Words of Hope and Promise

I would guess that most of us don’t think that much about the prophets in the Bible on a regular basis.  In fact, though there are some great verses of comfort and promise included in these various books, they probably aren’t the ones most of us go to when we thumb through our Bible.

But when we do dig into these stories, we’re reminded of how, just as God spoke to and through God’s people then, God is still speaking into our lives today.

I got to thinking about this when I recently read through the prophet Isaiah’s call story in Isaiah 6. At first, Isaiah questions his ability and worthiness as God’s messenger, but then Isaiah’s lips are cleansed with a burning coal, and in that act of cleansing, God equips Isaiah to serve as God’s spokesperson. 

The message Isaiah was sent to share wasn’t an easy one. Although the people of Judah will lose everything and although they will live in exile for a number of years, that is not the end of Isaiah’s message.  Rather, into their devastation and destruction, Isaiah speaks words of encouragement and hope: he tells them that God will raise them to new heights and is at work in their lives.

That message includes what we hear in chapter 9, where Isaiah announces the coming of of a new king, who will shine light in a land of deep darkness and bring peace to those living in exile: 

For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

I can imagine how comforting these, and some of Isaiah’s other words, were to the people of Judah. To hear that God had not forgotten about them and would not abandon them was likely exactly what they needed to hear and yet hard to believe, all at the same time.

I could be wrong, but I’m guessing that you can imagine how comforting and reassuring those words would have been, because in a lot of ways, these past six months have been difficult and trying as we’ve dealt with the pandemic.   

There is so much loss and disappointment and bad news coming our way that that if we’re not careful, our minds and homes can easily become filled with a sense of gloom and images of darkness.  We are wary.  We are weary.  Like the people of Judah, we need a word of hope, a sense of peace, a reason to keep pushing on.

That’s what a man named John Kralik needed at a particularly low time in his life nearly 10 years ago.  His small law firm was struggling, he was in the middle of a second, painful divorce, he had an estranged relationship with his kids, his girlfriend had broken up with him, and a number of other things weren’t going well for him either.  He was only 53, but as far as he could tell, there was nothing to look forward to and the future looked bleak.

It had been a New Year’s Day tradition for him and his girlfriend to walk through the hills near his house, and even though he didn’t look forward to taking the hike alone, on New Year’s Day that year, John headed out for the hills anyway.  

As he hiked, desperately searching for some sort of answer, he started to think that maybe his life might become at least tolerable if, instead of focusing on what he didn’t have, he could find some way to be grateful for what he did have.  

That belief led John to set the goal of writing one thank you note a day, every day, for a year.  He decided he would think back on his life and pay attention to any act of kindness he had received, and write to that person to say thank you.  He wrote to former colleagues, his doctors and friends, handymen and store clerks, anyone who had shown him some sort of kindness at some point in his life.  He even wrote to people he considered current foes.  

What strikes me about John’s story is that this act of writing a thank you card not only touched those on the receiving end of those notes; according to John, this daily practice had the habit of completely changing his own life as well.  

It reminds me how often, the way God uses us isn’t in some big, dramatic way, but rather through small yet intentional acts that shift our perspective and help us recognize the goodness of God right where we are. Not only that, God doesn’t wait for us to get our lives together before God is able to work in and through us.  Rather, like Isaiah, God can us us just as we are and where we are to share some words of encouragement and hope.

John’s story also reminds me of the truth that many of us know, but often forget.  It’s the reality that we can’t control other people.  Nor can we control a lot of our circumstances in life.  But we can choose how we respond to them and to use our words to sow hope, peace, gratitude and encouragement.  And most of the time, when we do, it not only has the potential to lift someone else up, it often has a way of buoying our own hearts and spirits too.

Today, I’m not going to suggest that writing a daily note of gratitude will change your life, although it might.  And I’m not going to tell you just how God will send you out to share words of encouragement and hope when you say, like Isaiah, “Here I am, send me.”  

But what I do want to remind you of is the fact that you are among those whom God has called.  You are among those whom God has claimed and who have received the message of hope that Isaiah shared all those years ago: The light shines in the darkness but the darkness cannot overcome it.  Though things might not look so great now, this is not the end.  

Having been on the receiving end of this message, we are then invited to share it with others, to bring words of healing and promise into a broken and hurting world. As we do, we can be sure that whenever we choose to use our words to share hope and encouragement, God is there, working in, through, and among us.