Thursday, April 30, 2009

From the Dead

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death (2 Cor. 1:8-9).

I am finishing a 3-message series this week on “Surviving the Economic Meltdown… and Being Stronger For It,” so I am coming at the above passage from the context of our present economic pressures. I think particularly of the suicides I have read about in the news of (usually) men who felt that ending their life was their best option in the face of huge debts and/or business pressures. Perhaps the most prominent of the ones who chose this last desperate measure was the 41-year old who served as the Chief Financial Officer for Freddie Mac, the (now) government controlled US mortgage lender and guarantor. The job was a pressure-cooker, with mounting public criticism of the company’s bad loans and retention bonuses, and investigations into its practices by two government agencies. One analyst called top jobs at Freddie Mac “a political land mine.” This good man, remembered by co-workers for his “extraordinary work ethic, integrity, and quick wit,” left behind a wife and six-year old daughter.

I do not know what it is like to “despair even of life.” I am thankful for that even as I feel great empathy for people who do know this painful lack of hope. Hope is our life blood. It gives us the will to live, to strive, to endure and overcome. That is why a dear scripture to me, one tucked close to my heart, is the benediction in Romans 15:13, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

I am struck by the vividness of the apostle Paul’s language when his hope was running low. He says, “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure.” Literally, “surpassingly beyond power we were burdened.” He then says, “But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead” (v. 9).

It seems to me that this kind of comforting and hope-affirming realization doesn’t always come in the midst of the trial but only later, as we look back on the experience and say “Oh, now I see God’s hand in leading me through that.” The trial may still be difficult and draining, but hope gives us the small, life-giving pulse of anticipation that there will be a time when we can look back with our confidence restored. “He who has rescued us from so deadly a peril will continue to rescue us; on him we have set our hope that he will rescue us again” (v. 10).

Friends, there is nothing that God cannot help you get through. Nothing. He is the One who raises from the dead, including the deadness of hope.

If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you. For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well (Psalm 139:11-14).

Friends, may we abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.


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