Hopes Deferred but Not Forgotten
“ … And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth.”
For more than 30 years, Miss Bobbie Wright stood outside the door of Hillview Baptist Church and waited for a miracle. She was there with a handful of friends when the church first opened on a snowy Sunday afternoon in the early 1980s. And she was there last summer when the church held its last service.
During all that time, Miss Bobbie kept the faith, praying that someday the small church, about an hour south of Nashville, would be filled for Sunday worship. Just when it seemed her prayers had been forgotten, however, something unexpected happened.
Earlier last summer, Hillview had voted to merge with another, younger congregation. Miss Bobbie voted against the merger, feeling God had told her to do so. After the vote, she told her pastor it was time for her to walk away from Hillview.
She came back, however, when the newly merged churches met for worship. On that day, Bobbie’s prayers were answered as the church was filled to overflowing. The next Sunday, she took her place as a greeter at the front door, and has been there ever since.
It’s easy to give up hope while waiting. Especially if there’s no sign that our prayers will be answered. A hope deferred “makes the heart sick,” says the book of Proverbs. No one would have blamed Miss Bobbie if she’d walked away from Hillview and never returned.
But the Bible also tells us our hopes won’t be delayed forever. God will restore all things someday. And once in a while, like Miss Bobbie, we get to see a glimpse of what God’s kingdom looks like.
“The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory,” Zephaniah, the prophet, tells us. [H]e will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing as on the day of a festival.”
The last line of that verse always surprises me. We often hear of God’s people’s singing His praises, especially when their prayers are answered. In this case, however, God does the singing. God rejoices when his people are made whole. Our joys become his joys.
One more thought. Miss Bobbie’s story didn’t end on that first Sunday when the church was filled. God, it turns out, had a few more blessings in store for her.
Earlier this year, Miss Bobbie learned her cancer had returned. At 82, she decided she was too old for chemo and surgeries and didn’t want to spend her remaining days in a hospital bed.
When two new friends from her church—friends who’d joined after the merger—learned Miss Bobbie hadn’t ever been on vacation in 67 years, they decided to bless her. They put Miss Bobbie’s story on a crowdfunding website where they raised enough money to take her to the beach and give her the time of her life.
It’s a small miracle, but one Miss Bobbie could have easily missed if she’d walked away and given up on her church. And, as Miss Bobbie took her first step into the ocean, I have to believe God was singing with joy.
FOR FURTHER REFLECTION:
What prayers of yours have gone unanswered? Do you ever fear that God is not listening or doesn’t care about your concerns? Have you ever given up on something too early? How do you keep going, even when things seem hopeless?
Lord God, remind us that you are with us, even when we can’t see you. Help us hang on when we feel like giving up or when it seems that our prayers aren’t going to be answered. Most of all, fill us with joy as we await the coming of your son, our Lord Jesus. Amen.
READ THE PASSAGE IN CONTEXT:
Sing, Daughter Zion;
shout aloud, Israel!
Be glad and rejoice with all your heart,
The Lord has taken away your punishment,
he has turned back your enemy.
The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you;
never again will you fear any harm.
On that day
they will say to Jerusalem,
“Do not fear, Zion;
do not let your hands hang limp.
The Lord your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.”
“I will remove from you
all who mourn over the loss of your appointed festivals,
which is a burden and reproach for you.
At that time I will deal
with all who oppressed you.
I will rescue the lame;
I will gather the exiles.
I will give them praise and honor
in every land where they have suffered shame.
At that time I will gather you;
at that time I will bring you home.
I will give you honor and praise
among all the peoples of the earth
when I restore your fortunes
before your very eyes,”
says the Lord.