Living Intentionally in an Unstable World

Part 1 of an interview with Melissa Spoelstra,
Author of Dare to Hope

Looking at today’s world, hope usually isn’t the first word that comes to mind. We live in a polarizing world where everyone is taking sides over issues large and small, leaving us to wonder what the future may hold. On a personal front, marriages fail, bank accounts run low, friendships end, and the everyday demands of a fast-paced life get us down. However, what the world is experiencing today isn’t all that different than what the prophet Jeremiah experienced thousands of years ago, and as author Melissa Spoelstra shares in her new book, Dare to Hope: Living Intentionally in an Unstable World (Abingdon Press), God is calling out to His people with a message of hope—a message that intentional living is possible even in an uncertain world.

Q: Several years ago, you wrote a Bible study based on the book of Jeremiah. What persuaded you to revisit Jeremiah and the subject of hope in your new book, Dare to Hope.

The message of hope continues to resonate in our culture. We all have reasons for despair and are looking for an anchor of hope to give some stability to our complicated lives. Jeremiah’s message of hope isn’t a formula, but his writings provide greater insight into God’s pathway to a deeper relationship with Him.

God’s message is counterintuitive to the American way of pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. In the book of Jeremiah, the Lord calls His people to surrender, listen, soften their hearts and take personal responsibility rather than play the blame game. These truths hit home as we muddle through our own circumstances and seek to be daring with hope.

Q: In what ways were days of Jeremiah similar to the tumultuous time we live in today?

God spoke through His prophet Jeremiah with clarity to a culture summarized by political globalization. The Babylonian Empire brought people of different cultures together. Ancient Judah also faced economic crisis because of their indebtedness to other nations. They had to pay tribute to Egypt, and later Babylon, which left the country stripped of its resources. Even with these economic issues, they struggled against social materialism. Jeremiah said that from the least to the greatest, the people’s lives were ruled by greed. On the religious front, people added other gods to the worship of Yahweh leading to religious pluralism.

Hmmm... sound familiar? Political globalization, economic crisis, social materialism and religious pluralism can all echo into our day, albeit in different ways. Jeremiah’s message brings us back to eternal truths about where our hope lies in troubled times.

Q: It’s easy to feel discouraged when observing the looming moral bankruptcy of our culture. Should we get caught up in all that is going on around us or should we divert our attention elsewhere?

I wouldn’t say we should get caught up in it, but we live in this world. We have responsibilities as Christ followers to spread God’s message of hope to others, so this means getting involved with people. People are complicated and relationships can be messy, so we are caught up in it whether we want to be or not. We can’t bury our heads in the sand. But we also can’t become consumed with everything going on around us and neglect our own ability to surrender to God through listening with a soft heart. We need balance and perspective to zoom out a little bit and try to get a glimpse of the God’s bigger picture. Jeremiah did this in his day by listening to God. In the same way, we can focus our eyes on Jesus and ask Him to give us vision as we navigate life in an unstable world.

Q: Remind us of some of the situations Jeremiah had to deal with in his own life. Did he ever lose hope?

Jeremiah was referred to as the weeping prophet because he brought a message that didn’t feel very hopeful. He called the nation of Judah to surrender to Babylon. God used him as a mouthpiece to tell the people how they had gotten off course with counterfeits. His words and illustration were harsh. In response to this, Jeremiah was ostracized from his family. He was imprisoned and beaten. At one point he was lowered into a pit filled with mud. I can’t imagine Jeremiah felt hopeful at the bottom of a pit. He voiced his frustrations and complaints to God even stating that he wished he had died in his mother’s womb. We can relate to Jeremiah’s bouts with depression and discouragement. Yet at the same time, Jeremiah knew where to turn. He poured out his heart to God and rehearsed his attributes. God reassured and encouraged him. Jeremiah chose to dare to hope based on God’s faithfulness rather than the trials he experienced personally as well as those of his nation. He wrote Lamentations and he said this,

 “The thought of my suffering and homelessness
    is bitter beyond words.
I will never forget this awful time,
    as I grieve over my loss.
Yet I still dare to hope
    when I remember this:
The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
    His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness;
    his mercies begin afresh each morning.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance;
    therefore, I will hope in him!”  (Lamentations 3:19-24 NLT)

Q: The most quoted verse from Jeremiah comes from chapter 29, verse 11, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.’” Why do we need to be careful not to misuse this verse or take it out of context?

In the context of Jeremiah’s message, he says that the people will experience 70 years of exile in Babylon in the verse right before this one. He then tells them that God has good plans that include a future and a hope. So, we can hold onto this verse! The danger comes when we assume it means our circumstances will immediately turn around and be easy. God said that for 70 years life would be disrupted, but then after that, they would be restored. I chuckle when I see this verse plastered everywhere during graduation season. Its like we are saying in 70 years things will turn out okay. God’s hope is assured, but hope isn’t equivalent to easy, comfortable or materially prosperous circumstances. The prosperity gospel doesn’t work in Jeremiah’s economy, so we must understand this verse in its context. God’s good plans and hope for the future aren’t just for material gain but for spiritual blessings. We can bank on a rich relationship with God when we surrender to Him, and that is a hope-filled message. Its worth daring courageously to believe.

Q: You give your readers a little homework after finishing each chapter. Can you tell us about the Dare to Hope Challenges?

Often when I read a book, I can mentally work through the information, but often fail to take the next step of evaluating how it applies in my life. The Dare to Hope challenges give the readers a next step, to put feet to the truths mined from Jeremiah’s book.