rebelling against low expectations

Where Do You Put Your Hope?

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Hope….

When the going gets tough, where do you place your hope? Or when life is great, and times are good, what makes you confident about the future? I want you to think about that for a moment – because today we’re going to be getting into a story about hope. Or, more accurately, misplaced hope.

If you have a Bible, do me a favor and turn in it to the book of 1 Samuel, Chapter 4, verses 1-11. Before we continue on, I’d like you to read through that for me, so that once you’re done, we can walk through this story together…

The Story

A couple months ago, we left off with little Samuel waking up in the middle of the night to a strange voice, calling him by name. Well, today, we’re continuing on in that story.

By now, Samuel has grown up and has been following the leading of God in his life in the nation of Israel. But not long after Samuel begins his adult ministry, war breaks out between Israel and one of its neighboring countries, the Philistines. Having grown accustomed to these types of wars, the armies of Israel march out to meet the Philistines in battle.

But something they did not expect happens: they lose the battle, and four thousand people die.

This causes great panic in the Israelite camp. “Why did God let this happen?” they ask. But then someone has an idea, “I know”, he says, “Let’s bring out the Ark of the Covenant – that thing Indiana Jones found in the desert not too long ago. That’s what God uses to show his power around here. Maybe it will save us!” The people look around and nod their heads in agreement, “Let’s do it!”

So, now the Israelites are stoked. “Time to get back at these pathetic Philistines. We’ll show them. God will show them.”

So they go out to meet the Philistines in battle once again. And at first, the Philistines are afraid – but they fight anyway, and they completely obliterate the Israelite army – the Ark of the Covenant is captured, and tens of thousands of people die. And the few remaining survivors flee back home. Hope… has failed them.

Now what?

Wow. What a horrible way to end a story! Couldn’t it have worked out happier for the good guys?

Well, if this was just a heroic legend or ancient myth, then that’s exactly what would have happened – because that’s what always happens at the end of a movie. But this is history – in other words real life. And real life doesn’t always work out the way we wanted it to.

But there’s also an advantage to this being real life. And that’s that we learn from the mistakes of these people who actually came before us – even those who lived thousands of years ago. So, what can we learn from this story – what’s it even have to do with us, here, in the 21st century? A lot more than we think!

Think about it – where did the Israelites place their hope? If you said, “God”, think again! That’s right, the Ark. They believed that if they took the Ark into battle, that would cause God to fight for them. They believed that what they did would make God do what they wanted. They were trying to earn God’s favor. We have a word for this today – it’s called religion. That’s right, religion.

This single idea that what we do for God will determine his level of acceptance towards us. That what we do for God will decide if he will step in to help us when we need Him. The idea that if we follow all the rules and do all things the religious people tell us to, then God will reward us. The idea that if we don’t do what we’re told, God will punish us and cause fire and brimstone to fall on us. That’s religion.

That’s what the Israelites put their hope in – and that’s what they got wrong.

You see, all too many of us in the Christian church have it in our heads that even though salvation is through grace by faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9), somehow God’s favor here on earth is determined by how good we are – what we’ve done. You see, without realizing it, we’re making the same mistake the Israelites made on that battlefield.

I’ve noticed this in my life personally with how I feel about myself at church each week. If I’m not careful, I’ll start to look back at how great a day or week I’ve had. If I read my Bible every day, helped someone change their flat tire, and didn’t fight with my sister, then I feel awesome – ready to worship. But if I didn’t have a great week, if I didn’t read my Bible, and if I say… kicked the neighbor’s dog, then I’m tempted to feel horrible, and I don’t feel close to God.

But really when it comes down to it, the bad things we’ve done don’t affect the way God sees us, because he’s washed them away on the cross.

And neither do the good things we do. After all, the Bible says that Christ’s works were credited to us as righteousness. That means that when God sees us, he sees someone who lived a perfect life, resisted every kind of temptation, managed their time perfectly, selflessly laid down their life for the world, and forgave the people who tortured them.

Do you really think how many times you read your Bible this week is going to improve on that? You see, when it comes down to it religious people put their hope in the things they do to gain God’s favor – and in the end, they’re always going to end up disappointed. But those who have relationship with God, put their hope in God – in what Jesus did that earned God’s favor.

So, here’s my question for you today…

Where do you place your hope?


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About the author

Trent Blake

is 19 years old and a committed follower of Jesus Christ. Currently, Trent is working with Church at the Mall as a small group leader and will soon be attending school for pastoral ministry.

9 comments

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  • Hey, I like this article, though I disagree with the saying that religion is evil. Christianity is a religion. A religion is just a belief about spirituality. A better word would be “world religion” though I still get the gist of what you’re saying. James mentions that Christianity is a religion.

    • Thank you for your input Joyce. I definitely see where you’re coming from! The thing is, often, we can get caught up in the definitions of words that we miss the actual intent of them.

      For example, for the longest time, I got caught up in the whole idea of “courtship” over “dating”. I defined Courtship a certain way and dating another. And whenever someone said something negative about courtship (even if they were using that word to refer to something completely different), I got defensive. And same thing if they said something positive about dating (even when they had a different understanding of the definition).

      So, in this case, I’d encourage you to view the point I made not as a diss on the word “religion” but on the idea that “we work in order to earn God’s approval”. I happen to call that religion. Others may call that something else. And likewise someone might call a completely different thing “religion”. So, really, the focus is on the idea (that I just happen to be tagging “religion” for clarity’s sake) not on assigning a meaning to the word “religion”. Does that make more sense?

    • Definitely true! That’s one thing I think many people miss – even the more grace-centered denominations. We are saved by faith alone. And the reason “faith without works is dead” (as it says in James) is simply because works are the fruit of faith (not something we need in addition to faith to be saved).

      Thanks so much for your comment!

  • This is an awesome article, Trent. It’s easy to place our hope in things that we shouldn’t be placing hope in. This was a great reminder for me today, thank you for writing!

  • Such an awesome article! This is one of the things I fall into way to much…. trusting in myself or others… and then, when it all fails, adding another layer to my internal wall…. Good reminder for everyone!

    • You and me both, Abbey! Even a couple days ago, I caught myself trusting in my own works to get the things done that God wanted me to trust Him about.

      I was actually at a weekend retreat with some friends at a farmhouse. And while we were there, I became frustrated – so, like any guy on a farm, I resorted to chopping wood! Haha.

      And as I was hacking away at a tree-stump, it occurred to me that there wasn’t any way I would split this massive oak stump in half. And yet, at any time, God could easily send down lightning and split the tree.

      I feel like that’s how life is too, sometimes. We’re trying to attack the tree stump God’s called us to work on, but get frustrated when we can’t do it. What we often forget is that God doesn’t need us to do this work for Him. He just asks that we be faithful in what He’s called us to. And that’s a comforting thought, in my opinion.

By Trent Blake
rebelling against low expectations

The Rebelution is a teenage rebellion against low expectations—a worldwide campaign to reject apathy, embrace responsibility, and do hard things. Learn More →