Monday, January 2, 2017

Hope: Living Life in Functional Belief

            ARE you walking around in functional unbelief because you do not treasure the Great News and joy in your heart?
            That’s the question and point one of our pastors raised with us during his Christmas Day sermon. And it demands a lot of thought and prayer. A passage in the Bible says that we are always to be ready to give an explanation for the joy and hope that reside within us, but if we don’t look, speak, and talk like we’re hopeful, what’s anyone going to ask us about? We won’t look any different than the world, and they’ll think we’re in the same sorry shape they’re in mentally, physically, spiritually, or emotionally—or worse! So what kind of advice could we give them?

            In a message Dr. Norman Vincent Peale gave on New Year’s in 1987, he drew attention to Hope, something we rang out 2016 discussing. But it’s worth a spillover visit on this second day of 2017. Why? Because Hope has so much potential to change hearts and lives. It’s something we can possess, and it’s something we can offer to others, along with Christ’s love. And hope is something no one can live without. As Dr. Peale pointed out, “Hope is a dynamic force, a concept full of power. It can bring the weak back to strength. It can bring the sick back to health. It can turn failure into success. No wonder Saint Paul included it as one of the three great principles of Christianity: faith, hope and love.”   
            So how are you doing on the hope meter? Are you somewhere in the middle, off the charts high or ground level low? Dr. Peale asks pointed questions to help you figure out how much hope guides and sustains you. He asks, “Does it get up with you every morning? Does it carry you confidently through the day? Is it still there, soothing and sustaining you, as you fall asleep? If cares and worries and fears and discouragement have gained ascendancy in your mind, then you need to open the windows of your soul and let a strong, fresh current of hope come surging through.”

            Treasuring the Great News and joy in your heart helps nurture hope. If you believe the Great News, and the joy of it pervades your heart, you can’t help but possess hope. It comes with the territory.

           Did you make a list of New Year’s resolutions yesterday? A list of things you’re “going to do” this year to make your life better, more successful, more satisfying? How many lists have you made in the past? Have you been successful in keeping them, or have they fizzled away by the end of January? And were they more wishes than hopes.
            While statistics show that people who write down their goals have a greater chance of succeeding with them, just writing down the goals—which end up being wishes, really—without writing down the specifics of how they’ll be attained, doesn’t work very well. And they have to be real, gut-felt “wannas.” Those things you really want to do, not just talk about and wish happen to you.
            Dr. Peale drove that point home when he said, “Wishing is weak. It’s even faintly negative, because when you say, “I wish,” it usually means you don’t believe the wish will come true. But when you hope—really hope—then a magic ingredient comes into play. That ingredient is expectancy. Expectancy says, ‘This desired outcome can happen. I think it’s going to happen. Right now it may be just a dream, but it’s a realizable dream.’ When you start hoping instead of just wishing, then expectation is stirring in you.”
            In a book I bought my younger son for Christmas some years ago, The Survivors Club: The Secrets and Science that Could Save Your Life, author Ben Sherwood recounts a multitude of true stories of survivors and non-survivors and the attitudes and behaviors that helped decide the different outcomes. They’re stories of hope, purpose, guts, determination, miracles, and prayer that changed things. They’re eye opening, and convicting. I found myself asking, “Would I have fared so well in that circumstance, or would I have given up and resigned myself to my presumed fate?”
            Dr. Peale noted that Paul summed it all up in Romans 8:24 when he wrote: “For we are saved by hope…” And as hope and expectation get intermixed with your faith, and the conviction you have in your belief, you cannot be defeated. As Paul goes on to say in the same chapter of Romans, in verse 39: “No [problems] fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us. (The Message)
            Dr. Peale also showed the wisdom of his years when he pointed out: “I have lived a long time now, and have known and observed many people through the years. And I maintain that the nearer a person comes to the Savior, the more hope he or she has. You just cannot live with Jesus Christ and be defeated. You cannot live with him and say, “Tomorrow is not going to be any good.” Because he is the Lord of the tomorrows.”

            So how is your “tomorrow” looking today? How is your New Year already stacking up in your mind? Is it full of promise and hope or just the same-old same old?

            If you want your tomorrow to look up, remember who walks beside you, guiding, loving, teaching. If we want our year, and lives, to be vessels of overflowing hope, I think the first place all of us need to start is by turning over our hearts—not just pieces of them but all them—to the One who fashioned them and knows how they work. We can change the outcome of this New Year by first becoming like children, possessing the simple faith that says, “I can and will give you my heart, God, because you know it better than I do, you know what to do with it, and I trust you.”

            And that’s the only resolution I can recommend to you as we start 2017. Because when we abandon our hearts completely to Him, life looks and functions better. We’re better able to make a list of attainable goals that He has placed in our hearts. We’ll go forward in faith and hope that He is with us and will never forsake us, even if the world does.
            We will be treasuring the Great News in our hearts and walking around in functional belief, hope, and joy that others will notice and be changed by. We will know and act with humble assurance that nothing will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Love others can possess, too. And they’ll want to when they witness our lives of functional belief and hope.

            May 2017 be the year you turn your whole heart over to the One who loves you unfailingly and loves you most, and may it be your best year yet!


So, until next Monday, may your heart overflow with love, because love hopes all things!


May you prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers (3 John 2).

For the complete Dr. Norman Vincent Peale article, “Let Hope Light Your Way,” see the January 2017 issue of Guideposts magazine.

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