Hope Let Me Down

The nurse met us in the sterile, grey hall again. “We weren’t able to do the procedure, but there’s one more thing we can try.” At least three times, one nurse or another met us in the hall with essentially the same statement. At least three times, my heart grabbed onto that slim chance and held on…hoped on.

I left the second, bigger hospital, sure that this new facility with different doctors and fresher equipment would make a difference. But when the phone rang the next morning, I had to face the facts: even our last option hadn’t worked. We said goodbye to my father the same day, but even as I stood by his bed, some small part of me thought he might just wake up, might just look at me.

I watched for God to do a
miracle even while I didn’t
want to hope any more.

In the middle of those days in the hospital, I walked the halls and wondered at this strange thing we call hope. I’m a practical person, not a pessimist but a realist. I knew the chance of recovery was low, but still, I thought something might change. I watched for God to do a miracle, but at the same time—in the same breath!—I didn’t want to hope any more. I wanted to accept the almost-certain outcome and begin to deal with it. I wanted to make decisions based on reality, on probabilities and reasonable expectations. But hope pushed me to stretch for the unlikely. In retrospect, it was the impossible.

Let me make this clear: The fact that God didn’t do a miracle—that He didn’t give my father a few more years on earth—changes nothing about the way I trust Him and love Him. It’s this weird hope thing I want to explore today.

The Apostle Paul liked this word. He used it fifty-four of the eighty-three times it appears in the New Testament (NIV). (By the way, Peter used it five times in just three chapters of 1 Peter.)

I scanned through Paul’s use of hope. He employs two levels of meaning for the word (only considering elpís, the noun, and elpízō, the verb). On the simpler, worldly level, it means “expect with desire” (Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament). Paul used this meaning to talk about his plans in the same way we would, meaning his personal desire, maybe even anticipation.

I plan to do so when I go to Spain. I hope to see you while passing through and to have you assist me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for a while.  -Romans 15:24

I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you.  -Philippians 2:19

 And perhaps even here:

I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.  -Philippians 1:20

But more often, Paul uses hope with a spiritual connotation—both the noun and the verb.

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people.  -Ephesians 1:18

For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope.  -Galatians 5:5

When Paul and all Christ-followers since him speak of hope, we’re talking about far more than expectations or plans. Hope becomes more like anticipation, an assurance of what we know will happen, even what is already happening in the spiritual realm. Hope is one of the primary components of faith (so the writer of Hebrews says in 11:1) and sustains us when we can’t see where God is directing us. It’s good that this kind of hope persists.

“Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never Is, but always To be blest.
The soul, uneasy, and confin’d from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.”

― Alexander PopeAn Essay on Man

But then there’s that other kind of hope

I am confident God
can do anything.

I am confident that God can do absolutely anything and that much of what happens in the world is beyond our understanding apart from Him. There’s mystery in the world…perhaps most evident in the remarkable human body. There’s also power in our desires. While I don’t believe it’s true, I can see why people say, “If you want something bad enough, you can make it happen.”

What’s my best definition of earthly hope? Expectation eclipsed by desire.

I’m a little angry with
worldly hope right now.

As long as there’s even the slightest bit of potential, earthly hope stands right beside it. Hope grabs us even when we try to reject it. It flirts with delusions and makes its bed with desire. I’m a little angry with that kind of hope; I just realized it. I feel like it betrayed me, like it led me on then left me hanging there in the hospital hallway.

Turns out, Paul probably did go to Spain (re: Romans 15:24), but not right away. He spent at least two years under house arrest in Rome (Acts 28). I wonder if he felt betrayed by hope. I wonder if he despaired of ever travelling to Spain.

We know he didn’t waste his time moping and sighing while in Rome. Check the last verse of Acts:

He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldnesss and without hindrance!  -Acts 28:31

That was while he was under house arrest. How could he do that? Because of the other kind of hope: the hope we have in Christ Jesus.

There are a couple of words I refuse to say (‘Busy’ is one of them.), but I will not reject this word, hope. I will continue to use it, continue to think on it. Because my hope in Jesus never betrays me. That’s the hope I will hold on to.

In your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  -1 Peter 3:15a

Earthly #hope betrayed me, but Godly hope never will. via @Carole_Sparks #NotAboutMe (click to tweet)

Have you ever wanted something so badly, hoped something would happen or not happen? Have you been this level of disappointed? How’d you deal with it? (Or did something I said strike a chord with you?) I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Podcast Interview

Chester doing the interview at our dining room table. He makes house calls.

I recently sat down with Chester Goad on his Leaderbyte podcast to talk about the creative process, writing, faith, and some other fun stuff. Chester made it interesting and easy to talk–even about myself. Still it’s #NotAboutMe, as you’ll hear.

If you want to know more about me or where I’m coming from, listen to this.

Writer Carole Sparks: Insights and Leadership Tips for Creatives

There’s one point where I mention a quote that I can’t reference. I’ve looked it up since then, and here it is:

First, I do not sit down at my desk to put into verse something that is already clear in my mind. If it were clear in my mind, I should have no incentive or need to write about it. We do not write in order to be understood; we write in order to understand.  –C.S. Lewis (from www.azquotes.com)

From One Woman to the World

The Woman at the Well (part 4)

Jesus did what He wanted,
regardless of social convention.

We left Jesus and our heroine in what looked like a staring contest while she tried to absorb just Who Jesus was. Jesus must have seen the disciples approaching while they talked. Perhaps He even skipped ahead in order to finish the conversation before they got there. At any rate, the disciples found Jesus and the woman this way. They were, of course, surprised to see Jesus engaged in conversation with this woman, but even though we’re only in John 4, they already knew better than to question him about it. Jesus did what he wanted, regardless of social convention. Continue reading

The Strength of His Presence

The actions (or inaction, actually) of three Hebrew friends led to a confrontation with Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon. They did not prostrate themselves in front of a huge golden image, so Nebuchadnezzar ordered that they be thrown into the furnace.

We started this story last week.

Daniel 3.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s calm response to Nebuchadnezzar infuriated him even further than before the confrontation, and his attitude toward them changed (Daniel 3:19). I think he stopped seeing them as employees who made a mistake and began seeing them as subversives, intent on undermining his authority. I can imagine an “after all I’ve done for you!” attitude. He turned to some workmen nearby and ordered them to heat the furnace as hot as it could possibly go. Continue reading

Integrity Doesn’t Yell

The statue was ninety feet high and nine feet wide. It was big, and they set it up in a wide plain. This thing was meant to be noticed, meant to be respected, meant to be worshipped. (Ninety feet is the distance between bases on an official MLB diamond. Nine feet is the length of a good-sized couch.) It wasn’t easy to make, and it wasn’t easy to erect. Think what it weighed!

Daniel 3.

Attendance at the
ceremony wasn’t optional.

Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, decided this monstrosity was a good idea (maybe to consolidate loyalty in his very diverse kingdom). He ordered a dedication ceremony, of sorts, and he invited everyone who was anyone in government—from the satraps to the provincial officials. This invitation didn’t have an R.S.V.P. though. No, when the King invited you to a ceremony, your attendance wasn’t optional!

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (a.k.a. Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah) were administrators in Babylon (Daniel 2:49), so they found themselves at this pagan ceremony. They were faithful God-followers, which King Nebuchadnezzar knew, if he’d taken a moment to think about it. (See Daniel 1 & 2. In Neb’s defense, it may have been twenty years later.) But he was so wrapped up in his latest self-glorification project that he forgot that significant detail.

The ceremony involved some flash-mob style choreography (or maybe it’s more like musical chairs…). When the symphony started, everyone within earshot was supposed to throw themselves on the ground and worship this huge image.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego didn’t prostrate themselves. They didn’t make a big deal of it, didn’t march up on stage in protest, didn’t organize a march. They simply remained standing (or seated). Their defiance was so unobtrusive that Nebuchadnezzar didn’t even notice.

The friends refused
a second chance.

Some astrologers, probably jealous of the friends’ high positions, pointed it out to the king. Still, Nebuchadnezzar’s reaction seems over-the-top. Maybe he was embarrassed to be disobeyed here in front of everyone. Maybe he was frustrated because it was such a straightforward command with straightforward consequences. He does offer them a second chance (v. 15), but they calmly refuse. We need to read their reply.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” -Daniel 3:16-18

Even God’s seeming failure to act
would not affect their faith in Him.

What peace in the face of peril! What level-headedness even when the king was furious with rage (v. 13)! What strength of character! What faith…yes, what faith: that God’s actions would not affect their dedication to Him. I think, “Even if you do not deliver me from this trial, Lord. Even if I die as a result of my decision here, I will not dishonor you. Your glory is more valuable to me than my own life.”

Later, the Apostle Paul would say,

I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. -Philippians 1:20-21

This is one of the best biblical examples of absolute confidence in God’s sovereignty, but I want to make a different point today.

Integrity speaks with a soft voice.

Perhaps a soft voice
of faith will say all
that needs to be said.

The three friends didn’t need to protest, to complain, to make a scene. They acted according to their faith and let God take care of the rest. God doesn’t need us to defend Him. In fact, He defends us. In these hectic days of (mis)information overload, when people too often type in all caps and push their political opinions on everyone in their social media feed, perhaps a soft voice of faith, backed up by a life of integrity, will speak all that needs to be said.

You can’t insist on integrity in others and you can’t manufacture it in yourself. It comes from long-time, humble faith lived out in obedience. And it’s tested when a public or private opportunity to “save your own skin” arises.

God was doing something awesome here, and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego got to be part of it because of their life-time pattern of faithfulness. Come back next week for the burning-hot part of the story.

3 Hebrew men face Nebuchadnezzar: #Integrity speaks with a soft voice. (click to tweet) via @Carole_Sparks #NotAboutMe

The testing of our integrity is never easy. How does Shadrach, Meshach, & Abednego’s story encourage you today? Leave me a note in the comments.

Authenticity and Some Good Advice

I had the enjoyable privilege of catching up with a fellow writer when I went to Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference back in May: Sandra Allen Lovelace.

Afterward, I interviewed her for PastorsWives.com because her wisdom is worth sharing! Even if you’re not a pastor’s wife, you’ll find some good advice here for managing church relationships.  Continue reading

My Love Story

Everyone loves a good how-we-met story. We love to hear them and we love to tell them.

I was so pleased when my virtual friend, Julie, invited me to share a story on her blog. You might remember Julie from her simple, sincere guest post on Intentional Parenting.

Anyway, my mind immediately went to this personal story, among my life-time favorites. It starts like this… Continue reading