Is your heart singing a chirpy little song these days? I hope so. As the new year breaks upon us, hope rises eternal in the human heart. We sail in on the roaring tide of ebullient high spirits, ready to take on all challenges. Our resolutions rise in an optimistic frame of mind, believing that this year will be different. This year, we will make a difference. As we venture deeper into our schedules, unfortunately, resolutions can fade away, promises malfunction, and expectations pall in the unrelenting glare of our actual realities. Hope gets battered and broken.
I’ve been thinking a lot about hope recently. When you’ve sat in humble circumstances on the ash-heap for as long as I have, despair becomes your most faithful companion. Expectation is too far too high maintenance and risky a partner. I realized, with surprise one day, that I was quite lacking in hope. Since I’m striving away to be a spiritual giant in my generation, I found that little fact more than a little disconcerting. When you’re praying your little heart out, and not seeing the blessings that seem to flow to others naturally, hope dies, without you even realizing it. I’m finding out that we can receive the concepts of faith and grace in sweeping, theological models, be utterly convinced of their truths, be thoroughly correct in our knowledge, and yet, be profoundly devoid of real, visceral, hope. Somewhere, there’s a serious disconnect. How can one have faith, but no hope?
Faith and hope are birth twins; fraternal, not identical. Although often used interchangeably even in Scripture, these two must not be confused. Faith is theological in the truest sense of the word; it grasps the nature of God. Hope, however, is personal; it takes all the great truths of faith and holds them to the heart, saying ‘God is going to do this for me’. That’s a whole different ballgame, my little buckaroo. It’s the difference between the merely religious, and the authentically spiritual.
When life is bashing you around, you realize hope is elusive stuff. Where does it actually come from? Describing hope is even more difficult, but we are certainly aware when we are lacking in it. A quick google defines it as ‘A feeling of expectation or desire for a certain thing to happen’…or…’a feeling of trust’. That’s still mighty nebulous. We do not produce hope, although we seem to have an unlimited capacity for it. Like the parable of the seed and the sower, hope comes from God, but there’s different human heart soil it can fall on. It’s part of our soulish potentiality, which is why we can be fooled by our own carnality. If you are living in the fantasy of your own success and ability to control the future, you may feel extremely hopeful in the thin trickle of that vain delusion. This hope is rooted in the favorability of circumstances, but life can turn on a dime. We require something far more substantial.
As I do a concerted, scriptural search for the fountain of hope, I’m amazed at how rare the source is. You actually need a spiritual ‘Indiana Jones’ anointing for the hunt. It’s difficult to find, and the enemies of hope are numerously, and notoriously, vicious, stalking around with a view to a kill. Searching for this extraordinary hoard is like taking on the most hazardous of expeditions. Blessedly, the treasure-map to hope is found in Romans 5:1-5: “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand,and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
Interesting, isn’t it, the perilous, mountain-goat trail to hope? This is definitely the narrow, compressed path. Faith (belief in God) gets us started on the journey to a much more focused, personal intimacy. We travel through the ‘shadow of death’ territory of tribulation, perseverance, experience/character/testing in order to arrive at a completely unlikely destination: Hope. Run that by me one more time…where? Hope. How can all life’s unrelenting contrariness actually bring us the impossible? These conditions normally produce disillusionment and considerable bitterness, so the great secret to their transformation becomes unspeakably precious. Despite antagonistic circumstances, a person filled with the love of God, and the in-working of the Holy Spirit, will prevail. Within them, the elusive elixir of hope is produced. You cannot even begin to dissect that particular alchemy. It’s the mystery of Godliness.
Hope, in its redeemed form, is the conviction that life is worth living, that we are in the center of God’s will for us, where things are moving along in His presence with purpose. Certainly, inevitably, and indubitably, they are going to produce for, and in, us, exactly what is promised. Amen and Amen. This divinely produced virtue goes down deep, and anchors the soul (Hebrews 6:16-19). It touches bottom. Not only does this sacred expectation moor us within our own unique identity and destiny, it steadies us on the vast, churning sea of human existence. Despite cultural and social climates, tyrants or traitors and mountains of difficulty, we can count on the Holy Spirit flooding us with an unlimited amount of this balm so critical to human life. He’s our consolation. He’s our Hope. 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. Rom 15:13
I have a much better grasp on this equation, so I have faith I’m going to be more hopeful this year! (Ha ha!) However, I confess, I’m also hanging on to this; “Where there’s tea, there’s hope”! Arthur Wing Pinero