How We May Strengthen Our Hope

Christian hope is one of the greatest blessings because it increases our joy, assures us of our blessed future, gives us patience to bear burdens, and it helps us keep our eyes above, where Christ is.  But how can we strengthen our Christian hope?  William Gurnall gave six directions for strengthening hope.  I’ll summarize them below; notice how intimately the growth of Christian hope is tied to the Word and prayer.

  1. Study the word of God diligently.  The Christian is bred by the word, and he must be fed by it also.  “…Through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4 NASB).  God has provided in Scripture food to nourish every Christian grace, and in it we find particular respect to the welfare and growth of our hope.
  2. Keep your conscience pure.  Sins that are deliberately plotted and committed are to the Christian’s hope as poison is to his body.  Faith and good conscience are hope’s two wings that help her fly.  If you have wounded your conscience by any sin, renew your repentance so that receiving renewed forgiveness you may revive your hope.
  3. Pray to God daily and beg for a stronger hope in him.  This is what Paul prays about in Romans 15:3, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (NASB).  Be sure you humbly acknowledge God by a constant waiting on him for growth.  God will surely hear the prayers of his children when they beg for more hope.
  4. Labor to increase your love for the Lord.  There is a secret but powerful influence that love has on hope.  Love casts out fear (1 John 4.18).  “May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love” and into the patient waiting for Christ’s return (2 Thes. 3:5).  Love him, and you will patiently wait for him – this has to do with hope.
  5. Exercise your hope much.  Repeated acts strengthen habits.  The promises of God are hope’s object to act upon.  Meditate on the promises, set some apart for yourself, and drink in the refreshing truths of God’s promises.  David did this when he remembered that with the Lord there is forgiveness (Ps. 130).  He exercised his hope by meditating on the promise of forgiveness.
  6. Fill up your experiences of past mercies, and your hope will grow stronger for future mercies.  Endurance works hope (Rom. 5:2-4).  A good Christian keeps track of the history of God’s gracious dealings in the past, and this gives him hope for the future.  “This I recall to mind, therefore I have hope” (Lam. 3:21 NASB).  When God gives one mercy, he opens a door so he can give it, and this open door leads us to expect more mercy through it.

William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armor, volume 2, pages 177ff.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

 

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Why Does God Make Us Wait?

Quite often waiting is very difficult.  In our instant culture, most of the time we don’t even like waiting one week for a package to come in the mail; we get impatient if our internet is a tiny bit slower than usual or if our data connection isn’t lightning fast.  Waiting can be frustrating!

When it comes to the Christian faith there is a lot of waiting involved.  God’s people are already justified, but not yet fully sanctified.  We have been saved, but we don’t yet have full and complete deliverance.  We have the promise of eternal life but don’t yet experience it.  God promised that he will glorify all of his people, but that’s something for which we still wait.  Christ will come again to make all things new, but we don’t know when.  Therefore we wait and pray, “Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly!”  Sometimes in the Christian life, waiting is hard and we get impatient.  We even ask: “Why does God make us wait so long?”

William Gurnall answered this question with another question:

Why does God make any promise at all to his creatures?  This may well be asked, considering that God is free from owing any kindness to his creatures; till, by the mere good pleasure of his will he put himself into covenant bonds, and made himself, by his promise, a debtor to his elect.  This shows that the former question is flippant and over-bold, as if some great rich man should make a poor beggar that is a stranger to him his heir, and when he tells him this, the poor man asks, ‘But why should I wait so long for it?’

Truly, any time is too soon for him to receive a mercy from God that thinks God’s time in sending it is too late.

Gurnall goes on to say that impatience in waiting for God’s promises to come true arises from our selfishness since we prefer our own contentment and satisfaction before God’s glory.  Impatience also arises from ingratitude and forgetfulness (Ps. 106.13).

To combat spiritual impatience, we need to pray for more hope and patience.  Here’s Gurnall again:

“Patience is the back on which the Christian’s burdens are carried, and hope is the pillow between the back and the burden, to make it sit easy.”

God wasn’t obligated to make any good promises to sinners like us.  But in his sovereign and free mercy, he did promise salvation and all the blessings that go with it. Therefore, it’s fitting and right to be patient and to say that his timing is best.  And we put on “the hope of salvation as a helmet,” knowing he will keep his promise (1 Thes. 5:8)!  “And this is what he promised us – eternal life” (1 John 2:25 NIV).

The above-edited quote by William Gurnall is found in volume 2 of The Christian in Complete Armor, p. 151-2.

Shane Lems

When Darkness Hides His Face

calvincommentaries Sometimes life for the Christian is just plain hard.  We’re not exempt from the effects of Adam’s sin, so we face debilitating illnesses, allergies that nearly cripple us, mental anguish that makes for dark days, and other people often are like thorns in our flesh.  Sometimes we still wander and stumble into sin.  Following Jesus doesn’t mean life will be painless and easy!  I know a contemporary version of the hymn My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less says “When darkness seems to hide His face;” however, I think the original is more accurate: “When darkness veils His lovely face.”  It reminds me of Cowper’s great hymn, God Moves in a Mysterious Way, which says,

“Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for his grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.”

This also makes me think of the criminal on the cross, who truly repented and made the good confession.  He was loved by Christ, promised heaven, but his pain and torture didn’t immediately end.  He still suffered terribly as a convicted criminal.  Calvin comments well on this:

What is promised to the robber does not alleviate his present sufferings, nor make any abatement of his bodily punishment. This reminds us that we ought not to judge of the grace of God by the perception of the flesh; for it will often happen that those to whom God is reconciled are permitted by him to be severely afflicted. So then, if we are dreadfully tormented in body, we ought to be on our guard lest the severity of pain hinder us from tasting the goodness of God; but, on the contrary, all our afflictions ought to be mitigated and soothed by this single consolation, that as soon as God has received us into his favor, all the afflictions which we endure are aids to our salvation. This will cause our faith not only to rise victorious over all our distresses, but to enjoy calm repose amidst the endurance of sufferings. (John Calvin and William Pringle, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke, vol. 3 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 314.)

Dear Christian, if you’re suffering, facing affliction, or if your cross has recently been very hard to bear, don’t take it as a sign that God is angry with you, has stopped loving you, or has forgotten about you.  By God’s grace, our suffering is productive (Rom 5:3-4).  Our feelings are not a reliable guide in the Christian life; God’s gracious promises are.  “Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust him for his grace!”

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church
Hammond, WI, 54015

Cancer, Grief, and God (Groves)

I’m nearly finished reading an excellent book that honestly walks through the suffering of cancer while resting in the hope of God.  It’s called Grief Undone and it was written by Elizabeth Groves whose husband, Alan, died from cancer in 2007.  As some of our readers may know, Alan Groves served in various departments at Westminster Theological Seminary.  This book is something like an autobiography (Elizabeth’s) and a biography (Alan’s) together in one, but ultimately it is a testimony of God, our only rock and refuge in time of storm.

I appreciate this book because it is a real-life account of dealing with cancer.  Having children of my own, I could totally relate to many stories Elizabeth told – the stress, the sweetness, and the bitterness involved.  Elizabeth didn’t just say everything was fine since her and Alan were Christians; she tackled the hard issues of pain, broken hearts, questions, uncertainty, and so forth.  Here’s one way Elizabeth put it:

“Daily and hourly we set our hope in the certainty of our Father’s love in the midst of uncertainty about what would happen to Al.  I don’t know that that was a measured, intellectual decision on our part as much as it was just the natural cry of desperate children who know their Father is the only one who has answers and help” (p. 18).

Or, as Alan said it before he died,

“It is not being healed from cancer in this life in which I ultimately hope.  Rather, it is in Christ now and forever that I find my hope.  I have been healed and raised in that ultimate sense by all that Christ has done.  Blessed be his name” (p. 43).

You can’t read this book without being moved.  Having lost friends and family to cancer,  I had to put the book down a few times because it squeezed tears from my eyes as I remembered the suffering of it all.  But in the midst of suffering there is hope that shines brightly through.  It’s not a false, flimsy, or “better place” type hope.  It’s the hope that Elizabeth leaned upon, that Alan rested in, and that all Christians can take comfort in.  It’s a “living hope” that we have through the resurrection of Jesus, a hope that we can hold fast to because “he who promised is faithful.”  It’s the hope of eternal life in Christ; the hope of a renewed, resurrected, and imperishable body; the hope of being with the Lord forever in the new creation where there will be no more tears.  This book testifies of that hope!

Elizabeth Groves, Grief Undone (Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2015).

Shane Lems

Faith and Hope Compared (Bunyan)

 As many of you know, the name of one character in Pilgrim’s Progress was Hope.  Hope very much helped Christian on the way to the Celestial City.  Speaking of Hope – and John Bunyan’s writing – here’s an excellent biblical comparison Bunyan made of faith and hope.  I’ve edited it a bit to make it easier to read:

1. Faith comes by hearing (Rom 10:17), hope by experience (Rom 5:3, 4).
2. Faith comes by hearing the Word of God, hope comes by the credit that faith hath given to it (Rom 4:18).
3. Faith believes the truth of the Word, hope waits for the fulfilling of it.
4. Faith lays hold of that end of the promise that is next to us, that is, in the Bible; hope lays hold of that end of the promise that is fastened to the mercy-seat.  The promise is like a mighty cable that is fastened by one end to a ship, and by the other to the anchor.  The soul is the ship where faith is, and to which the other end of this cable is fastened; but hope is the anchor that is at the other end of this cable, and which enters into that within the veil. Thus faith and hope lay hold of both ends of the promise and they carry it safely all away.
5. Faith looks to Christ, as dead, buried, risen, and ascended; and hope to his return (1 Cor 15:1–4). Faith looks to him for justification, hope looks to him for glory (Rom 4:1–8).
6. Faith fights for doctrine, hope for a reward (Acts 26:6, 7). Faith fights for what is in the Bible, hope fights for what is in heaven (Col 1:3–5).
7. Faith purifies the heart from bad principles (1 John 5:4, 5). Hope purifies the heart from bad conduct (2 Peter 3:11, 14; Eph 5:8; 1 John 3:3).
8. Faith sets hope to work, hope sets patience to work (Acts 28:20; 9:9). Faith says to hope, “Look for what is promised;” hope says to faith, “I do look, and will wait for it too.”
9. Faith looks through the Word to God in Christ; hope looks through faith beyond the world to glory (Gal 5:5).

John Bunyan, Israel’s Hope Encouraged, from volume 1 of Works.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Comfort in God’s Omnipotence

How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil, 2nd ed.  This is such a good book: How Long O Lord by D. A. Carson.  I wish I had read it years ago!  As I read through it now it is helping me in the faith in quite a few different ways.  It’s one of those books I’m marking up like crazy and will for sure use often in future studies and personal devotions.

In the second chapter, Carson deconstructs some faulty views of evil and suffering (such as those of atheism, deism, sub-Christianity, etc.).  One faulty view is the view that God is not omnipotent when it comes to suffering and evil:

“This sort of god [who is not omnipotent] cannot offer us any comfort.  Belief in an omnipotent God brings with it all sorts of hard questions about how such a God, if he is good, can permit evil and suffering, but it also brings with it the promise of help, relief, an answer; an eschatological prospect.  To abandon belief in the omnipotence of God may ‘solve’ the problem of evil, but the cost is enormous: the resulting god is incapable of helping us.  He may be able to give us quite a bit of sympathy, and even groan along with us; but he clearly cannot help us – not now, and not in the future.  There is no point praying to such a god and asking for his help.  He is already doing the best he can, poor chap, but he has reached the end of his resources.  For all that one sympathizes with [Rabbi] Kushner’s search for a God he can respect, he has ended up with a god who cannot help”  (p. 30).

Believing Scripture’s teaching about the omnipotence of God doesn’t answer all the questions about evil and suffering, but it does give us incredible hope and comfort in the midst of evil and suffering.  God is sovereign and in total control, and one day he will fix everything that’s broken, right the wrongs, and bring in the New Heavens and New Earth, where there will be perfect peace for the followers of Jesus.  That’s a great perspective to remember in this “veil of tears!”

The above quote was taken from How Long, O Lord? by D. A. Carson (2nd ed.).

shane lems

Disability and God’s Sovereignty

Disability and the Gospel: How God Uses Our Brokenness to Display His Grace One of the biggest frustrations about living in this fallen world is the fact that there is disability.  To be sure, all humans are disabled to some extent because we’re sinful creatures and neither our minds nor our hearts nor our bodies are free from the effects of sin.  But it often brings tears to our eyes to think of (or face) worse forms of disability; this is why the stories of Jesus healing disabled people (lame, blind, deaf, blood disordered, crippled, etc.) are such a big part of the Good News.  There is hope in Jesus for sure, and his people can thankfully look forward to a Day where they will be fully and finally healed.

But what about disability and God’s sovereignty here and now?  How do these two relate?  I like how Michael Beates (who has a family member with a severe disability) answered this question in an appendix of his book, Disability and the Gospel.  Here are his summarized points (from pages 161-166):

1) First, as previously noted, God creates some people with genetic anomalies simply for the sake of his glory.  Scripture teaches that all things are made by him (John 1:13) and for his glory (Is. 48:10-11; Rom. 11:33).  [This is] a hard teaching, but in it there is great comfort, and by our very affirmation of it, we further glorify our awesome sovereign God. The comfort is that when we embrace the truth that God will glorify himself through everything that happens, we know that in the providence of God nothing is lost or in vain.  Nothing we experience is meaningless; everything is significant, the bitter and the sweet.  We may not see the sweet side of it in this life….  However, we can rest absolutely certain that such things are not mistakes nor do they happen by chance.  We can also be certain that even such awful things [as death] will glorify God because he has said so, and he keeps his promise.

2) Second, God creates some people with genetic anomalies not only for the sake of his own glory but also to show us our own brokenness and our need of his grace.  The disabled among us, whether genetically disabled or otherwise, remind us of our own inherent disabilities.  When we see them with their limitations, we can begin to see ourselves in a new, more honest manner as broken men and women before God in need of redemption – body and soul.

3) Third, God creates some people with genetic anomalies not only for his own glory and to show us our own brokenness, but also because such disabled people present the church with the gift of allowing followers of Christ to serve them unconditionally – with no expectation of receiving back.  In this way they help us to mirror God and to experience giving grace to another as God does to us.

4) Fourth, God creates some people with genetic anomalies to increase our desire for heaven.  Revelation 21:3-4 says, ‘And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying… He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore….’ In that final state God promises to redeem all things, making all things new and perfect.  Things like genetic anomalies serve as signposts, reminding us that we are on a journey and that this world is not our home.”

As I mentioned in an earlier review (HERE), Disability and the Gospel is a helpful book – I recommend it, and I recommend reading the entire section I edited above.  If you are disabled to any extent, or if it affects you in some way, please press on in the faith, try to set a good Christian example for others, and be greatly encouraged that since Jesus died on the cross, rose from the grave, and promised to come back and make all things new, you will one day receive a glorious body like his (Phil. 3:21).  It won’t be long now!

shane lems
hammond, wi