Recently many people in my life, myself included, have been struggling with burnout. Burnout isn’t – as some people assume – being tired of work. It’s not about difficult conditions either. Burnout is the belief that you’re not making a difference. It’s about not feeling like what you’re doing matters. Some of that is feeling powerless and hopeless. I was drawn to a set of scripture anchored by 1 Corinthians 13:13 (NLT) which says, “Three things will last forever – faith, hope, and love – and the greatest of these is love.”
This anchor verse was a place to start studying and pondering my purpose. I wanted to take apart the ideas of faith, hope, and love – and how they’re related. Faith we need to have full trust in God’s provision. Hope, a benefit of faith. Love is – well, it’s what matters most.
What does faith mean to you? For most people we believe faith is – as the dictionaries of today define it – “a strong or unshakable believe in something, especially without proof or evidence.” (World English Dictionary) While this is certainly important, in this context it’s little more than trust. (See Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy for more on what trust is.) Not that trust is to be trifled with, but it’s not the same thing as the faith described in 1 Corinthians 13:13. The Greek word used here is pistis which according to HELPS Word studies faith – in this context – is always a gift from God.
Being that faith is a gift from God, it’s never appropriate to say that someone “just didn’t have enough faith” as if they were the ones to blame. I imagine that this is the kind of righteous attitude which the Sadducees and the Pharisees had in Jesus’ day. They believed that they had enough faith but that other people didn’t. They believed that other people just didn’t love God enough – they just didn’t trust enough. However, this is a fundamental misunderstanding that trust is an exact replacement for faith when it isn’t. Trust can be built but faith cannot.
However, there is a way to gain faith. That way is prayer. One of the Greek words translated to prayer is proseuché which again according to HELPS Word studies means “exchange of whishes; prayer.” What is it that the wishes are exchanged for? Faith. Faith is God’s gift to the redeemed that is given in response to prayer. Think about that. We have it backwards. We say that the faithful pray but in reality those who pray become faithful.
In Greek mythology, Pandora’s box (which was really a jar) contained all the evils of the world. When Pandora opened the box the evils escaped leaving one thing that lay at the bottom – hope. In this story, hope – and hope alone – was able to endure all of the evils of the world. It didn’t run from them. Hope was what could withstand them.
One of the evils that I see in this world is learned helplessness. That is the mistaken belief that you can’t make a change. (See Mindset and The Paradox of Choice for more on learned helplessness.) Hope is so precious that the most gut wrenching points in my life – the points where my body wanted to shut down – were the points where I had lost my grip on hope.
Napoleon once said, “A leader is a dealer of hope.” Hope is so powerful that it can change the course of wars. Leaders deal in hope. Hope that their company or cause will be successful. Hope that there will be a way for everyone to live the American dream.
As amazing as hope is, love is the ultimate expression of hope. If someone else loves you (especially an omniscient, omnipresent, timeless being) you can always be saved, rescued, strengthened, and empowered. (See God Loves You for more about the omniscient, omnipresent, timeless being.)
In Matthew 22:36-40 (NLT) it was asked “‘Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the Law of Moses?’ Jesus replied, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”
1 John 4:18 (NLT) says “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” How is it that perfect love drives out fear? (Or casts out as some translations say) In Greek the word love here is Agape – that is God’s love. If God loves you then how could you have anything to fear?
Agape love is not confined to Christians who read Greek. The Buddhists call agape love compassion. That is their love for all of the rest of the world as a part of the overall whole.
Another way to look at love is to see it as giving to others sacrificially. You know you truly love someone when you’re willing to give something up for someone. The greater the sacrifice – the greater the love. I have to offer a word of caution here because though sacrificial love is an admirable trait it is necessary to establish whether someone is worthy of your sacrificial love. Sacrificial love is sometimes used to keep people in abusive relationships with language like “If you really loved me you would…” More on appropriate boundaries can be found in the book Boundaries.
If the person that you give love to is able to accept sacrificial love with humility and reflect it back to you – it’s the most powerful thing in the world. Thanks to my wife, Terri, I finally understand that.