Probably few days go by without you using the word hope.
“I hope we’re on time.”
“I hope it doesn’t rain.”
“I hope it’s not cancer.”
“I hope she’ll understand.”
“I hope he’ll be okay.”
“I hope he isn’t angry.”
“I hope God hears this.”
“I hope he loves me.”
From the smallest concerns to the grandest ones, our lives are shaped, directed, motivated, and frustrated by hope. Everyone hopes. Everyone hooks their hope to something or someone. Everyone hopes their hope will come through for them. No one ever purposely hopes in what is hopeless. Everyone longs for hope that is sure. Everyone gets up in the morning motivated by hope of some kind or paralyzed by hopelessness of some kind.
For all of us, hoping is so natural and frequent that we lose sight of how significant it is in shaping what we do, how we do it, and how we feel in the process. Yet even though it’s natural and we do it all the time, hope is painfully elusive for many of us.
Unraveling What Hope Is
It’s important, first, to understand what hope is. Hope always has three elements: desire, object, and expectation.
“The Bible is a narrative of hope shattered and hope restored.”
Hope is always fueled by some form of desire. It may be the desire to be loved, to be cared for, to be protected, to be understood, to be provided for, to be accepted, to experience comfort or pleasure, to have control, to be forgiven — the list could go on and on. Also, hope always has an object. I look to someone or something to satisfy my desire. Lastly, hope carries an expectation of when, how, and where the person or thing in which I have placed my hope will deliver what I have hoped for.
Almost every day, you entrust your smallest and largest longings into the hands of something or someone with the hope that your longings will be satisfied. To be human is to hope.
How God Defines Hope
The language and drama of hope is splashed all over the pages of Scripture. The Bible is a narrative of hope shattered and hope restored, and in telling its hope story, the Bible speaks to each of the three elements of hope.
Scripture has much to say about our longings, that is, the desires that animate us and shape our lives. It tells us what to love and what to hate, what to desire and what to forsake, and what is good for us and what will harm us. Much of the drama of hope in our lives comes not because we don’t get what we hoped for, but because we spend so much of our time hoping for the wrong things.
Do you live with singleness of hope? Is your life shaped, structured, and directed by the pursuit of one glorious, hope-fulfilling, heart-satisfying longing? Or is your life a picture of a constantly changing narrative of fickle affections careening from one hope to the next?
One thing have I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to inquire in his temple. (Psalm 27:4)
It’s an incredible statement, one that I’m not sure I can always make. It’s made even more powerful when you realize that it was written by a man who is under attack. His “one thing” isn’t safety, or vindication, or victory. His one thing isn’t power, control, or retribution. No, even under personal duress, the one thing that David wishes for is to be in God’s house, taking in the grandeur and glory of the beauty of the Lord.
This desire was designed to be the central, motivating desire of every person created by God and made in his image. And yet, on this side of eternity, it seems like a statement that could only ever be made by a deeply devout human being.
You see, in every situation and relationship of your everyday life, there is a “one-thing war” being fought on the turf of your heart. You and I are safe only when the Lord really is the one thing that commands our hearts and controls our actions. Yet there are many things that compete with him as the one thing that your heart craves.
The Bible also has much to say about the object of our hope. It reminds us that, when it comes to hope, there are only two places to look. You can look to created things to satisfy the longings of your heart, or you can look to the Creator. It really is true that when it comes to fundamental, human hope, each of us looks either horizontally or vertically. The Bible warns us that if our hope disappoints us, it’s because our hope rests on the wrong object. There is only one place to look for hope that is secure, no matter what. Consider these verses:
You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in your word. (Psalm 119:114)
O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. (Psalm 130:7)
The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love. (Psalm 147:11)
I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” (Lamentations 3:24)
Hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:5)
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (Romans 15:13)
. . . having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints. (Ephesians 1:18)
To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27)
. . . in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began. (Titus 1:2)
Notice what each of these verses does. Each confronts us with the radical, life-reshaping truth that ultimately true, lasting, and secure hope is a person — the Lord Almighty. Hope — the kind that transforms your life, gives rest to your heart, and ignites new ways of living — is attached to him. Scripture repeatedly invites us, commands us, and implores us to hope in the Lord, and it gives us reason after reason to do so.
Finally, Scripture speaks to our expectations. It promises us that, when we hope in the Lord, we will not be disappointed. No, God won’t submit to our time expectations, and he won’t always deliver what we hope for in the way we expect, but he will always care for those who trust in him. He will give us everything he has promised us, and he will generously provide what is best for us. So, we wait with patient expectation, knowing that our hope is firm when we hope in the Lord.
Many of us struggle with questions of God’s goodness, faithfulness, and love, not because he has been unfaithful to any promise in any way, but because we simply are not on his agenda page. Our agenda, our definition of what a good God should give us, is a life that is comfortable, pleasurable, and predictable — one in which there’s lots of human affirmation and an absence of suffering.
But consider God’s agenda: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2–4; see also 1 Peter 1:6–7; Romans 5:1–5; Philippians 3:7–9).
“The radical, life-reshaping truth is that ultimately true, lasting, and secure hope is a person — the Lord Almighty.”
The message is consistent — God is not working to deliver to you your personal definition of happiness. If you’re on that agenda page, you are going to be disappointed with God, and you are going to wonder if he loves you. God is after something better: your holiness — that is, the final completion of his redemptive work in you, which includes deep and abiding happiness in him. The difficulties you face are not in the way of God’s plan, they do not show the failure of God’s plan, and they are not signs he has turned his back on you. No, those tough moments are a sure sign of the zeal of his redemptive love.
Where Is Your Hope?
It’s wonderful to have hope that doesn’t rise or fall with changing circumstances. It’s a sweet thing to have hope that doesn’t die when trouble comes. It’s good to be free from placing our hope in objects that have no power whatsoever to deliver what we long for. And it’s wise to spend time examining what we hope for, reorienting our hope, and meditating on the one who alone is a worthy object of our hope.
May your Savior renew your hope and, in renewing your hope, renew your courage, perseverance, and joy.