My regular Bible reading pattern includes reading a chapter of Proverbs every day. In the 28 or 30 day months I skip the last 1 or 3 chapters (I guess I don’t need that advice about how to be a woman of character as much as I need other counsel!) This month I’ve been thinking about how people’s (my own included) New Year’s resolutions are going, and of course this against the background of promised change in our political landscape in this country. Change that has not happened. Added to that, for Cape Town dwellers, we have had a growing water shortage, and no real relief despite days of prayer and numerous prophecies that it is about to happen – none of the prophets but one have put a due date to their prophecies, so it’s hard to know if they heard right! (And by the way, as I am typing this, there are dark clouds in the northern sky over Cape Town, and thunder is beginning to herald good things – go figure!)
You may be a leader, the pastor of a church or a ministry leader, who has begun your year with new goals for accomplishment in the year, and dreamed of revival, growth and “times of refreshing”. It is the way I do leadership myself, and try to instil in other leaders: Receive vision from God, about your life and your leadership role; dream big dreams; lift your sights; and then condense this into goals, and goals into plans, and plans into actions, and actions into habits, and habits into results… you know the drill! And perhaps you have already seen some flaws in your plan, or come face to face with your or others’ inability to sustain the effort needed to achieve the results.
This morning, against all the above background, my reading was Proverbs 13. And of course, right in the middle of it, a verse that “stood up off the page”. Verse 12 says: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life.” It’s a verse I have used often, and its key phrase (hope deferred) has been used in numerous book titles, on subjects from emotional healing, to marriage, to politics. But it spoke to me afresh this morning, and I want to share some of the thoughts it sparked, with you. It may be that you are one of those who feel like a failure because you couldn’t keep that resolution you made 6 weeks ago. Or you have been let down by someone you trusted. Or perhaps your hope was in achieving a certain goal for your life, your ministry or family, and that goal has hit obstacles. Hope has been deferred. Not necessarily destroyed, although it sometimes feels like the same thing.
The verb in the phrase is in the passive voice: Hope (has been) deferred. That gives us a clue as to why it is sick-making: it makes you feel helpless, like a victim. While you were actively hoping, something – whether circumstance, mischief, weakness or “act of God”, caused the thing for which you were hoping to be interrupted, disrupted or derailed. It makes your heart “sick” (the Hebrew word means to be rubbed or worn, to the point of being frayed, made raw or irritated). This raises so many feelings that seem negative: feelings like “what-if?” or “if only”; anger, frustration, despair or confusion. Often it produces whispers of the unthinkable: a loss of faith or anger toward God. We have all been there! And what is one to do with those feelings?
I think the first thing to do is re-evaluate the “reason” for the hope that was in us. Is it based on human ingenuity, strength or integrity, whether your own or that of others? And if it was based on God’s promises, are you sure you heard right? Did you do diligence in handling Scripture? Have you had it confirmed by wise counsel? Once you have affirmative answers to these questions, take time to re-boot your faith. Encourage your own soul with God. Renew your hope from the inside out. David’s end-point and remedy, after describing his own sickness of heart in Psalm 42, is stated in vs. 11 Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise Him again—my Saviour and my God! Affirmation displaces lamentation, as warm stones thrown into a pail of cold water displace the water.
The second part of the verse contain a verb that is both passive – a dream (has been) fulfilled – and active – it began with a person who dreamed. This is how biblical, practical spirituality, ministry and the living of an abundant life, all work. God may give you the Grace, but you will need to live it out (1 Cor 15:20). God is working in you, giving you both the dream and the strength to work it out (Phil 2:13-15). Dream your dream, then live intentionally toward its fulfilment.
This is not only the nature of spirituality, it is also the essence of leadership. A leader is someone who, after she or he has found themselves in a slough of despond, “pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and start all over again.” (OK, that one is a song, not a Bible verse 😉) Don’t quit on a God-given dream. Don’t disbelieve God’s promises. The restoration of hope, the realisation of your dreams, is a tree of life.
ASSOCIATION OF VINEYARD CHURCHES (SA)
Office: (+27-21) 7121619