The reading for December 23rd in the Women’s Advent Devotional reflects on “Christ with us.” I think typically we skip over the first part to get the “good part,” the part about “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” But I want to reflect on the first part of this verse for our Women’s Advent Devotional, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign…”
I heard someone say the other day they quit asking friends and family for advice about important decisions until they asked God first. Not only did they ask God first, they were quiet for a bit so they could hear Him. They wanted to give “The Lord Himself” first dibs on advice and problem-solving in their lives.
20 We put our hope in the LORD. He is our help and our shield.
21 In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name.
22 Let your unfailing love surround us, LORD, for our hope is in you alone.
Do you think people seem to disappoint us sometimes because we’re misplacing our hope? Do we give them first shot at our life, in the hopes they can figure out and solve all our problems in one phone conversation or coffee date? Look, people are human, frail, forgetful, and fallen. If our hope is placed in them, and they act, human, we feel let down and disappointed. But I’m wondering, if our hope is rightly placed in the Lord, and people act human, as they do, can we more easily forgive and move on?
When I was writing the Women’s Advent Devotional, I looked up synonyms for “hope.” Here are three: faith, belief, and endurance. I think too often we forget the last one, endurance. We’re an instant gratification type of people. And at the very least, if we’re not instant gratification, we sure don’t want to suffer while we’re enduring. We’d rather be hoping than enduring. Even though they mean the same thing, one brings to mind the image of skipping hopefully through the springtime meadows. Enduring, on the other hand, brings to mind weak, tired, and worn out, barely hanging by a thread.
7 And so, Lord, where do I put my hope?
Let’s consider that verse above using our synonym. “And so Lord, where do I put my endurance?” Ah, so good. That deserves another read. “And so Lord, where do I put my endurance?”
Life is hard, messy, and long. And the Lord knew this, “For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.” (Hebrews 10:36) He knew that in order to do what He created us to do, we would need endurance, we would need hope. So how do we get it? Kind of like the story of the Velveteen Rabbit, we don’t passively “get hope,” we actively learn hope. Hope, and or endurance come as a result of love and suffering in this life.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
•1 Corinthians 13:7
We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.
Using what we just read, it’s easy to see why and how this world as a whole lacks endurance. This world, as a whole, lacks love and a true Christian understanding of suffering. And I’m not pointing fingers because I am first in line. I know I lack love. And if trying to wriggle out of or run from suffering was an Olympic sport, meet your Gold Medalist!
The question now is, how do we gain endurance (hope) through love and suffering?
The majority of saints became saints only after years, perhaps even decades, of struggle and toil. They prayed, they battled their passions, they fasted, and they fell again and again. But most of all, they never gave up.
•Patience and Perfection
First, we start with prayer. Of course right? Prayer is a conversation with God and the scriptures state we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength. So continued and continual conversation with our source of strength will help us and remind us that we can do all things. We can do all the hard things, all the boring things, and all the messy things. All the things that require endurance and hope.
Second, we mortify ourselves. Not as in embarrass ourselves, but to subdue ourselves. We take control of and lead our emotions and our fleshly desires. We are not lead by our emotions and the flesh. Our mortifications do not have to involve hairshirts like the saints of old. Mortifications can be simply not adding salt and pepper to our food. Not putting ice in our tea or sugar in our coffee. Letting a car in front of us merge into our lane or smiling at the grumpy cashier. These mortifications may seem overly simplified, but try doing them consistently and I think you’ll be surprised!
The gift of hope is not granted by a magical wish or a sprinkling of fairy dust. Instead, it is cultivated and tended on a daily and intentional basis. This, this daily and intentional pursuit of hope is what makes it so simple to acquire yet so difficult to maintain. Things get hard, we don’t see answers or results and we give up, we give in, we move on. We don’t endure because we’ve lost out hope. But if we didn’t endure, did we ever actually have hope in the first place?
I am praying for you sisters. I am praying for your spiritual endurance as you continually strive to place your hope in the Lord. Just know, as with all spiritual battles, you will face temptations and stumbling blocks. But please know even more, you can do all things in Christ who gives you the strength.
Here are some helpful physical reminders I picked out to help us remember, hope isn’t always this lovely, expectant time. Sometimes, it’s barely hanging on, but knowing God is with you.