Keep Hope Alive
Over the last few weeks here at Melbourne Heights, we’ve been working our way through a series of sermons called “Before You Give Up.” And throughout this series, we’ve been talking about how you can keep going when you’re ready to quit. And this is important because, if we're being honest, we have to admit that we’ve all had times when we’ve been ready to give up.
We’ve all had times when we’ve been ready to give up.
We’ve felt it after national tragedies and personal tragedies. We’ve felt it when we’ve gone through a tough time at home or work. We’ve felt this in just about every area and aspect of our lives — from our personal finances to our personal relationships. But we’ve all had times when we’ve been ready to give up.
And over the last few weeks, we’ve spent some time talking about why we’ve all had times when we’ve been ready to give up. Like, we’ve all been ready to give up at one point or another because the problems of this world feel like they’re just too big to solve. From terrorism, to sex trafficking, to systemic racism, to illegal immigration, to climate change, to child poverty, to the epidemic of gun violence in our country; sometimes it feels like our world is filled with problems that are too big to solve. And when you start to feel like nothing you can do can make a dent in these big problems, you also feel like throwing your hands up and giving up.
Or we’ve all been ready to give up on ourselves at one point or another because we’ve felt like everyone else has already given up on us. Maybe you quit trying while you were in school because it felt like your teachers had given up on you. Maybe you quit trying to get healthier because no one around you believed that you would actually be able to keep going to the gym or stick to your diet. Maybe you gave up on your dream of becoming an actor, or an athlete, or an author because no one thought you could do it. But when it feels like everyone else has given up on you, it’s also easy to give up on yourself.
Or we’ve all reached a point where we were ready to give up because we got tired of waiting. We’ve got tired of waiting for a promotion at work, so we’ve quit our jobs. We’ve got tired of waiting to see results at the gym, so we cancel our membership. We’ve got tired of waiting for our elected officials to deal with some of our world’s biggest problems, so we’ve given up on the political process. But we’ve all had times when we’ve been ready to give up because we’ve got tired of waiting.
Now, you may not realize it, but even though the three reasons for wanting to give up that we’ve talked about during this series sound completely different, they all come from the same place…they all come from a lack of hope. And, hope is one of those words that we use all the time that we never really stop and define. So what do I mean when I say hope? Well, there are some people who think that hope is simply being optimistic. Other people think that hope is about believing that tomorrow will be better than today for no real reason whatsoever.
But that’s not what we mean when we talk about hope inside the church. So what do we mean when we talk about hope? How do we define hope? For us, as Christians, hope is the anticipation that God will fulfill God’s promises for us and for the world.
Hope is the anticipation that God will fulfill God’s promises for us and for the world.
So that means that when we lose hope, we stop believing that God will fulfill his promises for us and for the world…and you better believe that’s going to make you want to give up. So if we want to be able to keep going when we’re ready to quit, we have to find ways to keep hope alive. But how do we do that? How can we keep hope alive?
Well, to help us answer that question, we’re once again going to be turning to the story of Joseph that we find in the book of Genesis. And throughout this series, we’ve seen that if anyone ever had a reason to lose hope, if anyone ever had a reason to quit, it was Joseph. I mean, let’s just take a second to recap everything that went wrong for Joseph.
Joseph’s brothers hated him. And they hated him so much that they decided to throw him in a dried-out cistern to die. They only changed their mind when a caravan of slave traders came along, and Joseph’s brothers figured out they could profit off his misery. So Joseph was sold as a slave. And he would spend at least a decade of his life doing his master’s bidding. And after doing everything his master asked for a decade, Joseph didn’t get set free. No, Joseph got thrown into jail because his master’s wife lied and said Joseph sexually assaulted her. So Joseph spends the next several years of his life in jail. And we’re not talking about a jail where he had his own bed, and three square meals a day; we’re talking about a prison where the king of Egypt – the Pharaoh’s – enemies were sent to die.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I could’ve kept hope alive after all of that. I don’t think I could’ve continued to believe that God was still going to fulfill his promises to me after my brothers threw me into a cistern. I don’t think I could’ve continued to believe that God was still going to fulfill his promises to me after I was sold as a slave. And I don’t think I could’ve continued to believe that God was still going to fulfill his promises to me while I was rotting away in a prison cell for a crime I didn’t commit.
But Joseph doesn’t quit. Joseph doesn’t lose hope. Joseph is able to keep going…but how? How did Joseph keep hope alive when he had every reason to give up? To help us answer that question, I want to take a closer look at part of Joseph’s story that we usually skip right over.
So, if you’ve got a Bible close by go ahead and grab it and turn to Genesis 41. And, as you’re finding it, let me set the stage for you a little bit. So the story that we’re looking at today takes place after Joseph’s brothers threw him into a cistern and sold him as a slave. It happens after Potiphar purchases Joseph and after Potiphar’s wife falsely accuses Joseph of sexually assaulting her. It happens after Joseph has been thrown into prison and after he interpreted the Pharaoh’s cupbearer’s dream. This story takes place after Joseph is brought before Pharaoh to interpret his dreams, and it happens after Pharaoh is so impressed with Joseph that he appoints Joseph to be second in command over all of Egypt.
But this story gives a glimpse of how Joseph was able to keep hope alive until God kept his promises for Joseph. So let’s take a look at Genesis 41 together, and see what we can learn from Joseph. We’ll start reading in verse 50, which says:
50 Before the years of famine came, Joseph had two sons, whom Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On, bore to him. 51 Joseph named the firstborn Manasseh, ‘For’, he said, ‘God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.’ 52 The second he named Ephraim, ‘For God has made me fruitful in the land of my misfortunes.’
Genesis 41:50-52 (New Revised Standard Version)
So just to recap what’s been happening in Joseph’s life: God has rewarded Joseph with a place in Pharaoh’s court and Joseph was able to marry Asenath, who was the daughter of a priest. And the time had come for Joseph and Asenath to start a family. Asenath got pregnant, and the parents-to-be faced the same questions parents have faced from the beginning of time: What will we name our child?
And I gotta tell you, I would’ve loved to be a fly on the wall when Joseph and Asenath were talking about baby names. I can just imagine Joseph wrapping his arm around his wife and telling her, “I’ve been thinking a lot about what we should name our baby.”
I can imagine Asenath looking back at her husband and saying, “Me too. I even had my mom bring over a scroll of possible baby names she found while she was shopping on the Nile. I’ve even gone through and marked a few that I like. We could go with something like Ramses or Tutankhamun…that sounds like a royal name. Or if you want to go with something Hebrew instead of Egyptian, I really like the name Adam. That’s a name that’s reserved for really incredible people. ”
But then Joseph stops her and says, “All of those names are fine, but I have the perfect name for our son.”
“Oh, really?” Asenath would reply, “What is it?”
“God Made Me Forget.”
“If God made you forget what we should name our baby, then how do you know it’s the perfect name?”
“No, Asenath, that is the name: God Made Me Forget.”
“Joseph, I’m starting to feel like I’m in the middle of an Abbott and Costello bit. So I want to make sure I understand what you’re telling me. Are you telling me that you think we should name our baby God Made Me Forget?
“You’re telling me that you expect me to yell upstairs and say, ‘God made me forget it’s time to wash up before dinner.’ Or ‘God made me forget, you need to get ready for bed.’ Or ‘God made me forget, why haven’t you cleaned up your room?’ I’m sorry, Joey…that doesn’t work for me.”
Because seriously, who would name their kid God Made Me Forget? That’s almost as bad as when the former governor of Texas Jim Hogg decided to name his daughter Ima.
But Joseph would’ve held his ground. “Asenath, I’ve made up my mind. And every time someone says our son's name, I want God to be praised. Because when I found out that we were going to have a baby, God made me forget about all the pain and hurt I’ve experienced. And I want everyone to know how grateful I am that God has kept his promises to me whenever they say our son’s name.”
And then I can imagine Asenath reaching over and patting Joseph’s knee and saying, “Since you feel so strongly about it, it’s okay with me…but I get to pick our next baby’s name.”
But then Joseph names the next baby For God Has Made Me Fruitful because Joseph wants everyone to know how God has blessed him every time they call his second child’s name.
So what can Joseph’s story teach us about keeping hope alive? Do we have to change our kids' names into something that glorifies God if we want to keep hope alive?
Of course not. But if we want to keep hope alive, we have to have the same attitude Joseph had when he was picking out names for his kids. And the names that Joseph picked out for his kids show us how grateful Joseph was for everything God had done for him.
Joseph was grateful that God brought him to a point in life where he could forget about all the bad things he had to face. Joseph was grateful that God brought him to a point where Joseph was able to be fruitful in the place he once suffered. Joseph was grateful that God had kept his promises, that God brought him out of the darkness, that God didn’t give up on him.
And by finding things to be grateful for in spite of everything that he went through, Joseph could keep hope alive. Because he could see God at work in his life along the way, Joseph continued to believe that God would keep his promises.
So before you give up, try being grateful.
Before you give up, try being grateful.
But let’s be honest here, most of us aren’t any good at being grateful. And there’s even a story that we find in the book of Luke – or Luke’s biography of Jesus – that shows us just how bad most of us are at being grateful. In Luke 17, we’re told:
11 On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten men with skin diseases approached him. Keeping their distance from him, 13 they raised their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, show us mercy!”
So in this passage, ten men with some sort of skin disease all ask Jesus to show them mercy. And, as we keep reading, we’ll see that’s exactly what Jesus does. In verse 14, we’re told:
14 When Jesus saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” As they left, they were cleansed.
So these ten men wanted Jesus to show them mercy. And Jesus shows them mercy. He tells them to go and present themselves before the priests, which is something they had to do to be able to rejoin society as a whole. And, as they’re walking off, their skin disease starts to heal. Now, maybe it started with one little spot disappearing off the back of one of their hands. Or maybe all of their skin diseases cleared up in an instant. But regardless of how it happened, all of these men were healed as they were walking to go see the priests.
So you have ten men who have been healed. You have ten men who have every reason to be grateful to God. But, as we keep reading, we’ll see just how grateful most of them were. In Luke 17:15, we’re told:
15 One of them, when he saw that he had been healed, returned and praised God with a loud voice. 16 He fell on his face at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. He was a Samaritan. 17 Jesus replied, “Weren’t ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?”
Luke 17:11-17 (Common English Bible)
Jesus healed ten men…but only one of them came back to express their gratitude. One out of ten saw God at work in his life and thanked God for what he had done.
If you were one of the ten men Jesus healed that day, would you have been like the nine who didn’t notice what God had done? Or would have been like the one who saw what God had done and thanked him? The truth is that most of us would’ve been like the nine who didn’t notice. And when you don’t notice how God is working in your life and in the world around you, it’s easy to lose hope…it’s easy to believe God won’t keep his promises.
But when you keep your eyes open, when you can see how God is working in your life even when you’re going through tough times, you can keep hope alive. You can continue to believe that God will keep his promises. And if God is going to keep his promises, then you can keep going even when you want to quit.