We all need hope. The three greatest qualities of a Christian are surely Faith, Hope, and Love. They are also the three greatest needs in the world today.
We can best define love as unconditional self-giving, which is the opposite of the self-serving greed that drives our world system. One way of understanding faith is that it is complete trust and confidence in God. This is something greatly lacking in the world and, sadly, in much of the church where it has been replaced with faith in faith, or faith in wealth, or science, or self.
A good way of understanding hope is that it is an expectation of future good, light shining in a dark place and an anchor for the soul.
For many of us, the light of hope has become small and uncertain. Our current politics, economy, the levels of violence, and our personal stress weigh more towards hopelessness than hope. The conditions in the Apostle Paul’s day were also violent and stressful yet this is what he wrote to the Christians in Rome: ‘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’ (Romans 15:13). Here he identifies God as the source of hope, the one who gives us hope. But, hope in what?
Our Eternal Hope
Above all else, the hope that God gives to those who trust in him is eternal life. No matter what happens to us here and now, we have the expectation of continued life in the presence of the Lord. Paul expressed this in his letter to Titus as follows: ‘When the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life’ (Titus 3:4-8).
Hope for Today
However, God also provides hope for here and now. But what is the hope we have for the here and now?
- We believe that Jesus is always with those who are born again of His spirit. Matthew 28:20 records the Lord’s assurance to His disciples; “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
- Our hope is that, because of his presence in our lives, ‘We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose’ (Romans 8:28-29).
- Our hope is based on the fact that we trust Jesus completely. John 4:1 has, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, you trust in God, trust also in me.” So we have the hope of his ongoing presence with us, the expectation that he works in and through us to achieve the highest good, and we hope because we trust him. Therefore, we can have the joy and peace of which Paul writes.
Romans 15:13 again: ‘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’.
Joy is a calm delight, and Peace is quietness, rest, oneness with God, with others, and with life in general. These are the results of placing our hope in God, of believing him and trusting him.
When Joy and Peace are Missing
I have been going through a period where my level of joy and peace has been low. Among other things on my mind, the condition of our nation seeks to rob me of joy and peace. But many folk I know of have, in addition, very difficult personal circumstances, financial problems, relationship breakdowns, and so on. However, all of us need to take to heart Paul’s words in chapter 14 vs 17 of Romans: ‘For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.’
Now, if this does not describe our current reality, then what should we do about it? Here are two things that I believe we should and can do to re-anchor our souls. Firstly, spend more time with the Lord in Bible and prayer dialogue. And I do mean ‘dialogue’, which is talking to him in prayer and reading the scriptures with an openness to his talking back to us. Secondly, we should cry out to him to fill us again with the sense of his presence and the Holy Spirit, and expect him to do just this. Luke 11:13 “If you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” These seem so obvious and simple, but it is often the obvious that we do not see and the simple that we do not do.
However, the benefits of hope should not be restricted to our own joy and peace, because others are supposed to benefit as well. God expects us to overflow with hope to others. Hope is a bright light we are to shine into the darkness that engulfs so many fellow believers. Many are overcome by the darkness of the world today. Perhaps the deepest darkness engulfs those who have hoped in medicine, or advice, other people, or even in their own ideas of what God should do for them. Proverbs 13:17 states that ‘Hope deferred makes the heart sick.’ Do you think we can just say to these people, “It will come right”, or “you will soon be out of pain”, or “you will get a job”, or “in time your broken heart will heal”? Is this the hope we are to offer them, the light we shine into their darkness? No, surely not! Rather, what we can and should do is shine a light focused not on their human expectations or fallible possible solutions, but on Jesus. Show them Jesus in their future, Jesus with them now, and Jesus working good in all things.
Three New Questions
As the face of Jesus our true hope comes into focus, then the questions so often asked in difficult times fade and three new questions form:
How can my current condition help me to know Jesus better?
How can this help me to become more like him? and
How can I use this to help others to know and become like him?
Hope for Unbelievers
However, we also need to shine the light of hope into the lives of those who are not yet believers in Jesus Christ. Ephesians 2:12 describes the condition of the unbeliever as ‘without hope and without God in the world.’ The Apostle Peter also wrote, ‘in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.’ (1 Peter 3:15-16). The world needs light, our nations need the light of hope, and Jesus said that we are the light of the world because we know the source of light. the Lord Jesus Christ himself!
A Work of the Holy Spirit
Now, while Jesus is the object of our hope, the Romans 15 text makes it clear that the overflowing of our hope is a work of the Holy Spirit. When we, as individuals, overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit, we call it renewal. When the church on mass overflows with hope in Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit, we call it… revival! And what South Africa, and indeed the world needs now more than anything else, is true revival!
‘May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word’ (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17).