Americans are a hopeful nation. Bill Clinton tapped into a hopeful America with his now famous line, “I still believe in a place called Hope”, referring to his hometown in Arkansas. He created a brand around this small town, a place that he used as an analogy to describe all of America. It worked and it won him the presidential election at a time when Americans were feeling less than hopeful.
Americans want to have hope. As 2017 kicks off every news channel and talk show is talking about new resolutions. A new year, they tell us, means an opportunity to start fresh, an opportunity to create a new you, a new life. Of course, studies show that most of those resolutions fall by the wayside before the month of January ends. I, too, have fallen into this trap in the past. I can’t tell you how many times I have decided to lose ten pounds, work out more, be nicer, stop gossiping, etc., only to stumble quickly. Why is it that the more we resolve to do something the harder it becomes to follow through with that resolution? The Apostle Paul describes this beautifully in Romans 7:15: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”
Yet, here I am like Paul, struggling to be what I think God wants me to be and so very often falling short. As the New Year starts I look forward to a do over. I know in my head that January 1 is not different from any other day, but in my heart, I often think this is an opportunity for something new. Like many of you I have marked years off the calendar as good or bad years depending on how difficult things were for my family and me. Many friends have heard me say how difficult the year 2015 was for us. We had a particularly rough Memorial Day weekend. Our house flooded, my cat was lost in the in the flood and my 92-year-old mother-in-law died, all within a 24-hour period. It was a brutal weekend and it led to a brutal summer of hard decisions about our home. Yet, as I look back, I see that so much good happened that year. I moved to a great new apartment, got a new job that is truly my dream job, my health improved, my kids were doing well, and I had an abundance of friends who helped me through the rough spot that summer. Even though the passing of my mother-in-law made us sad, she lived well until the end with all her faculties intact and with the love of her family. Yet both my husband and I consider 2015 to be a total bust. We cheered when it ended.
As I look back now I see I was relying on me, not on God. Control freak that I am, I thought I could fix the problems, but despite me, He was with me throughout. While I did not cause a flood and a death, I did cause many of the problems I have faced in my life. I always feel guilty, feel deserving of the strife the problems cause and feel a strong need to set things straight to right things with God. Asking for forgiveness is, of course, what we should do; spending our lives in regret is not what the Lord wants for us. The beauty of what Paul talks about in Romans 7 is that—while we all struggle with the dilemma between our sinful nature and our desire to live up to God’s standards—because of Christ Jesus we live in a state of grace. In Galatians 4:5-7 Paul writes, “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.”
We are His children and he is our Father. Our hope rests in him. As you think about the year ahead think on these comforting words, “God is our Hope and strength a very present help in times of trouble.” Psalms 46:1 I definitely believe in a place called Hope, but it’s not in Arkansas. It rests with my Father in heaven.
May the Lord bless you and keep you; May the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you. May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.