What gives you hope? Our ultimate hope is eternal life in Christ, and that is the best answer to that question. But there are human analogs for ultimate hope – light in the darkness, the protection of a hen for her chicks, a land of milk and honey, the bosom of Abraham and so on. What in this life, a pure thing, encourages you to put up with the frustrations of the day?
For the past 37 years or so it’s been something out of Psalm 127 for me. “Children are a heritage from the LORD,” “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,” “He, [with a full quiver of ‘arrows’] shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.”
Arrows are stand-off weapons – they go where the warrior or hunter cannot or should not go. When my children began to become resources to me, people of spiritual and even temporal wisdom, I began to sense the power of having them at my back. That confidence grows as they do. They go where I cannot and do things that are beyond my ability.
There also comes a day when you take some level of hope from things you’ll never live to see. I think of grandparents or great-grandparents who hold on to see that next baby born – a baby they likely won’t know as an adult. At that point the hope is real, but the reality of it is beyond our sight. But it’s important nonetheless. These kids, all of them, will on some days give us reason to despair, just as we did for the earlier generations. But we take joy in what could be rather than in the gritty details we know will come with child-rearing.
But this doesn’t have to be only about kids. Think of bereft Job (“Though he kill me, still I will hope in him”) or formerly childless Hannah (“My mouth derides my enemies because I rejoice in your salvation”). In the midst of the specifics, it is the LORD who builds the house and who watches over the city (Psalm 127:1).
Some of us do the other thing, like Naomi in Ruth (“The Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me”). Maybe they focus on the cost or pain or multiplying themselves. Some are hopeless and cannot imagine doing something as hopeful as reproducing, spiritually or physically. Can it be that we are more hopeless when we stop being obedient and useful to the kingdom of God? Is that why we get fractious as the days of relative isolation and uncertainty drag on? I observe that inactivity in good works and despair are traveling companions these days.
Although I think Psalm 127 is literally talking about parents and children, maybe grandchildren as well, remember also the comfort Timothy was to Paul (“his father in the faith”) during Paul’s last phase of ministry. With whom have you shared generously the things God has shown or given you? Our spiritual children, those to whom we have witnessed or those we have taught, give us a reach beyond our imagination, a hope for things we will never see finished. These I think are also our arrows when we face the enemy at the gate. Those whose lives you have touched during your ministry so far are those who will encourage you as they reach their own maturity.
Consider Naomi near the end of Ruth Chapter 2, when she sees hope for herself as God opens a door for her widowed, pagan daughter-in-law. She comes alive, guiding Ruth at a strange and crucial moment, and then later, she was called blessed by the neighbor ladies because she was not left without a redeemer. This redeemer was not her own son, but from the young woman she adopted and taught. And Naomi was neither hopeless nor ashamed.
So reproduce yourself, physically if you are able, and spiritually if you are one of the redeemed of the Lord. Be confident, as Paul was, to say, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” to those who are your spiritual and physical children. It is a God-honoring, prudent bit of self-interest to prepare those who will one day be your strength and confidence – God’s provision for a warrior in the gate.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Gary Ledbetter is editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN, where this article first appeared.)