Thursday, April 4, 2019

God is calling out to his people with a message of hope.

Part 2 of an interview with Melissa Spoelstra,
Author of Dare to Hope
  
In Dare to Hope, Melissa Spoelstra draws upon her best-selling Bible study Jeremiah: Daring to Hope in an Unstable World to examine this hope-filled message, reminding readers that God is rich in mercy and love and has good plans for his people. Finding the source of our hope means believing with confidence that God has good plans in store for us—even when life takes an unexpected or tragic turn. She explores six incredibly relevant themes that lift right off the pages of Jeremiah’s manuscript, providing practical guidelines for hope filled living:

1. Surrender                                          
2. Reject Counterfeits
3. Listen
4. Check Your Heart
5. Take Personal Responsibility
6. Pursue Intimacy with God

Jeremiah was referred to as the weeping prophet because he brought a message that didn’t feel very hopeful. God used Jeremiah as a mouthpiece to tell the people how they had gotten off course. Though there were times when Jeremiah experienced depression and discouragement, he still knew where to turn. When he poured out his heart, God reassured and encouraged him. Jeremiah chose to dare to hope based on God’s faithfulness rather than the trials he and his nation experienced.

Q: How do we recognize when something has become an idol in our lives? What are some of the things we should surrender?

Surrender is living palms up. It’s when we release anything we’ve been holding too tightly. We hold everything in our lives loosely and offer them up to God. Of course, we want to surrender bad things – addictions, sinful habits, or immoral practices. However, we also have a tendency to elevate God’s gifts above Himself. When we make good things like family, work, or even ministry ultimate in our lives, they take the form of counterfeits. Tim Keller describes modern idolatry as, “Anything more important than God, anything that captures our heart and imagination more than God. Anything we seek to give us what only God can give.” (These become counterfeit gods.) So, we must surrender anything we put in the place of God in our lives.

Q: You write that many Christians today have a difficult time saying yes to the big things for God—and women in particular struggle with this. Why is it a bigger struggle for women than men?

History. Women in biblical times were certainly oppressed, but our freedom as equals has come only in the last century. Passed down through generational messages come hints that we should be quiet and not too ambitious. Even the Scriptures that speak of women lend themselves to be misinterpreted without cultural understandings. Women can believe it is godly to be under the radar and confuse humility with complacency. Certainly, we have different roles, personalities and callings, but for those women with big dreams, they often find resistance from their female peers in the church as much or more than from men.

Q: How can we tell if God is speaking to us in prayer or if we are hearing what we want to hear in order to do what we want to do?

There is no easy answer to this question. We have to wrestle with God and rely on His Word and His Spirit to make sense of our circumstances and His leading in our lives. In Jeremiah’s bold messages, we saw confirmation. When Jeremiah spoke on God’s behalf, it fleshed out in real life. So many voices were prophesying victory and speaking comforting lies over painful truth. We must guard against hearing only what we want to hear and examine the messages coming our way. By looking for confirmation in real life situations as well as in alignment with God’s Word, we can wrestle well to find God’s direction in our own lives.

Q: Even if we don’t mean to, we often close our ears to what God has to say. How can we be more diligent to keep our ears open to listen to what God is trying to tell us?

We have so much information coming at us all the time. It comes through speakers and screens, billboards, mailings, and then there is our own self dialogue. This means we must be careful about which voices we allow to be loudest in our lives. By this I mean which voices can carry the most weight. We can’t put Netflix on par with God’s Word. So, this means we need to take time to listen. Listening is different than hearing. Listening takes more intention. In fact, the Hebrew word in the book of Jeremiah is Shama – which means to hear with attention or interest. This isn’t like the television or radio we keep on for background noise. We need focus and quiet to listen. These things are not regular parts of my routine and not commonplace in a world full of phone notifications, social media updates, and background noise a constant. We must battle to choose what is best over just what is most readily available.

Q: Does God ever send us messengers to direct us down the right path? Are there ways to know which voices we should be listening to?  

God speaks to us through creation, His Word, His Spirit, our circumstances, and through other people. In the Old Testament He even spoke through a donkey! When it comes to knowing what voices to listen to, we can look at the morality of the messengers. Jeremiah said that the priests and prophets’ lives were ruled by greed. They neglected the poor. Jesus said we could identify people by their fruit. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, etc. So, when we are trying to sort out all the voices speaking into our lives, we can look at the postures, words and actions of those speaking. Having a fuller understanding of God’s Word can shape our worldview so that we can identify counterfeits. Experts in counterfeits usually study the real thing in order to identify fakes. In the same way, we increase our understanding of God through His Word so that we can recognize the voices speaking comforting lies rather than truth.

Q: You devote a chapter to staying spiritually sensitive. What is spiritual sensitivity?

Spiritual sensitivity is about keeping a soft heart. Jeremiah mentioned the heart often in his book. He said it was deceitful. (Jeremiah 17:9) This flies in the face in a culture that tells us to follow our hearts. To maintain spiritual sensitivity, we need to do heart checks continually. This is where we evaluate whether our hearts are hard, willing, resistant, carrying the insults of others, or any of the long list of adjectives used in the over 800 verses of Scripture that talk about the heart. Spiritual sensitivity is asking God to soften our hearts and following His heart rather than our own. Ours doesn’t always tell the truth. It can become bitter, jaded, and resentful. This can skew our perspective in how we see people and circumstances. His is full of love, hope, and forgiveness. So, we take the time to evaluate our hearts and then invite God to transform them – this is spiritual sensitivity.

Q: It’s human nature to not enjoy discipline. What are the benefits of God’s good discipline as outlined in Jeremiah?

Jeremiah spoke of God’s discipline as something that would produce inner life benefits even though the outer life circumstances might be unpleasant. This was the Lord’s message through Jeremiah, “Is not Israel still my son, my darling child?” says the Lord. “I often have to punish him, but I still love him. That’s why I long for him and surely will have mercy on him.” God’s discipline is for our ultimate good just as parents apply discipline for training. When His people embraced counterfeits, refused to listen, hardened their hearts, and played the blame game, God loved them too much to leave them in this state. He allowed physical difficulty to bring them back to a greater understanding of spiritual truth.


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