18 I believe that the present suffering is nothing compared to the coming glory that is going to be revealed to us. 19 The whole creation waits breathless with anticipation for the revelation of God’s sons and daughters. 20 Creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice—it was the choice of the one who subjected it—but in the hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from slavery to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of God’s children. 22 We know that the whole creation is groaning together and suffering labor pains up until now. 23 And it’s not only the creation. We ourselves who have the Spirit as the first crop of the harvest also groan inside as we wait to be adopted and for our bodies to be set free. 24 We were saved in hope. If we see what we hope for, that isn’t hope. Who hopes for what they already see? 25 But if we hope for what we don’t see, we wait for it with patience.
Suffering was almost constant in Paul’s life as an apostle (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:23-29). We might think a life like that would embitter him, leaving him defeated and hopeless. Today’s reading showed that wasn’t the case—and it explained why. The apostle came to understand that “the essential quality of hope is that it is oriented to something in the future that one expects but does not yet possess (Rom 8:24–25).”* He knew that real hope grew, not from human resolve or strength, but from the sustaining presence of God’s Holy Spirit.
Lord Jesus, I don’t like the hard times of physical or emotional suffering—I’m not supposed to. But I’m awfully thankful that even at those times, maybe especially at those times, you are with me every moment. Amen.
* Article “Hope” in Leland Ryken, James C. Wilhoit and Tremper Longman III, general editors, Dictionary of Biblical Imagery. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998, p. 399.
** John Stott, The Message of Romans. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994, p. 248.
When was the last time you were at a little kid’s birthday party? Whether they’re at a park, a home, or an activity center – they all have a similar feel. It’s a casual affair of cake, some sort of kid-friendly activity, and the opening of gifts. That’s pretty much the mold for all kid birthday parties. If you change out the kids, you might have to change the flavor of cake, but you generally know what to expect.
At least I thought that’s how ALL kid’s birthdays were. That is, until I got invited to tag along with my friend, Monica, to the party of her friend’s two- and four-year-old. I should mention that the party was in Brazil. And while I figured that there may be some differences between an American and Brazilian birthday party, I figured they couldn’t be that different. After all, it’s still a party for kids.
I didn’t realize how wrong I was until the evening of the party. We were getting ready to leave and my friend walked out in a cocktail dress. “Oh, I thought tonight was the kids’ birthday party,” I said. “It is,” she replied, “It’s a little different in Brazil.” “Cocktail dress different?” I asked. She just smiled.
We arrived to the party to enter a room lined with balloons and decor, resembling Never-Never Land. At the front was the cake table with both cakes and covered in every kind of candy you could ever imagine -- and some you couldn’t imagine if you even tried. This was placed close to the table full of colorful sacks of party favors for every child in attendance.
We passed through the room to the back yard where there were kids running around on giant inflatables, that is, when they weren’t dancing around with the hired live children’s entertainment company. I was relieved to see that not every woman was in a cocktail dress, some were wearing jeans. When I pointed this out to my friend, she whispered back to me, “Those are the nannies.” The nannies were running around with the children while the adults were socializing in their nice attire, grabbing appetizers and adult beverages from the roaming servers. “Would you like some beer? Wine? Perhaps some whiskey?” Did I mention this was a party for two- and four-year-olds?
Midway through the party, the birthday kids made their grand appearances as Tinkerbell and Peter Pan themselves. For a brief moment, I wondered if I had actually traveled to Never-Never land. Was this a real birthday party? Did this place even exist? I’d never seen a party like this. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined this is what the party would be like. It FAR exceeded my expectations. I was blown away.
I wonder if we ever fall into a similar situation with hope. By that, I mean I often find myself setting my expectations pretty low as far as what God might do or what heaven might be like. My assumptions are based on my experiences. I hope for what I can see or what I have seen, not for what I can’t. While this provides my heart with a bit of a safety net, I don’t think it provides much room for hope. Hope isn’t fueled by low expectations. No, hope is fueled by more – more than we can think of, dream of, or imagine. Hope is fueled by what only God can do, and to consider less not only does ourselves an injustice, but does God an injustice as well.
When we have incorrect expectations of what heaven is like, our perception of death will always be a tremendous loss. When heaven is worse than life on earth, why would we ever want that? But what if heaven is not only better, but it is wildly and tremendously so? What if it is FAR beyond our highest of desires? Would we hope for that? We may never be able to anticipate what heaven is fully like, but I think our hope will come more alive when we allow ourselves to live in the truth that heaven is beyond us – beyond our thoughts, beyond our realities, beyond even what we can imagine. Put your hope there, because I think it’s safe to say that heaven will blow us away.
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