Some people see a problem in every opportunity, while others see an opportunity in every problem. This is most likely attributable to an individual’s temperament, experience and training. With respect to the last item on the list there is great hope for those who feel like they are locked in the melancholy mindset of pessimism.
We are born with our temperament, so we’re stuck with it. We can’t change our experiences. They are what they are, because that water has passed under the bridge. But we can learn from our experiences. And, most importantly, we can allow God to shape our thinking so that we develop new strategies for approaching life with enthusiasm.
This is essential for our well-being, too. Attitude more than aptitude determines the altitude to which we will soar in life. It’s true! Our outlook regarding life’s opportunities and challenges very often plays a huge part in the outcomes.
This seems to be one of the main messages of the book of Revelation. God does not want His people to despair! He wants them to live victoriously, in spite of their bleak circumstances. Living victoriously is encouraged on nine separate occasions in Revelation. There is a message here:
In the midst of a desert of despair it is possible to dwell securely in an oasis of hope!
Looking candidly at these matters is not intended to come across as some sort of spiritual rah-rah rally, either. While we need to think about these things for our own spiritual well being, we also need to think about them in light of what God has called us to be and do in the lives of others. We are to be a source of encouragement! If the song that is constantly on our lips is, “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” it will be very difficult for us to be a blessing in the lives of others. Think of it: Eeyore will never be a motivational speaker!
I was once visiting with a friend in his office. He owned his business and that meant in addition to being the custodian he was also his own customer relations manager. The phone rang and he spent the next few minutes dealing with what seemed to me to be a cantankerous client. He was gracious, but no push over. It seemed like things were amicably resolved and I asked him if this was the case when he finished the call. He said that it was for the time being. He added that it was just a matter of time before something else would have to be resolved. He then said that this particular client was the kind of person who could brighten the room, just by leaving. Ouch!
It’s a challenge, isn’t it?
Sometimes, the only thing that keeps us from enjoying life and being a blessing to others along the way is how we view things that happen from day-to-day…
One family’s journey brings this reality to light. We are introduced to their pilgrimage in the following text:
“1In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. 2 The man's name was Elimelek, his wife's name was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.” —Ruth 1:1-2
When we ponder this family’s plight (Ruth 1:3-2:2), we realize they are being confronted with an unbelievable number of different challenges. Any one of them could lead to despair. The combination of all of them might be described as a vast desert of despair. Their journey was a difficult one. Think of what this family was facing:
– Moral decline in their homeland
– Economic downturn
– Separation anxiety
– Culture shock
– Compounded grief and sorrow
– Internal conflict
– Family conflict
– Disappointment with God
– Financial destitution
In spite of these realities, when we look at Elimelek’s family from another point-of-view we can catch glimpses of an oasis of hope amidst a desert of despair. The reason for this is simple—the hand of God is so obviously present in the lives of Naomi and Ruth.
Looking at their journey from this point-of-view, we are impressed with another combination of factors all deriving from God’s providential power. There are many things that could be considered. My sense is that God’s providence is clearly seen in the following areas:
(1) Spiritual discipline exercised
(2) Temporal refuge provided
(3) Spiritual renewal experienced
(4) Physical needs supplied
(5) Spiritual significance realized
(6) Personal peace restored
So much could be said about each of these. One thing stands out: God’s providence seems to have turned what was a vast desert of despair into a peaceful oasis of hope. For now, I’m wondering what life-lessons we can gain from looking in on this oasis of hope. There are many, to be sure.
First, we should anchor our thoughts to God and dwell on hope!
– Think like an editor and look at the “space” God allows each point-of-view to occupy. Not much space is given to the “nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen” mentality, is there?
– Here’s a question for each of us to consider: How much “space” are we allowing negative thoughts to occupy in our minds?
– Think about this in relation to Philippians 4:4-8, “4Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
Second, we should keep our hearts in tune with the will of God!
– Though the world clamors about us, we must not allow ourselves to be distracted from God.
– How much time / thought do we give to God each day?
– I’ve always found the Psalms help me tune my heart to God. One that I keep returning to is Psalm 62. Here we read:
1Truly my soul finds rest in God;
my salvation comes from him.
2 Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.
3 How long will you assault me?
Would all of you throw me down—
this leaning wall, this tottering fence?
4 Surely they intend to topple me
from my lofty place;
they take delight in lies.
With their mouths they bless,
but in their hearts they curse.
5 Yes, my soul, find rest in God;
my hope comes from him.
6 Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
7 My salvation and my honor depend on God;
he is my mighty rock, my refuge.
8 Trust in him at all times, you people;
pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge.
9 Surely the lowborn are but a breath,
the highborn are but a lie.
If weighed on a balance, they are nothing;
together they are only a breath.
10 Do not trust in extortion
or put vain hope in stolen goods;
though your riches increase,
do not set your heart on them.
11 One thing God has spoken,
two things I have heard:
"Power belongs to you, God,
12 and with you, Lord, is unfailing love";
and, "You reward everyone
according to what they have done."
Third, we should trust God’s plan for our lives and experience the peace which comes from walking with Him!
– Boat loads of passages seem to under gird this observation. My all-time favorite remains Proverbs 3:5-6, “5Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”
– Simple faith leads to great service. So, continue to trust in God, even if you’ve got sand in your eyes.
– Small things can be big deal in God’s service. So, continue to serve, even when it seems like you’ve only got a thimble to move a sand dune. Remember: Little is much when God is in it!
So, then, if we…
(1) Anchor our thoughts to God, dwelling on hope;
(2) Keep our hearts in tune with the will of God; and
(3) Trust God’s plan for our lives and experience His peace!
Then – Each of our lives will be an oasis of hope amidst a desert of despair.
And – We will be able to enjoy life and be a blessing to others along the way.