The subject of hope has come up more than a few times this week, which usually leads me to believe God is up to something. Well, of course he’s up to something…he’s God. Anyway, hope is an emotionally-charged word for some people. It has been for me. I’ve had a sort of love/hate relationship with it over the years.
I’ve loved hope because it’s inspiring, motivating, positive, and upbeat. You can wear it on a t-shirt and feel good about yourself and the message you’re spreading. It points to something bigger and better out there. It points to God. He’s the author of hope, after all. But then there’s the other side of the coin. If you asked me to name the top negative association I have with hope, it would be disappointment. I don’t know if there’s anything so bitterly disappointing as not seeing what you’ve hoped for come to pass. Yet Paul boldly tells the Romans, “hope does not disappoint.” (Rom. 5:5 NET) I don’t know about that, Paul. My experiences tell me otherwise.
I guess a lot of it depends on what it is you’re hoping for. Most of us can handle not getting the job or promotion we wanted, or that gift we hinted at but didn’t receive. But often when our hopes involve other people, that’s when it all becomes a challenge that can make or break us. One of my friends described it as a risk, something in which we become deeply invested. Wishing just isn’t as risky as hoping is, because what we wish for seems inherently out of reach. Not so with hope. We engage our hearts with it and it occupies a sacred place in our thoughts because we believe it could happen. It certainly could happen with God, right?
And so, what about those people-centered hopes? What about those broken relationships you want restored? What about that baby or that spouse you have prayed for with every fiber of your being? Or your children’s salvation? These are the types of hopes we either dare not entertain, or that we hold onto with such tenacity that it threatens to undo us if we don’t see it happen.
How can we hope in the face of disappointment? What if what we want is dependent upon another person’s free will and choice?
Does the Word of God ever not come to pass?
These are the hard questions. Some of them, anyway. You can easily add more–like, “can I even believe what God has promised me personally?” I have asked every one of these questions multiple times, many times in anger at the brink of despair. My heart has been broken over and over again by disappointment, and yet, I’ve reached a place of peace. A sense of joy has taken root. And a new hope is emerging.
I’m not here claiming I have the answers to those questions, but I will share what I have learned about hope. And to be honest, I have a love/hate relationship with what I have learned, too.
- When the Bible uses the Hebrew and Greek words translated into English as ‘hope’ (qavah and hupomeno), those words can also mean trust and (even worse) wait. I know–I hate waiting, too. But this kind of waiting (biblical hope), is a faith-filled expectation. We wait for and trust in what we know we can expect, based on past experiences.
- Which leads me to this: it matters what we place our hope in. What we trust in. What we sign on to wait for. Those things can’t be things. They can’t be outcomes. Our hope must be in God alone. It must be in who he says he is, and in what he says he has done and will do. The Word of God is inextricable from God himself. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1).
- That ‘knowing-who-God-is’ part is critical. We must be convinced of his goodness, his mercy, his faithfulness, and his love. FOR US. TOWARD US. We must believe that his plans for us are not only 100% good, but far better than we could ever dream of for ourselves. This is why we need to lean so heavily on his Word–because when we lean on it, we lean on him. And he can be trusted. Our hope is in him.
We can trust God because he cannot lie and therefore, he cannot disappoint us–which is exactly what Paul was getting at.
The process of putting our hope (our trust, our waiting) in God is not an easy one. It’s surrendering to him our deep need for control, even the things over which we have no control anyway. For me, it’s been like prying open each finger on both my tightly clenched fists, giving over the things I have hoped for. Letting go is hard, and there’s been some grief in that process. But I’m not just letting those hopes float away like a lost balloon–I’m handing them to my Father who loves me. He knows what I want and how much I want them. He treasures them in his heart just as I have treasured them in mine. But unlike me, he has the ability to sort it all out and do what is best for everyone.
He has a grand master plan for me (and for the ones I love) that will amaze us all when he unveils it.
And it’s in knowing this that I have found that place of peace and sense of joy. Like I said, a new hope is emerging. It’s my real hope in him, one that will never disappoint me.