We’re officially in the middle of “the Holidays.” How are you feeling?
Around Christmas time, churches often turn their eyes to the virtues of the advent wreath – hope, love, joy and peace. Here at 5twelve, we’ve decided to focus on the first of these – hope.
“Hope” is a word we throw around a lot, but have you ever just sat and tried to figure out what hope is? In our first sermon of the Gifting Hope series, Jurie set out to define hope. While many of us might think of “hope” as a wish or a dream, the original Greek word used in the Bible can be translated as “a confident expectation.” About a quarter of the times the same Greek word is used in the Bible, it is translated as “trust.”
One of the verses Jurie emphasized during this sermon was Hebrews 10:23–
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.Hebrews 10:23, NKJV
Two things jump out of this verse for me: how I am to hold onto hope, and what I know about God. He is faithful, so I can hold fast to hope.
Before Sunday, I was thinking about how I would define or characterize hope, and it came down to two things – trust and time.
When we talk about having hope, we’re not always referring to having hope in God’s promises. We use it in secular contexts as well. In general, the things that give us hope involve some sort of trust.
My daughter, E, is suffering through chronic headaches – some of which pop up to migraine level. Sitting in the doctor’s office with her a couple of weeks ago, we were answering hundreds of questions about her symptoms, her diagnoses, the testing that had already been done, and treatments that have (and haven’t) helped her feel better. Then the doctor began to explain recommendations for ongoing treatment and prognosis for the efficacy of those treatments.
As I listened to the doctor, I realized that I trusted what she was telling me. Why? We’d only just met! Well, because she has both training and experience beyond my own. Some of what she was saying did touch upon things in my own experience, and those aspects aligned with my existing knowledge, lending more credence to her observations and recommendations.
As E caught my eye, I could see that she was looking to me to see whether I agreed with the doctor’s recommendations. E doesn’t have my years of experience with medical interventions into chronic pain. Very little of this sounded familiar to her, and some of it probably sounded a little scary. Rather than trusting the doctor straightaway, she was looking to me and relying on my experience to establish her trust.
This is where the timebound component of hope comes in. Holding fast to hope often involves the ability to look back on our past experiences and say, “Yes, this fits.” Based on my finite past, I was able to predict with some level of confidence that the doctor’s “promises” about the future would hold true. That level of confidence parallels my level of hope that E’s pain will improve as a result of the prescribed treatments.
Still, hope in my own experience or a doctor’s expertise are faint. When the doctor left the room for a moment, I asked E if she was doing OK. She said, “Yeah, I’m just going to have to rely on my faith here.” E knows that the doctor’s expertise and my experience are both useful and helpful, but ultimately, God is the Healer who will care for her through this process.
One of the hardest aspects of hope isn’t that our pasts are short, because we can often rely on the experience of others to establish that God keeps His promises. Our problem is that we lack the vision to predict what God will do in the future, how God could possibly get us from point A to point B, or how long the journey will take.
Consider this promise:
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.Romans 8:28
For now, let’s assume that you love God and have heard and heeded His call. In our short-sighted human nature, we read this verse and think, “There’s no way that this tragedy or that ailment could possibly lead to my good.” But consider this promise from Jesus:
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”John 16:33, NIV
Jesus promised you that you would have trouble in this world. Let that sink in. But we’re told that all things work together for good! How can it be good for me to have trouble?!
I think we often (or usually) take God’s promises out of context — their scriptural context, their historical/cultural context, the context of who God is, and the context of history as a whole. God’s promise that all things work together for good can’t be the only promise we lean into; we also have to understand that in this world we will have trouble.
From these two promises, I can conclude two things: in the end, my troubles are part of the story God is telling as He shapes my character for good. And… God’s not done telling that story. Like Veruca Salt in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” we cry, “I want it now!” and when God doesn’t deliver the goods now, we decide that He’s not keeping promises. We lose hope so easily!
But God is outside time. Consider the second promise in John 16:33, “…But take heart! I have overcome the world.” When I read that sentence, I feel like Jesus needed a grammar lesson. “Jesus, didn’t you mean, ‘I will overcome the world when I die on the cross,’ or ‘I will overcome the world when I return’?” But I guess Jesus probably knew what he was saying and really did mean, “I have overcome the world.”
I don’t believe that Jesus makes bad things happen to us just to shape our character, nor do I believe that He fails to keep His promises. I believe that we live in a fallen world, and that bad things are bound to happen, but that Jesus won’t let evil have the final word.
You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.Genesis 50:20, NIV
Jesus thwarts the plans of the enemy by turning all of Satan’s plans against him. He takes our troubles and uses them to shape us and to bless the world through us. Even now, before He has returned, He is turning things for good. He has overcome the world. Just because we don’t see it yet doesn’t mean He can’t see it.
On the way home from the doctor, E was talking about various message boards and online threads she follows – ones about neurodiversity, chronic conditions, and adaptive technology. She said, “Sometimes someone will post about how discouraged they are by their diagnosis, or by people not understanding their condition, or by the lack of improvement they’re getting from treatment. I don’t comment on social media very often, but when I see people being discouraged like that, I just drop in a line saying, ‘Hang in there, you’re doing great. Stay strong; we’re all cheering you on.’ I feel like that’s my purpose right now – just to encourage people going through this stuff because I know how hard it is, and nobody should have to go through it alone.”
So when you think about hope, or when you start feeling your hope slipping away, draw near to the Lord and ask Him to give you his perspective. How is God using you and your troubles to change (to overcome) the world around you? How is He using your troubles for good? Take heart, friend; hold fast to hope. He has overcome the world.
Do you have a story of life change? We would love to hear it. Let us hear how God is transforming your life and the lives of those around you through the power of Christ. Drop us a line at [email protected] or submit a form using the button below! We’ll get in touch and work with you to share your story.