Saturday, December 23, 2017

Hope

In the 1960’s a psychologist by the name of Martin Seligman performed a study on dogs.  If you’re a dog lover, you may want to stop reading right now.  While conducting experimental research on classical conditioning, Seligman would put a dog in a cage, lock the door, and would then administer a mild electric shock, if there is such a thing.  At first, the dog would frantically try to escape but would ultimately come to the realization that, in spite of its best efforts, it could not evade the shock.  At that point, the dog would just just lie down and whimper, realizing that there was no way for it to avoid this uncomfortable experience.

The same dog was then put into a different cage … a cage from which it could easily escape.  What Seligman discovered, though, is that when the electric shock was administered, instead of walking free from the cage, which it could have easily done, the dog would just lie down and whimper, believing that there was no hope of escape.  In other words, since the dog had learned to believe there was no hope of escape, it responded to the situation without even trying to free itself. It had lost hope.

Have you ever felt like that poor dog?  Is there an area in your life where you have lost hope?

Hopelessness never travels alone.  It’s always preceded by a sense of powerlessness.  If we feel powerless to change our circumstances or even someone else’s, it’s not long before hopelessness shows up on the scene.  And, when it does, it begins to wrap its greedy little hands around our lives.  Dreams die, courage fails, longings are numbed, faith falters … and it’s here that Jesus meets us because He’s always willing to show up in the messiest of places … the hopeless of places … the deadest of places. 

Brennan Manning writes:  “The Bethlehem mystery will ever be a scandal to aspiring disciples who seek a triumphant Savior and a prosperity Gospel.  The infant Jesus was born in unimpressive circumstances, no one can exactly say where.  His parents were of no social significance whatsoever, and his chosen welcoming committee were all turkeys, losers and dirt-poor shepherds.  But in this weakness and poverty the shipwrecked at the stable would come to know the love of God.” 

If you’re feeling hopeless today, my hope is that in your weakness and poverty, you too will come to know the love of God.  The questions behind hopelessness are often, “Does God care?  Does it matter to Him that I’m hurting?  Lord, do you love me?”  God answered each of those questions by leaving the non-violence and tranquility of heaven to step in to this world and rescue people full of shattered dreams and broken lives. That fact alone reveals so much about God.  It shows me that God is not afraid of stepping in to my brokenness.  It shows me that I can allow Him to see the worst of my life, the worst of what I’ve done, the worst of who I am, the worst of what’s been done to me, the worst of what is happening to me and it doesn’t scare Him away.  It doesn’t push Him away.  If anything, what Advent reveals is that Jesus is willing to run toward the mess and He is willing to sit there in the brokenness of our life, see all the ugly parts and still say, “I’m not going anywhere.  I’ve come to offer you hope.”

Not only has Jesus come to rescue us and offer us hope for today, but also He will come again.  And when He does our rescue will be complete and we will never experience a sense of hopelessness for the rest of eternity.  Hope, by definition, is the unshakable confidence that in the future, we will be what we were created to be and have what we long for the most. We want more than what we have in this life, because “God has set eternity in the hearts of men.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)  We long for perfection; perfect love, perfect relationships, a perfect sense of meaning and purpose in our lives, the absence of all sin and pain.  This is the future that God promises to His children and it’s why the return of Christ is called our “blessed hope” in Titus 2:13. Our inheritance is waiting for us.  But, until it’s ultimately received, “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word I put my hope.  My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.  Put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption.”  (Psalm 130:5 – 7)

Come, Thou long-expected Jesus,
Born to set Thy people free
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s Strength and Consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart. 


​Verses to Consider:  Psalm 42:11, Psalm 139:5 - 7, Jeremiah 29:11, Romans 8:25, 1 Peter 3:15

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