Tired Faith and Advent Promises

For my whole life, I’ve belonged to a people who’ve known how to claim God’s promises. If he said he would do something, we believed it. And more often than not, we saw him come through.

We talked about faith, about being sure of what we hoped for and certain of what we could not see (Heb. 11). What we usually meant by that was if we had faith in the things we couldn’t see, then we’d be able to see them.

This wasn’t the “name it and claim it” of the prosperity gospel. The promises we talked about were based in scripture. They were reasonable things to believe in. And it seemed to work.

I could exchange a promise for a result, something like a divine vending machine.

But then it stopped being that simple.

One of the promises we talked about was healing. Time and again I watched people pray and find physical health, so when my body went south on me, I figured that would work for me, too. Wise people told me that a promise of healing wasn’t necessarily immediate. Still, I was convinced that God’s job was to solve my problems—on my timetable.

So I asked.

Again, and again, and again.

And instead of getting better, my symptoms got worse.

My hope was in what God could do for me, in the thing I thought he’d promised—and it was failing me.

I didn’t know what to do with that.

I’ve learned a few things about hope since then. Mostly that it’s hard, but also that it’s what we’re supposed to do, who we’re supposed to be as the people of God. Only it doesn’t look like it used to.

Advent reminds me that my hope is not in results, and it’s not about my timetable. We spend these weeks waiting and expecting and hoping and longing. We feel the brokenness of the world around us, of our own bodies and hearts, and we wonder where the redemption is.

God has promised to make all things new. So why is he taking so long? Has he forgotten us?

For generations, we have asked this question. Christmas rolls around and we talk about promises as though they come to be in four short weeks. We want to be the Annas and the Simeons, the ones who believed in God’s promise and saw it fulfilled in their lifetimes.

We forget just how long the people of God waited for their savior.

Abraham had Isaac, Isaac had Jacob, Jacob had Judah, and they cried, How long, O Lord?

The writer of Hebrews tells us about the lives of saints, the ones who were full of faith, the ones who died without receiving the promise (Heb. 11:13). The ones who, even still, believed in a God who redeems.

The truth is, I want to be able to base my faith on results, to know that if I do what I’m supposed to do, God will respond in a particular way. But I’m learning that’s not how this works.

Perhaps we will see the world made new in our lifetimes, but perhaps not.

So this Advent, we prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ. We look around us at the brokenness, at all the ways God seems absent, and we weep. Redemption is coming, yes. And for that we give thanks. We celebrate with all we have. But we make space for the pain, too, for the places where the newness has not yet come.

And we look for hope, in the small moments and the big. We look for reminders that there is still so much good in the world, for the places where redemption is taking hold.

It is slow work, the fulfilment of this promise. But it comes.

One of the things I want to do this Advent season is look for small reminders of hope. So I’d love to hear, where do you find hope? What things or moments, big or small, have reminded you of all the good in the world, of God’s presence, even when the newness that he’s promised seems so far away?

Photo by Alexander Boden, Creative Commons