Living with hope deferred

In light of Seattle’s snowpocalypse, I had to quote C.S. Lewis’ description of hope deferred: “It’s winter in Narnia…Always winter but never Christmas” (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe).

Hope deferred is different than delayed gratification. Waiting for hours to try a delicious new hot pot restaurant on a snowy day isn’t what we’re talking about here.

It’s more like a child waiting for a parent who never shows up or an adult hoping for a relationship that never exists, or a couple longing for children who are never conceived.

It’s the person unjustly imprisoned and kept from freedom by delay after delay. Or the entrepreneur who puts all they have in a venture that increasingly feels like a sunk cost. Or the missionary laboring for decades with very little to show for it.

This is the stuff groans are made of.

As the saying goes:

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.

Proverbs 13:12 ESV

For Christians in particular, this Proverb maybe hard to swallow because we believe in a God who could cure our heartsickness. But God withholds our desires so often it can leave us feeling alienated, disillusioned, and embittered.

Godliness doesn’t automatically produce the outcomes we want. In fact, the Bible’s “hall of faith” passage explicitly says:

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.

Hebrews 11:13 ESV

Saints in the past got to say “hello” to God’s promises, but knew they weren’t going to get them in this life. So Christians not only have to live with hope deferred, they have to live with hope deferred indefinitely.

Coping with the heartsickness

Without a light at the end of the tunnel, it’s tempting to give up hope. Unfortunately this produces self-sabotaging behaviors (aka sins).

For example, the allure of pornography is strongest when you feel hopeless about ever getting to enjoy a secure and intimate relationship with another human being. And caving to that pressure hinders the very thing you hoped for.

It’s also tempting to compromise and burn out trying to satisfy your desires (aka relying on the flesh).

So how do we cope with the heartsickness of indefinitely deferred hope? The Apostle Paul writes:

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Romans 5:3-5 ESV

It’s not enough to remember God’s grace in the past or to be encouraged by a new creation future. We need something here and now when our unfulfilled desires are so painful we could burst.

And that is what the Holy Spirit provides: an ongoing outpouring of God’s love into our hearts.

It’s based on Christ’s death for us in the past and fulfilled in all the good God has promised in the future, but it’s something we experience in the present.

So we don’t misinterpret circumstances as a sign God doesn’t love us. We don’t drown in self-pity or the anxious fear of missing out. We don’t withdraw into resentful isolation or get consumed by angry outbursts.

God’s love is with us now.

Our heartsickness is relieved by an outpouring of love so thorough it washes out any doubts we had that everything is working together for our good.

It may feel like it’s always winter in Narnia and never Christmas, but they say Aslan is on the move. And that changes everything.

What godliness doesn’t get you (and what it does)

Some people think godliness is a way to get rich. And I don’t mean the swindling televangelist stereotype. I mean the average person who believes that being faithful to God means blessing for their career or company.

While the Apostle Paul warns his disciple Timothy about false teachers who imagine godliness as a means of gain, he also speaks to the general problem with desiring to be rich:

[False teachers imagine godliness is a means of gain.] But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world…But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.

1 Timothy 6:5-10 ESV

A different dimension

Money is orthogonal to godliness; riches are on a different dimension.

There are both godly and ungodly rich people. There are both godly and ungodly poor people.

And I think this orthogonality applies to other desires too.

For a young man like myself, it’s easy to mistakenly believe that by being devoted to God, my desire for a wife will be fulfilled. But that desire is also on a different dimension than godliness.

Some godly people are married and some who wish to be married remain single all their lives. Godliness does not get you a spouse!

In fact, according to Paul, what all godly people have in common is persecution:

Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted

2 Timothy 3:12 ESV

Godliness may actually act as a filter.

Because of devotion to God, you may forgo lucrative business deals or sacrifice something important to your career. Because of devotion to God, you may choose not pursue many desirable relationships (or others may find your faith undesirable to them).

What godliness DOES get you

So what do you gain with godliness?

One word: contentment.

Godliness doesn’t promise riches or a spouse, but it promises contentment, which when you think about it is amazing.

Everyone has unfulfilled desires.

Even if you were a celebrity, your money wouldn’t be able to buy love. Even if you had a long happy marriage, you could still want things outside of it. And even if your startup got millions in funding, the pressure to perform would only increase with it.

Having our all desires satisfied isn’t all it’s hyped to be. Having godliness with contentment is the “dark horse” that wins every time.

Godliness helps you feel grateful for everything in your life because you perceive it as a gift from God. It orders your life around God’s will, giving meaning to your experiences and purpose to your decisions.

So if you have unfulfilled desires and tried to use godliness as a way to get it: what could happen if you sought contentment instead?

Thoughts on the Bezoses’ Divorce

I was sad to read that Jeff & MacKenzie Bezos are divorcing after 25 years of marriage.

After commenting on Amazon Leadership Principles, Jeff Bezos’ biggest fear and also comparing Bezos’ wisdom with the Bible, it was disheartening to see a leader I respect choose divorce.

Others have explored the implications of the divorce to Amazon investors, the challenges of marriage among startup founders, as well as the modern trend of “conscious uncoupling”.

I do not know Jeff personally, nor am I married, so I’m not here to judge. I just want to take what he and MacKenzie wrote at face value and think about what it means. I’m processing out loud.

Here’s their Tweet:

Frankly, my heart winces at these well-crafted words. They project unreserved optimism without acknowledging pain. While a respect for privacy and not going into the reasons why is understandable, this level of positivity perplexes me.

After a long period of loving exploration and trial separation…

It sounds like Jeff conducted an experiment to see if he and MacKenzie would be happier apart. Although it may have been a long process with “great deliberation and consultation” (cf a recent Amazon shareholder letter on decision making), experimental separation combined with loving exploration seems to result in a foregone conclusion.

New relationships are front-loaded with excitement. If you think short-term, this will always feel better than going back to long-running unresolved marriage problems. How does this decision accord with ownership and long-term thinking?

Lucky, grateful, would do it again…

The gratitude expressed in the Tweet is fantastic, which makes the decision to divorce all the more jarring. Perhaps it means that their choice doesn’t erase any of the goodness of the past–they just want to be freed up for the future.

But something feels off about that logic…maybe because it epitomizes the modern conception of marriage as self-fulfillment?

Using Amazon’s language of Customer Obsession, we could ask, “Who is the ‘customer’ of marriage?” Is it the partners, the children, society, God, or maybe all of the above? If marriage were a product (it’s certainly more than that), what would it look like to work backwards and iterate so that it fulfilled more of its purpose?

Labels have changed from married to divorced, but we’re still cherished friends…

What’s significant about dropping the marriage label? Jeff and MacKenzie are already parents, friends, partners, individuals and a family. What does it mean to be cherished friends, but no longer a married couple?

I’m guessing that it means you don’t have sex, no longer express intimacy or romantic affection towards one another, and drop all expectations of exclusivity and personal commitment. Which leads to the seemingly impregnable question: Why?

Not to belittle or oversimplify the very real struggles of marriage and the uniqueness of every situation, let’s imagine applying Amazon’s 5 Why’s exercise to this situation:

Why is marriage no longer a suitable label for our relationship?

Because we don’t love each other.

Why don’t we love each other?

Because we don’t spend time together.

Why don’t we spend time together?

Because we want different things.

Why do we want different things?

Because we already have all we want materially and the things money can’t buy require sacrifices we don’t want to make for each other.

Why won’t we make these sacrifices for each other?

… at this point, I find Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:8-9 incisive…

What now?

The Bible teaches Christians to pray for those in power. Money is power and the Bezoses are the richest couple in the world.

So last Thursday, I gathered with 30 other people in South Lake Union (Amazon HQ’s neighborhood) to give thanks and pray for the Bezos, their family, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, Google, the whole Seattle tech scene, the relentless tech culture and the Christians who work in it. We also prayed for each other and for the impact of the tech industry on our communities.

If you’re a Christian reading this, may I invite you to pray for Jeff, MacKenzie and their family?

And if you want to pray with others, you can join our next Seattle meetup or Contact Me if you’d like materials to help you start a Pray 4 Tech gathering in your community.

Leadership mistake: Worrying about the wrong things

Leadership often begins with vision, a description of where you’re leading people. It takes courage to cast vision because: what if you’re wrong?

Irresponsible leaders couldn’t care less. They’ll say whatever it takes to get what they want in the moment.

But I’m guessing that many people are overly cautious about sharing what they see.

So here’s two mistakes I’ve made regarding vision to encourage you to voice your vision to others (if you’re like me).

Mistake #1. Worrying about naysayers instead of finding and investing in soulmates.

Whether it’s due to insecurity or upbringing, I’ve always been driven to convince people about my ideas.

I think through every possible objection and summon rigorous counterarguments before anyone brings them up. I want to be right.

Unfortunately, such intellectual effort is not only exhausting, but often unnecessary (and paralyzing). I end up communicating with people under the assumption that they will reject me. I assume they are looking for a reason to say, “No” to my ideas.

The fear of rejection makes it so tiring it’s easier to not even try.

I don’t publish the blogpost. I don’t send the message. I don’t deliver the presentation.

That’s not leadership.

Correction: Focus on finding and investing in “soulmates” instead of worrying about “naysayers”.

“Soulmates” want to understand and strengthen your vision. They want to be persuaded and even their most critical feedback is for good.

“Naysayers” for whatever reason want to tear your vision apart. Don’t worry about them. Circumstances outside your control have to change for them to be open to your vision.

So make your pitch and discern if the person you’re talking to is a “soulmate”, “naysayer” or something else. Invest in your “soulmates”.

Mistake #2. Worrying that the vision is too big to achieve instead of inviting others to think big with me.

My school system (Seattle Public Schools / University of Washington in the 1990s-2000s) primarily rewarded students for being self-reliant. You do your homework, take your tests and get graded individually.

Unfortunately big visions are typically group projects. You can never personally get all the skills, resources and time required to make a big vision come true.

Since self-improvement and individual achievement have long been my main source of positive reinforcement, it’s difficult to ask for help and invite people to join me. Perhaps I’m scared of the risk & responsibility.

So I naturally think small. I limit my vision to what I can personally achieve. And guess what: that’s really sad because the big vision is what can really enrich people’s lives.

That’s not leadership.

Correction: Clarify your vision by ignoring your personal means, resources and know-how. Think big and describe the vision in sufficient, inspiring detail so that others want it too.

Then work backwards.

What does the full vision require? What is the best contribution you can personally make? What do you need others to do? What can you achieve immediately? What can you achieve in a decade?

By not limiting your vision to your personal capacity, you lead others into previously unimaginable possibilities.

PS, I suppose it’s time for me to take my own advice :). I’m still discerning the big vision for TheoTech, but invite you to join our Facebook group if you want to be part of the journey. You can also follow our story on YouTube / Podcast sites.

Why church small groups discussions fail

Have you experienced this?

Awkward silence lingers until the small group leader tentatively asks another question. Everyone stares at their toes. Someone offers a nervous answer. The leader tries to parley it into a discussion, but no one really opens up.

OR

One person babbles endlessly about their ideas or problems while everyone else smiles and nods politely. They want to move on, but the master conversationalist is too oblivious to make space for others.

OR

Smiles and hugs aside, everyone is putting up a front and trying to look good in front of the group. Conversations are surface level and the discussion is perfunctory (e.g. filling in the blanks in a handout with the obvious right answers).

OR

Everyone is nice to each other and loves talking about football, work, relationships, etc. But when it comes time to talk about God or the Bible, the mood shifts from a lighthearted gathering of friends to a serious high-pressure environment where everyone must bare their soul to experience enlightenment and transformation.


I cherry-picked these scenarios, but there’s many ways you can get that uncomfortable vibe when a small group discussion isn’t thriving.

In the back of your mind, you may be asking:

“Why am I here? This is a waste of time…”

Here’s one idea for how to change that:

Focus on discovering and unleashing each other’s gifts.

We’re individually supposed to fan our gifts into flame (2 Timothy 1:6). So why not help each other do this in our small groups?

We’re supposed to spur each other on to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24). So why don’t we make that the main goal of our small groups?

If you’ve felt bored, disappointed or maybe even guilty over letting your gifts languish and not using them fully for God’s Kingdom, don’t you think other people might feel the same way too?

What would it look like if the goal of your small group were to activate each other’s gifts and release them into the world?

I think it’d look like Paul’s description of how the Body grows up in Ephesians 4. It might even look like the seeds of a second Reformation.

So, what God-given gifts will you fan into flame?

And when you’re in a small group, how will you help fan into flame the gifts of others?

PS, I started this post over 5 years ago, so I’m not singling out any particular church. As part of a New Year commitment to write more regularly, I decided to polish the draft and ship it in 2019 🙂