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By the rivers of Babylon, There we sat down and wept, When we remembered
Zion.  Upon the willows in the midst of it We hung our harps.  For
there our captors demanded of us songs, And our tormentors mirth, saying,
"Sing us one of the songs of Zion."  How can we sing the Lord's song
In a foreign land?
A recent study indicates that those who are not "hopeful about the future"
are more likely to die than those who have hope for the future. Over a
four-year span, from 1992 to 1996, researches asked 795 people aged 64
to 79 whether they were ``hopeful about the future.''
Around 9% responded, "no." Five years after the survey, the researches
found that 11% of the hopeful died, contrasted with 29% of those who were
not "hopeful about the future."
Why does the presence of "hope" make such a statistical difference in
death rates? Heb. 6:19 describes hope as "an anchor for the soul," and
says that it is both "firm" and "secure." I like that picture for hope.
As an anchor digs into the sea bottom to keep the tides, winds and waves
from moving a ship, so hope anchors our souls and keeps problems, pressures
and despair from controlling us.
Are you "hopeful about the future?" Now I didn't ask you if you were
optimistic. I asked you are you hopeful-there's a difference.
According to Dennis McGowan, a pastor who has served on 5 mission trips
to Haiti. "The Believers in Haiti are not optimistic about their future
at all. They were not optimistic, but neither are they pessimistic. Strangely,
they were some of the most hopeful happy people I have ever met."
These are people who make under $1.00 per day-- just enough money for
that day's living expenses and sometimes not even enough for that. The
money is meager, but they simply do not have the opportunity to make more.
And yet, they are generous.
They give their time and their labor and their food and their appreciation
and their love. About forty of the locals helped McGowan's mission team
finish building their church building. When they were helping, they were
not earning any money working at their jobs. And yet, they worked side-by-side
with the mission team for ten days. Why would they volunteer their time
instead of working for money that they so desperately needed? Why would
they have such hope?
Wouldn't their suffering lead them to despair instead of hope? Not exactly.
In Romans 5:3-5, Paul teaches that sufferings produce hope, not despair.
"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." (NIV)
Suffering produces perseverance.
I don't watch many movies, but the other day, my boys talked me into
watching Rocky with them. Have you seen the movie? One scene shows Rocky's
first workout after getting his dream shot at the champion. At the end
of the scene, he is holding his side as he climbed up a series of cement
steps. Obviously in pain from the workout.
Later in the movie, Rocky is running up those same steps, but this time,
he finishes his workout with a reservoir of energy. The camera circles
him as he holds his hands in the air and runs in place. The background
music plays the theme song, and in that moment, the local kid from Philly
How did his stamina increase? The suffering from the workouts produced
the stamina, or to use the Biblical word-perseverance.
Perseverance produces character.
In captivity, the children of Israel lost their hope and refused to
sing their songs. Unlike the Haitians, they let their circumstances rob
them of their hope. The suffering broke them, it didn't build their character.
Suffering will make you more of what you are. If you think you DESERVE
an easy life- if you think God, or the world, owes you something, then
it will make you bitter. Whiners become bitter. But if you understand that
God doesn't owe you anything, that anything you have is a result of His
grace, then you will become better-you will have strengthened character.
Character produces hope.
How do you keep score in life? Some do it by collecting things. The
ultimate question to them is "how many things have I accumulated?" A person
has value based on what they own, this group claims.
Other people keep score by collecting experiences. The extreme generation
collects experiences in the same way their boomer parents collected things.
Adventure gives a person value, according to this group.
I reject both of these methods of keeping score. I believe the most
valuable thing I can have isn't a possession or an experience, it is character.
The question to me isn't, "how much do you have?" But what are you doing
with you have to make this world a better place? And the question isn't
"what have you experienced?" Rather it is, "How are you using your experiences
to change the world?" Those are issues of character. Luke 12:48 says, "For
unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required." (KJV)
Whether it is things or experiences, what are you doing with what you've
been given? Whether the experiences are negative or positive, what are
you doing with what you've been given?
It is easy to become so immersed in our own troubles that we think only
of ourselves. During times of trials, we need to look inward to our character,
upward to Christ and outward to a needy world.
Don't give up! Keep singing. And keep making a difference.
Eddie became tired of life and decided to leap from a bridge into a
turbulent river. Jim, a total stranger, saw Eddie being swept downstream
and plunged into the water in an effort to save him. Eddie, who was a good
swimmer, noticed the man floundering desperately in the strong current
and knew that without his help he would drown. Something stirred within
him. With all of his strength, Eddie swam over to the man and rescued him.
Saving that stranger, who had attempted to save him, brought new hope and
meaning to Eddie's life. Jim saved his life after all, not by helping him,
but by being helped.
Why were the Haitians hopeful? They had no reason to be optimistic.
They were not optimistic that their children's lives would be easier than
their lives, that they would receive medical treatment if they fell ill,
or that they would always have enough food on their table.
How could they volunteer their time knowing the bleakness of their situation?
McGowan asked one of them why he was working with them instead of working
in the fields to earn some money to help support his family. The man replied,
"Because it was my church, and because I am serving Jesus."
"These were some of the most hopeful people I have ever met," McGowan
said, "because they placed all their hope in Jesus and Jesus had not disappointed
them." No, the Hatians aren't optimistic about their future, but they do
have an incredible hope. A hope placed firmly in God.
Their hope was "an anchor" for their souls. Regardless of the circumstances
of their lives, their souls were "anchored."
Whatever happens-don't give up! Don't lose your song. As bad as captivity
was to the Children of Israel, they shouldn't have refused to sing. Because
in the song, there is hope. A message the Babylonians needed to hear, as
much as the children of Israel needed to sing it.