“O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s light for a look at the Savior,
And life more abundant and free.
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
in the light of His glory and grace.”
(Helen H. Lemmel, 1922)
Weary. Troubled. Dark. Directionless. Trapped. Tired.
Just…tired. Ever felt that way? Perhaps you feel that way now.
The news is never light and uplifting, but in the past few weeks it has been unrelentingly oppressive and even horrifying. It seems like half the United States has been on fire and the other half under water. South of us. islands have been swept into utter darkness and devastation by record winds and waves. Flooding in South Asia has killed over 1,400 with tens of thousands more left to scratch for existence in muck and mire. Earthquakes, landslides and sinkholes in recent weeks have killed hundreds, including children, and cause us to step lightly on the earth beneath our feet, fearful lest it shift and swallow us whole.
Meanwhile, people are walking into schools, businesses and stores brandishing guns and knives with death and destruction as their purpose. A madman in North Korea seems intent on plunging the world into nuclear war. Multitudes are losing belongings, transportation, shelter and even their lives as they struggle through the wreckage caused by “natural” disasters, while multitudes more are attempting to determine their gender by their own choice rather than their genetic makeup.
It’s certainly easy to be. And yet, into this maelstrom of current events that seem to be ushering the world toward what Jesus referred to as “the beginning of birth pangs” (Matthew 24:8) prayers the Apostle Paul wrote for ancient believers in Rome stand true today – because the God to whom Paul prayed is faithful and immutable.
As we survey the state of the world in which we live – and struggle with very real fears and anxieties about what that world may hold in the near future for us and those whom we love, let us true believers – followers of “the Way” – be strengthened by the God Who has the whole world in His hands.
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
These are words rich and deep with meaning – and can be so very easy to skip over without really apprehending what they mean in our lives. But I invite you – as you read this and any other portion of Scripture – to always be asking the rather blunt question: “so what?” Or, “and what exactly does this have to do with my life?”
A quick side trip: don’t ever ask when reading the Bible, “what does this mean to me?” Now, follow me here because this is going to sound a bit harsh – but it makes no difference what any passage of Scripture “means” to you – or me. We are not free to privately interpret the Word of God (2 Peter 1:20). The truest question we can ask is “what does this mean, period?” In other words, “what did God mean when He said this?”
Look again at what the Holy Spirit is saying through Paul:
- God-breathed Scripture (see 2 Timothy 3:16) was given for our instruction
- Scripture provides both endurance (cheerful patience, continuance, constancy) and encouragement (comfort, consolation, solace)
- Those qualities of the written Word result in hope (confident expectation, faith)
Why do the Scriptures provide for us such needed strengths and encouragements in the midst of dark, fearful and troubling times?
Because the God Who spoke those words through His servant Paul was speaking from His own character. Note in verse six that he is “the God of endurance and encouragement.” Not just any “little g god,” but the God. God is enduring, patient, constant. God is encouragement, comfort, consolation, solace.
And what’s the result of all this? What’s the “so what” that impacts our lives daily, hourly, as we walk – frequently stumbling – through difficult times? We do so together, in harmony with other believers. We are not lone ranger Christians, but part of a faith family, part of the Body of Christ – and in that harmony, we glorify God – which is our highest purpose and greatest good.
Ah, but that’s not all. The Holy Spirit continues through Paul:
13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. .
What is God revealing about His very essence here? He is the God of hope. Hope is part of His being, one of His character traits. The original Koine Greek of this verse is even stronger. Read this verse from an academic Greek-to-English translation:
Now the God of the hope fill you with every joy and hope in the sphere
of believing, resulting in your super-abounding in the sphere of the hope
by the power of the Holy Spirit.
(Romans 15:13, Wuest)
Again: not just any “little g god,” but the God. And, not just any type of amorphous, fuzzy, wishful-thinking, “gee, I hope it happens” kind of hope – but the hope, the confident certainty of God Himself, accompanied by (it gets even better!) – joy!
Not necessarily “happiness” – our personal circumstances can sometimes result in deep emotions of sorrow, anxiety, even depression. But joy can be our constant state of being because it is God’s own joy; His calm delight, His gladness, His exceeding and eternal joy.
That’s the “so what” of Paul’s prayer here and his declaration of another part of God’s attributes. What difference does it make to us, as believers? How rich do you want to be? What difference does it make in our frequently difficult lives to be filled, by the power of the Holy Spirit, with all joy and peace (now there’s a precious commodity!) and confidence (hope) – not only in our present circumstances, no matter what they may be, but in our future?
Paul closes out this section of his letter to the church at Rome with a blessing and benediction, that is equally applicable to us today:
May the God of peace be with you all. Amen.
It will sound familiar by now: He is the God of the peace – and He is with all of His children – at all times, in all circumstances.
As the winds howled and the rains blew sideways. As roofs ripped and trees twisted and power flickered and died. As branches blew through unprotected windows and children cried in terror, while family pets shivered under beds. As our neighbors watched furniture float down rivers that used to be streets and interior walls buckle into mush from bacteria-laden floodwaters. As family and friends in the Keys and islands further south step out after horrific storms pass to find scenes of complete destruction. As they sit in stunned disbelief and wonder how they are to exist another day, let alone a lifetime. As the earth heaves and buckles and buildings collapse and children die in the rubble.
Peace? Peace? God with us? Really? Hope? Joy? Have you hurled those questions at the now-clear sky and wondered if there really was anyone or anything listening – who cared? Have your children or your neighbors come to you in anger fueled by deep grief and asked you those questions because they know you go to church occasionally?
Can you answer? Do you know why you believe what you say you believe? Have you come to grips with the “so what?” of these declarations of Paul?
Look again at these traits in these five verses:
- Endurance (patience)
- Encouragement (comfort, consolation)
- Holy Spirit power
As new creatures in Jesus Christ, regenerated, repentant children of Almighty God, these are ours to learn, grasp, believe, lean on and live out – regardless of our circumstances – because they are attributes of our Father Who bestows them on us through the power of His indwelling Holy Spirit and through His inerrant, inspired holy Word. Be encouraged. Be joyful. Be hopeful. Be at peace. Our God reigns. Hallelujah!