Category  |  Hope & Joy

Gazing at the Horizon

Almost as soon as the ferryboat started to move, my little daughter said she felt ill. Seasickness had already begun to affect her. Soon I was feeling queasy myself. “Just stare at the horizon,” I reminded myself. Sailors say this helps to regain a sense of perspective.

The Maker of the horizon (Job 26:10) knows that sometimes in life we may become fearful and restless. We can regain perspective by focusing on the distant but steady point of our destiny.

The writer of Hebrews understood this. He sensed discouragement in his readers. Persecution had driven many of them from their homes. So he reminded them that other people of faith had endured extreme trials and had been left homeless. They endured it all because they anticipated something better.

As exiles, these readers could look forward to the city whose architect is God, the heavenly country, the city God prepared for them (Hebrews 11:10, 14, 16). So in his final exhortations, the writer asked his readers to focus on God’s promises. “For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come” (13:14).

Our present troubles are temporary. We are “foreigners and strangers on earth” (11:13), but gazing at the horizon of God’s promises provides the point of reference we need.

The Great Physician

When Dr. Rishi Manchanda asks his patients, “Where do you live?” he’s looking for more than an address. He has seen a pattern. Those who come to him for help often live in conditions of environmental stress; molds, pests, and toxins that are making them sick. So Dr. Manchanda has become an advocate of what he calls Upstream Doctors. These are health care workers who, while providing urgent medical care, are working with patients and communities to get to the source of better health. 

 As Jesus healed those who came to Him (Matthew 4:23–24), He lifted their eyes beyond the need for urgent physical and material care. With His Sermon on the Mount He offered more than a medical miracle (Matthew 5:1-12). Seven times Jesus described attitudes of mind and heart that reflect a well-being that begins with a new vision and promise of spiritual well-being  (vv. 3–9). Two more times he called blessed those who experience relentless persecution and find their hope and home in Him (vv. 10–11).

Jesus’s words leave me wondering.  Where am I living? How aware am I of my need for a well-being that is greater than my urgent need for physical and material relief?  As I long for a miracle, do I embrace as enviable the poor, broken, hungry, merciful, peacemaking heart that Jesus calls blessed?

Joy

I’m fast approaching a new season—the “winter” of old age—but I’m not there yet! Even though the years are galloping by and sometimes I’d like to slow them down, I have joy that sustains me. Each day is a new day given me by the Lord! With the psalmist, I can say, “It is good to praise the Lord . . . proclaiming your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night”! (Psalm 92:1–2).

Even though my life has its struggles and the pain and difficulties of others sometimes overwhelms me, God enables me to join the psalmist in “[singing] for joy at what [His] hands have done” (v. 4). Joy for blessings given: family, friends, and satisfying work. Joy because of God’s wondrous creation and His inspired Word. Joy because Jesus loved us so much He died for our sins! And joy because He gave us the Spirit, the source of true joy (Romans 15:13). Because of the Lord, believers in Him can “flourish like a palm tree . . . [and] still bear fruit in old age” (Psalm 92:12–14).

What fruit is that? No matter our circumstances or season of life, we can be examples of His love through the life we lead and the words we say. There is joy in knowing and living for the Lord and telling others about Him! 

True Hope

Not long ago I visited the Empire State Building with a friend. The line looked short—just down the block and around the corner. Yet as we entered the building, we discovered the line of people stretching through the lobby, up the stairs, and into another room. Every new turn revealed more distance to go.

Attractions and theme parks carefully route their crowds to make the lines seem shorter. Yet disappointment can lurk “just around the bend.”

Sometimes life’s disappointments are much more severe. The job we hoped for doesn’t materialize; friends we counted on let us down; the romantic relationship we longed for fails to work out. But into these heartbreaks, God’s Word speaks a refreshing truth about our hope in Him. The apostle Paul wrote, “Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame [or disappoint us], because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3–5).      

As we place our trust in Him, through His Spirit, God whispers the truth that we are unconditionally loved and will one day be with Him—regardless of the obstacles we face. In a world that may often disappoint us, how good it is to know that God gives genuine hope.

 

A Thrill of Hope

Reginald Fessenden had been working for years to achieve wireless radio communication. Other scientists found his ideas radical and unorthodox, and doubted he would succeed. But he claims that on December 24, 1906, he became the first person to ever play music over the radio.

Fessenden held a contract with a fruit company which had installed wireless systems on roughly a dozen boats to communicate about the harvesting and marketing of bananas. That Christmas Eve, Fessenden said that he told the wireless operators on board all ships to pay attention. At 9 o'clock they heard his voice.

He reportedly played a record of an operatic aria, and then he pulled out his violin, playing “O Holy Night,” and singing the words to the last verse as he played. Finally, he offered Christmas greetings and read from Luke 2 the story of angels announcing the birth of a Savior to shepherds in Bethlehem.

Both the shepherds in Bethlehem over two thousand years ago and the sailors on board the United Fruit Company ships in 1906 heard an unexpected, surprising message of hope on a dark night. And God still speaks that same message of hope to us today. A Savior has been born for us - Christ the Lord (Luke 2:11)! We can join the choir of angels and believers through the ages who respond with “Glory to God in the highest! And on earth, peace to men on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14).

Everlasting Hope

The week before Christmas, two months after my mom died, holiday shopping and decorating sat at the bottom of my priority list. I resisted my husband’s attempts to comfort me as I grieved the loss of our family’s faith-filled matriarch. I sulked as our son, Xavier, stretched and stapled strands of Christmas lights onto the inside walls of our home. Without a word, he plugged in the cord before he and his dad left for work.

As the colorful bulbs blinked, God gently drew me out of my darkness. No matter how painful the circumstances, my hope remained secure in the light of God’s truth, which always reveals His unchanging character.

Psalm 146 affirms what God reminded me on that difficult morning: My endless “hope is in the Lord,” my helper, my mighty and merciful God (v. 5). As Creator of all, He “remains faithful forever” (v. 6). He “upholds the cause of the oppressed,” protecting us and providing for us (v. 7). “The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down” (v. 8). He “watches over” us, “sustains” us (v. 9), and will always be King (v. 10).

Sometimes, when Christmas rolls around, our days will overflow with joyful moments. Sometimes, we’ll face loss, experience hurt, or feel alone. But at all times, God promises to be our light in the darkness, offering us tangible help and everlasting hope.

That Famous Smile

After my wife and I had the privilege of visiting the Louvre in Paris, I called our eleven-year-old granddaughter Addie on the phone. When I mentioned seeing da Vinci’s famous painting Mona Lisa, Addie asked, “Is she smiling?”

Isn’t that the big question surrounding this painting? More than 600 years after Leonardo captured this subject in oil, we still don’t know if the lady was smiling or not. Though enraptured by the painting’s beauty, we are unsure about Mona Lisa’s demeanor.

The “smile” is part of the intrigue of the painting. But how important is this anyway? Is smiling something the Bible mentions? In reality, the word appears less than five times in Scripture, and never as something we are told to do. However, the Bible does suggest for us an attitude that leads to smiles—and that is the word joy. Nearly 250 times we read about joy: “My heart leaps for joy,” David says as he thinks about the Lord (Ps. 28:7). We are to “sing joyfully to the Lord” (Ps. 33:1); God’s statutes are “the joy of [our] heart” (Ps. 119:111); and we are “filled with joy” because “the Lord has done great things for us” (Ps. 126:3).

Clearly, the joy God provides us through everything He has done for us can bring a smile to our face.

 

The Turn

As the minister spoke at a funeral for an old military veteran, he mused about where the deceased might be. But then, instead of telling the people how they could know God, he speculated about things not found anywhere in Scripture. Where is the hope? I thought.

At last he asked us to turn to a closing hymn. And as we rose to sing “How Great Thou Art,” people began to praise God from the depths of their souls. Within moments, the spirit of the entire room had changed. Suddenly, surprisingly, in the middle of the third verse my emotions overwhelmed my voice.

And when I think, that God, His Son not sparing,

Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;

That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing,

He bled and died to take away my sin.

Until we sang that great hymn, I had wondered if God was going to show up at that funeral. In reality, He never leaves. A look at the book of Esther reveals this truth. The Jews were in exile, and powerful people wanted to kill them. Yet at the darkest moment, a godless king granted the right to the enslaved Israelites to defend themselves against those who sought their demise (Est. 8:11–13). A successful defense and a celebration ensued (9:17–19).

It should be no surprise when God shows up in the words of a hymn at a funeral. After all, He turned an attempted genocide into a celebration and a crucifixion into resurrection and salvation!

From Grief to Joy

Kelly’s pregnancy brought complications, and doctors were concerned. During her long labor, they decided to whisk her away for a cesarean section. But despite the ordeal, Kelly quickly forgot her pain when she held her newborn son. Joy had replaced anguish.

Scripture affirms this truth: “A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world” (John 16:21). Jesus used this illustration with His disciples to emphasize that though they would grieve because He would be leaving soon, that grief would turn to joy when they saw Him again (vv. 20–22).

Jesus was referring to His death and resurrection—and what followed. After His resurrection, to the disciples’ joy, Jesus spent another 40 days walking with and teaching them before ascending and leaving them once again (Acts 1:3). Yet Jesus did not leave them grief-stricken. The Holy Spirit would fill them with joy (John 16:7–15; Acts 13:52).

Though we have never seen Jesus face-to-face, as believers we have the assurance that one day we will. In that day, the anguish we face in this earth will be forgotten. But until then, the Lord has not left us without joy—He has given us His Spirit (Rom. 15:13; 1 Peter 1:8–9).

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