Top of Page ILLUMINATING AND THINKING ABOUT THE SERMON
These verses are somewhat of a mixed bag. They all seem to go in the same direction, but they can be a bit confusing. However, if you suddenly see that it is all about hope then things suddenly become clear. It is all about sticking with God. It is all about not giving up on God. It is not only about putting our hope in God but also trusting in God’s judgement for our lives. That is a tough one when we ask for healing and find that our mother has suddenly died. That is a tough one when we pray continuously for the healing of your baby son only to find yourself watching him slip away and stop breathing. It is hard to stick with God when your wife can not even get her breath because she cannot live without her baby son. It is hard to stick with God. However, maybe just maybe God is showing us something more than even death can understand.
So, God says, “I will make a new agreement...It will not be like the agreement I made with their ancestors.” The point is that they broke the old agreement. Any new agreement should have more severe terms. If my car loan goes bad and I have to renegotiate it, I assure you that the interest will be higher on the new consolidation loan. The people knew that they were “in arrears” in their agreement with God. Jeremiah prepares to tell them that because of this, God is going to make a new agreement. There was fear that they would be “included out.”
There are some allusions to what the people of Israel believe about their covenant with God in Jeremiah 31:27-34 that would make one yearn for a new agreement. They felt that God was watching over them for the opportunities to pull them up and tear them down, to destroy them and bring them to disaster. People were saying, “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and that caused the children to grind their teeth from the sour taste.” This is a picture of God that lacks mercy and compassion.
However, the new agreement will put God’s teachings in their minds and write them on their hearts. “I will be their God and they will be my people...I will forgive them for the wicked things they did, and I will not remember their sins anymore.” As Jeremiah spoke the people waited for the other shoe to fall. What will be the “if/and/but” clauses that will make it impossible for the people to remain in this new agreement? There wasn’t one! God will love Israel and Judah because He can! If one sincerely cannot pay the debt, then it is to be forgiven? Is this any way to run a universe? Yes! A thousand times yes!
There is an ancient story of the monk who was trying to free himself of some venial sin. Each day he would recount to God in prayer how he had struggled and how he had inevitably failed in his struggle not to commit sin. Finally, one morning in shame he opened his prayer with, “Lord, it is me again.” And the Lord replied, “Who?” because when the Lord forgives; He also forgets.
Our forgiveness cannot reach the level of God’s, because we cannot forget. Oh, we can try to forget, but at the worst possible times, we will remember. The video tape in our head will rewind to the event and we will review and rehash the past. We are able to say to the people we love (we only forgive people we love),”I forgive you and I’ll never mention it again.” It will come to mind at very inappropriate times, but if we keep faith with our loved one, and never mention it again the power fades and is finally broken.
Charles Wesley wrote in his hymn “O for a thousand tongues to sing” this phrase: “He breaks the power of canceled sin; He sets the prisoner free.” Canceled sin has power?
Can a canceled check be represented to the bank? No, but canceled sin that is brooded over and nursed, talked about and reviewed, used as an excuse for one’s failure still has a perverse power in the life of the one refusing to let it go.
This passage from Jeremiah has been called the “New Covenant passage.” It is really the revelation of the extravagance of God in His love for His children. Evidence of the great good news that we will not get what we deserve, but what God who loves us desires to give. The turning out of the children of Israel from the fold of God that was being predicted by all who hated them and saw their tribulations as evidence of God-forsaken-ness turned into a gathering into His fold. The old saying— “They drew a circle that kept me out. Heretic, sinner, a thing to flout. But love and I had the wit to win. We drew a circle that took them in”—is also true about our God.
Now we move five hundred years into the future. Jesus is having trouble with his disciples losing heart. In Luke 18:1-8, Jesus addresses this by telling a parable. His parable at first hearing was no comfort to His disciples. Jesus told of a judge who did not care for the people, who did not care to do what was right, and who only was interested in his own comfort. The story is one of perseverance by a widow. Do not lose sight of the significance of Jesus having the one in need of advocacy being a widow. She was one of the disenfranchised of Israel. If there had been any man caring for her, he would have been the one going to the judge. Her husband had died and from the context of her actions we know that she did not have a son to move in with, that she did not have a father still living to return home to, nor did her husband have a brother who would take her as his wife. So, we see a widow “running the streets” trying to get justice from a judge who Jesus says, “did not respect God or care about people.”
This parable turns upon the judge’s soliloquy, “Even though I do not respect God or care about people, I will see that she gets her rights. Otherwise she will continue to bother me until I am worn out.” The disciples to this point believe Jesus is just telling them what they already know: a) God most times seems distant and distracted when one begins praying; b) One can get their wishes granted , if they just do not let up; c) Prayer is a war of attrition between people who want things and God who grants things. The disciples had not yet taken into their heart the truth that God knows what one needs before one asks. The idea that one could by persevering get God to grant something against His will seemed to be reinforced by Jesus’ parable.
Then Jesus reveals the great reversal. God is not like the judge in the parable! He will not be slow to answer. He will quickly help. “God will always give what is right to His people who cry out to Him night and day,” is the true reality. The false world view that has God watching people withering away in prayer, battering the doors of His storehouse, hoping for a handout is destroyed by the revelation of this teaching which promises that God will answer His people.
The framing sentences of this parable are significant. Jesus taught it to teach His disciples that they should pray and never lose hope. The summary at the end asks the question: “When the Son of Man comes again, will He find those on earth who believe in Him?” It is interesting that Jesus reveals that prayer—sincere, misguided prayer—can cause one to lose hope. Even the Greeks knew that if hope had not gotten out of Pandora’s box that would be the end of their civilization. A people cannot live without hope. Prayer to God is like a legal petition to the Supreme Court of the United States. It might not go your way, but once it is adjudicated it is forever. People pray once for someone or something and the answer they seek is not forthcoming, so they give up on prayer and lose hope. This second position is infinitely worse than the first. As long as one has not made something a matter of prayer, he or she can rock along with their opinions and prejudices guiding them.
Jesus told this parable to try to correct a misunderstanding about prayer. If one prays and gets the answer one sought, then do not become arrogant. It was good that our prayer was within the will of God. If one prays and the answer tarries, do not lost heart, keep seeking an answer. God is not a trifler. God might be saying, “Not yet,” but it is possible, considering our human ability to ask for unbelievable things, that God is trying to get us to hear, “You’ve got to be kidding!” Jesus invites us to change our view of “Our Father in Heaven” to whom we pray. He also invites us to pray without fear of losing heart It is sometimes true, as Garth Brooks’ song says: “Thank God, for unanswered prayers.” Jesus came to fully reveal the new agreement Jeremiah proclaimed.
31:27–30. The promise of the future (“days are coming”; cf. vv. 31, 38) is couched in the promise of fertility and in the language of Jeremiah’s call. The land will be full of people, and the animals that provide sustenance and support will also multiply. The close connection between the prophet’s call and the message of the prophet is underscored again as the Lord speaks of a turn from deeds of judgment (1:10, 14) to acts of renewal. In this Book of Consolation, the prophet carries out the commission “to build and to plant.”
The coming days will negate the attitude, conveyed in the proverb of v. 29, that the children must pay for the sins of their mothers and fathers. Ezekiel 18 makes clear that this attitude was common among Judeans after the fall of their country. Instead, the Lord will build and plant a community different from the one of the past. In this future, when sin occurs it will be dealt with, but it will be a community that is not shaped by a long history of disobedience. The proverb thus does three things: (1) removes a despairing attitude from the mind of the community; (2) contributes to the picture of a renewal of community life by God’s power; and (3) incorporates into this vision of newness a realistic note that knows the reality of sin in the human condition but believes it will be checked and controlled, not pervasive and determinative in the new community.
31:31–34. In one of the most famous passages of Jeremiah, we hear about a “new covenant.” This is the only reference to a new covenant in the OT, but the language and images of such newness are important in the restoration promises of other prophets, including a new heart and a new spirit (Ezek 11:19–20; 18:31; 36:26) and new things (Isa 42:9; 43:19; 48:6). The similarities of this text to Ezekiel’s prophecy are especially important because they indicate that one of the key features of this new covenant—that it is written on the heart (v. 33) and does not have to be taught (v. 34)—was a part of the exilic and post-exilic vision for the future. Ezekiel also has in mind a future when God will affect a new kind of obedience. For Ezekiel, obedience will derive from a new spirit and a new heart; for Jeremiah, it will stem from God’s writing the law on the heart. Ezekiel’s joining of a new heart and a new spirit unites these motifs. In the next chapter of Jeremiah, the Lord reiterates the covenant formula that is declared in v. 33b (“I will be their God and they shall be my people”) in the context of promising to give the people “one heart … that they may fear me for all time.… and I will put the fear of me in their hearts” (32:38–40). This idea is not unlike the shift in Deuteronomy from the command to “circumcise, then, the foreskin of your heart; and do not be stubborn any longer” (Deut 10:16 NRSV) to the promise, from the exilic period or later, “Moreover, the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, in order that you may live” (Deut 30:6 NRSV).176 In all of these texts, God promises a new kind of obedience to the covenant stipulations. God will affect the human heart so that people can keep the covenant requirements.
The promise of return to the promised land is one of the many instances in which God’s deliverance is seen to belong to the very real and material world of human existence in time and space and not only to a spiritual realm. Salvation here has to do with place and the possibilities of life there. Chapter 29 makes it clear that life can go on outside the land. But home is not simply the place where the heart is; it is the gift of God. Scripture has much to say about finding a home and about God’s providing home, welcoming home, bringing home. The image of returning home as a salvific act is so powerful that it comes to have a spiritual dimension as well, through the images of pilgrimage, of looking for a city without foundations, whose builder and maker is God. The language of “going home” is used not infrequently as a way of speaking about death. But these spiritual understandings are rooted in the this-worldly experience of the people of God. Their place in this world is God-given. They have a home because God has provided them a place and an opportunity. The return to the land long ago promised is a return home, and it is a return to the place of security, the place where the means to life can be found. That is a reality in Scripture, and it is one that people in our own time have known in hope or in frustration of hopes, from Jews deported and murdered who sought and found a home, praising God for it, to Palestinians who have lost a home as Jews have found one, to any number of peoples around the globe who have been forced out of their homes. Jeremiah reminds us of the centrality of the need for place and the longing for home in human experience and, even more, of the intention of God to fulfill the need and the yearning.
One of the most noticeable things in these oracles is the way in which the gospel, the announcement of good news to sinners and the oppressed, is addressed to those persons in ways that are fully cognizant of their condition, their suffering and their pain. It meets them where they are and starts from the assumption that things are really bad, that judgment has happened, and pain has been inflicted. In this context, it is not “I’m okay. You’re okay.” Pain and hurt are the present reality. And the one who provides a way out is also the one who brought the people into this condition. In weal and woe, for evil and for good, the community of faith deals with the Lord. The gospel comes to this community, as it so regularly does, on two assumptions: that things are bad and good news is desperately needed, and that the Lord is involved in the bad as well as in the good. While not all suffering is laid at the hands of the Lord, the church should not forget that the biblical story tells us often of experiences of disaster that are the judgment of God. We cannot assume that chastisement does not come to us. The argument of Job against his friends is part of the story of human suffering, but so is the real event of exile as well as the story of a suffering servant whose bruises were for our iniquities.
The new covenant announced in 31:31–34 poses several issues for the church’s reflection. They revolve around the question of what comprises the new covenant and what that means for the old covenant. Who makes up the new covenant? And what happens to the community of the old covenant? The very expression “New Testament” serves to identify the new covenant with the Christ-event. The further identification of the blood of Christ and the cup of communion with the “new covenant” (Luke 22:20; 1 Cor 11:25) serves to underscore the New Testament claim to perceive the establishment of the new covenant relationship in the advent of Christ and the creation of a community that defines its relationship to God through Jesus Christ. The reference to the blood of Christ is a way of pointing to the divine act of salvation that, like the exodus, redeems a people by God’s own power and grace. Christians know that particularly in the cross and celebrate it. Just as the exodus event is a pointer to the Christ event, so also the latter is a confirmation of the other.
Some of the New Testament texts go further in seeing the new covenant in Christ as a negation of the old covenant with Israel (e.g., 2 Cor 3:5–14; Heb 8:8–12; 10:16–17). Christians, in their legitimate desire not to be super-secessionist, probably need to hear these texts both critically and appreciatively. That is, we need to remember that in this as in all matters Christians are grafted onto the Jewish tree (Romans 11) and “come derivatively and belatedly to share the promised newness.” This is the way we are drawn into the covenant, as members of a community of the new covenant. However God’s covenant is renewed with Israel—and the word of Jeremiah is that it is or will be—the Christian community enters anew to that new covenant through Christ. We may need to be very modest about what we say about God’s covenant with the Israel that exists as God’s people alongside the church, possibly more modest than Paul and the author of the Letter to the Hebrews, but not modest in our experienced conviction of what the sacrament regularly tells us, that in the death of Christ, God has acted graciously to create the relationship that makes us God’s people and the Lord as our God. In both cases, the new covenant points us to a reality both experienced and anticipated—the work of God in our lives to make us obedient and responsive to God’s love. The largest question about the new covenant is not about who belongs to it but about whether any of us, Jew or Christian, show forth the new heart and new spirit that God has promised to effect within us. (Miller, P. D. The Book of Jeremiah. In L. E. Keck (Ed.), New Interpreter’s Bible [1994–2004, Nashville] V 6, p811–6)
The northern kingdom of Israel had fallen to Assyria, Babylon’s predecessor as the great power in the Middle East, 150 years previously. Admittedly Jeremiah himself was living proof that God had not wholly cast off northern Israel, for he came from the clan of Benjamin. It lived just north of Jerusalem, but technically it belonged to northern Israel. Perhaps the continuing existence of the rump of Israel had thus encouraged people to believe that God had not abandoned it. If so, God is about to take away even that sign of hope. Judah and what is left of Israel will both fall. As the land of Israel once had its population taken away by Assyria, so Judah will have its population taken away by Babylon. God had thus appointed Jeremiah over nations and kingdoms in connection with plucking up and pulling down, destroying and overthrowing, and God’s word was coming true (1:10).
But there had been more to God’s appointment of Jeremiah. Perhaps surprisingly, God had gone on to speak about building and planting (1:10). Now God takes up those words from the beginning of Jeremiah’s ministry (see 31:28). Most of God’s words back then, and during Jeremiah’s ministry, concerned plucking up and breaking down, overthrowing and destroying. In other words, they concerned bringing “evil” (v. 28). “Evil” denotes calamity or disaster. As in Isaiah 45:7, the implication is not that God does moral evil. Like English, Hebrew has a word that means moral evil (resha˓) and also a word that means “bad” (ra˓), which can denote moral evil but can also refer to things that are calamitous or disastrous. It is the second word that appears here.
The words about calamity have been fulfilled. The prophecy presupposes the actual fall of the city and the taking away of its people. The upside to that fulfillment is that it opens up the possibility of believing that the words about restoration will be fulfilled. It does that in more than one way. The words about renewal could not be fulfilled until the words about destruction had been. But in addition, the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s words about destruction was also grounds for trusting in the words about restoration. Jeremiah has been shown to be a true prophet, and his God had been shown to be really sovereign in events.
One outworking of that sovereignty will be the sowing of the land with new seed (v. 27). Jeremiah refers not to literal seed but to the metaphorical seed constituted by a new human and animal population. The prophecy presupposes that many of the people will indeed have been transported to Babylon, and many of the animals will die in war or in the chaos and neglect that follows Babylonian victory. It is noteworthy that the household to be rebuilt is the household of Israel and of Judah. It transpires that the continuing existence of a rump of the house of northern Israel was indeed a sign that God had not finished with it. How could this not be so? How could God abandon Israel?
There will be another feature of God’s restoration of the people. They will then no longer complain that the children have a bad taste in their mouth as a result of their parents having eaten something unpleasant.
At present, they are asking, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” There is no one answer to this question, in Jeremiah’s day or ours, though there are several different answers that may apply to different people. Jeremiah affirms that on the other side of this coming calamity, people will no longer have reason to make this complaint.
His declaration that we all stand individually before God, responsible for our own destiny, is congenial in the modern age, and people have been inclined to assume that of course this is the truth. The Old Testament is here getting beyond the view expressed elsewhere that children pay for their parents’ sins. The people were simply misguided in suggesting that they were paying the penalty for their ancestors’ wrongdoing. Because that is the unbalanced prejudice of our culture, we need to face the truth in what they were saying. Early in Jeremiah’s ministry, King Josiah had tried to bring about a wide-ranging reform of religious and social life in Judah and the rump of Israel (see, e.g., 22:15–16; 2 Kings 22–23). This had included eliminating the Assyrian and Canaanite religious customs that prevailed in Jerusalem. But he had failed, and his successors had gone back on his work. And that was the cause of the calamity coming on the city. With hindsight one might say that matters had gone too far. It was already too late. The parents had eaten things that were bad, and the children were left with the bad taste.
It is a fact that the lives of parents affect children. That is part of the way God made humanity. We are bound up in the bundle of life together and not able to subsist on our own from the beginning of our lives, like some animals. That gives us great blessing, but in other contexts we pay a price. It does not mean that we are not responsible for making our own response to God and to life; we cannot blame our parents. It does mean that some people may have a harder time than others in making the right response.
In different contexts there may be a need to stress the importance of the corporate relationships of family and community, or to stress the reality of individual responsibility. Jeremiah lived in a time when people were paralyzed by their awareness of the cost they were paying for their ancestors’ actions, and they needed to be reminded that they could make their own response to God. Modern Western culture needs the reminder of the way our decisions affect our contemporaries and the people who come after us, who may not be able to avoid paying a price for what we do or fail to do.
Fifty years after the fall of Jerusalem, God began the process of sowing and building and planting and changing people. As Assyria had given way to Babylon, so Babylon gave way to Persia. The new Persian government commissioned Judeans living in Babylon to return to Judah to begin the renewing of city and community there, “in order that the word of Yahweh by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished” (Ezra 1:1). The Christian church can thus read this prophecy in at least two ways.
One is that we see it as an instance of God’s commitment to the Jewish people, not least when it is overcome by calamity. God ever says anew to the Jewish people, “I will watch over them to build and to plant.” In our own lifetime we have seen a number of ways in which God has once more fulfilled this promise, not least against the terrible background of calamity in the Holocaust.
The second is that insofar as we as Christians have been admitted in Christ into membership of the people of God, the promises that God made to Israel apply to us—not in place of Israel, but through our association with Israel. In the West the church has also been plucked up, broken down, overthrown, and destroyed, and has gone through calamity. It is hard for us to acknowledge that this is so. It is harder in the USA than in Europe, because secularization has not proceeded as far in the USA and Christian faith still has considerable respect. But only when we acknowledge that it is so can we begin to claim the promise that God also watches over us “to build and to plant.” (Goldingay, J. In The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis For Sunday’s Texts [2001, Grand Rapids, MI] V 1p 437–440)
This parable tells of the kind of thing which could, and often did, happen. There are two characters in it. (1) The judge was clearly not a Jewish judge. All ordinary Jewish disputes were taken before the elders, and not into the public courts at all. If, under Jewish law, a matter was taken to arbitration, one man could not constitute a court. There were always three judges, one chosen by the plaintiff, one by the defendant, and one independently appointed.
This judge was one of the paid magistrates appointed either by Herod or by the Romans. Such judges were notorious. Unless plaintiffs had influence and money to bribe their way to a verdict, they had no hope of ever getting a case settled. These judges were said to pervert justice for a dish of meat. People even punned on their title. Officially they were called Dayyaneh Gezeroth, which means judges of prohibitions or punishments. Popularly they were called Dayyaneh Gezeloth, which means robber judges.
(2) The widow was the symbol of all who were poor and defenseless. It was obvious that she, without resource of any kind, had no hope of ever extracting justice from such a judge. But she had one weapon—persistence. It is possible that what the judge in the end feared was actual physical violence. The word translated, lest she exhausts me, can mean, lest she gives me a black eye. It is possible to close a person’s eye in two ways—either by sleep or by assault and battery! In either event, in the end her persistence won the day.
This parable is like the parable of the friend at midnight. It does not liken God to an unjust judge; it contrasts him to such a person. Jesus was saying, ‘If, in the end, an unjust and rapacious judge can be wearied into giving a widow justice, how much more will God, who is a loving father, give his children what they need?’
That is true, but it is no reason why we should expect to get whatever we pray for. Often a father has to refuse the request of a child, because he knows that what the child asks would hurt rather than help. God is like that. We do not know what is to happen in the next hour, let alone the next week, or month, or year. Only God sees time whole, and, therefore, only God knows what is good for us in the long run. That is why Jesus said we must never be discouraged in prayer. That is why he wondered if human faith would stand the long delays before the Son of Man should come. We will never grow weary in prayer and our faith will never falter if, after we have offered to God our prayers and requests, we add the perfect prayer, Your will be done. (Barclay, W. The Gospel of Luke [2001, Louisville, KY] p263–264)
How hard is it to live in hope? A lot of people celebrate pessimism and feel that this is the true way to look at the world. Jeremiah called on the people of Israel to live in hope while they were exiled from all they loved. The center of their faith was suddenly God just not their homeland. Jeremiah wanted a different covenant between God and his people. That was his whole point. Jeremiah fore shadowing Christ called for the people of Israel to pray for the people who had exiled them. He called on them to pray for their enemies. Now that was radical but also very practical. It called on the people of Jeremiah’s time as it does today to think about those who have wronged you in a radically different fashion.
Top of Page ILLUSTRATING THE SERMON
Would you rather live in hope or die in despair? Now that's an intriguing question that came up at dinner Saturday evening with Stuart, my friend and physician. In these difficult times, many people have abandoned hope and settled for despair, and for apparently good reasons. However, hope and despair share one thing in common: Both can be the result of choices you make about what's happening around you and to you.
Too many people deny the possibilities of an optimistic view, rejecting the notion of taking a positive approach to life as "looking at life through rose-colored glasses." In this regard, Stuart told me of having met a fellow from New Zealand who framed his approach to life this way: "If you live in hope, you will never die in despair." Of course, the missing element to this clever phrase is the practical application part, about getting down in the trenches and doing the work necessary to turn hope into some kind of positive, forward motion.
None of the self-improvement ideas you will find on these Healthy Living pages (including mine) are worth the cyberspace upon which they surf, absent a healthy dose of practical application. As Will Rogers, the cowboy philosopher once said, "A vision without a plan is just a hallucination."
If you are one of the many struggling in the current economic and social climate, hope may seem somewhere between the only thing you have left and just another hallucination. In these times of stress, we hear from those who would encourage us to take a positive view while others regale us with the hopelessness of the situation. So which is it? Is it time for hope or despair?
A recent article by Dr. Art Markman entitled Is There Ever Such A Thing As Too Much Optimism? points to one of the biggest challenges facing those who would prefer an optimistic approach to life. Dr. Markham references a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggesting that there are differences between how people respond to controllable and uncontrollable negative experiences. Apparently, the authors arrive at an interesting if conflicted conclusion: Optimism over uncontrollable negative events is more useful than optimism over controllable negative events. Dr. Markman writes:
The authors of the paper first review evidence on uncontrollable events, and suggest that there is good reason to think that having a positive attitude toward uncontrollable events in the past is a good thing. Classic research by Shelley Taylor, for example, suggests that a patient with breast cancer will adjust better and suffer fewer symptoms of depression by being optimistic rather than by being pessimistic about her disease ...
People who thought positively about (controllable) severe negative events, though, actually showed an increase in symptoms of depression over time. The reason for this increase is that these negative events were controllable. By minimizing the importance of a (negative event), people opened themselves up to experience more of it in the future ... You cannot find ways to eliminate the negative in life if you always accentuate the positive.
So what's at play here? The hopeful breast cancer patient who takes an optimistic view is more likely to take positive action in regard to her recovery. Similarly, the adult embroiled in a difficult, even abusive relationship needs to recognize the situation for what it is, focus on a positive outcome, and take the steps that can lead to an improved relationship. Even if you are being slammed by this economy, you still need to take whatever steps you can to improve your situation. Of course, not all hopeful or optimistic attitudes lead to successful outcomes; however, absent of the hopeful or optimistic attitude, how likely is that you will take the steps necessary to pursue a positive outcome?
One of the main ingredients in differentiating successful vs. despairing outcomes lies in the practical application principle I mentioned earlier. In this regard, beyond the level of impact, there is no real difference between a controllable or uncontrollable negative situation, at least not in terms of how you respond to what has occurred. In either situation, you need to face the situation with a healthy dose of reality, and then make the best choices you can in light of what is present.
Dr. Markman reveals one of the troubling aspects that many suffer from in trying to adopt a more optimistic or positive approach to life. In his reply to a comment on his article, Dr. Markham notes that, "The title I submitted asked whether it is always good to look at the world through rose-colored glasses."
Not knowing Dr. Markman or his underlying philosophy, my apologies if I am misconstruing his words or intent here -- I know full well how difficult it is to explore the depths of an important principle such as this in a blog post. The rose-colored glasses metaphor is so often bandied about that the potential of an optimistic or positive focus becomes diluted, if not completely pushed aside by this kind of phrase. An optimistic or positive focus requires positive action in order to have any real meaning or potential; it is also difficult to take meaningful positive action if you don't begin with an accurate assessment of the current situation. Rose-colored glasses rarely enable a realistic view.
The breast cancer survivor is not one who pretends that cancer is a rosy thing. She first needs to recognize and accept the fact that cancer is upon her; from there, she can begin to take the steps necessary to allow for a possible recovery. If, instead, she submits to the negativity and despair of the "Big C," she is unlikely to do what is necessary to create the possibility of coming out okay on the other side.
What issues are you facing in life -- ranging from health to difficult relationships to having lost your job, your home or your savings? How would you assess yourself in terms of your approach to life? Do you prefer the hopeful, optimistic view? If so, what choices have you made that have enabled you to overcome negative situations? If you have been more in despair than hope, what positive steps could you take if you were to imagine a more optimistic or hopeful outcome -- not a giant leap to perfection, just a small step or two that would help you move forward? (https://www.huffpost.com/entry/would-you-rather-live-in_b_948449)
To live in hope = Hope surrounds us like a house, we feel comfort that comes from it.
To live on hope = Hope is like the fuel or food for us, it sustains us.
To live with hope = Hope lives alongside us, it is part of our life, like a dear family member.
Can you see yourself sitting down watching the sunset, the waves lapping the white sand beach as the evening’s last rays of sunshine warm you? A book lies forgotten in your lap and all you are thinking about is how wonderful it is to be you, right here, right now.
Compare this to you watching the sunset and feeling guilty that you should be making dinner, finishing a work assignment, doing laundry, calling your mother or anything other than just enjoying yourself.
Somewhere along the line, feeling guilty, fearful, and unhappy has become the norm. It is almost expected. What happened to us to take away our feeling of excitement for what tomorrow holds and replaced it with worry?
It is time to revisit the things that caused this change, and to nullify their effects on us. Keep reading for 14 ways to live a life free of fear and full of hope.
1. Let Go of Pre-Existing Ideas That Don’t Make Sense
My friend and radio co-host, Sally Nutter, told me about a time she thought she couldn’t eat a pizza because she couldn’t find a knife to cut it. She finally realized that she could tear it up and enjoy it just as much.
There are so many ideas that are set in our minds early on and never looked at again. We do the darndest things for no other reason than we have always done them that way, or someone told us it was the right way to do it.
Start looking at the things you do. Re-evaluate the things that bug you. If they don’t make sense, do it your own way!
2. Know Your Own Power
Everyone doubts their ability to make things go right. Many times, these doubts have nothing to do with whether we can or can’t, but they make us very unhappy.
Take a look at the doubts you have and put them into words. What, or who, made you feel doubtful? As we grow, doubts can be sown in our minds. They can be stated outright or simply implied. Remember that this is someone else’s opinion and can be discarded no matter how much they assert it as truth.
Look at these doubts in the present and decide whether they are true for you. Discard the ones that don’t make sense.
3. Look Carefully at the Things You Are Afraid Of
I had a friend who I wanted to take traveling with me, but she was afraid of flying. Back in the 80s, planes were falling out of the sky and many of us developed fears based on media reports.
In order to help her out, I sent her to a site that outlined all of the advancements that have been made, and how safe airplanes are today. There were details of exactly how these new things worked and the statistics on safety. She felt a lot better after that.
Things in the past can impact how we view things in the present. Look at current information on things that make you fearful and see if you are worrying over something with relatively low risk.
4. Trust Yourself
Somehow you have made it through everything life has thrown at you and you are still in the game. Although life is uncertain, take a minute to look at all of the seemingly impossible times you have had to deal with. Think about all the times you asked yourself if you would make it through.
Somehow you did it. You may not have done it gracefully, but you did it!
Have faith that whatever happens in the future, you will find a way to deal with it.
5. Quit Looking for Stuff to Fix
There are many Home Improvement Shows, and I love them, but there are times when we should be happy with what we see in front of us.
Our houses are not model houses. We live in them. They will, at times, be untidy and look lived in.
Relax if something needs to be fixed. Trust that you will get to it. But for now, just enjoy.
6. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
When we go through tough times, we adopt survival patterns that work for the rough times but are not necessarily right for everyday living.
We may have decided to worry about the small things, so they don’t get away from us. It takes the joy out of life.
If something goes wrong, you will notice and handle it. Most of the small stuff irons itself out.
7. Remind Yourself That You Are Worthy
There are many messages tossed at us in life. Most of the time, they are attempts to get us to buy something. We are told we are not thin enough, smart enough, educated enough, or cool enough.
Here is a new take on these things:
You are enough.
You are enough no matter what you weigh. You are enough no matter what your IQ is. You are enough if you decide that you are.
These things are up to you, not anyone else. Know that you, as you are, are worthy of love, happiness, and all the good things in life.
Take a look at this guide and know your own worth: How to Raise Your Self Worth and Trust Yourself More
8. No Matter What Is Bugging You, You Can Always Do Something About It
Looking at your situation right now, it may look pretty bleak. But no matter what is happening in your life, there is always something that you can do about it.
If there is something bugging you, sit down and figure out some things you can do about it and then go and do them.
9. Hang out with Positive People
There is nothing more discouraging than someone who is apathetic and makes it known to everyone around him or her, or the person who is always angry or sad no matter what you do to help them.
These people can bring us down. Limit your exposure to these people. The majority of your time should be spent with dynamic people who are happy and get things done.
People who find ways of handling things in life are the people who feed you positive energy.
10. Don’t Let Anyone Insult, Manipulate, or Use You
This can be hard to spot but whenever you feel uncomfortable around someone or feel as if you are walking on eggshells, chances are they are doing or saying things that bring you down and make you liable to manipulation.
Social rules can make it difficult to stand up for yourself when someone is negative or insulting but, that is what that person is counting on.
People who covertly insult you are counting on the fact that you feel you are being rude if you point out that they have acted thoughtlessly. But they are the ones who lack manners.
If someone treats you bad, just remember that there is something wrong with them, not you. Normal people don’t go around destroying other people.
If someone insults you, you have every right to cordially insist that they treat you with respect. It is not good manners to sit there and be abused. If someone insulted your spouse or child, you would rise to their defense. Why not rise to your own defense?
11. Don’t Set Personal Goals Based on External Influences
Last week, I was talking about goals with my brilliant friend, Julia. She reminded me that it can be damaging to set personal goals based on external factors over which we have limited or no control.
For example, having a personal goal of winning a dance competition is an external goal because you never know when the judges will be biased, or some other competitor has a better day than you. Having a personal goal of learning a highly technical program, on the other hand, is a good internal goal because it is something over which you have complete control.
Look over your goals and revise them so that you are in control of the outcome.
Take a look at this guide and learn how to set goals: How to Set Goals and Achieve Them Successfully
12. Throw Away the Newspapers
Most of what is written in the newspapers is BAD NEWS! There is nothing like something very scary to make people buy and read newspapers. Have you noticed that there is rarely, if ever, good news on the front page?
Good news exists everywhere. You don’t have to look hard to find it. If you are having trouble believing this, write down all of the good things you see in a day. People open doors for others, people put on benefit concerts to raise money for injured or ill people. The list can go on.
I fully believe that there’s way more great things happen each day than bad things, and I challenge anyone to prove otherwise.
13. Work with Children
My job is teaching music to children. It is the best job I can think of. Children are so bright, adorable and fun. They are excited about the future, even if the future is a sleepover or a movie. Kids are more balanced than the average adult because they have not learned to be worried or fearful.
Working with children in whatever capacity you can puts you in the same mindset. I get swept away daily by these kids and their ideas. It is the highlight of my life.
14. Listen to Music or Take a Look at Some High Quality Art
Art and music are the antidote to the stress and negativity of life. It is like the Yin and Yang. It is your choice whether to focus on the good or the bad. Contrary to what many people believe, art and music are not just whimsical pursuits; they are the breath of life.
Many articles tell you to focus on the good but, they don’t tell you that you have to make an effort to go out and find the good. It doesn’t just come to you.
Go to Youtube and find music you love, look at websites and books to find art that makes you happy. Bookmark them and go to them often. Make it a large part of your life to seek out and enjoy these things.
Tip the balance in favor of things that make you really happy. This has a profound effect on your happiness level.
Go have a look in the dusty corners of your mind and pull out some of your old decisions and thoughts about things. Take a look at them in the bright light of day and see if they still make sense. If not, toss them in the trash and move on!
Good Luck! (https://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/14-ways-live-life-free-fear-and-full-hope.html)
How to Live with Hope, Vision and Passion
- by Joyce Meyer
Do you know that God has high hopes and expectations for us? He does. Otherwise, He would not have invested the life of His only Son to see us redeemed and brought back to wholeness.
God is full of hope where we’re concerned! In fact, He believes in us more than we believe in ourselves.
God believes in us to the point that He’s not at all concerned about what talents or abilities we might be lacking or missing—He has given us everything we need to succeed.
However, I believe many Christians walk around feeling like God is disappointed with them. I used to feel this way until one day He said:
“You know, Joyce, you’re really no shock to Me. I knew what I was getting when I got you.”
Think about it! God knows the end from the beginning, and all the days of our lives are written in His book. Every decision we’re ever going to make—good or bad—God already knew them before we ever showed up on planet earth.
He already knows today every word in our mouth that is still unuttered—even what we’re going to say a year from now!
Sometimes we can go around thinking that God is so disappointed with us all the time. It’s true that we make mistakes. And we’re not supposed to be lighthearted about them—we are to take them seriously.
But in spite of our mistakes, God has hope for us and knows that He can change us if we’ll stay in His Word.
I Had a Lot of Opportunities to Give Up...
I like to think back at all the different things that my husband Dave and I have gone through over the years...remembering how God worked through us to build what is now a worldwide ministry.
In the process of it, there were a lot of things behind the scenes that had to change, such as working on our marriage. I needed to work on my attitude, and we had to work on how we handled our money—the same things most people deal with in life.
Because of all the things that needed to be worked on, I probably wanted to quit a million times!
Most of you know that I was sexually abused growing up and had a wretchedly miserable life, growing up around alcoholism, violence, and almost every kind of dysfunction.
I had a lot to overcome. It was hard, and maybe some of you understand because you went through some of the same things. It’s hard to make it through those experiences.
You have to be determined, hang on to hope, and be willing to go through things. It can be lonely and devastating—and it’s just really difficult not to quit and give up.
I remember one night lying on my office floor, holding on to the legs of the furniture, wanting so badly to run away from God. I was screaming to God saying:
“God, I just can’t do this. It’s too hard!” But I kept holding on saying, “God, help me not to run away! Help me! Help me! Help me!”
But I’ve found that if we just won’t quit and won’t give up, we will have success.
There’s a part that only we can do...and that is keeping an attitude that allows God to work in our lives.
God doesn’t work through a negative attitude or self-pity or an “everybody owes me” attitude. Nor does He work through laziness or passivity. God can only work where there’s faith, but we need to have hope before we can even have faith.
Hope is really just a positive attitude. It’s an expectant outlook that something good is going to happen in our lives.
God wants us to be “prisoners of hope.” In other words, He wants us to be so locked up in hope that we believe He can change whatever needs to be changed and we can do whatever needs to be done.
Wherever you are right now—and whatever dreams and visions God has placed in your heart—I encourage you to never, ever give up. God believes in you, and He has equipped you to fulfill His good plan for your life, despite the challenges you may be facing.
The truth is, you and I can fulfill God’s vision when we live with expectant hope. We can watch the Lord do the impossible in our lives...and use us to reach a world in need. (https://joycemeyer.org/everydayanswers/ea-teachings/how-to-live-with-hope-vision-and-passion)
Our perception of life is a matter of perspective. We were taught that pessimists see the glass as half-empty while optimists see it as half-full.
I’ve always liked to challenge truisms — metaphors like this oversimplify life. It makes us approach optimism and pessimism as opposite and fixed concepts — you are forced to choose a side. Life is not static, but fluid. You can drink it down and then refill the glass.
Our society worships optimists and stigmatizes pessimists — people will like you or reject you depending on your view. However, this right or wrong approach is deceiving. Both optimism and pessimism have bright and dark sides — what you do matters more than how you see the glass.
Optimism rules the world
“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” — Oscar Wilde
Optimism wasn’t always the ruler. Historically, it was associated with simplistic and unrealistic people, especially in literature such as Porter’s “Pollyanna.” Psychologists, like Freud, dismissed it considering it ‘illusory denial.’
Since the 1960s, there’s been a change in sentiment supported by growing research that correlates positivity to being successful. Positivity became king and we, inadvertently, became its servants.
Many psychologists classify the population as predominantly optimistic — some claiming 80% of people are optimistic, others stating that 60% of us are somewhat optimistic. This seems an optimistic appraisal to me. Some experts agree — they believe that optimism itself may affect the validity of research on positivity.
Research shows that optimism is correlated with increased life expectancy, better health, increased success in academia, work, and sports, and greater chances of recovery from adversity. However, many experts think most studies can’t discriminate cause from effect. Does thinking positively make us healthier? Or is it that being healthier lead us to think positively?
Optimism is a broad personality trait — it makes us believe that good things will be plentiful in the future, and bad ones scarce. But, those who weren’t born on the right side, can they learn to be more optimistic?
This simple question creates many discrepancies. Some researchers believe that yes, we can. Others think that interventions don’t make us more optimistic but instead just reduce our pessimism.
The half-empty frame
“Optimism is not simply the absence of pessimism, and well-being is not simply the absence of helplessness.” — Christopher Peterson
Alison Ledgerwood doesn’t buy that most of us see the glass half-full — she believes that our perception of the world tends to lean toward negative thoughts.
Research by this social psychologist proposes a fixed approach to the glass dilemma. We either have a ‘gain’ or a ‘loss’ frame — we see the upside or the downside in things. Even worse, our mind gets stuck in the negative more than in the positive.
Ledgerwood and her colleague studied people’s reaction to a surgical procedure by testing both a bright and dark side approach. Participants who were told the surgery had a 70% success rate, reacted positively to the prospects of going through it. Conversely, those who were told the procedure had a failure rate of 30%, reacted negatively.
To challenge the initial reaction, the first group was afterward presented with the 30% failure rate and the second one with the 70% success rate. Surprisingly, the ones who originally reacted positively now had a negative view and the others didn’t change theirs — they continue to see the procedure as negative.
This exercise proved not only that positivity can be affected by negative information but, also, that our mind can get stuck in an initial pessimistic view.
But, can we switch from one frame to another?
Another study presented people with the same challenge: 600 lives are at stake. Only that one group was asked to focus on the lives that could be saved and others on the ones that could be lost. Though both had to do the same simple math calculation (600 -100=?), the group that had to convert losses to gains took almost twice the time to get to the result than the other.
We tend to tilt toward the negative, according to Ledgerwood. We need to work harder to recover from negative views — to see the glass half-full requires an extra effort.
So, who’s right? Are we mostly optimistic? Or do we lean towards negativity? Maybe both.
The optimism bias
“What day is it?” asked Pooh.
“It’s today,” squeaked Piglet.
“My favorite day,” said Pooh.”
― A.A. Milne
Seeing the glass-half-full has many benefits, but there’s a downside that most optimists miss.
There’s a difference between being pessimistic and facing the facts. That’s what Burkeman discovered after speaking to countless psychologists, life coaches, and other experts. He invites us to challenge the assumptions and oversimplified advice regarding positive thinking.
Burkeman coined the term ‘the negative path to happiness,’ which requires, instead of trying to be always overly positive, to turn toward uncertainty and insecurity, even pessimism — to find a different way that might be more durable and successful.
Multiple research has shown that optimism has a dark side too. Not only it can lead to poor outcomes, but it makes us underestimate risks or take less action. For example, positive affirmation might work for positive people but have detrimental consequences for those with low self-esteem — they result in worse moods.
By making optimism king, we’ve stigmatized pessimism — it has become the demonized opposite end of optimism.
Pessimism is not uni-dimensional with optimism but a separate construct — it doesn’t always have the negative outcomes that juxtapose it with optimism’s positive ones. Also, sometimes, pessimism pays off.
Defensive Pessimist is a particular type of pessimist that takes negative thinking to a whole new level. It’s a strategy that helps people reduce their anxiety — it drives focus rather than avoidance.
That’s why some pessimism comes handy from time to time.
“Most people have the will to win, few have the will to prepare to win.” — Bob Knight
The defensive pessimist focuses on the worst-case scenario — s/he identifies and takes care of things that optimists miss. This approach can help us better prepare for events that are out of our full control such as a job interview.
Also, this approach is very effective to boost confidence. A study showed how college students experienced significantly higher levels of self-confidence by embracing a defensive pessimist approach — their self-esteem rosed to similar levels of the optimists is nearly four years.
In The Power of Negative Thinking, former basketball coach Bob Knight — who has over 900 wins — believes that victory goes to the team that makes the fewest mistakes. His approach aims to prevent mistakes — it encourages players to focus on the negative, not positive. Recognizing the team’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities becomes a call to action.
Optimism and pessimism are not antagonist concepts but rather the two sides of the same coin — we need both to live a more balanced life.
Stop looking at the glass
“Be not afraid of life. Believe that life is worth living, and your belief will help create the fact.” — Henry James
Do you see the glass-half-full or half-empty?
Binary questions limit how we see life by forcing us to choose one option. To escape this trap, we must unask the question, as I wrote here. Rather than choosing one or the other, how can we integrate both?
Labels get us stuck
Calling people — yourself included — either optimistic or pessimist gets them stuck. It forces us to adopt one view rather than switching between them as necessary.
Being a pessimist isn’t necessarily bad — it’s what you do with that pessimism that matters. When you overplay either a positive or negative view, that’s when you limit your possibilities.
Integrate both negativity and positivity
A positive approach to life is not just about seeing only the bright side but accepting the two sides — both optimism and pessimism have advantages and disadvantages.
Positive thinking encourages us to take needed risks and expand our horizons. But it also leads us to ignore life’s dangers or exaggerate our own capabilities. Negative thinking can be detrimental when it takes over and darkens how we see the world. But a little bit of worry and doubt can keep you on your toes — a dose of “defensive pessimism” can help you neutralize the optimism bias.
Life is fluid — empty the glass (and fill it again)
A positive life is more about what we do than the labels we wear.
As positive psychologist Suzanne Segerstrom said, “Optimists are happy and healthy not because of who they are but because of how they act.”
In philosophy, Meliorism is a concept which drives our ability to improve the world through alteration — we can produce outcomes that are considered better than the original phenomenon.
Meliorism doesn’t mean ignoring the world’s evils. But to accept life’s setbacks as challenges to overcome. This joie de vivre energizes us — it boosts our desire and enthusiasm. Rather than observing if the glass is half-full or empty, we learn to enjoy it. We drink life and then find ways to refill it.
Pessimists complain that the world is hard; optimists see the bright side and ignore real challenges — they expect positive thinking will change things for the better. Negativity reminds of us being realistic; positivity gives us hope — we need both.
Our actions, not perception, help us improve the world. Idealizing things is avoidance. The same with being negative. Life is not easy — focusing on your progress will keep you motivated. You must recover the joy and pleasure in doing the work.
Enjoy the glass — what you do with it matters more than how you see the glass. (https://www.theladders.com/career-advice/the-bright-and-dark-sides-of-optimism-and-pessimism)
In the book, Good to Great, there is a discussion of the Stockdale Principle. It is named after the man who ran for vice president with Ross Perot. James Stockdale was a POW for over six years in the Vietnam War. He told of the prisoners talking about when they might get out or when they might get liberated. They would start out saying, “When do you think? Do you think we will be home for Christmas this year?” They would agree that they would be home for Christmas this year and then Christmas would come and go. Those who had embraced this false hope would then die of despair. They would literally give up. James Stockdale when asked would say, “It does not matter. All that matters is that I live today. Can I live with the worst possible scenario? If I can, then I will survive.” He instinctively knew that his hope had to be grounded in his present reality, or it would never sustain him. What in your present situation gives you hope? Jesus said, “Do not lose heart.” He knew it was the greatest possibility in hard times.
When Stalin took over the Russian people, he decided to break the faith of those most vulnerable: the children. He ordered the teachers in the elementary schools to instruct the children to pray to God for bread to eat. Then he ordered them to instruct the children to pray to the state for bread. When they started praying the staff brought in hot, fresh bread and butter. This was supposed to make the children lose their heart for prayer. It was successful in the majority of the cases. To pray without an answer forthcoming is one true test of our heart for prayer. How long will you persevere?
Adrian, the patron saint of soldiers, was serving in the Roman tenth legion. They were enforcing emperor worship in a region of the empire. They put forty Christians out on a frozen lake stripped of their clothing. From there the Christians could see the glow of the fires in the camp. All they had to do was come back to the little makeshift altar and burn incense on it to the emperor and then they could warm by the fire and get their clothing back. They began to sing out on the lake, “Forty soldiers of Christ are we.” One of the Christians broke and ran back to the altar and to the safety of the camp. When he saw this, Adrian stripped himself and took the man’s place on the lake. They sang again, “Forty soldiers of Christ are we.” The forty all froze to death over the bitter night, but a saint was born in dying.
Thomas Jefferson opposed tyranny all his life. Upon his death his epitaph reads: “Author of the declaration of Independence, Author of the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, and founder of the University of Virginia.” There is no mention of being an ambassador for America, of being the third president, or of the Louisiana Purchase. Why? He fought tyranny of government, tyranny over religion, and the tyranny of ignorance. He sought to bring the darkness to light. Things yet unseen were visible to Thomas Jefferson and he exposed them in his day.
Lord Nelson’s crypt is in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, England. The inscription upon his tomb is his last words, “Thank God, I have done my duty.” On October 21, 1805, Nelson with 27 ships faced Napoleon’s combined French and Spanish armada of 33 ships. Wounded in the spine, he lived long enough to know that victory was his. He said as he died, “Thank God, I have done my duty.” Even if our victory is unseen at the time of our death, Jesus is victorious beyond the human eyes ability to perceive.
Dr. Ernest Campbell, senior minister of Riverside Church in New York City, had a woman who was a thorn in his flesh. She loved to point out other’s weaknesses with delight. At the board meeting before Easter she finally got the floor. She said, “Whatever happened to the trumpets on Easter morning?” She missed the majesty of them. They had been cut from the budget to save money. The board and Dr. Campbell took her side, much to her surprise. They agreed that trumpets and Easter should not be separated. The trumpet of the Lord is being sounded (future perfect tense of the verb) and we are being gathered home. If one cannot hear them, it does not mean that there are no trumpets.
Sometimes it takes time to see what an architect had in mind when he or she designs a public monument. Rep. John Boylan, D-NY said in 1937, “Never was a memorial yet erected that was not subject to criticism.” Those most criticized were:
1) Southern opponents to the Lincoln Memorial did not want it built at all. Lincoln’s supporters called the architecture “pompous” and disparaged the site on the Mall, at the time a swamp, as unworthy of the savior of the Union. There are 3.2 million visitors a year.
2) Vietnam Veterans Memorial, architect Maya Lin. Tom Carhart, a former army platoon leader called it a “degrading ditch.” National Review wrote, “Orwellian glop.” There are 2.8 million visitors a year.
3) FDR Memorial, architect Lawrence Halprin. A 1960 proposal was denounced as “instant stonehenge.” The finished monument was denounced by the disabled because a statue didn’t show enough of DR’s wheelchair. There are 2 million visitors a year.
If one cannot see immediately what God is doing, do not give up. Keep faith is what is unseen and also in what is seen and as yet unappreciated. God got it right from the beginning.
The Church owes the world an answer concerning the momentous events of our day. In Hendrick Kraemer’s book, The Christian Message in a Non-Christian World, he states, “We are exploring again the simple but revolutionary meaning of faith. The Christian Church is awakening to its responsibility to give clear and unequivocal answers to the questions that arise out of the thunder of events.” This written over sixty years ago urges us to draw upon our faith in that which is yet unseen and speak of 9/11 and of the War on Terrorism. God is not made afraid by our fear, nor does He give up because we turn back.
George Bernard Shaw in one of his plays has one of the characters say, “The Kingdom is striving to come” and then he adds, “The Kingdom that looks backward in terror must give way to the Kingdom that looks forward with hope.” It is high time we quit asking questions and begin making some great affirmations.” It is time to stop looking at the problems and to start looking at our resources. Do not give up just because the questions refuse to yield to casual inquiry. (Arthur Moore, Immortal Tidings in Mortal Hands [Nashville: Abingdon-Cokesbury press, 1953] p. 108)
There is a delicate balance between being insistent in asking for something and being willing to wait for it to come. Jesus gets at that balance in this story, when he both applauds the widow’s persistence and counsels the disciples to wait for the justice God had indeed promised. As my children get older, I find that they are learning better to finesse that balance between bugging me over and over again for something they want and waiting for me to deliver, trusting that if it is indeed a good thing, they will receive what they need from me. Too much harassment and I ignore them; not enough reminders and I will forget their request!
Jeremiah speaks of the day when God will give us a new heart, when God will revive our souls in a new way. In the pope’s opinion, North Americans are particularly in need of that kind of an internal renewal. According to Reuters (5/28/04), Pope John Paul II warned several bishops earlier this year that American society is increasingly turning against spirituality in favor of materialistic desires. As a result, the pope suggests that more and more Americans are developing a “soulless vision of life.” To counter that trend, the pope said, the church needs to find ways to appeal to today’s youth. In particular, the pontiff urged the church leaders to engage in an in-depth analysis of contemporary society in order to be able to make a persuasive presentation of the Christian faith and help people to comprehend what it means to work toward a more just, humane, and peaceful world.
The prophet foresees a day when God will implant a new moral compass within us. Such a gift is desperately needed considering the apparent lack of ethics among some people. As a commentary on the decline of morals in the business community, in 1987 William Morrow & Company published The Complete Book of Wall Street Ethics. All the pages were left blank.
In Jeremiah’s day, the people might have been tempted to give up hope that their situation would ever improve. Undoubtedly there were times when the people of South Africa felt that way, wondering if their nation would ever be able to move beyond the racial strife generated by the apartheid system.
Just like many readers of Jeremiah today might fail to appreciate the depths to which the people of Israel had declined, so also we might fail to remember just how awful the situation had been in South Africa. In Bone to Pick: Of Forgiveness, Reconciliation, Reparation, and Revenge, Ellis Cose describes some of the sinister acts that whites plotted against their black neighbors, plots that were finally admitted to during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission proceedings. Among the evil plans was an intended covert chemical-biological warfare program whereby the blacks would be sterilized by secretly administering drugs to them. Another scheme sought to flood the black communities with deadly micro-organisms and hallucinogens. Still others called for applying deadly poisons to the clothes of student activists and contaminating their drinking water with lethal bacteria.
The ultimate goal of God’s new covenant is, as the lection’s final verse declares, the forgiveness of sins. Perhaps we take for granted just how much people long for that kind of mercy. In Rumors of Another World: What On Earth Are We Missing?, Philip Yancey calls attention to a website where people can anonymously confess their sins. The site is www.notproud.com.
As the widow discovered, sometimes prayers really are answered. Apparently the prayers of many students at Duke University were answered earlier this year. According to the Associated Press (4/19/04), that North Carolina school will not longer have classes that start at 8 a.m. The move came partially in response to some national surveys that found that college students are getting less sleep than ever before. The research indicated that the average college student gets only between six and seven hours of rest each night. Also, the institution had found that the early morning classes were becoming less and less popular, with fewer students willing to attend lectures at that hour. In order to promote the importance of rest even more, besides the ending of the early morning classes, Duke is going to add a segment to its orientation program for new students where the school will stress the importance of getting a good night’s rest.
While the parable in Luke speaks of direct, persistent prayer to God, some worshipers in India are allowing technology to serve as an intermediary between them and their god. According to a report from Reuters (9/03/03), busy people in Bombay were able to text message their prayers to a temple during the city’s biggest Hindu festival. For $1.10, plus the message charge, people could use their cell phones to send a prayer to the temple, where someone then spoke the prayer in the temple to the elephant-headed god Ganesh. The local cell phone company estimates that more than 5,000 people took advantage of the service. After the prayer was said, the temple sent each customer a receipt and a portrait of the god.
We might sometimes be tempted to overlook the way that women are presented as heroes in the Bible, such as in this parable. Have you ever paid attention to the fact that the queen is the most valuable piece in chess? U. S. News & World Report (4/26/04) mentions a recent book, Birth of the Chess Queen, written by Marilyn Yalom of Stanford University. The author reports that when chess was first played, around the sixth century in India, the bishop was an elephant; the rook, a chariot; the king, a shah; and next to him stood not a queen but a vizier, or chief counselor, who was only able to move one square at a time.
But beginning around the year 1000 A.D., the powerful queen piece began to appear on chess boards as influential female monarchs began to arise. One of the first was Holy Roman Empress Adelaide, who helped to crush a revolt. The piece became particularly popular in the twelfth century with the reign of Eleanor of Aquitaine, who dealt with a crusade and an attempted coup. And it was during the reign of the powerful Isabel of Spain that the chess piece acquired full freedom of movement.
The widow in Luke’s parable witnessed firsthand the corruption that can take place in the legal system. Even some lawyers, who are supposed to assist people obtain fair treatment, end up being guilty of mistreating those for whom they work. In The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead, David Callahan identifies some of the more blatant ways in which legal professionals have failed to treat their clients justly.
For instance, Leona Helmsley once found that her lawyer had billed her for a 43-hour day. James Spiotto was a lawyer who received a great deal of notoriety in the 1990s when he confessed to billing clients for 6000 hours a year for four years in a row. (That, of course, meant that he was telling clients that he was working more than 115 hours per week, 52 weeks per year.) An attorney in Annapolis was caught billing a client $500,000 for work that was never done and $66,000 for Lexis research that only cost $394 to do. One of the biggest over-billing scandals took place during the savings and loan collapse of the early 1990s when private law firms that had been hired by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation overbilled the government by as much as $100 million.
Do we set our hopes on the good things that God has in mind for us, or do we focus instead on the things we want for our own gratification? An early church leader named Evagrios of Pontus suggested that avarice is not just a matter of material greed. In Greed: The Seven Deadly Sins, Phyllis Tickle observes that Evagrios looked upon avarice as a matter of concentrating on what does not presently exist. As such, avarice becomes a kind of preoccupation with imaginary or future things, which one either hopes for or fears.
Although there is nothing about prayer in the Chinese film Not One Less, there certainly is an emphasis upon persistence. Village teacher Gao must hurry off to the bedside of his sick mother, but the only substitute he can find is Wei Minzhi, at 13 barely older than some of the pupils. His own salary is based on the number of pupils in a class, and it is a continual struggle to hold onto them because their impoverished parents so often need them to work and contribute to the meager family income. He admonishes her before departing that when he returns there is to be “not one less” of the students entrusted to her care.
We soon see that the girl, barely older than some of her students, is not skilled. Some of the boys try to take advantage of her lack of experience, but she keeps on trying. Then, when the boy who had been causing her so much difficulty, Zhang Huike, is sent to work in a distant city, Wei Minzhi proves how persistent she can be by organizing the students into a labor force to move a contractor’s bricks for bus fare, and then setting forth on the long journey to the city. Once arrived, however, she feels lost amidst its size and teeming masses. She then hits upon a plan to go on television and make a public appeal to Zhang Huike. However, the haughty receptionist looks at the peasant girl and refuses her admittance. Wei returns day after day, but to no avail. She practically camps outside the offices of the station. Finally, the powers that be relent, she herself becoming a story of interest. She does locate her “lost” pupil, so that when Gao returns, Wei Menzhi can say that she is turning over a class in which there is “not one less” pupil than before.
“Faith is to believe what you do not yet see: the reward for this faith is to see what you believe.” (Augustine)
“Trust involves letting go and knowing God will catch you.” (James Dobson)
“The more we depend on God, the more dependable we find he is.” (Sir Cliff Richard)
“The greater and more persistent your confidence in God, the more abundantly you will receive all that you ask.” (Albert the Great)
Here’s an interesting definition of acting in faith by Dr. Joyce Brothers: “I think we should follow a simple rule: if we can take the worst, take the risk.”
“None who have always been free can understand the terrible fascinating power of the hope of freedom to those who are not free.” (Pearl S. Buck)
“Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities because it has been said it is the quality which guarantees all others.” (Sir Winston Churchill)
“Faith will not be restored in the West because people believe it to be useful. It will return only when they find that it is true.” (Barbara Ward, Faith and Freedom)
“Orthodoxy can be learned from others; living faith must be a matter of personal experience.” (J. W. Buchsel)
“Faith is a knowledge of the benevolence of God toward us, and a certain persuasion of His veracity.” (John Calvin)
“Unless there is within us that which is above us, we shall soon yield to that which is about us.” (Peter Taylor Forsyth)
“Man cannot live without faith because the prime requisite in life’s adventure is courage, and the sustenance of courage is faith.” (Harry Emerson Fosdick)
“Doubters invert the metaphor and insist that they need faith as big as a mountain in order to move a mustard seed.” (Webb B. Garrison)
Top of Page prayers (WorshipAid)
Leader: How sweet are your words, O Lord.
People: Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
Leader: I have sworn an oath and confirmed it,
People. I will observe your righteous ordinances.
Almighty God, we confess that we don’t see your word as our light. We don’t observe your ways or your laws. Often, we make our own light and our own laws, and we pronounce them good. Forgive us, Lord, for not realizing that you are the Good Creator and we are your children. Teach us your ways, that we may become more faithful disciples. In the name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.
Gracious God, we bring to you this day our tithes and our offerings for the benefit of your Kingdom. Use our gifts and our talents to your glory, so that we may make disciples of all nations. In the name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.
Holy God, thank you for lighting our path and showing us your ways. We come before you today, knowing that you answer prayers in your ways and in your time. We bring forth our joys and concerns this morning.
We pray for our church and the church around the world. Your Holy Spirit called us together as the Church, all of us brothers and sisters in Christ. We pray for those around the world worshipping you today, knowing that there are some who must worship you in secret to avoid persecution.
We pray for our nation, for the churches around our country. We pray that the Holy Spirit may be with them as they seek to follow your ways and be guided by your truth. Renew all of us who are seeking to be your faithful disciples.
We pray for our own community and congregation. We pray for those present today who are suffering in silence, wary or scared of sharing that they are hurting in mind, body, and spirit. We pray for those who are worried about family members or friends who are suffering. We pray for those who are grieving, who are angry, who are frightened.
We pray for our community, and for the needs of our children and youth. Help us make our community a safe place for our children to grow and play and learn. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.