(What is) the definition of ‘hope’? After reading various sources, I define ‘hope’ as faith that points to the future, knowing that God is completely in control. Hope allows calm confidence as we trust and patiently wait for Him to direct our steps. The expectations we have should be rooted firmly in God and not our emotions.
As I tried to understand the definition of hope, I saw that the opposite of hope is despair. When we feel despair, we are also pretty stressed out. As if there is nothing that can possibly help. Everything is out of our hands. Notice that despair is NOT rooted in God, but is rooted in our emotions.
How many times have we said (or thought) ‘this is HOPELESS! I can’t do this!’ Have you said it today? I certainly said it in our transition to living on Yap Island – the tiny 38 sq mile mound of vegetation in the Western Pacific.
There are several factors that contribute to a feeling of despair and hopelessness. We’ll look at one source of stress: When your mind is just racing and not really focusing on anything – except the myriad of problems that surround you. What’s your focus? How often have I missed out on God’s blessing and instances of joy that surrounds me each day as I focused on negatives: like teaching in a sweaty island high school? Or trying to clean out a freezer of rotting food – rather than realizing that my husband and I were actually sitting on the porch, enjoying a wonderful view of the reef as we munched on banana bread and drank steaming mugs of coffee.
Missionary Jim Elliot said “wherever you are, be all there.” There is such a lack of focus these days. Could this ‘fragmented thinking’ be a high-tech tool of the devil to keep us distracted? To keep us unaware of God’s hand in our day? To keep us from seeing His lessons for each of us? II Cor. 11:3 “But I fear lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. God says:
Proverbs 4:26 “Ponder the path of thy feet and let all thy ways be established.” (plants are noticeably ‘established’ in Yap after you push a branch into the ground. They droop for a day or two – then the leaves stand up and the plant begins growing again) Proverbs 16:3 “Commit thy works unto the Lord and thy thoughts shall be established.”
In my transition to Yap, I lost my whole frame of reference. (new way of cooking, cleaning, shopping, interacting with others, reacting to the climate challenges, ETC) I didn’t focus on anything other than the very basics: get up, trust God and PRAY for my husband (and myself!) For the 1st 6 months on the island, I was in survival mode – emotionally holding my breath as though on a roller coaster ride. After 6 months, my coworker Sherry Zimmer and I both took our 1st deep breath and I was able to begin the slow task of allowing God to teach me as I regained my focus and actually studied my surroundings.
God can teach us A LOT about faith in Him through our surroundings IF we take the time to slow down, PONDER and observe (look closely). Like when our moms would tell us to STOP, LOOK and LISTEN before crossing the street. Psalm 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handiwork. BUT even the disciples missed some lessons. Mark 6:52 For they considered not the miracle of the loaves: for their heart was hardened. (What hardened their heart? Fatigue? Distractions of crowds? Physical hunger? Lay that aside and FOCUS! Let God increase your faith!)
The 1st step of our journey of hope is to be teachable. Be WILLING to learn. I’ll share some of my ‘island life’ insight and how God used that in my life to teach me more of His truth and to reinforce lessons from His Word.
1. Crabs, Coconuts, and Creeping Weeds. (Things left alone don’t stay the same or improve. They rot, decay and become overgrown with weeds). Your coconuts won’t stay in a row in your garden – too many crabs are interested in moving them around. Your new plants won’t survive without protection – the crabs enjoy them for dinner! Soon tall weeds flourish and become an accepted part of your garden. We need vigilance and perseverance to fight decay in our surroundings AND in our heart. We need fresh vision so we won’t get used to seeing the “weeds” in our life.
- Weed seeds (pickers!) that grab onto your clothes relocate to other areas during the laundry cycle. You need to deal with them individually. Like little negative thoughts pop up in other areas in your mind. Don’t just do a general laundry: ‘forgive my sins’ – be specific. Remove those ‘weed seeds’ one by one.
- Rain keeps working after it falls. Isaiah 55:8-11 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.
As we share the Word with others – we need to realize that it’s not finished working when it leaves our mouth – God is in charge of its effect. The work is just beginning. We just need to be faithful.
- Even a clear path can be difficult to navigate—just be faithful and keep going! One morning I was staring at the asphalt of the wide open road on which I walked – increasingly discouraged by how HARD it was for me. “This should be EASY! No rocks, no limbs, no uneven pavement. I should have more victory on this path!” Then I stopped and looked around. It was VERY steep! And I was ¾ of the way to the top of the hill. As I stood there, I drank water, was refreshed and encouraged to continue my climb to my destination – home! It would have been so easy to turn around – only to have to start all over again if I ever wanted to get home.
As Christians – it’s OK to pause and look around (but don’t whine!) – notice the progress you’re making. One step at a time. Drink from the water of His Word – it eases the fatigue and refreshes your tired spirit. DON’T turn back or take the easy way. You’ll just have to walk that way again as you move toward the mountaintop and victory. We need endurance: Long obedience in the same direction.
Galatians 6:9 and let us not be weary in well doing, for in due season we shall reap if we faint not.
Isaiah 40:31 But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.
- You don’t need an invitation to SMELL something! In Yap, the smells can be a little pungent! One classic night as we drove to the village with a van full of teens, I got relief by stuffing dried out raspberry scented handwipes up my nostrils! It was DARK, and I was in the front seat – so no one noticed! Just as freshly bathed fragrant islanders are a welcome addition to the van, we are HIS fragrance. People NOTICE! After Typhoon Sudal, as I worked to clear the imploded classroom, carrying out the rotting paper and books from the standing water, pulling out tin and cutting apart rafters with a smile, one atheist counselor exclaimed “Look at you, you must have the Holy Ghost in your life!” What an opportunity to explain the source of my happy ‘fragrance’, or “savor”.
II Cor 2:14-16a Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place. For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. Eph 5:1,2 Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour. Take a whiff of your fragrance tonight: is it the fragrance of stress? The fragrance of a snippy attitude? Of bitterness? Of worry? Of fear? Of joy? Of contentment? Of hope?
6. It’s hard to move forward in the dark! One night as I walked home in the dark – I realized that I was stumbling and groping along on a usually familiar road. I stopped and couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. Later as I was struggling with Dengue fever, I reflected on a statement I read in Calvin and Hobbes: “I think it’s dark at nighttime so that we can imagine our fears with less distraction!” As I thought about darkness, I came up with a ‘darkness test’:
Do normal things scare you?
Do you stumble at obstacles – making progress slow and painful?
Do you lash out at problems or delays?
Do you want to just STOP, sit down and wait until someone comes with a light?
Why??? What does light do? Scary things are explained. You can see your way around or over obstacles. You can move forward using less energy. What is our Light as Christians? Psalm 119:105 Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” His Word is the answer for our darkness – we need to read and search for light!
Light received in my dengue darkness:
II Cor 1:5 For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.
Psalm 40 David waited patiently – but was NOT idle! He was crying out from a PIT – from the miry clay!
- Hunting flies is more successful using the ‘fly swatoosie’ method! (keep waving your arms as you get the swatter and continue to wave the swatter in archs… the fly remains unaware of your intentions!) When flies are ‘focused’, they see the attack coming. When they are distracted they are vulnerable. If I can observe and figure out how to bring down a fly, don’t you think the devil watches us in that same way - understanding what will cause us to stumble; stalking us to determine a method that will hinder us? I Peter 5:8 says, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” We need to focus on God who is always watching! II Chron 16:9 says, “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward Him.”
8. Our large fruit bats have the wingspan of hawks and fall headfirst through the trees before they soar. We also have to let go of our efforts before God can take over and bring victory. Christians and fruit bats both seek fruit in the darkness and we both find rest in the Light.
- Dogs and cats: Dogs walk like their mom. I had read about this – but in Yap, I saw it! (the mom with the broken hind legs produced dogs that also limped on the same leg!) What are we teaching the young people who are watching us? Do they limp like we do?
The other thing I learned was, don’t mess with a fight that is not your own. Our dog loved to join in any fight and really suffered as a result. As Christians there are times when we just need to stand back and pray!
Cats: When bored, dogs would pester the neighbor cat. He would stop and look at them. They’d just walk away. My lesson was: don’t run from situations when you’re afraid! Just turn and face your fear. It’s no fun to chase you! Sometimes I realize that the same scenario always makes me panic – time to stop, turn and say “I’m not running from that anymore – that doesn’t scare me!”
- Storms: The harder the wind blows, the less the birds have to flap their wings to soar high. Louisa May Alcott said “I am not afraid of the storm, for I am learning to sail my ship.” Our hardest job is to let go of the controls and trust GOD to sail our ship.
Storms give us a glimpse of God’s power – that same God, bends to help ME! By resting in His strength, we can rise above the storm in our life.
Storms remove our cover. The gigey birds in Yap are normally shy and hidden. After the typhoon, their cover was torn away. We were able to match them with their unusual sound and we said “YOU’RE the one that makes that sound!” Changing circumstances and trials put you in a place for people to clearly see and hear His message.
11. The Tide makes the difference!
THE TIDE IS SURE TO WIN by Amy Carmichael
On the far reef the breakers recoil in shattered foam,
Yet still the seas behind them urges its forces home;
Its chant of triumph surges through all the thunderous din,
The waves may break in failure, but the tide is sure to win.
O mighty sea, thy message in changing spray is cast;
Within God’s plan of progress, it matters not at last
How wide the shores of evil, how strong the reefs of sin.
The wave may be defeated, but the tide is sure to win.
Individual waves may be ineffective – but the tide will win! God sees the big picture! We need to have faith! For we walk by faith, not by sight (II Cor 5:7)
…Take time to pray and ask God to help you focus on Him. Let your mind and your body be in the same spot – don’t be distracted by what is ahead, or what was behind you. Think about what you are doing and seeing right now. Ask God to help you notice His hand in your life and ask Him to help you make the applications that are needed. Be willing, and teachable—let’s become Women of Hope.