How to Find Encouragement and Hope

The Reading from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans. (15:1-7) and the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (9:27-35) 

One of my great fears for each of us in our day to day modern lives is that it is very easy for us to live a distracted life. We have become very comfortable and very distracted as a society. Not too long ago I was out having dinner and I saw a scene that broke my heart to pieces. I saw a mother having dinner with her two young children probably about 7 and 5 years old. A son and a daughter. The mother was sitting in front of her laptop, probably working. The 7 year old boy was playing games on his kindle, and the young girl was watching a cartoon on her own tablet. Three people, three screens, one table, zero relationship, zero shared experience. It disturbed me greatly. If this behavior was normal for this family, it was a tragedy. The mother would not know her own children and the children would not know their own mother, at least not in a deep and meaningful way.

My fear is that we are sometimes like this with God. The difference is that He does not sit at the table distracted. He patiently waits for us to look up from our distractions and speak to Him and to hear His voice. In today’s epistle we are reminded that we need to hear the voice of the Lord through the writing of the Old Testament scriptures and the New Testament. The Apostle Paul writes, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures, we might have hope.”

St. Paul is reminding the Christians of Rome that it is not enough to believe in Jesus and even to come to the gathering of the Christians for the liturgy and prayers. More is required of us if we want to become patient and hopeful Christians, if we want to have a joyous faith. He tells us that we have to turn to what was written in the former days. He reminds us that the holy writings of the Bible were given to each of us for our instruction. He tells us that we need to study these texts to be taught in the ways of God. And that through this teaching we will also grow in endurance and we will be encouraged in our life.

St. John Chrysostom writes “These things were written so that we might not fall away, for we have many battles to fight, both inward and outward. But being comforted by the Scriptures we can exhibit patience, so that by living in patience we might dwell in hope. For these things produce one another—hope brings forth patience, and patience, hope.” 

Our lives can be very difficult. They are full of trials, failures, sickness, injury, frailty, and on top of all that, we are increasingly finding ourselves living in a world that does not acknowledge God or the Christian worldview. We will increasingly be seen as outsiders and irrelevant, if not hostile to the ways of the world. In all of this, we will need to be rooted and grounded in something other than social media, fantasy novels, video games and Netflix. None of these things can offer us stability. None of them can offer us joy. None of them can offer us comfort or hope. Only the things of God can offer hope because He alone is the source of true hope.

We are in dire need of a return to the study of the Bible. With the Bible we can build a foundation for our lives, without the study of the Bible we are lost as people, as families and as a society. We hear the psalmist say “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” Imagine how we would feel if we were forced to walk in the middle of the wilderness with no light whatsoever…in complete darkness or wearing a blindfold. It would be terrifying and extremely dangerous. Yet that is what we are like when we don’t know the word of God. We are like people walking through a spiritual wilderness, like those who are blind, and when we are blind we are in great danger. In today’s gospel passage, we see Our Lord Jesus Christ heal the blindness of the two men. But we are also in constant need of the healing of the eyes of our heart. The word is one powerful medicine for our healing.

Like many other practices, we need to make small changes to incorporate what is beneficial for us. I’ve often told those who come to confession that they should first pray in the morning and read scripture even before having breakfast, and certainly before turning on any of the devices and distractions. The Lord Jesus, when he became hungry and was tempted to turn stones into bread replied to Satan “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” If a man is starving, he must eat food. If a man wants to be nourished spiritually, he must likewise be fed by the word. If a man wants to know the Lord, studying the Bible daily is a great step in the right direction. 

Remember that we don’t want to be like the family sitting at the table staring at their screens. We want to acknowledge the Lord who is in our midst. He is eagerly desiring to teach us, to share His wisdom, to share His love. As Christians, our purpose and goal in life is to know God intimately. Do our actions line up with our stated goals and objectives? Do we have enough faith in God to change our behaviors and give Him some priority from day to day? 

There is a story from the desert fathers about monks in Egypt who received an important letter from the Emperor himself. The monks were so excited to hear the words, and yet they noticed one of the monks was not excited at all but was sitting by himself reading the scriptures. When they asked him the meaning of this he replied “you are eager to hear the word of the Emperor, a mere man, yet I am receiving the letter that was given by God.” May we take this to heart and make it a focus in our daily spiritual regimen and may the Lord enlighten us and grant us encouragement and hope that can never be taken away. Glory be to God forever AMEN.

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