Monday, January 18, 2016

Hope and Perseverance

Hope Keeps Us Moving by Brandy M. Miller
God brought us into being out of love. Love for us, and love for the other people He created. We are the answer to the prayers of the past, present, and future. We have a mission that is unique to us and that only we are capable of accomplishing.

Joseph's Gift and Mission

In the book of Genesis, chapters 30 through 50, we meet a man named Joseph. Joseph was given a special gift from his boyhood, a gift of dream interpretation. That gift didn't seem like that great a gift at first. It got him into lots of trouble with his brothers, because some of those dreams told him one day his brothers would bow down before him. 

Joseph was the youngest, but he was his father's favorite, and the older brothers already resented him. The dreams just made them resent him all the more. So, Joseph's brothers got together and threw the boy into a well. Only the quick thinking of his older brother, Reuben, stopped them from killing him. Instead, they agreed to sell him into slavery.

Aside from being a bit puffed up with pride on account of his special gift, Joseph hadn't done anything wrong. He didn't deserve the treatment his brothers gave him, and from his human perspective it must have seemed that gift of dream interpretation was a curse instead.

Joseph was sold to a passing caravan of slave traders who took him far away from his home and family and into the land of Egypt. He was sold to Potiphar, a leader of the royal guard. Potiphar took a liking to Joseph, and put him in charge of the household. Things seemed to be looking up for Joseph, but then misfortune befell Joseph again.

Potiphar's wife took a liking to Joseph, too, and decided she wanted him. When he refused her, she accused him of rape. Because Potiphar liked Joseph, instead of immediately killing him, he had him thrown into prison. Joseph must have been wondering what God was thinking, wondering if this was the end of his life.

It was in the prison that Joseph met the Chief Jailer, and befriended the man. Eventually the jailer put him in charge of the other inmates. Eventually, the Pharoah cast into prison his chief cupbearer and his chief pastry chef. Each man was given a dream, which Joseph then interpreted in front of the jailer, and those interpretations proved correct on both counts.

The cup bearer was released from prison as Joseph predicted but forgot his promise to plead Joseph's case once he got back to work for Pharoah. For two more years, Joseph lingered forgotten in prison because the cup bearer forgot his promise. 

But when those two years were up, Pharoah began experiencing dreams he couldn't explain away that bothered him. He called magicians and wise men, scribes and learned men from everywhere and nobody could correctly interpret them. That's when the good deed done for that cup bearer came back to Joseph's favor. The cup bearer remembered Joseph's gift of interpretation and recommended him to Pharoah.

And now, Pharoah puts Joseph in charge of the entire land of Egypt. When the famine struck that Joseph had predicted based on Pharoah's dreams, Egypt was prepared. She'd set aside her surplus for 7 years and filled up the grain stores to their brim. His brothers and the children of Israel had not fared so well, though. Without Joseph's dreams to help them see what was coming, they were ill prepared when the famine set in and were soon out of food.

They heard about Egpyt's stores and went to beg food. Joseph was the one who greeted them, but they didn't recognize him. Ordinary men might have used this as an opportunity to get back at his brothers for what they'd done to him, but Joseph was a man of God and chose to forgive. He recognized that he'd been put through everything he'd been put through so that he would be in position to help save his family when they needed him most.

Your Gift and Your Mission

Joseph was called to save the nation of Israel from a terrible famine. It was his background, it was his struggles with his family, and it was his personality that put him in the position to do that when the time came. Every misfortune that God allowed to befall Joseph was designed to get him to that single point where he would have the chance to accomplish his mission. The same thing is true about you, and about your mission.

But none of what Joseph went through made since until the day when his family came to him begging for help. None of it. Joseph knew he didn’t deserve the treatment he’d received from his own family. When he was sold into slavery, he knew he didn’t deserve that, either. When he was thrown into prison, Joseph knew he’d been faithful to God, he knew he wasn’t guilty of touching the wife of Potiphar. But in all of this, God was moving Joseph into position for the rest of the story to unfold.

It was because he was sold as a slave and thrown into prison that he got to know the jailer. It was because he got to know the jailer and shared his talent for interpreting dreams with the cup bearer that he came to Pharoah’s attention. It was because he could interpret dreams that Pharoah put him in charge of the kingdom. It was because he was in charge of the kingdom that he was able to save the nation of Israel from starvation when his brothers came to beg.

The gift Joseph received of dream interpretation wasn’t particularly useful when it first became something Joseph was aware of having. It got him into trouble with his brothers, and seemed a curse when because of it he was cast into that well and later sold to the Egyptians. But that gift would save his life, and the lives of millions of others one day, and was a crucial ingredient in his ability to complete his mission.

You have one, too. You have a gift that is unique to you. You also have a mission, one that is unique to you. The gift is there to help you accomplish your mission, but until the time comes when your mission is ready to be fulfilled, that gift is most likely going to cause you a lot of grief. And that is one reason for the gift of hope: It tells us to keep going past that grief so we can get to the point where we fulfill our mission.

We Face a Powerful Enemy

There is a force in this world that burns with eternal hatred for humanity and wants to destroy it. Better yet, it wants to convince us to destroy ourselves. It is this enemy that whispers discouragement into our ears and tells us to give up, that things are hopeless, that there’s no point to anything.

It wants to convince us that God doesn’t love us, and better yet to convince us He doesn’t exist, and that what we do doesn’t matter anyway. It does this because it knows that if it can rob us of hope and convince us we are worthless and that there’s no point to our lives, we won’t cooperate with God and we won’t be in place to accomplish our mission when the time comes.

That enemy is stronger than us. It is older than us, and has more experience than we do. It knows human behavior better than we do, and it knows our weak spots. It knows how to tempt us and get us distracted. It knows what it will take to get us to give up – and it keeps pressing against us, trying to destroy our hope so that mission of love is never carried out and the world misses out on the opportunity to experience God’s love.

God knows the enemy, though, better than the enemy knows itself. He gave humanity hope so that in spite of the enemy’s powers, we might cling to hope and find in it the courage to continue on the path that will lead us to accomplishing our mission.

Our Personal Defeats Are Often Greater Than Our Victories

Scripture doesn’t talk a whole lot about Joseph’s personal struggles to overcome his character flaws. It doesn’t tell us about the vices he mastered, and the cost to do it. There’s a bunch of that story that’s missing, but I know my own journey and I know the journey of others.

I know that I have struggled to overcome all manner of sin inside myself, and that it usually wasn’t a matter of just quitting cold turkey. It was quitting, and backsliding, and quitting, only to backslide again. It was a whole lot of defeats stacked up against a few tiny victories. If I focused on the defeats, I might have given up right there. There was a mountain of them.

Hope taught me not to focus on my defeats. Hope told me those defeats were temporary setbacks that would only become permanent if I gave up. It told me to look back only so that I could see just how far I’d come from where I began. I might not be where I wanted to be yet, but I was better off than where I’d been.

Hope reminded me that success comes in the same way that walking comes to a toddler. It doesn’t happen magically overnight. Those muscles aren’t strong enough to keep you up at first. You pull up, and you fall, and you pull up some more, and you fall some more. Then, eventually, you get strong enough to stand up on two legs for a bit. You catch your balance.

The amount of time you can stand on your own gradually gets longer and then you take your first step. And you fall. And you do it again. And you fall. And you do it again and again and again, and then suddenly you can take two steps, and then three, and then you are walking, and then eventually running.

If you were to stack up the number of defeats while you’re learning to walk against the number of victories, I think you’d never have learned to walk in the first place. You’d have given up.

Fortunately, babies are born believing that they can. They look at other people and see them doing it, and assume that it is meant for them to do, too. So they are willing to fail.

They don’t look at failure as a stop sign but a learning opportunity. Exam what went wrong, try something different. They get discouraged – they cry, they scream, they throw temper tantrums – but they don’t give up. And then, one day, they can do it.

As adults, we tend to forget this lesson. We think we’re supposed to get it on the first try or surely by the 50th. We stop giving ourselves room to fail. And we quit too soon.

Hope is there to tell us not to give up, to remind us that the impossible is possible if we can hold on to faith long enough.

Hope Keeps Us from Giving In to the Lies

“You can’t do it.”

“It can’t be done.”

“You’re never going to amount to anything.”

“You’re such a loser.”

“What makes you think you’re so special?”

If you’ve ever heard these words spoken to you, you aren’t alone. There are about a thousand of these kind of lies that get told to anyone who ever dreams of accomplishing anything.

Our enemy wants us to believe those things. It wants us to believe that we are nothing. That we are nobody. That we can’t make a difference.

The real truth is that it only takes changing ONE life to change the course of all of human history. Be the person who changed the life of an Abraham Lincoln, a  Mahatma Ghandi, a Martin Luther King Jr, or a Mother Theresa, and you have impacted more lives than you will ever know. Your life, no matter how small and insignificant it may seem, has all the power it needs to change the world.
Hope keeps you from giving in to those lies.

Hope reminds you that you can do it. Hope reminds you that it can be done. Hope reminds you that you were meant to amount to greater things than even you dare to dream. Hope reminds you that losing doesn’t make you a loser. And hope reminds you that you are special, you are loved, and you are meant to do great things.

The words that discourage us, that belittle us, that diminish us aren’t the truth about who we are or why we are here. They are the lies. Hope is the truth. Hope is a reminder that we are powerful forces for good, that we are a people on a mission to make a change in this world, and that we have the ability to make those changes if we continue to try.

Hope Keeps Us Moving

When the road is long and the way is tough,
our muscles are screaming we don’t have enough
Hope keeps us moving
Hope tells us one more step, one more bend
Hope reminds us that soon we’ll reach the end
Hope keeps us moving
When we’re ready to quit and say we don’t care
Hope reminds us we’re nearly there
Hope keeps us moving
Don’t give up, don’t give in
You’ve never been closer to the win
Than on the day

Discouragement holds sway.

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