hope

I love the start of a New Year. It feels nice and fresh and clean and full of potential. For some people, the start of the new year means setting new resolutions. (More power to you, you skinny, rested, and buff people!) For me it means reflecting and dreaming. Looking back on 2020 was more painful than I had anticipated. Maybe it was for you too.

As much as 2020 has been a year of loss, I have gained so much.

One of my favorite habits is choosing a word for the year. Each year I ask God to give a word that He wants to teach me about in the coming year. It almost becomes a game to see where the word is going to pop up…in a song, Scripture, or even on an actual billboard.

We were into the first few days of January when I was sitting at a stoplight and God made the 2020 word blatantly clear. I thought I already had the word so it caught me completely off guard when I was brought back to the drawing board. I was singing along to Spotify when I realized the words that were coming out of my mouth held truth my heart needed to hear.

“My soul will rest, my confidence, in You alone. Hope has a name, His name is Jesus. My Savior’s cross has set the sinner free. Hope has a name, His name is Jesus. Oh, Christ be praised, I have victory.”

Hope.

Hope has a name, His name is Jesus.

I felt like in that moment God was telling me, “Listen up kid. Right now you are excited about this year. That’s great! I don’t want you to loose your eagerness. But that’s not the word I have for you. The world is about to shift and I want you to remember that I am your hope. Don’t put it in other things…people, trips, work, relationships, the future, the past. I am the sure and steady anchor for your soul and you should put your hope in me and only me. Look to me. I am your hope!

To which I responded, “Cool. Hope. I liked “eager” but I’ll go with hope.” Little did I know.

By the time May rolled around I was flat out of options to place hope in. Seeing friends? Quarantined. Starting a new job? Postponed. Being able to stop taking depression medication? Not smart. The list goes on.

Through the wildly eventful (yet uneventful?) months of 2020, God revealed the many places I had stored up hope that were not in Him. I had no idea the number of, and absurdity of, places I had tried to bestow hope. He was opening my eyes to my faulty hope.

I realized just how deeply I had wrongly woven misplaced hope with circumstantial joy.

I realized just how fragile my world was.

I said my hope was in Christ, but my life did not reflect it.

Biblical hope is the complete assurance that God is who He says He is and will do what He says He will do.

To understand hope we have to understand the character of God.

Expanding on that statement is daunting. I can spend 10,000 words and still not scratch the surface on the richness of who God is. If you want to know more about the character of God, I encourage you to read the Bible. And when you read it, fight the urge to be only looking for the personal application and instead start with “what does this tell me about God?” I promise your view of God will be revolutionized.

When we are actively seeking to know and love God more, it’s almost impossible to keep placing hope anywhere that isn’t Him.

To have hope in God means to trust that even in the midst of a global pandemic God is still doing good things. To know that He aches with us as we experience the brokenness of the human condition. To remember that Jesus has already won the war. To celebrate that eternity has already begun and we get to know God deeply and intimately now. We have hope because God is unfailing. We have hope because we know that there is so much more to life than what the world has to offer.

God has brought me back to Psalm 33:18 over and over throughout the year: “Behold the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love.” God’s steadfast love, his hesed, is what makes him unlike any other contrived god.

In 2020 I learned to put my hope in the steadfast love of Christ.

I like how one of my friends started the year by sharing how when it comes to goals her approach is to “keep it simple. For example, this year (and forever) I simply want to know and love God more. It’s not really specific or measurable, like the experts recommend, but I want this “goal” to be more of a lens through which I view my days. Though I haven’t broken it down into actionable steps, I will tell you that regular Bible reading and prayer are like the frames holding up the lenses of these God-oriented glasses.”

About the art:
I went back to my graphic design roots for this piece and had a blast. I hand-wrote the text on a scrap of paper and scanned in the text to use as a rough template. I thought it would be a smooth transition and I would be able to “outline” the letters, but in true 2020 fashion that did not happen. I spent about eight hours adjusting the outline of each letter so I still got the imperfect hand-written feel. The background is full of individual lines I placed on a grid.

Reclaim

Normally I wait until the end of the year to explain more of why I chose that particular word for the year and what God has taught me about that word. But this year is different. (It’s actually different for a lot of reasons but more on that in the months to come.) My word for 2019 is “reclaim” and here’s why…

I have been reading Genesis and Exodus in my personal Bible study time and it is no coincidence that we are covering those exact books in one of my seminary classes. I am sooo thankful that the Word of God is alive and active because even though I’ve read these passages before, this time God taught me something else: I have already admitted defeat.

Before we go any further, here’s a brief overview of the beginning of the Israelites who are identified as God’s chosen people. Back in Genesis 12, God tells Abraham that He will give him land (the Promised Land), seed (descendants), and blessing (provision). God blesses Abraham and before long he is incredibly wealthy (Gen 13) and has a son with his wife Sarah (Gen 21). One of Abraham’s grandsons is Jacob (Gen 25), who God later renames as Israel (Gen 32). Israel has twelve sons (Gen 29,30, 35), who were then fruitful and multiplied (Ex 1), thus forming the Twelve Tribes of Israel, aka- the Israelites (Ex 1). While the descendants and provision parts were going well, the Israelites did not have possession of the land. In fact, they are enslaved to the Egyptians (Ex 1). God anoints Moses to petition the Egyptian ruler to let God’s people go (Ex 3), and after the tenth disastrous plague, the Israelites are set free (Ex 12). A year-ish of trekking towards the Promised Land God’s people finally arrive at the border (Num 13). Twelve spies are sent to scout out the land that has already been promised to the Israelites (Num 13); ten return and say “no can do, the current inhabitants are giants” and two say “God has given us this land so let’s do it!” (Num 13). The people side with the majority and accept the defeat, rebelling and complaining against God for not giving them what He had promised. God’s response: I said I was giving it to you but you chose not to believe me; therefore, you will wander in the wilderness for forty years and you’ll know that I am displeased (Num 14).

Yikes.

Thankfully, I believe that God deals differently with us now than He did with His people in the Old Testament. So when I don’t please God He won’t set me in the Sahara and say “good luck, see you in four decades.” But even without the desert wanderings, I can’t help but see the similarities between the Israelites and myself. Just like them, I doubt God.

Both the Israelites and myself were/are not believing Truth about God; that He is good and loving and wants good for me. Instead, we are believing the lies of the enemy. Ephesians 6:12 says that our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against Satan. Since the very beginning of time, Satan has been trying to deceive us into believing lies about God (Gen 3). The problem is, just like the Israelites, I sometimes think the promise of God is too good to be true.

We have the complete written Word of God and the redemption of Jesus which means we are not on the pursuit for land, seed, and blessing, but rather for the Kingdom. Jesus says that we should pursue the kingdom of God and his righteousness (Matthew 6:33). And for me that means I have to uproot the lies that I believe about Him. I need to reclaim the Truth of who God is in my life. He has already given me the promises of who He is, His perfect character, and now it’s up to me to live believing those.

Here are a few of the things I am reclaiming:

  • God is good. (Psalm 145:9)
  • God is for me. (Matthew 7:11)
  • God is love. (1 John 4:7-12)
  • God is perfect. (Psalm 18:30)

I am super not perfect which, for the record, does not mesh with a holy and perfect God. Thankfully, Jesus’ death was payment for my imperfections and brought me into the family of God. Because I am a child of God, I have been given access to know the Father. (Seriously, I have been given that!) When I use my circumstances to determine how I feel about God, I get a really misconstrued view of the Father.

I like the word “reclaim” because it implies action. I have to be active in identifying what lies I am believing to have an accurate view of God. I have to be active in fighting off Satan to remember that God is the good ruler of my life. I can’t just look at what has been promised to me and instead turn around and throw the world’s most pathetic pity-party because it doesn’t look probable that God will come through. No, God is who He says He is.

Below are some verses and passages that God has been using to re-orient my heart towards Him. I’ve found more significance in what these verses say about who God is, rather than what pertains to me. As I study God’s character, I reclaim the “broken” areas of my life because my perspective is realigned.

This year, I’m asking myself what has God promised to me that I have given up on? What parts of His character am I struggling to not only see, but also to trust in? Which circumstances am I allowing to cause doubt about God? And I’m also remembering that even when I fail or give up, God’s character is not dependent on me.


“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4-7)

“Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” (1 Timothy 4:7-10)

“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-4)

“Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” (James 1:16-17)

“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” (1 Peter 5:10)

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

“[Jesus] emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him ehe name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should boy, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:7-11)

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)

“For this we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:5-6)

Gentle

It is no secret that 2018 was not my favorite year. I shared a year ago that my 2018 word was going to be “gentle.” It’s true that God has taught me about this particular Fruit of the Spirit. He deals gently with me. I am slowly learning to be more gentle with others. (Soooooo hard for me to admit that I’ve not perfected this and that it doesn’t come naturally.)

I’ve always thought of gentleness as a very calm, almost passive characteristic. Most of the people I would describe as gentle are in fact some of the most patient, relaxed, and compassionate people I know. These are all incredible attributes, but I think the “gentleness of God” has a little bit more to it.

The following definition is in fact unoriginal (thank you Pine Cove Baby Ruths), but I love it: to be gentle is to use the least amount of force necessary. This means that different situations need different levels of force.

In my own life I’ve seen how God, the perfect embodiment of gentleness, sometimes gives me a subtle nudge back on course. Other times I’ve been so defiant that He needs to practically scream. In these moments of what seems like intense force, I question God’s goodness. In the moment, it doesn’t seem like gentleness…but would I listen otherwise?

But correction is not the only aspect of gentleness.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

I love the picture created in Matthew 11. Much of this year I have felt weary and burdened. I have learned that the best thing I can do is to run to Jesus. He provides rest for my tired soul. He gently comforts and nurtures me.

I am thankful for God’s gentleness. I’m thankful that He knows exactly what I need and exactly how to deliver it. I would miss so much if He wasn’t gentle.

Below is my video from 2018. These videos each year have become some of my favorite things. I watch them and cannot help to praise God for what He has provided. So without further ado, ladies and gentleman, 2018…

Full

Choosing a word for the year is not a new practice. Maybe it’s safer to say it’s a new fad. Regardless, I’m a believer. Here’s why: when chosen with care, as a result of submission and asking God to reveal what He wants to teach my heart, it can function as a spiritual barometer. It forces me to be really focused on one area. It gives me a centering point for prayer. I can ask myself, “how are you doing practicing or believing [word of the year]?” Am I resisting God or pushing in to Him?

2017 was my second year to claim a word. In 2016, my word was “worthy” because I wanted to see God as worthy of my affections, what He called worthy in the world/people around me, and how I am worthy as God’s beloved.

My word for 2017: full. Because I have Christ, my life lacks nothing. I chose it because so much of my 2016 prayer life had involved phrases like, “Help me be content with…” or “Why am I not…?” or “Why is everyone else….?” I would read verses about God’s gifts and while knowing the Word of God is True, I would have a hard time feeling it.

  • “No good thing does the Lord withhold from those who walk uprightly.” (Psalm 84:11) 
  • “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11)
  • “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17)

If I’m being quite honest, I felt like God was withholding things from me. I watched as friends received things I wanted. I watched as friends got their dream jobs. Got married. Traveled to cool places with their friends. Had (what looked like) effortless relationships with their families. And the list goes on.

I love what Chad Ashby shared in his article “Is God Keeping Something From You?” over on Desiring God. We make it three chapters into the Bible before we see people confused by God and convinced that God is withholding good from them. God gave Adam and Eve an entire garden and they wanted the one tree they couldn’t have. I would definitely recommend reading Ashby’s entire article, but here are two of my favorite excerpts:

“Look at your life. Is it possible that you’ve fallen for Satan’s oldest strategy against us? Are you fixated on the one thing God is withholding? Has the Serpent convinced you that God is actually wrong to keep something good from you? Is it possible that your life is really a garden full of fruitful trees, but you’re stuck on the one tree God won’t let you have now?”

“God withholds good things from us to teach us to treasure him above every good thing. When he refuses to give us the good thing we plead for, he is actually giving us something even greater: himself and his grace to us in Christ.”

When I got to the root of it, the only thing that can bring me complete, lasting satisfaction is God himself. What if I stopped trying to figure out why my life didn’t look like I thought it should, and instead started thanking God for what He had given me?

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:14-19)

Now let me get in front of one thing: moving to Greece did not automatically make my life more full. In a lot of ways, my life became a lot simpler. A big life change, such as I don’t know maybe moving half way around the world, can make your life feel more chaotic but when the dust settles, is still only a distraction.

Here are some questions I had to face over the last year that helped me practice seeing my life as “full.”

  • Do I believe that God is works for my good? (Romans 8:28)
  • Do I trust God’s timing is better than my own? (Proverbs 16:9)
  • Can God use suffering for good? (Romans 5:3-5)
  • Can loneliness contribute to fullness? (Luke 5:16; Hint: yes, it’s called solitude)
  • Is God’s presence what truly fills me up? (Ephesians 3:14-19)

One other way I practiced thanking God for my life being full is by recording a short video every day. Some days produced clips of groups of people together celebrating. Others were of still small moments I experienced by myself. As I watch this video (posted below) from the last year, I cannot help but stop and thank God for all that He has done and is doing in my life.

He is teaching me and meeting me here. My life lacks nothing because I have Jesus.

How full is your life?

Oh, and my word for 2018? Gentle. TBH, not very excited about it. But I trust Him to be a gentle teacher.