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Hoping vs. Wishing

In Dr. Henry Cloud's excellent book, Necessary Endings, he includes a chapter entitled, "Hoping Versus Wishing: The Difference Between What's Worth Fixing and What Should End." How do we determine what things in our lives are worth fixing and what should end? When do we cling to hope and when should we give up?

I've always believed that I should never give up. Even when I played basketball--which was a long time ago--if my team was down by twenty points with two minutes left in the game, I always believed there could be a miraculous turnaround, and we could come out on top. To me giving up was a sign of weakness and hopelessness, and it even seemed contrary to the way of Christ. The Bible does say, after all, "The one who . . . perseveres . . . will be blessed in his doing" (James 1:25).

On October 29, 1941, at the Harrow School commencement ceremony, Winston Churchill addressed the student body and said, "Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever give up. Never give up. Never give up. Never give up." I think he meant it. But even Churchill recognized that there are times when you need to close a door, end a chapter, or bring things to end, because later in the same speech, he said, "Never give in . . . except to convictions of honor and good sense."

The challenge is knowing when it makes good sense to shut the business down, go ahead and retire, change jobs, or even end a relationship. As Dr. Cloud puts it, "To hold on to `hope' when what you really have is merely a wish is to fail to grasp reality." In hard decisions where we are attempting to discern the difference between hope and a wish, we need to get to the "hopeless moment," where we acknowledge that more of the same does not bring change. When you hit rock bottom, whether it be in a dead-end job, an addiction, or a relationship, it's typically only at that moment that you realize you are utterly hopeless in your own strength and circumstances to turn things around. You can wish your spouse would change or your addictions would go away, but you finally come to the realization that YOU have to change and move forward in your life either in a new environment, business, or direction.

It's often the case that a spouse married to an alcoholic who continues to drink will never see her marriage change until she reaches that "hopeless moment" and makes the decision to move out. If she hopes her spouse will overcome his addiction, most of the time it won't happen until he faces dire consequences, and she begins to see actions of his life change. She can't base her hope on past behavior. The alcoholic husband has to chart a new course. This is also the case in a job that is quickly going nowhere. You can wish it were better, but it's not until you reach that "hopeless moment" that you will ever be forced to set a new course of improving your current situation or moving on.

Life decisions are tough. If they were easy, everybody would be moving forward with great enthusiasm in their careers and marriages. Fortunately, for us, we don't have to make those decisions alone. We have the Spirit who guides us into all truth (John 16:13). We have a community of Christ followers who will encourage and build us up (1 Thessalonians 5:11), even when it means listening to hard truth delivered in love (Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 4:15). And we also have the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17), which implies that we're willing to read it and apply it to our lives.

The next time you're faced with a hard decision of whether to keep something going or give it a nice burial, be sure that you're looking at the foundation for your hope. Is it wishful thinking, or have you reached that "hopeless moment," where you know you can't do it on your own? When you reach that point, and I pray you will, then you're in the best possible position, because whether the decision is to turn things around or bring them to a close, you are doing so through the leading of the Holy Spirit and the living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3).

"For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe" (1 Timothy 4:10).


Always in Haste, But Never in a Hurry

John Wesley once wrote, "Though I am always in haste, I am never in a hurry." The late Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung, penned, "Hurry is not of the devil. It is the devil." And the great Reformer, Martin Luther, is quoted as having said, "Work, work, from early to late. In fact, I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer."

Sometimes, in fact many times, I feel hurried. I get ready to spend time in prayer and meditating on Scripture, and I feel pulled to the many activities on my to-do list. Like John Wesley, I can always be in haste, but unlike him, I'm always in a hurry, too. And my rushed demeanor pulls me away from things that really matter like deepening my prayer life and spending more time with people. I even find myself thinking ahead to my next appointments when I'm sitting down with my current appointment! Thus, I'm compromising the integrity of being present in the moment where I'm truly listening, reflecting, encouraging, and supporting. I'm also compromising the integrity of truly listening to the Holy Spirit and reflecting on His Word.

I've been convicted of late, once again, to spend more time in prayer, but in order to do so, I need to change some behavior patterns. Perhaps some of these next steps I hope to take will be an encouragement to your prayer life as well.

First, I need to separate my office space from my prayer space. This doesn't mean I can't pray in my office, but when I get in my office each morning and attempt to pray and read the Bible, I get too easily distracted. If the first thing I do when I sit down at my desk is turn on my computer where my email and calendar pop up, I'm doomed. I need to develop a "prayer closet" where I can be alone with God and my Bible.

Second, I need a plan. I don't want to be slave to my plan, because I tend to over plan things. But if I don't have a Scripture reading plan, a journal and my prayer list, my mind can easily wander, and I'm not fully present in that moment with God. Currently I'm reading through the Bible in a year, journaling and praying. To keep things fresh, however, I generally will rotate between Scripture memory and zeroing in on a book of the Bible, and then at other times I'll pull back to a macro-level of reading larger portions of Scripture. I share that with you only to say one thing: develop a plan that works for you.

Third, I need to pray. And I mean really pray. Typically, I'll offer up my five-minute prayer for the day and be off to the races. And then I wonder why I feel so hurried. I'm genuinely convicted when I read Luther's quote of being so busy, he needs to spend the first three hours in prayer. It takes times to develop our prayer life, but develop it we must. I like following the "ACTS" model for prayer: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication. It gives me some structure to keep me moving in my prayer time.

Fourth, I need accountability. When Jesus took Peter, James and John further into the Garden of Gethsemane, He said, "Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Matthew 26:42). And what did the disciples do? They fell asleep. Three times. Sounds like my prayer life. We all need accountability. We need someone who will encourage us to watch and pray and then touch base with us from time to time when we start to doze off or drift in our prayer life. Accountability is not to control but to encourage. The bottom line is we have to self-monitor and commit to living a disciplined and joyful life of keeping in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:25).

Yes, it takes discipline, but Christ-like discipline leads to freedom. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote, "If you set out to seek freedom, then learn above all things to govern your soul and your senses, for fear and longings may lead you away from the path you should follow. Chaste be your mind and your body, and both in subjection, obediently, steadfastly seeking the aim set before them; only through discipline may a man learn to be free."

Be encouraged. We all have room to grow in deepening our walk with Jesus in the power of His Spirit, even this preacher who, after many years, is still trying to be always in haste but never in a hurry.

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