I’ve recommended 843 Acres: The Devotional Blog of The Park Forum in this space previously. I continue to be very impressed by the quality of thought which goes into these devotionals, especially considering how very concise they are. A typical post is two or three paragraphs, and a prayer.
One from this past week which I found particularly meaningful was entitled The End of Fatalism. The author introduces the subject like this:
“One of the worst feelings in life is fatalism–that is, the feeling of resignation that this is the way things will be forever and nothing will change. That this is the way that I am or my spouse is or my kids are or work is or our government is or our society is. That I am powerless to do anything about it. That it will go on this way forever and, most likely, it will just get worse.”
Wow, can I relate to that. There are many days when I read some news article or commentary and it fills me with despair for our country, and fear for my little granddaughter.
The author’s second paragraph, on hopelessness, describes life for the early Christians at Jerusalem, as recorded in Acts 8:1-3 (ESV):
“On the day that Stephen was killed, a great persecution arose against the church in Jerusalem, which scattered the believers throughout the region. One of the main leaders of the persecution was a young Pharisee named Saul: “Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison”. Imagine how hopeless the church felt–they had no Bill of Rights to protect them, the Roman government was hostile toward them, and the religious leaders had letters of authority to imprison them… Would this ever change?” (emphasis mine)
Things looked bleak. Of course, Israel’s whole history was one cycle after another of prosperity followed by subjugation. On the other hand, that cycle was largely the result of their own willful neglect of God’s laws. But for the early Church, the persecution came as they were minding their own business, even being spoken well of as exemplary citizens (see Acts 5:13). Pharisees like Saul viewed this sect of Judaism as a threat to their own authority (just as they were threatened by Jesus’ teaching in the first place).
But God had other plans for Saul, and for the Church. The story continues with conversion (quotes are from Act 9:1, 23 and 31, ESV):
“Then, out of nowhere, God took Saul and turned him around. Saul was on his way to Damascus, ‘still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord’, and God opened his heart. He changed so much that he went from being the worst enemy of Christ to being his strongest advocate. In fact, his former Jewish colleagues and brothers began conspiring to murder him. What happened to the church? In the entire region, it ‘had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied’.”
One of the many benefits of a regular reading of Scripture is the reminders it provides that there is truly “nothing new under the sun.” Any experience that we can have as humans has been had before. Fears, doubts, joys, sorrows are all there. And often when things looked most hopeless, God changed everything in a moment:
- Trapped between the chariots of Egypt and the Red Sea, Moses raised his staff and Israel walked through the water on dry land (Exodus 14).
- A woman was on the verge of being stoned to death; Jesus asked a question of the crowd, and she walked away free–no wounds, and no condemnation (John 8:1-11).
Certainly there were also times when God apparently did not intervene:
- After all those cycles of falling away, chastening and repentance, Israel finally hits rock bottom and the people are taken into captivity for 70 years (see II Kings 24-25).
- The Messiah is arrested, executed and put into the grave (Matthew 27 et al).
In fact, God’s restraint is a mysterious thing–how long He often waits while evil increases! The history of Israel since the captivity is merely a continuation of those cycles of oppression and liberty. Against all odds, that little nation, beloved of the Lord, continues to survive.
But it is the rest of the story of Messiah which is the central event to which we must look for hope. For three days, the disciples despaired. And then they heard, “He is not hear, He is risen!” (Mark 16:6 et al) Then they saw the nail-pierced hands. And they sat at His feet for 40 days more before He ascended to heaven.
This is THE reason for the hope which we should have, no matter how bleak our current outlook seems to be.
Here is the prayer that ends the 843 Acres post I’ve been musing on. I can’t end on any stronger note than this (again, emphasis mine):
“Lord, You are near and strong and interested in the affairs of this world and in the progress and mission of your redemption. You continue to change us and make us into your image to reflect the glory of your name. Today, remind us – especially those of us who struggle with hopeless despair – that you are full of surprises for churches, nations, families and individuals. Give us expectant hearts about our futures and increase our faith in your freedom and sovereignty. Amen.”
It’s a continuing struggle to remember this.