He goes before us

Their youngest son went for a walk one day and never came back. The only thing that was found was a piece of clothing belonging to the boy—smeared with blood.

Can you imagine a harder place? The boy’s parents had no clue as to what had happened to their child, but that bloody coat indicated violence. Yet a body was never found, nor was a perpetrator of the crime ever suspected, accused, or punished. They spent many years grieving and wondering.

And I’m sure the father, especially, had many questions for God. His life up to that point had been anything but peaceful. There had been so much turmoil. He knew and believed God’s promises, but his path had been through many deep valleys. Had he not suffered enough? Why had God allowed this to happen now? This was too much to bear. It was such a staggering blow that he lived his life in constant and deep mourning. Can you imagine the prayers, the tears, the questions, the sadness?

I wept when I read the end of the story. I was very familiar with it, because this is the story of Joseph and his father, Jacob. Yet reading it this time, I was touched like never before.

I wept not in sadness, but in relief and thankfulness.

You know the end of the story. Jacob discovers that God has had a hand in his life all along. Joseph says, “God has gone ahead of us, setting the stage so that I can save us all.”

But oh! the hard places Jacob had to walk through!

There are so many Scriptures that tell us that God holds the lives of His children. He not only walks through everything with us (remember Jesus’ words, Take courage. I am here.), but He has a plan and He uses everything that happens to achieve His plan.

Two years ago, I joined a small group who decided to read the Bible through in four months, reading the Scriptures in chronological order.  (Let me, right now, recommend this to you. Benefits and blessings will come that you cannot imagine. And if you’re still following this site at that time, we may do it together. This series on hope will be over by then, so I’m thinking about doing the Bible Read-Thru here, from January to April …. ) Reading the Bible through in this way makes so many things clear:  God has a plan for His creation. He is in control and carrying out His plan. And He has a plan for each one of us, too, and is carrying that out also.

But in the hard places we hurt and cry and struggle. We need those bridges of hope that we can trust to take us forward.

I want to pull out just two passages today that always speak peace to me. They’re taken from very different contexts. The first is written to people who are in the middle of terrifying opposition and great suffering. The second addresses a people on the verge of a wonderful new life.

…trust your lives to the God who created you, for he will never fail you (1 Peter 4:19)

For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land of flowing streams and pools of water…a land where food is plentiful and nothing is lacking (Deuteronomy 8:7,9)

Our hope knows that in the good times and in the most terrifying times, our lives are safe in His hands because He has a plan for us and He is bringing us to the place He promised.

Always, no matter what things look like from our earthly perspective, He is working according to His plan and promise.

 

 

Psalm Prayer:

My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise renews my life.
(Psalm 119:50)

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© Elaine Starner 2015 Photo credits: Thanks to Claire Pridgeon, Paul Stutzman, Lana Turner, and Mary Jane Smith for sharing photography I’ve used on this site. (Click on each name to see more.)

How hope stays alive

They were being thrown to the lions. Literally. Beheaded. Ostracized from their former comfort zones. Having to meet and celebrate in secret.

How could James write to these Christians, This is your opportunity for great joy?

We read further for the answer: Because you KNOW … (James 1:2)

How did they know? When our lives take unexpected, painful twists, how do we know ?

How can we know with a certainty that will make it possible to hold on to our peace and our hope even while we’re suffering physically or our hearts are breaking?

There have been two tragedies in my small corner of the world in the past week. Two huge upheavals that affected many lives.

I cannot hide in clichés or offer panaceas or glib recitals of Scripture.

But I hear Jesus saying in the storm to scared-to-death disciples, “I am here.”
(Matthew 14:27)

I hear Him say that to me, in the midst of turmoil.

I hear Him say that He is the Great Shepherd of our souls.

I go back to that psalm of comfort, Psalm 23, that assures the flock that the Shepherd supplies everything we need. And there is the line that even when surrounded by our enemies, the Shepherd prepares us feasts, anoints us with healing, and pours out blessings until our cup cannot hold them all.

When we are in a hard place, it’s difficult to taste the feast. When we are completely drained and exhausted, the overflowing cup of blessings might seem like a mirage. When our wounds are raw and gushing blood, the healing feels impossible.

But in the middle of everything that seems to work against us, the Great Shepherd of our souls—who died to give us this life!—is still shepherding us, still providing for us, and yes, even pouring out blessings.

Hope knows this.

And our hope lives on that Truth and Way and Life.

 

 

Psalm Prayer:

My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise renews my life.
(Psalm 119:50)

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© Elaine Starner 2015 Photo credits: Thanks to Claire Pridgeon, Paul Stutzman, Lana Turner, and Mary Jane Smith for sharing photography I’ve used on this site. (Click on each name to see more.)

Good things out of hard places

Did you notice the big gap in last week’s talk of a full life and much joy? I left out numerous verses about “great joy.” There’s James 1:2 that says when we meet trouble, we have an opportunity for great joy. Peter writes that there is wonderful joy ahead, even though now we are in terrible suffering. And Jesus– well, Jesus tells us to be happy and leap for joy when people hate and mock and curse us.

It almost seems as though the greatest joy comes out of the greatest suffering.

This week’s meditations are very hard to write. For one thing, every heart bears its own pain. I have no idea what suffering you are going through. I understand the suffering that I’ve walked through in my own life; I can identify with those of you going through similar hard times. But there is so much trouble in the world that I know nothing of. The fire you are now walking through is likely very different from the flood that threatens me.

Yet I believe in God’s promises to all His children. And everyone of us, in whatever culture or time of life we are, needs this bridge of hope to take us forward: God brings good things out of hard places.

We do not hold that hope simply because we like to be optimistic. Oh my, no. Even the greatest optimist can be flattened by great tragedy or suffering or persecution. We hold this hope because we believe that what God says is truth. Our hope knows. 

The series this week has also been difficult because…well, we’ve only got a week! Entire libraries have been written on pain and suffering; what can we hope to cover in seven short posts?

Hope. At least, a glimpse of this great hope we have as children of God.

Because our hope has heard the promise that no matter what storms are battering our ship, God works in the storm.

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. (Romans 8:28)

And He brings good things out of hard places.  

 

Psalm Prayer:

My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise renews my life.
(Psalm 119:50)

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© Elaine Starner 2015 Photo credits: Thanks to Claire Pridgeon, Paul Stutzman, Lana Turner, and Mary Jane Smith for sharing photography I’ve used on this site. (Click on each name to see more.)