Choosing to do the best things in life

Published 1:22 pm Monday, September 11, 2017

There is a church in Leicestershire, England, that has a memorial tablet with this inscription: “In the year 1653, when all sacred things throughout the nation were either demolished or profaned, Sir Robert Shirley, Baronet, founded this church, whose singular praise it is to have done the best things in the worst times and hoped them in the most calamitous.”

Walter Dudley Calvert, noted American clergyman and author, said that any reading of English history will show just how turbulent the times were in the days of Sir Robert Shirley. The king had been executed in a civil war, and the country was torn by strife and discord. There was much hate in the air, and the outlook for a united nation was dim indeed.

However, it was at that time that Sir Robert Shirley decided to do something constructive. He built a church.

Now, these days we are experiencing may not be the absolute worst of times. They are not, and certainly that depends upon one’s perspective. But I think most of us would agree that these are not the best of times either. As we look around us, we see multiple people suffering for various causes or reasons, we see a nation divided, we see a world tense with the possibility of the unthinkable war, we see gigantic problems that are being unattended because of the failure of officials to work together and we see human values being trampled with indifference. Worst of times or not, how can we do the best things?

First, we can do the best things when we realize that hope is not based on some vague notion of, “look on the bright side.” So many Americans in our time are possessed by a demon of hopelessness.

As we have been reminded, for many Americans, the word hope has failed them. What has happened? Over time we have drifted away from the deep meanings of important words. The late Dr. J. Wallace Hamilton stated, “We have tended to extract the moral content out of them. Consequently, hope like freedom and love, has become a surface, secular, superficial sort of thing. For many, hope has simply come to mean, “look on the bright side.”

But what is the first thing to go when the situation changes for the worst and the going gets rough? The answer is surface or shallow beliefs. The end result of “look on the bright side” is not hope but hopelessness.

Second, we do the best things when we understand the true nature of hope! A clear case of the tail wagging the dog is when the source of our hope is something other than God. The one note that consistently sounds throughout scripture like a beautiful refrain is that God abides faithful and is the source of hope. The psalmist asked, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God…”

A woman showed up at church the first Sunday after her husband was buried. Her pastor said he was surprised, though he shouldn’t have been, to see her coming up the steps. The pastor gave her a hug and said, “I didn’t expect to see you this morning.” She replied, “Why not? Where else could I go? I need to be here more than ever before.”

To be sure, short-term hope can be generated in many ways but deep and lasting hope comes from God and our relationship with God. By grasping that, our lives will be more meaningful.

As far as the biblical prophet Jeremiah was concerned, authentic hope was based on two factors. One is what we have already discussed, the faithfulness of God. The other factor is his confidence in the possibility of humankind’s repentance. For Jeremiah, repentance meant a decisive turning away from sin and back to God. Repentance frees us both socially and personally.

There was a Sunday School lesson on the word “repentance.” What does repentance mean? the teacher asked. “Being sorry for your sin,” was the answer. “Not bad, but better still,” replied another, “being sorry enough to quit.” Authentic hope is based on God’s faithfulness and the possibility of humankind’s repentance.

Third, we can do the best things when we realize the power of hope! Joseph R. Sizoo in his book, “Still We Can Hope,” says that, “In time of crisis, when the resources of men and women shrivel, the resources of God unfold. Storms are affairs of the earth. But the rainbow is an affair of heaven.”

The whole point of the resurrection is that God can take the worst possible situation and turn it into victory.

I read of a young couple who now lives on an army base with their children. Recently, the wife wrote to her minister of her disillusionment regarding the religious life on the base. She and her husband both teach Sunday School to a very small group of children. Chapel worship on the base is attended by 15 to 20 persons. Chaplains are in short supply, and are not always available for the Sunday service. She was dismayed.

In his reply to her, the minister said, “Remember that you are a sign of hope. Hold on to that hope tenaciously.”

Please listen carefully! Whenever we hold on to our hope tenaciously, we will do the best things, regardless of the times.

Hal Brady operates Hal Brady Ministries in Decatur with the stated goal of presenting the good news of Jesus and offering encouragement in positive ways.