Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Prayerful Hope in Hopelessness

“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”

~Jeremiah 29:11 (NRSV).

We exist in strange circumstances. Lying between the uncertainties of life and the avoidance of death, we hope for a better life—and peace, finally—in death, yet we cannot quite give permission to leaving this physical life. Loved ones and the wonder of living are two things that keep us anchored here.

We both wish to be alive and at peace, finally. And, yet, both of these together will not coexist freely—not in this life—not completely.

Everyone wants good welfare now and hope for the future.

A Letter to the ‘Exiles’

Jeremiah’s letter was, of course, purposed for the exiles in Babylon. They hungered for, yet could not see, Shalom, and that’s what Jeremiah 29:11 promises. The people of God were under the impression, perhaps, of a never-ending exile; an unconscionable situation of never returning to Zion.

Imagine that; all they hoped for dashed. Not only was Jerusalem home, it was their spiritual home and the home of the Lord. At the behest of foe they couldn’t sing the Lord’s song, for they were in a foreign land (Psalm 137:4).

For them, God was left back there—God was no longer with them. For them there was no future and they seemed completely cut off.

And, still, we too can feel like exiles in our lives.

Crowded In and Under Exile?

We can relate somewhat with these ancient exiles. Yet, for us our exiles are generally situational and they come iteratively, unless for grief, exile comes to stay for a time.

Prisoners are certainly in a physical exile, but more so in our present context is the spiritual exile—the feelings of estrangement to God and to life in general. We can feel emotionally cut off and numb.

These things strike for a time (a day or three) or perhaps longer.

Two Bold Hopes

Our hopes are for safety and security both now and into the future. We don’t think of hopelessness so much when our present and immediate futures are stable and without conflict.

God’s assurances in Jeremiah 29:11 are all about giving us a hope for the future so we can have hope for that now. Hope is a future-sown issue. We don’t hope for what we presently have.

We may have some very real fears right now, some backwashing uncertainties, flooding grief and burgeoning betrayal, and more, but there is something that can be done.

The Power of Communion with God

Prayer is the matter of not simply belief in God, but the practice of belief and confidence in God. Even if we pray uncertainly the mere fact that we’re focussing in on God during such troubling times is enough for us to draw the benefit of God’s Presence, assurance and wise counsel.

Prayer invites God into our lives and helps us help ourselves. We’re reminded of Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:7—“Seek and you will find.”

There is hope if we can prayerfully seek it. God will get us there.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

Further Reading: Andrew J. Dearman, The NIV Application Commentary – Jeremiah/ Lamentations (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2002), pp. 262-66.

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