Hope is not merely a religious word for a theological concept, but an internalized, deep conviction developed over time, just like many other convictions that have grown on us. For example, we may develop a deep appreciation for someone when we observe how helpful she is to us. The appreciation is a conviction that wasn’t there before, even though the word “appreciation” has long been a part of our vocabulary. So we can know what hope means without really possessing it.
Hope is a personal, positive outlook for our future. It is an assurance that all will be well, even when present circumstances say otherwise. Hope sees the long term ahead and does not dwell on the short term. No matter how bad things may seem now, hope is sure that all will work out for the best in the long run.
Hope is evidence that we are trusting God to bring us to a terrific future, no matter what we are undergoing in the present. Our circumstances are no longer defining us; we are centered on God and His integrity.
Our hope is based on the resurrection of Jesus Christ: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).
Jesus’ resurrection means that we are no longer tied to this present life. No matter how events and people hurt us in this world, their duration is brief when compared to the eternity stretched before us in the new heavens and new earth to come, in which there will be no more sin or death under the reign of Jesus.
People say, “This too shall pass.” We can weather the storm when we know it will end with sunny skies in the end. This is the perspective of hope, and Jesus is the basis of true hope.
Do you have this hope? If you customarily greet difficult circumstances with pessimism, swearing, complaints, discouragement, or depression, then probably not. If you habitually respond to tough times by approaching with God with pleadings, threats, or deal-making, then probably not. Those with hope don’t need to resort to these devices because the issue has already been settled: Jesus will take care of us. Jesus will win in the end.
Be careful — just as faith and other words are used differently than their biblical counterpoint in secular usage, so also is hope in popular usage different than in the Bible. “I hope so” is an expression of uncertainty. That’s very different from the biblical definition of complete confidence for the future. There is no particular character development to obtain the secular, wishful version of hope, is there? We already identify with doubts — no one needs to teach us this.
Romans chapter five shows us that hope is an attitude built up in the character as the result of a process. It is something God develops in us over a period of time. When we learn our lessons, then we develop hope. When we don’t, then hope is deferred until we get back on track. Hope is not a default setting in Christians; we must learn and internalize it.
Since biblical hope is the result of a process, how do we develop it? Romans 5:3-5 gives us God’s roadmap: “And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.”
In short, first we experience difficulties of all kinds, and develop patience as we learn that God works out things on His timetable, not ours. Through enough trials, we gain experience of how God works. When we find God trustworthy to follow through in our lives, we learn to leave more and more in His hands, and hope for the future is born. So when we enter into the next trial, our experience of God’s presence in the last one tells us that we can trust God for this trial too. Eventually, based on what we know of God’s love and care in our lives, we can leave the future safely in His hands.
Can we develop hope during fair weather? Possibly; but it will be tested in hard times. Fair-weather Christians are like chocolate soldiers — they melt when the heat is turned up. They seem to have everything together on the outside, but when they are thrust out of their comfort zone, their true traits appear.
Hope is intimately bound up with what we learn of God in hard times. (Hint: if we cannot thank God for the trial, then we have the wrong perspective of God and the trial.) We must make the effort to consider what God has said about Himself and adjust to His perspective of the trial.
We can see something of the development of hope in the exodus of the Israelites. God rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. He single-handedly destroyed the enemy that was pursuing them. He fed them daily with bread so that they never went without food. He gave them water, even meat from quail, to fill them. Their shoes never wore out.
Yet out of all the hundreds of thousands of adults in the group, only two men perceived God’s faithfulness and had hope.
We see this when the Israelites neared the Promised Land and sent in spies to check it out. When the majority gave negative reports, the people revolted. Only two men had the perspective that as God had helped them in their wilderness travels, so He would help them fight their battles in the Promised Land as well, even if there were giants.
Through their hardships in the wilderness, they learned that God could take care of them. They were excited about what God was going to do in the Promised Land. What lessons are you learning? What attitude do you have for the future?
Scripture tells us to give thanks in everything. If we habitually look on the negative, then we are in effect saying that we cannot trust the promises, and by extension, cannot trust in the God who made those promises. How can we have hope for the future if we cannot trust God to get us through today? In addition, if the future kingdom of God is vague in our minds, then how can we look forward to it?
Again, hope takes time to develop. Romans 15:4 implies that it is fruit to cultivate through personal study of the scriptures: “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.”
This passage gives us a hint on how we grow in hope. When we go through our trials, we are to read of the troubles of others in the Bible (such as with the story of the exodus) and see how God prevailed with them. Through these true accounts of God working in the lives of ordinary men and women in the OT, we comfort ourselves to the point of hope. We learn of the working of God and what our expectations should be. Instead of drawing conclusions from our experiences, as is the norm, we instead let the Word interpret our experiences so that we see things from God’s viewpoint. As often as we feel panic and fear arise over our circumstances, so often are we to delve into similar events in the Word to get our eyes back on Jesus. How important it is to familiarize ourselves with these stories by reading through the OT on a regular basis!
“Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost” (Romans 15:13).
Why settle for a dictionary definition when you can have the real thing? Hope is not to be merely one of many beliefs, but a doubt-busting reality based on God’s presence at work in your life.