Summary: How do we keep our hope alive, even after weeks, and months, and years of disappointment?
This morning, we continue looking at the topic of "hope". Over the past two weeks, we’ve seen that a Christian hope isn’t just a wish or a desire, but a settled confidence in God and in His promises. Christian hope is a continuing reliance upon God’s wisdom, and love, and power. What distinguishes our hope from those without faith is that instead of just hoping for something, our hope is in someone. Someone who loves and cares for us. Someone whose wisdom and understanding is far beyond ours. Someone who has the power to accomplish whatever He pleases, both in our lives and in the world. Our hope is in God. As the Psalmist writes:
"No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame. . . Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long. . . May integrity and uprightness protect me, because my hope is in you." -- Psalm 25:3, 5, 21
So whether or not we obtain the things we desire, we trust that God will always do for us what is right, and good, and best. And even when this life is over, our hope doesn’t end. Because we know and are convinced that God’s promises will all be fulfilled -- promises of resurrection, and forgiveness of sins, and eternal life in Jesus Christ. That’s our ultimate hope.
But there’s a problem. In this world, our hope is constantly under attack. So it has to be nourished and strengthened. Hope isn’t automatic by any means; it doesn’t just happen. On the contrary, it’s something we have to make an effort to maintain. Otherwise, over time it will atrophy, it will diminish to the point that it can’t support us; it will fail us when the trials come. And so to keep that from happening, what I’m going to do now is give you some tools that you can use to keep your hope strong. The question we’re going to answer is this: How do we keep hope alive? How do we keep hope from slipping away?
Let’s begin with this question: what is the major enemy of hope in our lives? What is the one thing that, more than any other, threatens to weaken our hope? You could suggest all kinds of things -- discouragement, suffering; even plain old weariness, just mental, and physical and spiritual exhaustion. But the most potent adversary of hope is simply the passage of time. The waiting that constantly chips away at our hope, day by day, month by month, year by year. As Proverbs 13:12 so eloquently puts it, "Hope deferred makes the heart sick". And that’s true, isn’t it?
For example, a wife hoping for her husband to come to faith. Putting up with his cutting remarks about how foolish her religion is, enduring his tirades about "hypocrites" and "holier than thou" church people. Doing her best to be a good Christian example, even though she knows she falls short. Wondering if God is ever going to answer her prayers for his salvation. And going through all of this day after day, month after month, year after year, with no sign of change, feeling her hope slowly vanishing.
Or a single man hoping for a wife. Dealing with the loneliness; battling the fear that perhaps the right one never will come along. Watching the "field" of potential candidates getting smaller and smaller as the months and years pass.
Or a married couple, hoping for a child, but unable to conceive. Months and years of doctors, and tests, and medications, and charts, and schedules, and still no baby.
Or a set of grieving parents, watching the self-destructive choices their teenage son is making, waiting for him to finally wake up, to see what’s happening and change his life, get some new friends, stop doing drugs, get serious about school. But as time goes on, and none of those things are happening, their hopes for their son to have a happy and fulfilling life are fading away.
You could add dozens of other examples. Waiting for a promotion at work that never seems to come. Waiting for a chronic illness to clear up. Waiting for your father to tell you, just once, that he’s proud of you. Waiting, waiting, waiting. How do we keep our hopes from eroding over time, under the constant drip, drip, drip of doubts and disappointments?
First of all, we have to understand that with God, a delay in response is no indication that He won’t answer. When God’s response to our prayers is delayed, even for months or years, it doesn’t mean that He won’t eventually grant our request. I know that’s a double negative, so let me put it another way, because it’s important. The passage of time, in and of itself, tells us nothing about how God is going to respond to our prayers. Now, that’s a difficult concept for us to grasp, because it’s not the way other people operate. If you ask another person to do something, and nothing happens, and nothing happens, and nothing happens, then after a while it probably means nothing is going to happen. They’re not going to do it. And the more time that passes, the more unlikely it is that they are going to grant your request. Why? Because people forget. They get distracted. They change their minds and don’t bother to tell you. They put it off and hope you’ll forget about it.