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The Rising HopeEncouragement for Your Heart
By Charles R. Swindoll
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2009 Charles R. Swindoll
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Rising Hope Encouragement for Your Heart
Listen to the news media on any given day, and you probably wonder, Is there any hope left? Soaring energy prices, weather-related catastrophes, economic instability, military conflict, crime, layoffs, suicides-and on and on. Even closer to home, perhaps you struggle with hopelessness about your marriage, children, job, friendships, or other things you hold dear.
We all need hope! When enduring life's most difficult times, we need to believe that a positive outcome is possible.
When we are trapped in a tunnel of misery, hope points to the light at the end.
When we are overworked and exhausted, hope gives us fresh energy.
When we are discouraged, hope lifts our spirits.
When we are tempted to quit, hope keeps us going.
When we lose our way and confusion blurs the destination, hope dulls the edge of panic.
When we fear the worst, hope reminds us that God is still in control.
When we must endure the consequences of God's decisions, hope fuels our recovery.
When we find ourselves unemployed, hope tells us we still have a future.
When we are forced to sit back and wait, hope gives us the patience to trust.
When we feel rejected and abandoned, hope reminds us we're not alone.
When we say our final farewell to someone we love, hope of life beyond the grave gets us through our grief.
Hope isn't optional. It's essential to our survival. Hope is as important to us as water is to a fish, as vital as electricity is to a light bulb, as essential as air is to a jumbo jet. Hope is basic to life. We cannot stay on the road to our dreams without it, at least not very far. Many have tried-none successfully. Take away our hope, and our existence is reduced to depression and despair.
When life hurts and dreams fade, nothing helps like hope.
But where does hope come from? Is it something that we can cultivate within ourselves? Does positive thinking hold the key? To what do you look for hope?
Does Success Give Us Hope?
Fortune. Fame. Power. Pleasure. The messages bombard us from every direction. We devour books, CDs, websites, and seminars on everything from dressing for success to investing for success. But something very significant is absent in the pursuit of these things-a vertical dimension. In the pursuit of self-focused success-our goals, our plans, our projects, our accomplishments-there's not a hint of God's will or what pleases Him. And nothing in that horizontal list guarantees satisfaction or brings relief deep within the heart.
The world's strategy for success is simple: work hard, get ahead, and then climb higher-even if you have to step on the next guy to promote yourself. The goal is to make it to the top. It doesn't matter who you push aside along the way, and it doesn't matter who you leave behind, even if it's your family or your friends or your integrity. To succeed, you have to fight your way up ... and never stop climbing.
Interestingly, very few of today's success gurus address what most people really want in life-contentment, fulfillment, satisfaction, and hope of a better tomorrow. Rarely, if ever, are we coached to set boundaries or encouraged to say, "Enough is enough." So we work harder and harder to make more and more, yet we enjoy all of it less and less.
Are you caught up in the success syndrome? Are you convinced that the world's formula is the best? Do you find yourself manipulating people and pulling strings to get ahead? No wonder you feel dissatisfied! That type of success never satisfies. Only God-directed success brings lasting contentment, fulfillment, satisfaction, and the hope you are longing for.
Is There Hope Today?
Today, there are many people inviting you to believe whatever you want to believe and do whatever you want to do. Yet that perspective does not lead to lasting peace. Nor does it offer genuine hope. Hope must have a firm foundation built upon truth.
Undoubtedly you have heard about many different religions in the world. All of them claim to offer hope, but only one offers credible proof to support its promises. There is only one faith in which people accurately foretold specific details about events that occurred hundreds of years later. Furthermore, there were many eyewitnesses to these anticipated events as they unfolded.
Let me share with you something that was foretold seven hundred years before it happened. In Isaiah 53:8-11, the writer penned these words about the coming Messiah:
Men took him away roughly and unfairly. He died without children to continue his family. He was put to death; he was punished for the sins of my people. He was buried with wicked men, and he died with the rich. He had done nothing wrong, and he had never lied. But it was the lord who decided to crush him and make him suffer. The Lord made his life a penalty offering, but he will still see his descendants and live a long life. He will complete the things the lord wants him to do. "After his soul suffers many things, he will see life and be satisfied. My good servant will make many people right with God; he will carry away their sins. (NCV)
Seven hundred years later, what had been foretold in the Old Testament book of Isaiah came true and is described by an eyewitness named Matthew:
Jesus was beaten with whips and handed over to the soldiers to be crucified ...
... At noon the whole country became dark, and the darkness lasted for three hours. About three o'clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?" This means, "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?" ... And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. (Matthew 27:26, 45-46 NCV; 27:50 NASB)
When Jesus died just as the prophet Isaiah described beforehand, it would seem all hope was lost. But wait ... the Isaiah passage above says, "He will see life and be satisfied." The prophet said that Jesus will "make many people right with God," and He will "carry away their sins" (vv. 11-12).
Not only was Jesus' death foretold seven hundred years before it occurred, His resurrection was predicted as well. In the gospel of Matthew, we read several different eyewitness accounts. Here's the first one:
The day after the Sabbath day was the first day of the week. At dawn on the first day, Mary Magdalene and another woman named Mary went to look at the tomb.
At that time there was a strong earthquake. An angel of the Lord came down from heaven, went to the tomb, and rolled the stone away from the entrance. Then he sat on the stone. He was shining as bright as lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The soldiers guarding the tomb shook with fear because of the angel, and they became like dead men.
The angel said to the women, "Don't be afraid. I know that you are looking for Jesus, who has been crucified. He is not here. He has risen from the dead as he said he would. Come and see the place where his body was. And go quickly and tell his followers, 'Jesus has risen from the dead. He is going into Galilee ahead of you, and you will see him there.'" Then the angel said, "Now I have told you."
The women left the tomb quickly. They were afraid, but they were also very happy. They ran to tell Jesus' followers what had happened. Suddenly, Jesus met them and said, "Greetings." The women came up to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, "Don't be afraid." (Matthew 28:1-10 NCV)
Here are two of the most important revelations you have ever encountered: (1) Jesus conquered death, and (2) Jesus said, "Don't be afraid."
Because Jesus is the Rising Hope for all of us, we never have to fear or live in despair!
Our enemies-Satan, sin, and the corrupt world system-want nothing more than to rob us of hope. If they can succeed in doing that, our effectiveness as witnesses will fade, and our earthly existence will be tragically cut short. Fortunately, God has not left us alone. His Holy Spirit lives within us to provide what we lack. He will give us wisdom when we are foolish. He will give us peace when we doubt. He will give us assurance when we fail. And He will give us hope when Satan accuses, sin condemns, and the world causes suffering.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. The Holy Spirit is only promised to those who have a relationship with Jesus Christ. And a life without Christ is a life without hope.
Tragically, many people endure the inevitable difficulties of life without Jesus Christ. Without Christ for comfort, they spend sleepless nights in the hospital facing the likelihood of death. Without Christ for wisdom, they struggle to save a wayward teenager from self-destruction. Alone, they endure the awful words from a mate: "I don't love you anymore. I'm leaving." In sorrow, they lay their loved one in the grave with no promise of a peaceful eternity. And they go through it all without hope.
A Living Hope on Solid Foundation
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. (1 Peter 1:3)
Jesus was a master storyteller. He especially loved telling parables. Interesting word, parable-it means, literally, "to cast alongside." In other words, a parable is a story in which a familiar situation is cast alongside the unfamiliar for the purpose of illustration-making the unfamiliar clear and easy to grasp.
In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells this parable:
Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell-and great was its fall. (7:24-27)
The main characters in this parable are two builders constructing two houses in two different locations. Of course, Jesus was not talking about building literal houses on literal rock and literal sand; He was talking about building lives-establishing values and determining priorities on contrasting philosophies or lifestyles.
Each house suffered a storm. Neither was able to escape it or ignore it. Both experienced the downpour. Both saw the flood waters rise and felt the sting of gale-force winds. Such storms are inevitable. Clearly Jesus was not telling us to find a safe, comfortable setting. On the contrary, His story forces us to face reality: life is difficult ... storms are inevitable ... pain and discomfort happen. There is no escaping life's calamities.
The two builders constructed identical houses and the same storm blasted each with merciless fury, but the builders themselves were completely different kinds of men. That means they built their houses according to entirely different standards. One chose to build on truth; the other built upon wishful thinking. The first builder is the type who does more than hear what Christ has to say. According to Jesus' own words, he hears and acts upon the truth. Interestingly, the second builder hears the very same things ... but he stops there. He deliberately does not act upon what he hears. Jesus called the first builder "wise" and the second builder "foolish." Curiously, no one can tell by looking at the builders which one hears and acts and which one merely hears. It takes a storm to reveal which is which.
Eventually, the difference between the two houses became obvious. One "did not fall" (v. 25); the other "fell-and great was its fall" (v. 27). The wise builder had so constructed his life that no amount of testing, no extent of difficulty, was sufficient to bring him down. Why? The story tells us it is because "it had been founded on the rock" (v. 25). It takes no great theologian to identify what the rock represents ... Christ Himself. The wise builder turned to the Lord Jesus Christ in simple faith and, acting upon the truth he learned, built his life accordingly. This gave him a solid and secure foundation, unlike his counterpart, whose life was foolishly built on sand.
As I think through the story, two enduring principles emerge.
First, if you are only hearing and reading the truth, you are not prepared for life's storms. In this information era, it is easy for us to become fascinated by more and more words, interested in intriguing concepts-making the process of gathering data an end in itself rather than acting upon the truth that is presented. The foolish builder heard everything the wise builder heard. The only difference was his refusal to do something about it. Small wonder Jesus frequently punctuated His remarks with the reminder "He who has ears to hear, let him hear!" To listen with no plan to act-to read with no interest in responding-is to miss the whole point of Christ's great message.
Second, if your foundation is sure, no storm will cause your life to collapse or cause you to lose hope. The rains of adversity will fall, no question about it. That's life. The floods of misery and heartache will rise, for sure. No one can dodge such harsh realities. And the winds of pressure will howl, threatening both your security and your sanity. But your life will not collapse, and hope will endure!
Hope Even in Trials
Believers can have hope even when suffering, because we have a permanent inheritance-a secure home in heaven. And our place there is reserved under the safekeeping, under the constant, omnipotent surveillance of almighty God. Furthermore, He has guaranteed that we will receive our inheritance because we are "protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:5). No disorder, no disease, not even death itself can weaken or threaten God's ultimate protection over our lives. Our souls are divinely protected.
Suffering and trials are inevitable; as long as we live in a fallen world, where things don't work according to God's standard, we will face trials. However, nothing is beyond God's control. Nothing comes to us that didn't first pass through the fingers of God. And we have His promise that all things will be used for our ultimate good (Romans 8:28-39). Therefore, we have every reason to rejoice during our suffering.
In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:6-7)
These verses teach us three lessons about trials.
First, trials are often necessary, proving the genuineness of our faith and at the same time teaching us humility. Trials not only reveal our helplessness, but they also put us on our faces before God ... where we should be, regardless.
Second, trials are distressing, teaching us compassion so that we never make light of another's test or cruelly force others to smile while enduring it. Having endured trials allows us to provide hope to another without becoming trite.
Third, trials come in various forms. This variety is like different temperature settings on God's furnace. The settings are adjusted to burn off our dross, to temper us or soften us according to what meets our highest need. It is in God's refining fire that the authenticity of our faith is revealed, not only to others but to us as well.
Excerpted from The Rising Hope by Charles R. Swindoll Copyright © 2009 by Charles R. Swindoll. Excerpted by permission.
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