Lesson of the Year: Faith, Hope and Love image

Lesson of the Year: Faith, Hope and Love

I was so looking forward to the usual end-of-year review posts this year, because I actually had a book worthy of the 'best of' category. Usually I get to this point and look back through my reading list and think 'Meh', but this was the year of Celebration of Discipline, about which I could have waxed lyrical (here's what I said about just one chapter, a few weeks ago). But for my contribution to the reflections on the year I find that I don't want to tell you about a book; I want to tell you about a lesson I learned - began to learn - in 2014.

It has been a good year. I love my life, and once again the joys have far outweighed the sorrows. I have seen God’s hand guiding and directing me, he has opened doors and provided for my needs and generally proved himself faithful and true time and time again.

Yet there are still some prayers which remain unanswered (or rather, requests that remain ungranted - a ‘no’ or a ‘not yet’ being perfectly valid answers!), and while I have complete faith that God has got those situations in hand and is working out his will in them, he challenged me at one point about the nature of that faith.

Is it really faith when you’re on the brink of giving up hope?

I was saying and believing that God was good and powerful and would work all things for good, but I was feeling like giving up. Not on faith, not on life, just on those particular situations. There was nothing more I could do, I thought. I was out of strength. The situations were hopeless. I should just walk away and close the door.

But God…

That’s one of my phrases of the year. ‘But God…’ so many of the turning points in scripture hinge on those two little words, and this was no different.

But God caused someone to read out in church, on that day when my emotional bags were packed and I was preparing to walk away:

Do you not know?
  Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
  the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
  and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
  and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
  and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
  will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles;
  they will run and not grow weary,
  they will walk and not be faint.
                    Isaiah 40:28-31

How many times have I heard that before? How often have I read it? How many bookmarks, posters, desk calendars and other inspirational knick-knacks have I owned with it emblazoned on them? But God, in his grace and mercy, didn’t leave me to find it in my memory, but placed it front and centre on the stage before me. The strength is not mine, it is his. He gives me strength when I am weak, and as I begin to hope again, my strength will be renewed.

“Hope,” whispered that still, small voice, “Pray with hope. And love.”

You see, some of those situations I had almost given up on were to do with other people. And God challenged me on that. I say I love these people, yet I was preparing to walk away from relationship with them. [As an aside, I do think there are times when, to protect yourself and others, you need to remove yourself from situations of abuse, but this was definitely not in that category.]

“What does love look like?” he asked.

This time I didn’t need the person standing on stage reading it out (though he gave me that, too, just to be sure!):

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Cor 13:4-7)

The situations didn’t change, but my heart did, instantly and completely.

Through remembering what love looks like, and having faith that God would give me the strength to hope, I found that he immediately gave me both that strength and that hope.

I know we don’t usually use this blog for personal testimony, but in looking back over the year, this is the thing that stood out - not books, not blog posts, not tweets, not global conflicts or church in-fightings, but this simple lesson. It was a game-changer for me, and I hope maybe it will be an encouragement to you.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Cor 13:13)

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