What is it that you are hoping for? Perhaps a promotion at work, a return to school, an upturn in business or something as simple as a date for a vaccine? It has been too long since we have seen our families and for too long I have been preaching in an empty room. We long to be together again to build each other up. For when emergency measures take on a feeling of permanence, they deprive us of what God intends for the church and the fellowship that we all long for.
Hope in an earthly sense is a positive expectation of coming circumstances or events. As human beings, we thrive on hope. We need hope and yet in this life we often find ourselves in situations that look and feel hopeless.
What then can we do to maintain our hope in Christ, when at the best of times, the world discourages it?
The Bible specifically says that certain thing will strengthen our hope: things like:
- Studying Scripture,
- Facilitating the work of God in our lives
- Recognizing the presence of God in our lives
- And enduring trials.
Lets take a look at each of these to see what we can do to strengthen our hope in these troublesome times.
Rom 15:4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
We don’t have to look very into scripture to find God’s people in desperate straits. They were at times completely hopeless , seemingly out of options and with no clear way of escape. In their senior years, the time was long past for Abraham and Sarah to hope for a child. The descendants of Jacob had no hope of freeing themselves from slavery in Egypt. Without God’s help, Gideon had no hope of defeating the Midianites. And in Hezekiah’s day when Jerusalem was besieged by the armies of Sennacherib, the people of that city lost hope. The unfaithful nation of Judah could not hope to escape Babylonian exile nor expect one day to return from captivity. In each of these cases, and left to their devices, God’s people had no hope. Yet in each and every situation, it was God who provided hope. That was was impossible for men was possible for God and for those who trusted in Him.
Today the promises of God still offer hope and his words are as secure as ever. Peter shed light on this in his second epistle when he wrote:
“For when he received honour and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit”. II Pet 1:17-21
True Biblical ‘hope’ is only found in things which are absolutely certain. Peter makes it clear that it is the lamp of God’s word which gives us that certainty. It reminds us, especially in our darkest moments, that God is always with us and that his promises are secure. This is what the song writer had in mind when he wrote “Give me the Bible when my heart is broken, When sin and grief have filled my soul with fear; Give me the precious words by Jesus spoken, Hold up faiths lamp to show my Saviour near.”
The redemptive work of God in History especially through Christ:
“O you hope of Israel, its saviour in time of trouble. Jeremiah further writes in Lamentation 3:23-24 “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”” Jeremiah 14:8
Once again let me point out that hope is empty when it’s placed in that which is uncertain. Hope in God is always sure because his Love never ceases.
Jeremiah wrote these words as Jerusalem lay in ruin, it’s wisest and best were taken captive and those who remained were scattered. He witnessed the destruction of the city and suffered the loss of both family and friends. On the face of it, it might have seemed that God was not with him and was perhaps even against him. Yet God had revealed to him that this was not so. God’s assurance enabled him to see through the pain and grief and allowed him to express with confidence that “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end”
As a man of God, Jeremiah knew God. He knew that God does not forsake his people. Even when God punishes his people, He is the also the one who keeps hope alive. He keeps the door open so that his people might return from the darkness of their sin to the light of God’s ways.
As we consider God’s great love and mercy we remember that Peter wrote in I Peter 1:3
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,” and then in verse 21 “who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.”
If it was hard for Jeremiah to trust God while standing in the ruins of Jerusalem, imagine how hard it was for the followers of Jesus to hope in him whom they saw arrested, tried and crucified. Even Thomas who had previously demonstrated such great faith, saying “let us go and die with him”, could not later believe that the cross was God’s plan.
It is one thing to question our hope at those times when we fail God. The remedy is for us to return to God. But when it seems that God has failed, to whom can God turn for hope? When Jesus died on the cross, and it seemed that God had failed, he actually had not. Christ rose victorious over death having already conquered sin. Once Thomas understood this, his hope came alive again.
What we are saying then is that we ought always place our Hope in our Heavenly Father. We do this, knowing that Satan will tempt us to to place our hope in something or someone else. So it was with ancient Israel who from time to time put it’s hope military force and political alliances.
Just like them, we are reminded not to make the things of this world, the things in which we hope. Things like our jobs, our economy, our political party or it’s leaders. affiliation. Salvation is not available through the ballot box. There is no cause as great or outcome as noble as the salvation of the world. If we spend our time on the priorities of our society, we forfeit that time to the cause of Christ. Saving the whales, preserving ice bergs for polar bears and lowering our carbon footprint all pale by comparison.
We live in a fallen world which desperately needs salvation. Time is of the essence as our world turns, and each one of us has only so much of it. One day time will run out, and before it does, it will likely run out for us. What then will we have contributed to God’s efforts to spread the gospel? God will never disappoint anyone who puts their hope and trust in Him…for “there is salvation in no one else” Acts 4:12.
The Presence of God in our lives
God lives within each of us in the person of his Holy Spirit . This brings us into fellowship with Christ.
…“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.” Rom 5:5
Often we continue to see ourselves as weak, foolish and sinful, long after God has forgiven our sins and strengthened us in our inner man through His Spirit. We remember our former lives and live in their shadow. But Jesus wants us to understand who we have become once united with Him.
For that reason, when writing to Christians who were afraid and facing persecution, the apostle Peter wanted them to know that “you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house to be a Holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. You who think you are nothing God dwells in you and in that you can find great hope”.
Paul echoed that thought when he wrote: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. Romans 15:13
And again in Col 1:27 “To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
The presence of the Spirit of Christ in our lives is first proof that we have been made perfect as a result of God’s plan. We have been forgiven, we are sanctified and God dwells within. Our hope then is well placed. We trust that the fellowship into which God has brought us with Himself is one that He will cause to endure into eternity.
Endurance in Trials
Rom 5:3-4 “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.”
Like anything that we need to learn, we learn hope by practising our faith. Doing so in good times gets us ready for difficult ones. As the apostle Paul wrote in Rom 12:1-2 …“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.”
Our hope is strengthened when we read about the faithfulness of God toward his people Israel. It gives us reason to believe that God is also at work in our lives, though it is more easily seen in hindsight. In one such moment, the apostle Paul wrote that God was the one who had made him adequate to meet all of the ministry challenges in his life. He had learned to trust God in all circumstances as God had come through for him without fail. (Phil 4:11b-13)
When I am doing rope stuff I know the rope will hold and that my equipment will do what it’s meant to do because I have done it before. In the same way we learn to trust God by taking those first steps of faith and learning that God can carry us through.
James 1:2-4 says a very similar thing “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Certain difficult and trying events in our lives are called trials for a reason. They put us to the test for the purpose of strengthening us and helping us to grow. One success leads to another, so that even when the trials get harder, overcoming them does not.
These are difficult times. They demand our time, our energy, our finances, and emotions. How tempting it is to look for help in all the wrong places. Our only hope is the hope that comes from God and is placed in God. If you have never done that, I urge you to repent and to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins and then you will learn what real hope is.
I pray that the world will come to a knowledge of God and put their hope in Him. And I pray for those of us who have already done so. That we might remain faithful to the end, persisting in hardship, enduring in hope, firm in our faith until faith becomes sight. This we can do with help of God’s Spirit and the guidance of God’s word. Our hope comes from above and it will endure.