A spirit of hope

By Bishop L. Jonathan Holston

“Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. ‘Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations; I am exalted in the earth.’ The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.”—Psalm 46:8-11 (NRSV)

Anticipation abounds in times of uncertainty. We want to know what to expect, what the prognosis will be—and we want to know now. In the face of the unknown, we can find ourselves overcome with fear and helplessness. We begin catastrophizing, overestimating the potential for danger and underestimating our ability to cope.

But what if the waiting provides an opportunity for us to learn and grow? What if we choose to live like we truly believe God is certain of our future even when we are not?

Theologian Oswald Chambers names the tension between certainty and uncertainty succinctly, writing, “To be certain of God means that we are uncertain in all our ways, not knowing what tomorrow may bring. This is generally expressed with a sigh of sadness, but it should be an expression of breathless expectation. We are uncertain of the next step, but we are certain of God. As soon as we abandon ourselves to God and do the task he has placed closest to us, he begins to fill our lives with surprises.”

To remain focused on following God’s plan for our lives rather than our own plans requires discipline, dedication and a commitment to prayer. This shift in focus only comes from a deep well of faith. God promises to direct our steps, not to provide us a detailed map in advance. And so we move forward in faith, finding strength and refuge in God’s grace, hope, mercy and love.

In a few weeks, delegates and church leaders from around the world will convene in Charlotte, North Carolina, for the long delayed 2020 General Conference. Much has gone into the preparations for this global gathering, and significant work is before this body when they meet April 23-May 3.

I invite you to join me in a season of focused prayer leading up to General Conference. Together with the members of our South Carolina Delegation, we are leading the “24 for ’24” time of prayer: 24 days of prayers leading up to the 2024 United Methodist gathering. Each evening, beginning March 30, a prayer will be shared online. As has been the case for four years now, you are also invited to join me in prayer each morning online, via email or on social media.

When we join together in prayer each day, we remember who we are and whose we are as disciples of Jesus Christ. Each day we have the opportunity to be for someone the Gospel that they may never otherwise hear. As United Methodist sisters and brothers, we will continue our kingdom work to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, sustained by hope and our faith in God’s promises. We cannot avoid uncertainty, but we can respond with faith rather than fear.

Friends, prayer is powerful. When our hearts and minds are engaged in a prayerful focus, we begin to see situations from the perspective of hope. There is not magic that erases our uncertainty, but in the midst of it all, a life of prayer shifts our perspective from a spirit of despair toward a spirit of hope. We truly trust in God’s promises.

May our focus turn from anxiety in the face of uncertainty and turn toward trusting God—our rock, our hope and our refuge.

My prayer for you is that this season of focused prayer will instill in your hearts a spirit of hope.

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