I know this may sound morbid, but I was thinking last week about what I wanted on my grave marker. You see, I wanted it to communicate what I felt was important, both as a reflection of my life but also something that would provoke a response from whoever was reading it. As I opened my Bible, this verse came to mind: “Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again – my Savior and my God!” We read this in Psalm 42:5. This verse is a reflection of what my life has been like thus far. There have been difficult and dare I say discouraging times, but in the end, there is always hope. Why? Because God “is!”
This is something all of us can relate to. In a sense, this one verse is a sermon we can all tell ourselves every day because it is both true and applicable. Life is difficult but God is and that gives us hope!
Richard Sibbes, a 17th-century preacher wrote a whole book on this one verse. It is interesting to note that his nickname was the “sweet dropper” because his sermons gave people confidence and joy. He called the book, “The Soul’s Conflict with Itself” because this verse sounds like someone arguing with themselves.
Hoping in God does not come naturally for sinners like us. Most don’t understand the concept. If you are a melancholy like myself, it is even more challenging. I have to repeatedly preach it to myself because it is easy to give way to negativity and lose heart.
This “preaching to oneself” is not well known among all Christians. It was coined by one of my favourite authors. The late Jerry Bridges believed it was an important way to remember what Christ has done on our behalf but to also remind us of the hope that is ahead. For those of us who struggle with keeping a positive outlook, this has been a valuable tool to fight off discouragement. We need hope. As one author put it, “Biblical hope not only desires something good for the future — it expects it to happen.”
Whenever I go on holidays, I inevitably think about what I am going to preach on when I get back. I toss around different topics to do as a series or which book of the Bible to unpack. But when it comes down to it, what I want each of us here to discover is a sermon only three words long: Hope in God!
I love the way the psalmists wrestle and fight and struggle to maintain their hope in God. This is a normal Christian experience while we are still just saved sinners. And we better own up to it, or else we may grow sluggish and negligent in our fight for hope. And that is very dangerous, as our text teaches.
How would you answer the following question: “What are some of your feelings when you forgive someone?” One of my first thoughts was that I have to have the feeling of hope to forgive instead of retaliating. The hope is that things will change, that they will change, the circumstances will change or I will change. In my life, and I think how it should be for all of us, hope is like a reservoir of emotional strength.
If I am put down, I look to this reservoir of hope for the strength to return good for evil. Without hope, I have no power to absorb the wrong and walk in love, and I sink into self-pity or self-justification.
If I experience a setback in my planning — I get sick, or things don’t go the way I’d hoped in the board meeting, for example, I tap into this reservoir of hope for the strength to keep going and not give up.
If I face a temptation to be dishonest, to steal, to lie, or to lust, I look to the reservoir of hope for the strength to hold fast to the way of righteousness and deny myself some brief, unsatisfying pleasure.
That is the way it works for me. That is the way I fight for holiness in the Christian life. And I believe this is the biblical way to make our calling and election sure. Now I want to be realistic and honest… sometimes it doesn’t work. But the reason it doesn’t work isn’t the reservoir’s fault. More often it is my inability or unwillingness to tap into the resource God provided. So today, I want to begin filling that reservoir in our lives by looking at something so important that it affects not only our attitudes but also our actions.
Let’s begin this with a basic question: What is hope? Specifically, we want to know not just the dictionary definition, but the biblical definition. We have to know what we are talking about before we can get very far in our grasp of the great truths about biblical hope.
We use the word hope in at least three different ways.
- Hope is the desire for something good in the future. Children might say, “I hope daddy gets home early tonight so we can play basketball after supper before his meeting.” In other words, they desire for him to get home early so that they can experience this good thing, namely, playing together after supper.
- Hope is a good thing in the future that we are desiring. We say, “We hope that Auntie will arrive safely.” In other words, Auntie’s safe arrival is the object of our hope.
- Hope is the reason why our hope might indeed come to pass. We say, “A good tailwind is our only hope of our flight arriving on time.” In other words, the tailwind is the reason we may achieve the future good that we desire. It’s our only hope.
So hope is used in three senses: 1) A desire for something good in the future, 2) the thing in the future that we desire, and 3) the basis or reason for thinking that our desire may indeed be fulfilled.
All three of these uses are found in the Bible. But the most important feature of biblical hope is not present in any of these ordinary uses of the word hope. The distinctive meaning of hope in Scripture is almost the opposite of our ordinary usage.
I don’t mean that in Scripture hope is a desire for something bad (instead of something good). And I don’t mean that in Scripture hope is a rejection of good (instead of desire for it). It is not the opposite of those senses. It is the opposite in this sense: ordinarily, when we use the word hope, we express uncertainty rather than certainty.
Ordinarily, when we express hope, we are expressing uncertainty. Hope in this way has an aspect of “maybe” about it. But this is not the distinctive biblical meaning of hope. And the main thing to understand is that biblical hope is not just a desire for something good in the future, but rather, biblical hope is a confident expectation and desire for something good in the future.
Biblical hope is not simply a desire for something good to happen. It is a confident expectation and desire for something good in the future. Biblical hope has moral certainty in it because of the character of the One in whom we place the hope. When the Word says, “Hope in God!” it does not mean, “Cross your fingers.” It means, to use the words of William Carey, “Expect great things from God.”
So what does the Bible say about hope? In Hebrews 6, the author begins with a discussion about apostasy. He then goes on to say in verses 9-12, “Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case—the things that have to do with salvation. God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.”
The reason the writer is so sure that his readers will not be among the apostates is that they have not only been loving servants for God’s sake in the past but are still serving. This is what the Bible calls perseverance. The writer says they showed love in serving the saints in the past, and they still do. Their religious experience was not a temporary decision at a youth retreat or at a Billy Graham crusade that stopped when life got tough. It was continuing. Perseverance in godliness is the proof of the genuineness of a person’s salvation. That’s why the writer feels so sure of the people: they had served the saints, and they still do.
But the writer goes on to say we need to be intentional and attentive in this journey. It is easy for us to be careless and sluggish in our pursuit of God. The key with all of this is hope, not just in terms of love and service. Hope gives assurance. In other words, with all the zeal of the past that enabled you to work and love in the name of Christ – with all that zeal, keep on pursuing the full assurance of hope to the end. Don’t underestimate how important this is!
So how do we have this kind of hope that leads to assurance? It means having a confident hope. It is the difference between watching Conner McDavid in the shootout and Milan Lucic. With one there is certainty and confidence.
Putting our hope in God means putting our faith in the certainty of God’s character and Word. As we pursue Him, we are being transformed more and more into His image. So in closing, my encouragement to each of us is to pursue hope so that you can become the men and women of faith God desires us to be.