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)
Some people feel hopeless. Big things have gone wrong, other people let you down, you have suffered from broken hearts, broken bodies, and broken promises. Since, “Good news from far away is like cold water to the thirsty,”1 maybe these thoughts will cheer you or other people you know.
Christian hope is expectation that Jesus will do for us all He has promised. It’s not a wish or a “hope so” feeling, but we cling to God’s unshakable certainties when everything is chaotic. Christ doesn’t give us all we think we deserve in this life, but hope in Jesus enables us to hang in there with our faithful Savior, knowing that He hangs on to us. We hang on to Jesus by faith, knowing that He never lets go of us, even on dismal days. Christ helps us to be strong and steadfast, patient and persevering, when things are painful and puzzling. We know that He will rescue us in His way at just the right time. Sometimes this lifeline of hope in Jesus is all that gets us through one hour, one day, or one week and on to the next.2 Christian hope is like a life saver flotation device for our souls. So how do we keep afloat?
1. Hope in Christ grows through careful prayerful Bible meditation. “Everything written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”3 We must keep on putting our confidence in God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and in His written word to us. I have been helped by Larry Crabb’s book, “66 Love Letters: A Conversation with God That Invites You into His Story.” When you feel too discouraged to read the Bible yourself, get someone else to read to you and pray. They will be blessed too!
2. Hope in Christ grows by gravitating to gratitude. “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”4 No matter what bad stuff invades our life, the Lord calls us to appreciate the good He sends us alongside the troubles. Intentional thankfulness is like oxygen for the soul and helps our hope in Jesus expand. Johnson Oatman worked full time in retail and insurance, but also wrote 5,000 Gospel songs. One hymn reminds us: “Count your blessings, name them one by one. Count your many blessings, see what God has done.”
3. Hope in Christ grows in personal worship (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication). Loneliness is a negative state of mind, feeling isolated, feeling something is missing. By contrast, solitude can be used for positive and constructive fellowship with the Lord, basking in His wonderfully satisfying company. J. I. Packer says, “Those who know God best are those who worship Him most, those who look at Him in love longest.” Scripture promises:
Return to me and I will return to you….Come near me and I will come near you….Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest….It is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge.5
No time spent with the Lord is ever wasted, but in times of personal worship, He energizes and equips us to handle everything He providentially assigns us in our work and family.
4. Hope in Christ grows by opting for optimism and optimists. Hope draining information and people surround us, so Jesus calls us to choose life-giving and uplifting thoughts and companions.6 He commands us to avoid people who are lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.7 These joy-suckers drag us down and make it hard to follow Christ and serve Him. The word “optimistic” is not in the Bible, but the concept is prominent. God says that things are always half-full to overflowing for His believers:
We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose….Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.8
5. Hope in Christ grows by finding freedom in God’s forgiveness. Guilt (over our own wrongs) and grudge holding (over others’ wrongs against us) sap our spiritual strength and stamina. No wonder Jesus commands us to pray every day, “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.”9 A clean slate and a clear conscience with the Lord and others allows His spiritual sunshine, moisture, and nutrients to nourish our hope in Him. When we forget about getting back or getting even, we resemble our Heavenly Father, proving ourselves to be His true children. We show that we are recipients of His peace and inheritors of His eternal blessings. But if we are vengeful and unforgiving, maybe we have never really experienced the Lord’s saving grace and mercy ourselves. Please think about that.
6. Hope in Christ grows by loving others. “The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.”10 Hope looks up to Jesus and His loving kindness. That’s the vertical dimension. But then Christ moves us to look around us (horizontal dimension) and show kindness to people in need. In Matthew 25:37-39, Jesus calls us to do six concrete things to show we are His disciples: feed hungry people, give water to thirsty ones, invite in strangers, provide clothes to those in need, look after the sick, and visit offenders in prison. When we do good to others, Jesus bends down to refresh us. Mark Twain got it right: “The best way to cheer up yourself is to cheer up somebody else.”
7. Hope in Christ grows as we focus on His certain return. Titus 2:13 asserts, “We wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” Our Savior really came down into human history 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem and He will really come down again soon to gather His followers and punish all who reject Him. That’s our blessed hope! All other relief is only secondary and temporary. When He returns, Jesus will wipe every tear from our eyes and take away all death, mourning, crying, and pain.11 Martin Luther advised, “Live as if Christ died yesterday, as if He rose this morning, and as if He is coming back tomorrow.” Great advice! That’s the perspective of the whole New Testament.
Closing Thoughts. Try one to practice one or more of these items each day. They can help you make progress in hopefulness. The Bible is an optimistic book. It has a happy ending with Jesus and His people triumphing over evil. All pains and problems will be purged forever when the Lord returns. For those who cling to Christ, Heaven awaits us. And Heaven’s hope now casts its warm glow over our present lives, making even our worst days bearable. Praise the Lord!
Notes: Some ideas adapted and expanded from Sue Patton Thoele, former hospice chaplain and bereavement group leader.
Notes (various translations are used): 1 Proverbs 25:25 TLB. 2 1 Thess 1:3. 3 Rom 15:4. 4 1 Thess 5:16-18. 5 Zech 1:3; James 4:8; Matt 11:28; Psalm 73:8. 6 Deut 30:19, Phil 4:8. 7 2 Tim 3:1-5. 8 Rom 8:28; Josh 1:9. 9 Luke 11:4. 10 Proverbs 11:25. 11 Rev 21:4.