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Advent Week 1: The HOPE of His Presence

Dec 2, 2019

For the month of December, I will be focusing on Advent, the four weeks preceding Christmas Day. During Advent, Christians all over the world remember the arrival of the Incarnation, God’s presence with us in the flesh-and-blood of a newborn baby—Jesus. Whereas Lent focuses on fasting and repentance, Advent centers around prayers of waiting, a desperate people living in darkness who pray in hopeful expectation for the coming of the Light. Each week I will share a focus scripture as well as an excerpt of my new book Relentless: The Unshakeable Presence of a God Who Never Leaves (2019, Zondervan).  After all, He is the One we’ve always been waiting for. May your Advent experience this year be rich with His Presence and Light.

We are so infatuated with miracles. We pray for them, buy books about them, search far and near for one of our own. We even entice God to respond by making sweeping promises and attempting to manipulate His affection.

I imagine we think a miracle will solidify our faith, provide proof that what we believe isn’t unfounded. Besides, there is certainly nothing wrong with praying for a miracle, believing in a miracle, and then celebrating it if and when it comes. Our God is the God of the impossible.

The Bible is filled with examples of these kinds of praying-believing-receiving miracles. I’ve experienced a few inexplicable moments myself. And although His deliverance rarely happens like I expect, it takes my breath away.

But we mustn’t forget: The disciples saw three years of back-to-back miracles. The sick healed. The dead revived. Jesus silenced storms, fed thousands, cast out demons, touched outcasts, and res- cued the rebellious. But when the bottom fell out in a late-night garden arrest, every single one of those who claimed to love Him left Him. Applause and adoration turned to running shoes and doubt. As pastor Leonard Sweet said recently, “Jesus is mystery, not equation. Add him up, you still don’t have it. Jesus didn’t come to earth so we could use him as ‘proof’ or to prove a point. He is the point, and the church has often missed the point when it forgets this.”

Miracles don’t always make faith. Tangible proofs don’t guarantee trust. Suffering, loss, difficulty, questions, wrestling, and the oceanic grace and unflinching presence of God do. And, perhaps, the fact that grace and nearness show up in those kinds of places is, in spite of us, the real miracle. Then, as St. Augustine said, “if we but turn to God, that itself is a gift of God.”37

Blessed is the one who is not ruined by Me but who trusts Me, even there …

Perhaps our greatest prison isn’t the pain we suffer in our incarcerations but our lagging ability to trust while sitting in them. The way we cling to our control rather than surrender to the not-knowing, not-understanding, not-resolving. We are—I am—so very desperate for explanations, reasons, something or someone to tell us how we ended up where we are. We think the answers will bring light to our darkness, set us free of our prisons.

Perhaps they might, temporarily. But sooner or later, we will once again land in a circumstance outside the reach of our lamps. Then all the reasons that felt bright enough in the first crisis won’t light up the second.

What we need is not more proof of Him but more trust in Him.

“Where there is true faith, yet there may be a mixture of unbelief,” a seventeenth-century Welsh minister, Matthew Henry, said. “The Old-Testament prophets were sent mostly to kings and princes, but Christ preached to the congregations of the poor.”

This is good news for the likes of you and me. We, the shabby, worn-down company of the poor. Those of us who believe and yet doubt. Those whose stomachs growl for a feast of faith and yet can scrounge up only a couple of pennies of trust.

Perhaps it’s time to revisit the miracles and evidences we’ve already seen. He has doggedly pursued us in spite of our every attempt to push Him out. His presence is big enough to enter into the dark places, confusing places, ugly and beyond-understanding places and, by the sheer magnitude of His mystery, shine a light far too bright to be eclipsed by our doubt.

If I dare trust Him even here, doubt turns out to be a gift. A strange, hard gift, to be sure. But the means of a deeper faith. And if faith grows in a darkness with every sinister attempt to ruin it, then perhaps that is the real miracle after all.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for … 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 11:1, 39-40

 

QUESTION: This week’s advent theme is HOPE. Although hope is a positive, life-giving word, it is also a waiting word. Waiting is hard. But hope realized is not hope at all. Thus, this week I want you to sit in the waiting space. Consider the hopes you have that have not yet become reality. Allow yourself to feel the ache of waiting. Like the shepherds who sat in the dark waiting for the coming Messiah, turn your eyes to the sky. What is your heart longing for? What is your yet-unrealized hope?

9 Comments

  1. Yvonne Sica

    This is so beautiful Michele. I wait in hope for the day I hear that my granddaughter’s brain tumor has stopped growing. She has a MRI this next week. Off treatment 8 weeks, my daughter and I have tried so hard to have faith and wait. We wait for that miracle.

    Reply
    • Lisa

      Oh my goodness. You don’t know me, but when I read this I felt led to respond. I will keep your granddaughter and family in my prayers. I had a brain tumor at age 14. It was a gangliogioma. I had a 50% chance of making it thru surgery, and a 90% chance of being wheelchair bound for the remainder of my life if I did come thru, paralyzed on my right side. I am now 58 yrs old.
      This tumor can grow back, but it hasn’t. I was told never to marry…but next June, I will be married 40 yrs! I also have only one kidney (found that out when I was 42), and was blessed with only one child due to severe medical issues. God had different plans! Other than nerve damage in the brain that makes me have really bad headaches daily, balance issues, and some emotional problems…with God as my ultimate Physician, I came thru surgery and all odds that I faced, and continue to face today.
      This is why I reach out to anyone with my testimony when I hear that they are facing what I did. Please, if I can encourage you in any small way, let me know. I will pray along with you.. In Christ, Lisa B.

      Reply
  2. Mary

    Hope. I’ve been praying for and waiting for God to do a wonderful work in my youngest daughter, who battles with identity issues. I stand on the promise of Philippians 1:6. He will finish the good work He began in her.

    Reply
    • Gayle Bucher

      Amen to this prayer. I am praying this for my youngest daughter also. We stand together in prayer, wait and hope for our great God to break the chains, crush the lies of the enemy & rescue our loved ones!

      Reply
  3. Leslie Dawn ☼ Neagle

    …wait was my word for last year. …I wait on The Lord & be of good courage & He shall strengthen my heart♥ Our uninsured home burned down 4 years ago; we are 64 and back together again♥♥ with our youngest son Asher Brooks & our 33 y.o. middle child who has a Traumatic Brain Injury since 2007 car accident and on a feeding tube and is total care. God is in control as we slowly rebuilt; just 2 doors away. Laurie Dawn☼ at 14 told me that she always wants to be my little girl and I always wanted to be a mom. I’m Blessed☼ ~Beauty from ashes. Revive us again Oh Lord♥ Looking to Jesus!

    Reply
  4. Penelope

    Yes. We await in hope, for the Glory of the One who Saves … We attend to the whispers of the Holy Spirit sounding in our ears …. We accept with thankful hearts all the grace and goodness of God our Abba …. await, attend, accept … Give thanks.

    Reply
  5. Leslie Dawn Neagle

    Just got this email. Do pray. “Wife of Third Day’s Mac Powell suffers a brain aneurysm; singer asks for prayers

    Aimee Powell and her mother in the hospital after she suffers a brain aneurysm, Dec. 1 , 2019. | Instagram.MacPowell
    Third Day frontman Mac Powell used social media after Thanksgiving to ask for prayers after his wife, Aimee Powell, suffered a brain aneurysm.

    On Saturday, Aimee Powell was admitted to the hospital after the singer called the ambulance. Powell said his wife kept complaining of an unbearable headache.

    “After a CT scan they found bleeding on her brain and believe it is an aneurysm. She is going through a procedure right now to find the problem. The doctors seem optimistic. Please pray!!!,” he wrote on Instagram on Sunday.

    Later in the day, the “Soul on Fire” singer explained that doctors put two coils in his wife’s brain to help “keep the aneurysm from bleeding and possibly rupturing. Her head is hurting really bad. She’ll be kept for many days to be tested and monitored,” he explained.

    Many of Powell’s Christian entertainment peers flooded his social media with prayers. The musician has continually been giving all of his supporters updates on Aimee’s condition with his latest post revealing that his bride is still in a lot of pain in her head.

    “They have given her meds for it but nothing will completely help,” he wrote on Sunday evening. “They say the pain is going to be there. Eventually, as the blood from the rupture leaves her brain it will work its way down to the neck and then her back. She’s getting a lot of rest- unfortunately, it’s usually only about 10 minutes of uninterrupted time with all the doctor and nurse visits and the alarms and beeps from the monitors.”

    Powell went on to share that Aimee hasn’t eaten in almost 36 hours. He ended his update asking for continued prayers.

    “Pray that her appetite starts to return so that she’ll get the strength to start moving a little bit,” Powell pleaded.

    He added, “All signs are good so far. There doesn’t seem to be any negative neurological signs yet for physical or mental deficiencies. Thanks for your love and prayers!”

    A brain aneurysm “occurs when a weak spot in your brain’s arterial wall bulges and fills with blood. It may also be called an intracranial aneurysm or cerebral aneurysm. A brain aneurysm is a potentially life-threatening condition that can affect a person at any age,” as reported on Healthline.

    Powell and Third Day just wrapped up their farewell tour after 25 years together.”

    Reply
  6. Jesse

    Thanks, Michelle. I needed some hope today. Like Mary and Gayle, I’ve been hoping for healing for my prodigal daughter, who has mental health and identity issues. It has been a seven year struggle in prayer and faith. After reading your article this morning I got a new perspective.

    The Hebrews 11:1 quote above is from the NIV, but the NKJV words it differently. The NKJV it says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” So, faith is the substance. Faith is the thing that hope brings. Faith that God will prevail, that He has the best plan for my daughter, for me and my wife. He is after my faith because that is what pleases Him. It is so very hard for a parent to watch their child suffer. How hard it must be for our Heavenly Father to watch us suffer for lack of faith. “He heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds.”

    Reply
  7. Susan Sage

    Hope blooms where trust is planted.
    Thank you for the focused writing during Advent, Michele.
    God bless you and Merry Christmas.

    Reply

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