There is Always Hope

10 “The Lord says, ‘When Babylonia’s seventy years are over, I will show my concern for you and keep my promise to bring you back home. 11 I alone know the plans I have for you, plans to bring you prosperity and not disaster, plans to bring about the future you hope for. 12 Then you will call to me. You will come and pray to me, and I will answer you. 13 You will seek me, and you will find me because you will seek me with all your heart. 14 Yes, I say, you will find me, and I will restore you to your land. I will gather you from every country and from every place to which I have scattered you, and I will bring you back to the land from which I had sent you away into exile. I, the Lord, have spoken.’  —  Jeremiah 29:10-14 GNT

Hope, as defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is “a desire accompanied by expectation of or belief in fulfillment”. 1 For the people of Israel, their hope was to be free from their Babylonian oppressors and return to the land of promise that God had given to them. Their journey to this point in their story had many ups and downs, unfortunately more failures than victories. Throughout that time, God sent prophets to warn His people that there would be consequences for their idolatry, rebellion, and wickedness in the land He had given them. Despite good intentions to follow God wholeheartedly at times, they were now living with the consequence of their sin and disobedience. Psalm 137 gives us a glimpse of their lives now in Babylon, which involved weeping, sadness, their young ones being taken away and even killed. Needless to say, God’s people had reached a state of hopelessness.

And yet, as we read in the passage from the book of Jeremiah above, it’s clear that God had not forgotten His people. His mercy and faithfulness persisted and He would keep His promise to not only bring His people back to the land of promise (Micah 4:10), but would also bring them prosperity and a hopeful future. This is the context for verse 11 highlighted in bold, which we, as Christians, often quote. In what could be called the people of Israel’s darkest hours, God speaks of His plans for them, to bring them prosperity and hope. Wow! As Pastor Cheryl preached this past weekend, because God is good, we can have hope and dream again, just like the people of Israel did. You can view the sermon by clicking here. Knowing that God had mercy and was faithful to Israel is nice to know, but what about for us today? Why is having hope important and how can we have hope today? In a world so full of bad news, challenges, and disappointments, God wants us to know that with Him, there is always hope.

When I was a child, I was often curious about a lot of things, like the pill bugs (aka roly poly insects) under the rocks next to my house, the insides of gold fish that died in my family’s fish tank, or a book about bones that I think my grandpa gave me. I remember my grandpa calling me, “Dr. Chen” as a fun joke, but that title grew on me and for some reason the idea of being a doctor of some kind grew on me. As I continued my education in high school, it became my goal to become a physiotherapist or a medical doctor. As time went on, I would confidently tell people what my career goals were, thinking this was clearly what God was leading me to do, I was sure of it. Until one day it became apparent that, what I thought were God’s plans for my life, just wasn’t materializing. My grades weren’t competitive enough, I miscalculated my course credits which delayed my graduation and thus couldn’t go to the physiotherapy program interview I had lined up, I studied for and wrote the medical entrance exam 3 times (sadly my 3rd attempt was worse than my 1st attempt) … I was beginning to lose hope.

But I was still convinced that health care was the path God wanted me on, so I went back to school to boost my grades, and found work/volunteer positions to build up my resume. I did all that I knew to do, but it wasn’t working and I felt stuck. If this was what God led me to pursue, than why was I not succeeding? I began to seek the Lord in prayer about this, and I truly believe He used my sister to ask me a thought-provoking question I had never considered: “Jess, what about Bible school? You know you would like it!” It was as if a light bulb turned on in my heart and I thought to myself, “can I want that?” You see, ever since I was 15 years old, I had been on a parallel journey growing and developing as a follower of Christ, discovering my ability to lead others, share my faith, and care for people. The Lord compelled me to engage with the Christian fellowship in my high school and later in my college too. I also got very involved in my previous church and later at Coastal Church with the Alpha course, young adults Regen ministry, Life Group community, prayer meetings and weekend volunteering. With my weekend involvement, what started out as a desire to be a part of the music worship team, became an opportunity to help with establishing a kids music worship team.

To be clear, I never had any interest in working with kids, but because a friend told me I would be good with kids and because I wanted to help where needed, I found myself in children’s ministry. Long story short, it would take several years of volunteering and just being obedient to God’s voice, leading and opportunity, that He developed in me a love for kids and family ministry. Back to my sister’s question, I realized that God knew I needed the time, in this case about 9 years, to develop and grow in me a heart for His people, His church, and for the important work of helping younger generations grow strong in the Lord. Today, I am a kids pastor, not with a Masters of Physical Therapy, but with a Masters of Practical Theology! I still laugh at the fact that all along I was just pursuing the wrong MPT program. Truly, God’s plan B for my life was and is far better than my plan A. I can’t imagine not being a pastor today, who may not be caring for people’s physical health, but I do get to care for people’s spiritual health!

With God, there is always hope! He really does see the upper story of our lives and He can be trusted! God wants us to look to Him, just as He wanted the people of Israel to look to Him and to seek Him with all their heart. No matter how hopeless things may seem, our Heavenly Father, has a plan and purpose for our lives that goes far beyond what we can possibly think or imagine!