Contributor: Ben Chong
Ben Chong is a Christian leadership coach and coordinates the Surrender Leadership Program with young leaders from diverse communities. Ben lives on Gubbi Gubbi country on the Sunshine Coast, with his wife and two daughters.
Isaiah 61, Luke 4:14-21
Isaiah 61 gives us a vision of the poor, brokenhearted and downtrodden discovering the good news, and in the process, exchanging sorrow for joy, and being planted as oaks of righteousness to display God's splendour. It says they become rebuilders of what's long been broken and restorers of what's long been destroyed. That is such a beautiful vision of restoration and God's promise to renew all things.
In Luke 4, Jesus quotes this passage when he's kicking off his ministry. This vision of hope and restoration is what is fulfilled in him, it’s the central piece. Those who turn to him will be called oaks of righteousness – because they turned to him. They'll be a planting and priests of the Lord because they've turned to him, and ministers of God through him, and part of the everlasting covenant because of him. It’s because of Jesus that we would exchange mourning for rejoicing and sorrow for joy, and be part of God's renewing and rebuilding of all the things that had been destroyed and devastated. That whole vision of renewal, through salvation in Jesus, and the promise of restoration through Jesus, that's his whole mission and purpose. Jesus is the embodiment of this promise.
As people called to join in this vision, I think what is distinctive first and foremost is that we don't put our hope in hope itself. We don't put our hope in justice itself. We don't put our hope in peace itself. We put our hope in the person of Jesus through whom all those things are possible. Important things like justice and peace and equity and healing – these are all aspects of the kingdom of God. And the way to them comes through the King. We get a disfigured version of those things without the King who's the source of those things.
I came to faith as a justice warrior. And I probably loved justice far more than I loved Jesus. I wanted all of those great parts of the kingdom, but I wasn't really sure if I was okay with the king. I poured so much of my life out in the name of peace and justice, unity and compassion. But I was also seeming to grow in anger and despair and frustration and cynicism and bitterness; I was still dividing people into kind or cruel, or good or bad, or right or wrong. I was still drawing lines and labelling people based on my perception of their political, theological beliefs, economic status, whatever. There was this real self-righteousness; I was deciding I could play God's role, the Judge.
A mentor of mine once reflected on their own journey through this stuff. He said, ‘I realised that I could never truly be part of God's restoration of all things if the primary way I'm operating is to tear things and people down.’ I think that's a real challenge as we pursue restoration. Because without the hope of Jesus, we can get so fixated on what's wrong, on all of creation groaning. And then it's also really easy to attribute those wrongs to specific people, to blame and label, and we can forget that our own restoration too needs to be part of the restoration of all things.
We're called to love incarnationally, to embody love. The Message version of John 1 says ‘the Word became flesh and moved into the neighbourhood’. We have that call to become ‘love made flesh’, and move into the neighbourhood. What a vision of hope for the world: if Christians have planted themselves so deeply in Christ, that the fruit that they bear is joy amidst lament – they can do both! – and hope amidst despair. They can forgive amidst hurt and they can have peace amidst fear, and embody love amidst hate. How beautiful!
There’s a tension here: you can't get to real hope and joy without lament. I think lament is the biblical response when you observe all of the brokenness of our own and of the world’s, like lament is this cry to God as we recognise the reality of deep hurt, and the cost of seeking healing and peace. It's sharing in God's heart, for what breaks his heart. In the journey to restoration, or being able to praise in joy, lament is the pathway there. As we praise Him through our sorrows and bring our audacious prayers, and using Isaiah 61’s language of exchanging sorrow and mourning for joy, lament is where the exchange happens. If you are going to follow Jesus into the places where Jesus wants to go, your heart will break. But there has to be an exchange. For me, the exchange is in that place of choosing to surrender: I will trust you nevertheless, I will praise you, I will trust in your unfailing love and unfailing goodness. Look at the Psalms – not all the Psalms end up there, sometimes they end in lament and that's okay. But you also see Psalms where you have that lament, followed by and yet. Like in Psalm 27, David is in the midst of despair and finishes with: ‘I am convinced of this, I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Karl Barth describes it as “the defiant nevertheless”.
These people were, on paper, without hope... There's poverty, there's brokenness... And yet I see it being exchanged for joy. I see it being exchanged for the invitation to be part of God’s restoration and renewal of all things, including us.
My family has faced three deaths in five years. My wife and I have both lived with chronic illness, we’ve lived out of bags and had no money, had very sick children and lost a son. There's a lot of grief and lament there. And yet, God continues to show us how to be hopeful and joyful people in the midst of it all. I see restored hope in that, and then I certainly see it in the leaders in the [Surrender Leadership] program. Almost half of the leaders in the last five years of the program were either born and raised in, or lived the majority of their lives in refugee camps. So many are survivors of significant trauma, and still today face huge, huge challenges. But again, I think about how much they trust Jesus; I think about their joy; it makes me want to trust him more too. Their courage encourages me, and I can see the way that they are trusting him in the way that they are allowing him to be formed more deeply in their lives. We often say, the best gift that we give anyone is the transforming self – Colossians 1:27, Christ in me is the hope of glory.
These people were, on paper, without hope. The cards that have been dealt – there's poverty, there's brokenness, there's downtroddenness, there's oppression, there's deep mourning. And yet I see it being exchanged for joy. I see it being exchanged for the invitation to be part of God’s restoration and renewal of all things, including us. All of these walking miracles of people who by all rights should not be functional humans, who should not have the joy that they have, who should not have the capacity to love and serve others that they do – somehow they do because of Jesus. These leaders are a beautiful illustration of God's renewing spirit.
Over and over and over again I'm just reminded of God's goodness and kindness. As we reflect through the program, as we sit around the fire, they tell their stories: where there was no hope, I now have great confidence. Where there was no joy, I now have great joy. We have people who are like, ‘I never, ever thought I was even a leader. But I now understand that God has made us each to influence and to love.’ Others have said, ‘I never thought I could even move past this significant wound or grief. And as I have taken each step and met him each step of the way, I've learned that God is a God who meets you in the depths and walks with you and actually redeems and transforms those things so that they become some of the greatest gifts you give to the world.’ I just feel so grateful to get to be a witness to what God is doing in these young, diverse leaders around Australia.
My prayer is a simple one. It's one of my favourites. Romans 15:13. May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Where does our hope come from? It comes from God. What does he give you? All joy and peace. How do you get it? You trust him, and entrust to him all the things you are lamenting and surrendering or exchanging. And what happens if you do it? You overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
In South Sudan, more than a decade of civil war has led to prolonged political instability and insecurity, disrupting development. Climate shocks have crushed livelihoods. These factors have been a setback in the fight against poverty.
Tearfund has been partnering for more than 40 years with local Christian organisation ACROSS as it faithfully serves communities in South Sudan. ACROSS trains community leaders in peacebuilding, and this work has made a way for peace to flourish. Its work promoting education and supporting under-resourced schools and teachers has empowered children, especially girls, to pursue learning with vision and confidence. Through its mobile health outreach program, ACROSS helps more than 10,000 people every year to access health services that would otherwise be out of reach. And project staff have worked with farmers to help build their resilience and cope with the increasingly unpredictable climate.
Mathew is a farmer and teacher who has been supported by ACROSS. “My great fear [has been] that communal conflict will not allow me to use my knowledge and skills,” he shares. “Now, my hope has been restored. ACROSS has trained me in good farming practices and now I have skills in business as well. My dream is to take care of my family and educate them well to be successful people in the future.”
In other parts of East Africa, a lack of vital resources like water is driving increased poverty, and dampening people’s hopes for the future. Tearfund’s local Christian partners in places like Ethiopia, Somalia, Zambia and Sudan are working to establish critical water supply infrastructure to bring safe, clean water to thousands of people. This includes repairing and installing wells, developing springs, installing rainwater harvesting systems and teaching sanitation practices. Life-giving water is flowing and with it, hope is being restored.
For Jamilla and others in her community in rural Ethiopia, accessing water used to present an impossible dilemma. The closest water source was heavily polluted by sewage, livestock and run-off from farms, making her young children frequently sick.
“I used to get water from the creek, very early in the morning before the animals came,” Jamilla says. “Everyone was sick with typhoid as a result. I frequently took my children to the clinic with typhoid.”
The alternative was a long and arduous journey to the nearest source of clean water. “If we wanted tap water it used to take four hours going and coming.”
There is now a borehole in Jamilla’s rural village in Ethiopia, bringing a life-restoring supply of clean water to around 150 families. With support from Tearfund’s Christian partner Ethiopian Kale Heywet Church Development Commission (EKHCDC), the community installed and now maintains this precious water source, ensuring it can supply as many people as possible and improve overall sanitation and hygiene too.
“Now we are free of waterborne diseases,” says Jamilla. “No one has gotten sick since this water was installed. We never thought we would get clean water this close.”
Use these questions to guide your personal reflection or your discussion as a group.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Water scarcity, drought and conflict are putting lives at risk. You can help bring water relief to those who need it most.