I’m going to take some time this morning to meditate on the concept of hope. I was talking about meditation with a friend this morning, discussing yoga and Eastern meditation techniques. I am admittedly mostly ignorant of these practices, but I really consider my time on Wednesday mornings as meditation time. Here’s how I view meditation. I’m more interested in filling my mind with truth rather than emptying it. I’m a fan of solitude and silence and I do see its value, but for me I find much more direction in life, intimacy with God, and peace from saturating my soul with truth. Truth is found and communicated by many people through various means like books, movies, songs, and word of mouth. Then again so is falsehood. So my greatest source of truth is the Bible and the subject of the Bible is Jesus and so that is where I look first and it is the measure by which I compare all other attempts at communicating truth. That said, here are some thoughts and observations about hope. I owe some thanks to my Worship Planning Team for helping me process and uncover the topic last night at our meeting. The first thing I notice is that hope is essential in life if we are to move forward, progressing in maturity and living well. Life naturally deals us disappointments and this causes a constant struggle to maintain hope. Despair and depression, are both the enemy of hope and a result of an increasing inward focus, a self-pity that consumes us with ourselves. The Proverbs say, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” (Prov. 13:12, NIV) A lot of people are walking around with sick hearts. It is certainly easier to relate to hopelessness than hope. Why is it that we are more readily able to relate to the negative feelings in life than the positive? Perhaps it’s the pain and the wounds that constantly remind us of the pain. These things that cause us to loose hope are very real and very terrible – broken relationships, personal failure, debilitating loss, chronic illness, and victimization, to name a few. We’ve all experienced and will continue to experience these things to some level. This were never meant to be. And yet there is a cure for the sick heart – an answer that can bring a hope that transcends everything else. That is the message of the Bible. The subject is Jesus, the Messiah, the Savior of the world. He is the answer, but he is not an immediate cure-all to end suffering. Turning to him secures our redemption and then begins the hope building process. It is a messy process, a wrestle between the flesh and the Spirit. But it is a journey worth taking – a journey where hope propels us forward. It is a journey where we discover that it is less about our work and more about Christ’s work in us. So let’s take a brief look. The Old Testament is a story of God’s plan of redemption for a world that went wrong because of sin. He chose the nation of Israel and blessed them to be a blessing to all nations. Ultimately that blessing would be revealed in the form of salvation through the Jewish Messiah. But as we follow this ‘blessed’ nation of Israel, what we see is incredible suffering because of sin and wrong choices. Dysfunctional people and screwed up families abound, but one constant remains – the loyal love and sovereignty of God who is faithful to keep his promises. There are so many Scripture passages that talk about hope. Job, one of the greatest sufferers, and not as a result of wrongdoing, talks about hope many times as he wrestles with God over his misfortune. He never looses hope, and as a result is redeemed out of the suffering. He is the one that said, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25-27, NIV) King David and the other Psalm writers talked about hope all of the time. I spent some time meditating on Psalm 33 when I was going through a time of great trial. I found hope there. (See Meditation on Psalm 33.) But the most powerful statement of hope came from the prophet Jeremiah in the midst of a book called Lamentations. He was pouring out his sorrows over the fall of the nation of Israel to the ruthless army of Babylon and the destruction and desecration of the temple. This was the lowest point in Israel’s history in Biblical times. In the midst of Jeremiah’s lament he says these powerful words of hope. “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. “ (Lam. 3:21-27, NIV) What we see here is a union of three closely related attributes of God’s character. Faith, hope and love. This takes me to Paul’s statement that highlights these three as well. “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1Cor. 13:13, NIV) So these three are the essential elements of the spiritual life. It is interesting that hope is not the greatest – love is. Hope is a result of God’s loyal love which is a display of his faithfulness. And so I want to end my meditation looking at faith and love as the messengers of hope. This is the pattern that we observe in the New Testament as the apostles uncover and teach about the gospel of Jesus Christ. I looked through all of the verses in the New Testament that mention hope. One of the things I noticed right away is that hope is always discussed in the context of the gospel of Christ. Christ didn’t talk about hope much, but instead revealed his power, declared his love and invited people to trust and follow him (faith). As the apostles exercised and taught on faith and love, they became overwhelmed with the hope that resulted. Another observation is that hope is nearly always spoken of in the reality of suffering. It frequently refers to the hope of eternal life (in response to death) and to Christ’s return (in response to all that is wrong finally being made right). I want to briefly look at my favorite passage on hope and demonstrate these things.
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:1-8, NIV)
This passage is the perfect demonstration of the unity of faith, hope and love. It begins and ends with the gospel of Christ and talks about suffering in the middle. There are a couple of things that I notice about hope here. First of all is that hope causes us to rejoice, not only in the glory of God, but ironically, in our sufferings. Second that hope is produced in us as a result of suffering. It isn’t something we need to obtain to make it through suffering. In some profound way, it is a byproduct of suffering. The context here though is important. In the midst of suffering we are not looking at ourselves, instead we are looking to Christ. It is faith in Jesus and confidence in the gospel that inspires and produces hope. The gospel is simply the ‘good news,’ the story of Christ. Either we believe and follow Christ or we don’t. There are immediate and eternal implications of either choice. As for me, I believe and I follow, and thankfully, I have hope in this world, and for eternity. It is interesting in our American form of Christianity that we are consumed with trying to minimize suffering and maximize safety and comfort. The call of Jesus is a call to suffer for the sake of the gospel – to join in Christ’s sufferings so to speak. It is a call to costly obedience, risky trust, humble service and sacrificial giving of ourselves and our resources. It is not a call to the American ideal of prosperity, but instead a call away from it to something much more fulfilling. But we rarely hear that call taught from the pulpits in our churches. Because we are consumed with alleviating suffering or avoiding it all together, we miss the fullness of the hope we were intended to experience in Christ and in the gospel. And we really don’t avoid the suffering anyway. We who follow Christ often try to hide our suffering, we’re ashamed of it probably because we’re ashamed of its source. We ought to instead ‘rejoice’ in it and as a result find hope. This is easy to say and hard to live, but I think it is the Holy Spirit that makes the hard stuff of the life of faith in Christ possible. It is his work in and through us that produces fruit. I end with a challenge to embrace suffering as a means to a deeper trust, a deeper faith, and a deeper hope. We certainly don’t need to go looking for suffering, it will find us. We don’t need to act like we enjoy it either. But we shouldn’t run away from it or be dishonest about it. We must fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, and we must seek to understand and build our confidence in the gospel that saves us and gives us this hope. Lastly, we need to help one another find hope, not shallow hope that everything will get ‘fixed,’ but a deep hope that is produced by suffering and our choice to turn to Christ. I love the picture in the Scripture below about overflowing with hope. This hope will be enough not only for us, but will spill over to others. Lord, may I possess this hope. May we who follow you be identified by this hope that we have and give to others.
“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.” (Rom. 15:13, NIV)