Summary: True, lasting hope comes not from our circumstances, nor does it come from within ourselves. It comes from God.
As a pastor, one of the things I’m called upon to do is to comfort those who are going through difficult circumstances. At times of suffering or crisis, people typically look to the minister for support and encouragement. And so, when tragedy strikes, or the storms of life become overwhelming, or someone has simply come to the end of their rope, whether it’s two in the afternoon or two in the morning, I’m often the one who gets the call. When that happens, I have to have something to offer the person on the other end of the line. Something more substantial than just vague reassurances that everything is going to work out. Because, as you know if you live in the real world, sometimes things don’t work out. The husband doesn’t return. The job offer never comes. The baby miscarries. The son or daughter keeps doing drugs. The biopsy comes back positive.
Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. I consider it an honor and a privilege to be invited into people’s lives at times like these. If anything, people are often too reluctant too ask for help. And I’m very aware that most of the time, it isn’t because of my great wisdom, or insight, or holiness that I’ve gotten the call. It’s just because I’m the pastor, and they need a word from the Lord. They want reassurance that God still loves them, that what has happened in their life isn’t some huge cosmic mistake. They want to hear, in a way they can understand and accept, that what they’re going through makes sense somehow, that it’s not just random suffering, but that it’s part of God’s good, and wise, and perfect plan for them. They want to believe, and they want to trust, but they need a little help. They need someone to give them a hand up, someone to listen, someone to be with them while they gather the strength they need to go on. Most of all, what they want and need is hope.
I share this with you, not so you can feel sorry for me. On the contrary, there is nothing I would rather be doing, literally nothing I can imagine doing, other than the work of the ministry. In spite of the occasional heartache and disappointment, it’s deeply satisfying to be a part of what God is doing in people’s lives. No, the reason I share all this is because I’m not the only one who is faced with these kinds of situations. Over time, every single person in this room will be in that same place. Someday, you will be standing at the bedside of a co-worker dying of cancer. Or late some evening, you’ll pick up the phone to hear your sister-in-law telling you that their baby has been diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome. Or you’ll be attending the funeral of one of your parents, and your brothers and sisters will all be looking to you to say something to help them process their grief, because you’re the only one there who has any religious faith. Or you’ll be sitting in a home Bible study, and someone in the group will reveal that they’ve just been laid off. When that happens, you need to be able to offer encouragement, and comfort, and hope. And of course, not only will we all be called upon to give comfort, but we will also need it ourselves. And so this is not a question of interest only to members of the clergy. It affects all of us. Where do we find hope, for ourselves and for those we’re seeking to help? Where do we find hope, when our circumstances seem hopeless? What assurances can we legitimately give to people who are suffering? What hope can we really hold on to?