We are once again coming into the final days of Advent – a time when cards are filled with wishes for hope and good cheer – a time when our anticipation of celebrating goodwill should be at its peak. Yet the events of the past few weeks seem to have cast a pall over these days. A collective hopelessness has rolled over us like a giant, crushing stone. There is great pain; and questions fill our minds. In light of this, I have been driven back to what the Bible has to say about hope. When we experience pain, loss and trauma, the need for hope is critical. But is this “hope” a wish, a dream, and merely our desperate attempt to make sense of painful and chaotic circumstances? In a curious adaptation of one of my favorite lines from the movie “The Princess Bride,” life appears to have issued a challenge, desiring to battle us – not to death, but “to the pain!” The crushed spirits that many exited pastors and their families experience when the Exit sign hangs over their heads cry out for an answer. Daily, I am challenged to find any real hope in what I see and hear around me in this world.
“Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope…” Lamentations 3:21
Our message, as followers of Christ, is one of hope, and so any ministry that grows out of our relationship to Christ is a message of hope. However, it is becoming increasingly clear to me that the hope we offer is not something that resides in us, to be mustered up or dusted off. Our hope is not a positive attitude or wishful thinking. It is Christ Himself: a God who has refused to stay distant from our pain.
As I have tried to write for the encouragement and strengthening of my brothers in ministry, I have been reluctant to approach things from a “Five Steps to a Healthier Ministry” point of view. My hesitation comes from the suspicion that this can lead to just another way to manage our sin in its various forms. Without minimizing our responsibilities, what is looming larger for me these days is the true hope that is Christ alone. The Gospel reveals to us that God is in Christ, “…reconciling the world to Himself.” It announces that, through the cross and resurrection of Christ, God is remaking what was broken. “Christ in us” is “the hope of glory”- His very presence in the midst of our mess. We are reminded repeatedly in Scripture that our hope does not come from human manipulation, whether of circumstances, principles, or people. Our hope is in the Lord. Moreover, that hope is not simply in what God might do for us. In His very being, HE IS our hope.
Restoring hope to exited and “at-risk” pastors – or anyone for that matter – is not about creating our own “plan” for patching up hurting people. Any process or method we may use is merely a vehicle by which Christ can reach into lives and become the hope that is needed. Sharing the hope we ourselves experience because of Jesus means pointing our struggling brothers and sisters to the extended arms of a God who has never moved away – even when they are asking, “Where is He?” We can be the nearest evidence someone sees of a God who redeems, remakes and restores. I want to live in hope – to borrow each day from that future reality of “all things new” that Christ has guaranteed by what He has done for us – and radiate that hope to others around me. My only choice in being able to do that is to look away from my clever attempts to remain upbeat, and turn to Jesus – looking “full in His wonderful face,” as the old hymn goes.
For all who are hoping for some hope in this Christmas season, to all the lonely, hurting pastors and their families, I pray for a renewal of hope through a renewed experience of Emmanuel, ”God WITH us!”
“In him was life, and that life was the light of men” – John 1:4