Having an optimistic faith for the new year
Pray and pray and pray—and be transformed
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A woman I see every blue moon shared with me at a party that her daughter, whose name I had taped to my fridge in exchange for my kids’ names on hers, phoned after a five-year estrangement to say she had returned to the Lord. When I told my husband the news, he said, “Imagine if she had given up praying for her daughter just a day before the phone call came.”
You don’t want to give up on God just a day before He answers your prayers. Trouble is, you don’t know when that day will be, so you have to keep praying. Jesus says so: “My righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him” (Hebrews 10:38).
Have we given up on anyone or anything as the calendar rounds the bend into 2020? Time to remember what we signed up for at the start of this journey: God’s righteous ones are saved by faith. There is no emptier word in the dictionary than “faith” when bandied about and not exercised; it comes to signify nearly nothing. Faith, if it means anything at all, means unquenchable optimism in God.
Abraham exhibited unquenchable optimism when, faced with the fact of his own decrepitude versus the fact of God’s promise of an heir, he thought God’s character the greater fact. “In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, ‘So shall your offspring be’” (Romans 4:18). We are privy to Abe’s internal reasoning processes when he was later ordered to offer up this heir on an altar: “He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back” (Hebrews 11:17-19).
There is no emptier word in the dictionary than ‘faith’ when bandied about and not exercised.
Such are the internal mechanics of faith reasoning—provided in Scripture’s record for our emulation.
An obscure man named Jabez exhibited godly optimism in overcoming the curse of his birth name (“Jabez” means “he will cause pain”), and so was singled out for honorable mention in an otherwise boring litany of names (1 Chronicles 4:9-10). Good for Jabez for not settling for what seemed unchangeable fate.
One of my favorites is the tribe of Levi. Levi and his brother Simeon were put under a curse by no less an authoritative figure than their father Jacob (Genesis 49:5-7) for their cruelty in the slaughter of Shechem (34:25-31): Their punishment was to be scattered throughout Israel. Who’s going to have unquenchable optimism in the face of a sentence like that?
But consider the inscrutable ways of God! Both tribes ended up scattered, sure enough. But while Simeon’s scattering was an absorption into Judah and a being passed over in Moses’ later blessing (Deuteronomy 33), the tribe of Levi’s scattering became almost a promotion: They were chosen to be priests over all the other tribes, and thus were divided into all the territories for this privileged role.
What made the difference? Was it not the unquenchable optimism of faith? For whereas the Le-vites could have resigned themselves and hardened their hearts, they stirred up faith in a moment of truth during the notorious golden calf incident (Exodus 32:26). While men are still in the land of the living, God is always ready to reverse a curse for those who come in faith (Ezekiel 18:21-23).
Why does God have us pray and pray (Luke 18:1)? Why is His answer delayed? Because God is not only interested in saving the girl whose name is pinned to your refrigerator, but in transforming you in the process.
Christians are changed in the act of praying. Pray once and receive, and in a week’s time you may forget you even prayed. Pray for 10 or 20 years, and you are daily faced with the choice of holding on to faith or chucking it. Each time you choose to hold it you are blessed. Let’s keep those names up on the fridge in 2020.
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