Psalms 42-43: A Daring Hope

by Carolyn Hope

Where am I? How did I end up here? You think to yourself as you wake up. The ground beneath you is dry and dusty; the sun beats down hotly on your skin. You look at your hands, and you find they’re tied together. But your feet are free. You stand up and gaze around. You’re in a circle of bodies, surrounded by glaring faces. They sneer at you and shout offenses. The pressure is building, and it won’t be long before something breaks.

Someone from behind kicks you forward. “Where’s your God now?” He demands. “Did you lose him? Did he forget about you?” The antagonists laugh and mock you, “He’ll never come!”

You feel weak and dazed. Taking a deep breath, you close your eyes, and the noise around you goes silent as you remember:

In the city of Jerusalem, you make your way to the temple. Relatives, friends, fellow citizens and chosen ones go behind you as you lead the way. There’s singing, dancing, praising, shouting. Joy permeates the air as you head to the house of the Lord.

A rough shove stirs you from your memory. Here you are surrounded, but it is by enemies and foes. Here, there is shouting, but it is the noise of mockery, not worship. Your eyes flash open, and in audacity you stare at those who encircle you. Your blazing bravery is met with laughter and ridicule. “You don’t stand a chance! Where’s your God when you need him? He’ll never come!”

Your emotions rage, but your feet stand still. What am I doing? You wonder. Why shouldn’t I give in? How could I possibly get out of this? You shake your head and take hold of your thoughts. “No,” you say aloud. “I dare to hope in my God!” In your heart, you know: He will fight for you, He will defend you, and He will lead you home.

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Psalm 27: A Source of Safety

by Carolyn Hope

As the sun rises over the mountains, I approach a tall tower. It’s still in the distance, but steadily I make my way toward it. I am aware of the lion stalking me in the nearby greenery; yet I feel no fear. If he charges after me, his feet will stumble. He’ll only end up with a bruised nose and a broken pride.

This land is covered with bandits, but they will not touch me. If they should attack me, my courage will remain.

I go to ask my God for only one thing: that I may abide in His tower, where I may be with Him. There I will find safety. There will be my security and refuge. There, protected and confident, I will pay no heed to the enemies that come against us. No, for I will be too busy praising my Lord and giving Him all my heart!

I knock on the tower door. Will He answer?

“Lord, You have always been good to me. You have always helped me when I had a need. Please, don’t turn me away! Don’t close the door to me! I’m relying on You and You alone.”

If I were to knock on my parent’s home, would they turn me away? Certainly not. Yet, even if they did, my God wouldn’t. No, He will never turn me away.

“I’m here, Lord. Teach me strategy. Show me how to live and walk in a world full of enemies. They observe my every move, waiting to pounce at just the right moment. Don’t let them catch me. They breathe lies and formulate threats to intimidate me.”

I am not intimidated; rather, I am fearless. I know that my God will be good to me. In this life, here in this place, I expect His goodness to come.

So I will wait with patience and bravery. My heart will take courage. I wait for my God to come.

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Psalm 3: A Certainty of Victory

by Carolyn Hope

You are standing in a valley, sword in one hand, shield in another. You’re out of breath from running; you’ve stopped because there’s nowhere left to turn. Utterly surrounded, you stare at all the enemy forces; thousands upon thousands are waiting to attack. There is no escape, for every direction and every side are filled with foes.

You hear a whisper ripple through the soldiers, Where is your God? Who can save you now? This whisper is repeated in a rising scale, until it becomes a deafening shout, a unified lie that nearly drowns out all thought.

You look at your sword, then your shield. You look up to the sky. A defiant glimmer shines in your eyes. With your jaw clenched and your muscles tight, you throw your sword and shield to the ground. Ignoring the shouts, the cheers, the taunts, and the jeers of your enemies, you spread your empty arms wide and yell into the air, GOD IS MY SHIELD! HE IS MY SWORD! THE LORD IS MY DEFENDER!

A hush comes over the crowd of attackers. You turn and view them all, and you begin to laugh. I am not afraid of you, you declare, for My King will defeat you! You are nothing against Him! He will have the victory!

Then you watch, as the light rises in the sky and your adversaries fall to the ground. He listened; He answered; He came. And the victory was won.

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Pictures From The Psalms

by Carolyn Hope

One of the most beloved books of the Bible is the book of Psalms. Composed by several different authors, Psalms is a collection of songs to the Lord. Often, these descriptive, honest works give us a peek into the emotions of those who follow after the Lord. They can bring much comfort and solace to hurting hearts, and also offer an appropriate outlet for our joy. No matter what you’re going through in life, there is something in Psalms that can speak to you.

This week, instead of bringing my thoughts on a particular chapter or verse, I’d like to provide you with mental pictures – short stories – to help you imagine what the author could have been feeling or walking through. The Hebraic Psalms in their original form were written with emotion, beautiful poetry, and captivating imagery. These characteristics are, unfortunately, hard to maintain when translated into the English language.

My hope is that this week, I can help you stop and ponder, and picture, what the Psalmists were saying. I’d like to, if I can, take you back to a place of beauty and powerful, emotional, truth. There are indeed truths in the principles we find in the Psalms, and those are not to be forgotten. For now however, I’d like to highlight the storytelling nature of this prose, which should be remembered.

As you read each of these snippets, I encourage you to also read through the respective Psalm. See for yourself what the author wrote, and let its words permeate your heart. Even in dim, dark, painful times, you have a God, a King, and a Father who will give you victory.

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Victory

by Carolyn Hope

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. (1 John 4:4)

This passage of Scripture comes from John’s discourse on the differing spirits: those which are from God and those which are from the world. Although there are many spiritual forces against us, we have nothing to fear; the Spirit within us, the Spirit of God Himself, is far greater than anything in the world.

Many children are naturally afraid of the dark. Some cannot sleep without some kind of light on or someone being with them. There is something about darkness that stirs up the imagination to unusual and terrifying thoughts. Shadows can make even the most innocent of objects seem suspicious. When the presence of another person enters, however, peace settles. A young child can rest sweetly just knowing that there’s someone with him.

In this world is much darkness, but you have no reason to fear. As a child of the most high King, you are empowered with a light that obliterates darkness. Your God, Emmanuel, is always with you, and as such, you are never alone. You have already overcome that which rises against you because there is an unmatched greatness within you – the greatness of Holy Spirit. Walk in confidence, dear one. Victory is yours!

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Training

by Carolyn Hope

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. … Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:7, 10-11)

Part of being a child is being disciplined. Parents discipline their children because they love them too much to let them run rampant and continue in destructive behavior. God is a very good Father who doesn’t want us to live anything less than His best for us, and so he disciplines us.

What is discipline, though? Our minds automatically interpret “discipline” as unpleasant consequences to wrong actions (some would call it punishment). The Greek word translated as “discipline” in this passage is paideuo. It can mean “to discipline” by implication, but it has other definitions listed first; these are “to train, educate, or tutor.” Such terms have more to do with teaching a child than punishing him.

I’d like to invite you to consider God’s discipline more as training than as punishment. Will there be times of correction? Yes. Will the Lord’s training, stretching, growing, and re-directing always be pleasant? No. Likely, it will be hard and challenging. Even so, it is for our good that God disciplines us. Rather than leave us where we are, His heart is to lead us into more. He knows we can be greater than we presently are, and so in patience and kindness, He teaches us and transforms us.

When you hear God’s voice, pay attention to what He’s saying. Listen to His wisdom. Make the changes He asks you to.

If you find yourself walking through a trial, see it as a chance to grow and to show yourself for who you are, as opposed to a punishment sent by your Father because you aren’t yet perfect. Dear child, Jesus paid the full and complete price for your sin and imperfections. Why would the Father then also punish you? It would be wrong and unjust of Him to do so. If He allows something hard to come into your life, it is not from a place of anger but from a place of love and trust. Perhaps the reason your situation hasn’t miraculously disappeared is that He knows you can overcome it and He wants you to triumph. God’s discipline, though usually more painful than pleasant, is never to break you; it’s always to shape you into more.

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Diligent Resolve

by Carolyn Hope

Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he refused. “With me in charge,” he told her, “my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her. One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. She caught him by his cloak and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house. (Genesis 39:6-12)

Most of us are familiar with the life of Joseph. He was a dreamer, gifted and called to more than he knew. He was a leader, a good manager, and greatly blessed by God’s hand on his life. He was also handsome. The wife of Joseph’s master took notice of him and soon pressured him to do things with her that he should not do.

Joseph not only refused her advances, but he also avoided her completely. He was resolved to keep his purity, and he guarded his heart well. When Potiphar’s wife confronted him with sexual temptation, he ran away. He was diligent in staying pure and honoring God with not only his life but with his body as well. On the surface, it seems that his resolve backfired. He was unjustly sent to prison, punished for a crime he did not commit. This downhill turn, however, was actually part of the path God used to elevate him to the highest position he could possibly attain. Man may not have honored Joseph for his resolve to purity, but God did.

Resolve requires diligence. Every day you must be faithful to guard your heart. Be alert; pay attention. Sometimes being resolved means getting out of a place you shouldn’t be in. Others may not appreciate the stands you take or the commitments you keep. Know that your Father will honor your choice to remain true to who you are and who He made you to be. People may not see the sacrifices you make to maintain your resolve, but He sees, and He is pleased when you choose diligent resolve.

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Defiant Resolve

by Carolyn Hope

Then Deborah said to Barak, “Go! This is the day the Lord has given Sisera into your hands. Has not the Lord gone ahead of you?” So Barak went down Mount Tabor, followed by ten thousand men. At Barak’s advance, the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and army by the sword, and Sisera abandoned his chariot and fled on foot … to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, because there were friendly relations between Jabin king of Hazor and the clan of Heber the Kenite. Jael went out to meet Sisera and said to him, “Come, my lord, come right in. Don’t be afraid.” So he entered her tent, and she put a covering over him. … But Jael, Heber’s wife, picked up a tent peg and a hammer and went quietly to him while he lay fast asleep, exhausted. She drove the peg through his temple into the ground, and he died. (Judges 4:14-15, 17-18, 21.)

In the book of Judges, the Israelites settled into a pattern: they would stray from the Lord, the Lord would hand them over to their enemies, the Israelites would cry out to God, and then God would send them a judge to deliver them and lead them in obedience to Him. This account is no exception. Deborah the prophetess led the Israel nation out of oppression into freedom and victory.

There is one character in this narrative that was absolutely essential to the triumph we see: Jael.

We don’t know much about Jael. She was married to a man named Heber, who was the leader of a clan and friendly with the enemy forces. Thus, when Sisera (the antagonistic commander of fortified armies) fled the battle, he sought refuge in Jael and Heber’s tent. Jael welcomed him and offered him a place to rest … and then killed him while he slept.

Jael had to have been resolved to act so boldly. Sisera was an enemy of Israel, but in helping to liberate her nation, Jael went against her husband. How would he react? What would he do? What would he do to her? She could not be half-hearted in such a move. Her resolve defied expectation and the opinions of those closest to her.

Sometimes doing what is right takes great courage, not because you’re uncertain of what you must do, but because you don’t know how those you love will receive it. There’s a unique challenge to following Jesus when doing so means going against your family’s wishes or opinions. Still, you must be true to your heart, consistent with your convictions, and faithful to the Lord’s Word. What He asks you to do is right, and His commands must take precedence over others’ preferences. You are to live at peace with everyone as much as you can (see Romans 12:18), but if you have to choose between pleasing God and pleasing man, the choice must be God first and man second (see Acts 5:29). Be bold in your obedience to your King. He will protect you and honor you for choosing Him first.

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Determined Resolve

by Carolyn Hope

“And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.” (Acts 20:22-24)

Paul was a man of resolve. He lived, breathed, and died for the Gospel of God. Again and again, he found himself in life-threatening situations; yet he was never dissuaded from his course.

Toward the end of Paul’s work, he was making his way to Jerusalem. Holy Spirit warned him on several occasions that going there would mean chains and persecution. While others assumed these warnings meant Paul should turn back, he took them as a reason to press forward. He was willing to do whatever it took to bring the Gospel to the people he was called to. “If only I may finish the race …” was the cry of his heart. Paul ran his race focused on the finish line. It didn’t matter what hurdles he had to jump over or what obstacles he had to go around. He was determined to finish with excellence and strength, and he did. He died for the sake of the Gospel, and today, his writings and influence live on.

If you’re going to live a life of resolve, you must be determined. You must be undaunted by the opposition that comes against you. Decide now that you will not settle for anything less than God’s plan for your life. Be convinced in your heart of who you are and what God has told you to do so that nothing in the world can sway you.

Take heart, dear one. It will not be easy, but Jesus is with you. Holy Spirit will teach you, and your Father will be your guide. You are not alone, and your resolve will lead to His glory.

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Some Final Ponderings

by Carolyn Hope

The past two weeks, we’ve observed several different pieces in the story of our Savior’s birth. We’ve read about shepherds, prophets, and angels. We’ve seen individual characters such as Elizabeth and Mary. There are many parts to play in such a momentous birth, a birth that shook the world.

I’d like to leave you this week with a few thoughts:

  1. God took the lowliest and the least and used them in mighty ways. Shepherds were outcasts; angels were often unseen; the prophets were rejected. Mary was ordinary; Elizabeth was old. Every character had multiple reasons for disqualification, yet God never considered those. He chose them, and He chooses you too. When God calls you, nothing can disqualify you. You yourself are enough for the journey He is leading you on.
  2. One ordinary night became an encounter. At an unexpected time and an unexpected place, God showed up. What started as a normal day became a day that changed history. You never know what today could bring. Stay expectant and stay hopeful. Wake up each morning eager to see all that God will do. He is working and moving on your behalf. Today could be the day that everything changes.
  3. God’s plan for your life is greater and more risky than you could ever imagine. Mary and Joseph’s calling to be the parents of the Christ was incredibly dangerous; yet they were never unsafe as they followed the Lord. There will be great risk in your story, and there will even be danger. Do not let those facts deter you or frighten you, for your God is with you through every moment. He will protect you and fight for you through it all.

I hope you have had a very Merry Christmas!

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