September 27, 2006

Paul: Hope Experienced

2006 1527 pg16 capust after arriving home at the end of a long day at work I received the news that Susan was dead. She was so young. And the news was so unexpected. The nurse on the ward told me that everything had happened before they could reach me. “You should’ve seen how happy she looked! We’ve never seen someone dying who smiled so much!”
2006 1527 page16Memories of the past six weeks passed by in seconds. Susan was strong. Even so, in a short time cancer had spread throughout her body. A registered nurse, she knew the prognosis was bad. Yet she consciously placed her trust in God, willing to accept whatever plans He had for her. An anointing, many pastoral conversations, and telephone discussions filled out the last few weeks. It was, thankfully, clear that she would not allow her illness to get her down—quite the opposite. Susan grew unshakable in her hope of the resurrection; nothing comforted her more. In her hopeless state she became a beacon of hope. Her death showed how God’s grace and love strengthen us. She had a peace with God available to all who immerse themselves in God’s grace, which makes us righteous before God through Christ. For Susan, God’s promises were an absolute certainty.

Hope: A Case Study

The apostle Paul expressed well that which Christians experience in this world of sin and death: “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (Rom. 5:3-5).

Anyone making such a statement must have had some experiences in those matters. Saul, full of faith, led a “righteous” life, worked hard on his standing before God. He was “a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless” (Phil. 3:5, 6).
But on the road to Damascus something happened that turned his life on its head: Saul met Jesus. The glory that surrounded God’s Son blinded him. But his understanding was illuminated with such a brightness and clarity that it allowed him to realize how necessary was his commitment to Jesus Christ. He realized that only Christ could free him from the burden of sin; only Christ could renew his life and give him new goals for his life on earth. He was filled with despair as he reflected upon all he had done to Christ’s followers, but hope sprang up when he thought about the Crucified One, who had risen from the dead and given him the hope of eternal life. From then on, he wanted to know nothing “except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2).
On the road to Damascus Saul was changed into Paul; transformed into a new creature. The good news he discovered was that Christ had already provided for him what he needed, that he could face his future with confidence as a beloved and redeemed child of God.
When Jesus meets us, when He touches our heart, everything changes. Suddenly we understand by faith that God became one of us in Jesus Christ. He paid for our sins on the cross. And He is risen! Jesus lives! This knowledge was not hidden from Paul. He gave his life wholeheartedly to his Lord and joined the believers who helped and supported him in his new life. The early Christians strengthened Paul’s faith, told him about Christ and His love, and helped him in many ways to get on his feet.

Hope and the Church

Hope needs a good foundation if it’s not going to fade or fail. In my work with women who wish to give up their babies after giving birth, I have repeatedly been confronted by this important fact. It is not enough that they have found a place where they can talk about their problems, or that they have found someone they can trust. They need a firm foundation, a capable partner who will support them by word and deed. Someone who will help them to find the help they need and give them a place of safety and care in uncertain times.

We were able to help a woman who had given birth, but then returned to take her baby. A year later she told me, “Now I have courage and confidence for my life. I have hope, and today I am strong, stronger than I’ve ever been before.”
People who stand at the beginning of their new faith need other Christians who, through their own experiences in faith, can encourage and strengthen them. Hope looks to the future, but its roots are in the past and present. Hope must be experienced, and most of us grow mature through experience. Because we know God and have had experiences with Him, we are able to recognize His love and care in our daily lives. We can always rely on His promises, even in the uncertainty of the future.

Questions for Reflection 
or Sharing

1. Who, in your life, has been a model of hope in Christ? How was that person’s hope demonstrated?

2. Describe briefly the process by which you came to understand that your standing with God depends on your faith in Christ’s righteousness and not in your own.

3. How can Christians in the here and now demonstrate their hope of eternal life? What forms should that hope take? Mention at least five.

Paul experienced this. Ananias came at Jesus’ command to care for him (Acts 9:10-19). Through Ananias, Jesus let the weakened, suffering, and blinded Paul know what great things He had in mind for him (Acts 22:12-16). Through Ananias, God gave Paul a new perspective for his life, filled him with the Holy Spirit, and equipped him for His service. Paul’s goal, to be with Jesus, was the driving force of his work. This longing gave him the strength to carry him through his most difficult experiences. Jesus, and no one or nothing else, was the basis of Paul’s well-grounded hope. As Jesus revealed to Paul that he would suffer much for Christ’s name (Acts 9:16), Paul did not reject the calling. Rather, it caused him to immerse himself even more in God’s Word. He wrote: “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal” (Phil. 3:13).

This is the Paul we know: joyful, hopeful, able to bear suffering, strong, patient, full of the power of the Holy Spirit. A man who had committed himself completely and wholeheartedly to God and who today can still comfort us and give us confidence through his words: “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (Rom. 12:12). Paul calls out to us through the millennia. He who sang songs of praise while in chains and in the greatest hardship knew: “I have the same hope in God . . . , that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked” (Acts 24:15). The light he saw when he met Jesus became his strong conviction that “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18).

Hope for Today

A dear, elderly woman said before undergoing surgery: “I’m not afraid about this surgery. I have placed myself in God’s hands, where I have rested my whole life. I will be given an anesthetic, and I will fall asleep. When I awake, I’ll see either the face of my nurse or the beloved face of my Savior. How could I possibly be afraid?”

Paul also knew this security in Christ. His journey of hope through this world reached its apex at the end of his life, when he wrote: “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:6-8).
Paul would agree with the words of the great Adventist hymn that should be the statement of every living Adventist: “We have this hope!”
Gabriele Stangl is the head chaplain of the Waldfriede Adventist Hospital in Berlin, where she is founder of the first Abandoned Babies Program. She lives with her husband, Hans-Joachim, in Berlin-Zehlendorf.