framed in eternity and that are thus taken out of the realm of our control and management and are placed into the far more capable and caring hands of God. The presence of Christ in me has become the reason that I even begin to know and to dwell in the safety and the freedom that come out of knowing these gifts from the Lord that are identified as joy and peace.

 

So, back to hope. This is something that God has granted to us out of His unceasing and infinite love for us. The Lord is fully aware of the great challenges that each of us faces in life, and He desires to provide us with something that both takes us through those times and that grants to us the ability to endure all that comes our way in a manner that is distinctly different from the rest of the world around us. Christ’s hope places His followers into a new and a redeemed reality that looks beyond today into a future that is reshaped into the perfection of God’s creation plan. The joy and the peace that Christ infuses us with are resources that invigorate and revitalize us as we reach those points of great stress and strain that are a guarantee that comes with living in our world. They become most tangible as we turn our focus and attention away from ourselves and look upon the face of Christ so that the reality of His great love for each of us becomes the source for that enduring hope that releases us from the situation and the circumstances that surround us.

 

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And let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us; and do confirm for us the work of our hands; yes, confirm the work of our hands.

Psalm 90: 17

 

The singular most favorable thing that God has ever done was to come into my world, Himself, to spend His days with people who were just like me, and then finish those days by volunteering to climb onto the altar of sacrifice in order to make real the fact of salvation. God, the Father, sovereign over all of creation, and owner of everything has granted me the favor of His presence in the world of corruption and loss where my body dwells, and He has given me the favor of a total relationship with Him. There is nothing else that I need that actually counts for much of anything; yet, Christ continues to shower me with gifts both great and small.

 

The Lord is present in the person of His Spirit throughout every moment of my life, for He speaks courage to my heart and wisdom and understanding to my mind, and His Word brings knowledge and grants me perspective on every situation and issue that comes my way. Christ has paced me into a family of people who also know Him, and it is through Him that the barriers that our human, sinful selves construct to keep us safe and others at a distance are removed; so, I am blessed daily by the riches of the diversity of the people that are with me in the body of Christ. Jesus, through His life example, by His blood, and in His Spirit grants to me the favor of His purpose, direction, and capacity for impacting my world with the truth of salvation.

 

In my humanity it is easy to become confused or to lose sight of the continual fact of Christ’s presence and provision; yet, all I need to do to be reminded of His presence is to open my heart and calmly listen to His voice, and the truth that, in Christ, fills my world becomes evident. What I do matters far less than who I am doing it for, and the results of my efforts are insignificant in comparison to living in the center of Christ’s love and to demonstrating it while I am working. Still, my God does grant me the favor of doing His will, and He makes His delight in my humble and too often flawed obedience clear to me. The Spirit speaks words of quiet assurance to me as I enter into living as Christ’s servant in this world. Christ’s will revolves around loving others, granting grace and mercy to the broken people of our world, and living out God’s righteousness for all to see. So, as I yield myself to serving my Lord, my life grows ever more pleasing to Him.

 

You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.

2 Corinthians 9: 11

 

God is very generous. He gives us everything that we truly need and more. In fact, God’s generosity is very interesting to consider. He gives to people who ignore Him and even to those who reject Him, and He waits like an impatient grandparent at Christmas to give all of Himself to everyone who enters into relationship with Him. God fills His people with all that we are willing to accept; then, He keeps on presenting His bounty of love to us to accept even more. Yet, God’s granting of Himself to us is quite different from the way that most of us operate as He gives to us so that we can give it all away to others.

 

Christ poured Himself out on the cross so that all of humanity would have the opportunity and the ability to know God. This great gift of life is the culmination of God’s plan for the redemption of people from the condemnation of sin. However, a person’s acceptance of this gift is only the beginning of Christ’s infilling of that person with the totality of the gift that we can call true life. This new life reaches toward its highest and best function when we accept these gifts of truth, wisdom, understanding, love, grace, mercy, and acceptance as ours and then, in Christ’s name, grant all of them to the world.

 

Christ does not give to us so that we can possess and hold. He gives to us so that we can bless the world with the presence of God in tangible form. We are to be people who love all other people and all of creation with the same sort of uncompromising and sacrificial passion that Jesus demonstrated for us. He entered into the lives of the people who crossed His path and gave all of Himself to them without precondition or qualification. Jesus knew that many if not most of the people that He engaged with the Father’s message of truth would reject Him. However, Jesus did not cease in His absolute giving. As a follower of Christ, this is a difficult example to follow totally, but committing my life to being a giver of God’s gifts is one of the greatest ways that I can express my thanks to God for the life that I have in Him.

For land that has drunk the rain that often falls upon it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God.

Hebrews 6: 7

 

It is the goal of the horticulturist who is working in the controlled environment of a hot house to provide the artificial equivalent of rain in just the right amount and sun that is sufficient to balance the moisture and to bring the soil up to the perfect temperature for growth. This is done through careful planning, consideration of the needs of the specific plant species that are being cultivated, and continual attention to the way that the crops are responding. When all goes well, the result is a great abundance of healthy and productive plants and a room that is filled with the bright colors and sweet fragrance of their flowers and an abundance of the fruit and vegetables that are a joy to look at and a pleasure to eat.

 

We are like the soil that was placed into the pots in that hot house, for God created each of us with the perfect blend of everything that we will need to accomplish His purposes in our lives. Then, we are set into an environment where that purpose can be fulfilled. There is no error in our composition or in our location; since, who we are and where we are living are perfect for today’s growth processes. Our part in all of this is marked by receptivity. We need to allow the rain that is provided by God the opportunity to soak into us, and we must allow His radiance the opportunity to shine on us so that we are warmed and purified. While we are in these seasons of growing, there will be times when the Lord will pull the weeds that have grown up in our environment, and He will also prune away the parts of us that are not productive or that are diseased.

 

The difference that exists between the grower’s plants and us is that we can choose how we respond to what the gardener seeks to do with and for us. We can harden ourselves and cause the rain to run off, we can shut out the sun and remain chilled in our souls, and we are able to even attempt to change which gardener works in our lives. However, there is still only one way for us to live that will produce an abundance of fruit. For this to happen we need to embrace the gifts that God gives to us every day, delight in the person that He has designed each of us to be, and surrender our wills to His greater wisdom. Then, as God’s supreme creation, He will grow us into maturity, and we will fill our world with the sweet fragrance and the rich flavor of His blessings.

 

 

Instead of the thorn shall come up cypress;

instead of the briar shall come up myrtle;

and it shall make a name for the Lord,

an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

Isaiah 55: 13

 

This seems to be a way of saying that God has promised a time to come when all of His creation will be restored to the peace and the glory of the way that it was at the beginning. There is total truth to that idea. Christ will return and He will defeat Satan and judge all that is wicked in our world. Then God will send forth a new creation that is perfect in every way. This is a great hope for followers of Christ to hold onto, and faith in God’s final triumphant work is a part of our understanding of the nature of God. But this desire for the future does very little to actually guide us in living in the present.

 

As a realist, I can say that I do not anticipate that the world where I live will be restored into God’s perfect creation by any acts or actions that people might perform. We may possess great skills and amazing capacity, but we are not God. Creation is His alone to work, and it will be made new in the Lord’s timing and by His hands alone. Yet, we are not left here to simply wonder when and hope for soon. God has granted His people with gifts and with understanding of His will and purposes. God wants us to do something that is useful for His kingdom with all that He gives to us.

 

We may not be able to eliminate thorns from our gardens, but we can pull weeds. Our landscape will continue to produce briars and they will impede our journeys. However, we can chop them down and burn them off. I think that these actions are analogous to the process of confession and repentance that God calls us all to engage. We are to seek after His righteousness, and we are to open our hearts to Christ’s cleansing work. Then we plant. We replace our dead thinking and actions with the new life of the gospel. Through meditation on God’s word and prayer we can fill our minds and our hearts with God’s truth that is the source in our world of the lush greenery and the fragrant aroma of God’s original garden.

Do not quench the Spirit.

1 Thessalonians 5: 19

 

Have you ever known someone who was always giving gifts? This is that person who never forgets to bring something to the hostess at a party, who keeps track of birthdays, and who just hands you a simple but heart-warming package on that day when you are feeling down and unappreciated. That person is modeling one of the least thought about attributes of God, for Christ is the perpetual, everlasting, and unstoppable giver of gifts.

 

He has given me the life that I live, the very breath in my lungs is a gift from God. The fact that my soul is alive and that it has permanence is Christ’s immeasurable gift to me. In His Spirit, the Lord has taken up residence in me, and He provides all of the wisdom, counsel, and encouragement that I need in order to live out His victorious life plan each day. Yet, when it comes to this last aspect of my relationship with God, I am often the one who acts as if I am ungrateful. I set the glorious gift on a shelf in order to deal with something that has attracted my attention. Thus, I function like an overzealous fireman by pouring chilling water on the invigorating fire that God is building in my heart.

 

The Spirit of Christ is the constant reminder of God’s love for us and for all people. The Spirit removes the portions of our hearts that have been damaged by sin, and He fills the voids that are left behind with newly formed living tissue. Our lives are given focus, direction, meaning, and empowerment through the interaction of the Spirit. Heart fire is cooled by doubt, fear, self-centeredness, personal control, and lack of trust. The Spirit’s fire is stoked by prayer, God’s Word, acting in faith, loving as Christ does, sharing God’s truth with others, and by seeking His will in all aspects of life. What do you do that cools the flame of the Spirit in your heart? Turn this over to God and start to live in the invigorating heat of a Spirit impassioned heart.