Trust in God, Not Your Emotions
Feelings are fragile, like eggs; they break and make a mess
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1–2, NIV)
What’s the “therefore” there for?
We’ve all heard it before, right? Whenever you see a “therefore” in Scripture, you need to look back and see what it’s there for. That is, you need to look at the words that come before it to get the broader context of the passage.
“These” were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. (Hebrews 11:39–40, NIV)
That word “these” leads us further back into chapter 11.
Who are these?
Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses’ parents, Moses, the Israelites, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, the prophets, and many other unnamed believers.
They all had something in common (besides faith, although it was definitely related to their faith). They chased after the promises of God, not after the desires of their own hearts. At least, they didn’t follow their hearts for long, if their hearts led them away from God.
“Follow your heart” is really bad advice
We hear it a lot in Hallmark movies, and we read it in self-help books and other things written from a worldly point of view — “Follow your heart.”
This is really, really bad advice.
What would have happened if Abraham had followed his heart (let his feelings, rather than his faith in God, guide his decisions)? He may never have left his homeland to start a new nation dedicated to following God. He might not have taken his son Isaac up to the mountain so God could supply a substitute sacrifice to paint a picture of the coming ultimate sacrifice of His own Son.
We do, in fact, know what happened when Abraham chose to follow his emotions and his own wisdom instead of God’s.
God promised him descendants, but they didn’t come in the timeframe Abraham and Sarah thought they should. So, they took matters into their own, er, hands? and used Sarah’s maid Hagar to bear them a son. But that boy wasn’t God’s promised son, and relationship difficulties ensued between Abraham and Sarah, Sarah and Hagar, and the descendants of Abraham’s two sons … even to this day.
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We can say the same thing about Moses, Gideon, Samson, Jephthah, David, and several of the prophets — Jonah, in particular, comes to mind. When they chose to follow their “hearts” — their emotions or feelings — things tended to get really, really broken and messy.
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9, KJV)
Yet, all these people still managed to make it into the “Hall of Faith.” And they’re all still standing as examples for us — not of what people can do for God, but what God can do for people.
The reason these are heroes of faith is because they did not, ultimately, let their feelings stop them from doing what they knew God wanted them to do, despite all the difficulties and uncertainties they faced.
Faith is a better guide because it’s about hope
Many times, we look at those people in Hebrews 11 and think we can’t possibly ever be as faithful as they were.
That’s not true.
God wouldn’t have put that list in the Bible just to taunt us. In fact, He put that particular list there to inspire us to believe that we could have faith just like those people …
Moses, the zealous murderer turned excuse-making stutterer.
Rahab, the Canaanite prostitute.
Gideon, the coward turned arrogant leader following some God-led success.
David, the adulterer turned murderer who attempted to cover up his sin.
All these people made messes at some point in their lives. They made wrong choices and suffered some bad consequences (and sometimes other people suffered too, as a result). But they all made one very right choice at least once.
They chose hope.
But even hope can be deceptive
Many people don’t have a clear idea of what hope really is — at least not in the biblical sense of the word.
“I hope I get to see you next Sunday … I hope you win that scholarship … I hope you have safe travels.” We say things like this all the time, meaning we’re wanting good things (or that which we think of as good) to happen to us or the people we care about.
There’s nothing wrong with that, but we can get ourselves in trouble if we don’t place our hope in the right thing — or, rather, Person. Anything less is a false hope. And false hope, like feelings, crumbles in the face of adversity.
Many times, we feel like all our problems will just disappear if we can get what we want. But God never promises us that we will get everything we want in life. He doesn’t even indicate anywhere in His word that getting what we want will actually make us happy.
Wayne A. Mack, in his article, “Instilling Hope in the Counselee” (Counseling: How to Counsel Biblically¹), says:
Often what we want is not what is best for us, and a name-it-and-claim-it approach to our desires only compounds our problems. Because God has not promised us freedom from tribulation in this world (John 16:33; see James 1:2–4), we become disillusioned when we do not get what we want.
False hope is not based on reality. In fact, it’s pretty much based on the opposite. That’s why unbiblical hope will always come crashing down when the storms of life blow in (see Luke 6:47–49).
True hope is more than just a wish
Biblical hope is an expectation based on the promises of God — the kind of expectation Abraham had, which God credited to him as righteousness (Roman 4:3, 18).
Because it’s based on the promises of God, true hope is realistic. As Romans 4 states:
Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead — since he was about a hundred years old — and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. (Romans 4:19–21, NIV)
Abraham realized the hopelessness of his own situation in relation to God’s promise, but he put his hope and faith in God’s power.
If God promised it, God was going to work it out.
True hope isn’t really about us at all
True biblical hope doesn’t just focus on the part (our individual lives). Rather, it focuses on the whole (that is, God’s plan for the entire universe). Even though we may not understand what God is doing through the things that happen in our lives, we can trust that He is accomplishing a grand divine plan that will ultimately glorify Him and benefit us (Isaiah 46:10; Romans 8:28; Ephesians 1:11).
True hope is ultimately concerned with God’s glory. That’s the model we find in the example of Jesus Christ, who:
…For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2, NIV)
True hope is one of the gifts we receive because of our restored relationship with God through Jesus Christ because Jesus Himself is our hope (Colossians 1:27; 1 Timothy 1:1). And our sense of hope is inextricably linked to that relationship.
If we’re continually working on building that relationship through prayer and reading and studying God’s word, we’re going to be more hopeful. If we’re not working on that relationship, we’ll be more likely to base our hope on how we’re feeling about what’s happening around us. And that sort of hope crumbles at the first sign of trouble.
Here’s what hope can do
When we’re walking in hope and faith, we show other people what hope can do … just like all those people listed in Hebrews 11. And then they’re inspired to live with real hope and faith too.
- Hope produces lasting joy, even in the midst of the most difficult trials (Romans 5:1–5, ESV):
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
- Hope produces confidence (Philippians 1:20, ESV):
…as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.
- Hope produces greater faith and love (Colossians 1:4–5, ESV):
…since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. …
- Hope produces security (Hebrews 6:19, ESV):
We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain ….
- Hope produces a more intimate relationship with God
(Hebrews 7:19, ESV):
…a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.
Even in the most difficult situations, true hope believes that God “is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20, KJV) and that “with man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26, NIV).
Things may be out of our control, but they are never out of God’s.
That’s what the Scriptures teach us. God can use the hope seen in the lives of others who have suffered to strengthen our own hope (Romans 15:4). That’s exactly what we see happening in the lives of the cloud of witnesses mentioned in Hebrews 12. And we can share this hope with others by showing how others have overcome similar situations and circumstances through hope and faith in God.
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