By Bishop L. Jonathan Holston
“This is what the Lord says: ‘When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.’” —Jeremiah 29:11-14 (NIV)
I want to ask you a simple question: How do you define hope? Margaret Wheatley, in her book, “Finding Our Way,” helps us remember the motto of South Carolina, dum spiro spero—”while I breathe, I hope.”
For many of us, we define hope as a feeling of expectation. For some of us, hope is a desire for certain things to happen, while others believe hope is a feeling of trust. How do you define hope?
This word is used to encourage and inspire, to stir up the gifts inside of us. Hope invigorates and revitalizes our dreams. Hope is a four-letter word.
The late Bishop Desmond Tutu described hope as being able to see that there is light despite all the darkness.
For me, to hope is to hang on to the promises of God. Hanging on to the promises of God gives us the stamina to overcome adversity. Overcoming adversity enables us to pursue God’s truth, and that pursuit of God’s truth leads us toward the acquired skill of enduring patiently.
Whether we recognize it or admit it, we put hope into everything we do. And if we have it, we have the capacity to lose hope, too. People can let you down in the blink of an eye.
Our Scripture reference reminds us that the Israelites found themselves in a time of fear and despair; chaotic and hopeless in exile. Hope was not appealing to them; in fact, it was likely profane to them. They were possibly thinking: How can God’s exile be liberation? How can God’s defeat be the greatest victory? How can the future they hoped to avoid be their source of joy? Maybe they were asking: Is this as good as it can get?
As we prepare for the approaching 2023 Annual Conference, some of you may be asking these same questions. This season in our church has been filled with uncertainty and strife. But what if, as native South Carolinian singer and songwriter Laura Story has proclaimed, what if the trials of this life are God’s mercies in disguise?
So often in our lives, God’s vision for our future turns out differently than we thought. Jeremiah reminded the Israelites, and we can hear it too, that in order to get to God’s promised future, first we’ve got to go through some things. How do you know healing without being sick? How do you know you are able without having to try? To get to where God needs you to be, you’ve got to go through some stuff.
No matter what is going on around us, we can’t forget who we are and whose we are. Don’t let the distractions keep you from the mission and ministry God is calling you to.
Our quest is not to be God, but rather to lead people to God. Let’s let God do what God does.
What God has done over the centuries has proven God’s self to be true. God will do what God needs to do, and if we let God live in us, then God will use us to make a difference in the world.