Sunday, March 14, 2010

Faith : Hope : Love

If we can understand how faith, hope, and love connect, it will help us to live life better.

Everyone has hope. Everyone has hope, because hope is God’s gift to everyone. Hope that one day, things will be better than they are now. But we have forgotten how to speak of hope. We say things like, “I hope it won’t rain tomorrow” – which isn’t a hope that will sustain us for long. Or, “I hope I won’t get cancer” – which isn’t hope at all, but fear pretending to be hope.

But everyone has hope. Hope that you will get a job. Hope that a broken relationship might be reconciled. Hope that our children might thrive.

Hope is always just out of reach. We don’t hope for what we already have. A child hopes for a bike. Christmas approaches, and they ask themselves, “Will this be the day?” Christmas arrives, and there is no bike. But they don’t give up hope: perhaps their birthday will be the day. On their birthday, they come downstairs, and there is the bike. So they stop hoping for a bike, and hope for something else instead – perhaps for the opportunity to ride it.

The fulfilment of our hope is always just beyond our reach, in the future. So how do we hold on to it? The Bible says that faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. That is, faith takes hold of us, and of the thing we hope for, and does not let go.

But for many of us, that is not our day-to-day experience. Perhaps you would say that faith is not part of your experience of life at all. Perhaps you would say that you have faith – you believe in God - but that you had no idea that it was meant to connect to your hopes.

Where faith does not fill the gap between our hearts and our hopes, the opposite of faith fills that gap. The opposite of faith is not doubt, or even unbelief, but fear. (That is why Jesus’ disciples, in the boat in the middle of the lake in a storm, lacking faith were afraid: the opposite of faith is fear.)

Sometimes fear makes itself look very big, so that the thing we hope for is blotted out – but it is still there, because God has given hope to everyone – or, in comparison to the fear looks very small or very far away. Sometimes fear is more subtle – it steers you all around hope with your back to it, so that you scan the 360-degree horizon and don’t see any sign of hope. (That is why we see and step-into God’s kingdom – things we hope for breaking in – when we repent, or turn around, or look behind us.)

So, you hope that one day the streets of Liverpool will be free of guns. But you fear that your children will be caught in the gangland crossfire.

God’s word says that perfect love drives out fear. And God’s love has a name. That name is Jesus. If we will allow Jesus to draw near to our hearts, his love drives out the fear that has placed itself between us and the things we hope for.

And so fear is driven out, and there is space again for faith. But where does that faith come from? God’s word says that faith comes from hearing the word of Christ. That is, that as we allow Jesus – the perfect expression of God’s love – close to our hearts, he speaks a word to us that gives birth to faith. The Bible is full of promises, and Jesus speaks particular promises into our circumstances. He drives out the fear that we will be alone in our old age, and speaks the word, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” You see, faith is not just believing in God (the demons do that); faith relates to the particular things God has promised.

So love gives birth to faith, and faith connects us to the hope that God has given us.

In your heart, focus on your hope. Ask God’s love to draw near, and drive out the fear that stands between us and that hope. And ask him to speak the word that gives birth to the faith we need to hold on...

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