Gratitude and Hope (and hanging on to both)

. . . a person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven (John 3:25-27).

So here we are, living a brief stretch of days between gratitude and hope.

You may be living in-between in other ways too. It seems that so much of life is transition. The chemo treatments have ended, but you’re waiting on the next scan to know how they worked. You’ve graduated, but you don’t have a job. You’ve sold and closed on your home, but you’re still looking for the right place in the new city to which you’ve moved. The nine months of anticipation have ended, and the baby has arrived, but you don’t feel like a ‘real parent’ and you’re worried you’re doing it all wrong.

There are so many ways and so many days that are spent in-between, moving from what was to what will be. There’s no map for this journey, no clearly marked way to get from what’s behind to what’s before. Life in-between is largely a matter of getting up every morning and doing what’s in front of us. Such days school us in waiting and in trust, things that don’t come naturally to many of us.

Let’s acknowledge that not all transitions are burdensome or painful. There are some we welcome gladly, even when we know that we’ll have to navigate some challenges. Our difficulties come with those in-between stretches that seem to have no end in sight. The disorienting interval that turns into a wilderness.

It is here, in these barren in-between places, that we often lose our perspective. These places have a way of robbing us of our sense of thankfulness and our sense of hope.

Another Yet to Come
We got started yesterday by noting the place of John the Baptist in the large scope of the biblical story. John stands as a bridge figure, occupying a unique place between the Old Testament prophets and the coming Messiah. John emerges into the biblical story from the desert (Luke 1:80). He had deliberately sought out the wilderness, and in the wilderness God had forged a strength of soul and clarity of vision.

John stands in the in-between with both gratitude and hope. He is humble and bold. He’s not the least bit anxious about his future, nor is he bitter about his place as a lesser light to the coming Messiah.

At one point it seemed that John was the hot-ticket, the rock star preacher drawing crowds from all over Judea. Everyone was going out to hear him and many were being baptized. Even his critics went out to see what was happening on the banks of the Jordan river. But suddenly that changed. Jesus had arrived, and John’s disciples noticed that the attendance momentum was shifting in Jesus’ favor. They became defensive and worried (John 3:26). John himself was not bothered. “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven” (John 3:27). Everything, all of life, comes as a gift. These are the words of a grateful man, not a bitter man.

And even as the crowds came, John pointed to a future that would eclipse what he was doing. He kept telling these crowds that there was another, someone greater yet to come. “I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:8). Again, these words are expectant and hope-filled, born of vision of what God was doing and would yet do.

John stood in-between with gratitude and hope, thankfulness and expectancy. What would it look like for us to do the same?

God Is Working
This is the bedrock conviction that sustains us in the in-between: God is always working, even in the barren stretches and long spaces between what was and what will be.

God was at work then, in days that are now held in your memory. God is working with purpose for a future you cannot see today. And in the place where you are right now, God is at work and God wills to work through you.

It’s very easy to forget that when we’re living in the in-between. I find it interesting that Jesus would later say that ‘among those born of women’ none was greater than John the Baptist (Luke 7:28). That’s quite a commendation for a man who lived his life standing in-between, thankful for what had been given to him and expectant as to what was coming. God is working in your in-between places.

This is the source of our thankfulness. This is the source of our hope.

Gracious God, make us thankful and hopeful in this day. In whatever transitions we’re working through, in the stretch of time between what was and what will come, keep us grounded in the knowledge that you are present and at work in all things, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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