Christmas is a time where we gather with family and friends, and if we are Christians, celebrate the Incarnation, the time in history when God became a man and walked among us. The Incarnation was an important moment in history as it gave a face to God and in turn, God gave demonstrated to us through His life, death and Resurrection, His love and grace.
In 1 Corinthians 13, we find what is commonly called, the “Love chapter.” Here we read about the characteristics of love and their importance in the Christian’s life. Paul ends the passage asking the question, “Which matters most, faith, hope, and love?” Of course, the ultimate answer is love, but the reality is, each one is vital in the life of a Christian. They are different, yes, but they are also related.
As one author put it, they are like three sisters. Hope says “I know things will work out, I just don’t know how or when!” Her sister Faith says, “Things have already worked out” (even before they do in actual experience). Love says, “Even if they don’t work out, even if I don’t understand what’s going on, nothing can separate me from the affection God has for me!”
Today let’s look at “Hope”. Hope is securely built upon the “better promises” of God. Hope is essential for living. Hebrews 11:1 defines hope as “the confident expectation of good and is based on believing the promises of God.” There is no consistent strong faith apart from having a living hope in our hearts. This is all based upon God’s promises and more importantly, His character, which never changes.
All of us have the capacity to be filled with hope and it is much closer to us than we often recognize. When we came to faith, we were brought into a new kingdom — into a “circle of hope.”
Romans 8:24-25 says, “For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”
Hope is like a circle where being inside creates an attitude of confidence. It becomes the inward spiritual environment that strengthens our patients through the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Because Paul the apostle lived in that hope atmosphere, he boldly proclaimed, later in verse 28, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”
In hockey, when two teams are tied after overtime, they have a shootout. Here in Edmonton, that almost always means Connor McDavid will participate over almost every other player on the team. Why? Because the team has confidence in his ability to score. With God, we have hope because He has the ability to fulfill what He has set out to do. When He promises something, He has the means to achieve it.
That being said, we do not always have hope. In fact, there are times when we feel hopelessness rather than hopeful. One author suggested that hopelessness is a delusion, the consequence of an inaccurate belief system. Although there is some truth to that, I think that is an oversimplification of what struggles we all face in life. Yes, the truth comes from knowing the “Truth” (John 8:32) and experiencing the freedom in it, but in the end, it is that relationship that keeps us focused and moving forward.
For many in our generation hopelessness is an enormous enemy. Jesus said the truth would set us free so from that, we understand that truth is transformational. Truth changes us. Lies have an opposite detrimental effect. How do you know that your perception of reality is inaccurate? How do you know that what you believe is not true? If you are not living in freedom, then you have bought into a lie! It can be just that simple.
The apostle Paul identified the relationship between what you believe and how it affects you. He writes in Romans 15:13, “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Knowing the truth is one thing, but we see that living the truth out (abound) in our lives by faith is the only truth that liberates you. In some cases, you may have your facts straight but still are bound because your understanding is inaccurate. Jesus warned His followers not just to be listeners, but to be doers. And this happens as the Holy Spirit takes the Word of God and works it in and through our lives.
One of the great prophets of the Old Testament struggled with maintaining hope was named Jeremiah. He walked close to the Lord and was one of His spokesmen to the nation of Israel. Yet he struggled and was prone to periods of hopelessness and depression. Jeremiah 15:18 details his complaint against the Lord. In despair, he questioned God asking, “Why is my pain perpetual and my wound incurable, which refuses to be healed? Will You surely be to me like an unreliable stream, as waters that fail?” Jeremiah accused God of being unreliable. How many of us have ever felt that way?
In the book of Psalms, we read over and over how the authors struggled with life, faith, and hope. David, who experienced tremendous difficulties in life understood that yet he says in 27:13, “I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”
David knew what destroys despair and that was having an accurate understanding that God is good, and a deep conviction that he would experience that goodness while he lived. Our human tendency is to allow how we feel to affect what we believe. True humility refuses to believe what we think or feel when it contradicts the truth and the revealed nature of God. Having a renewed mind is the key that brings this breakthrough.
We see from Paul’s encouragement in Romans 12:1-2, that our minds need renewal. Jeremiah’s freedom was contingent on experiencing an internal freedom which comes through having a peace that surpasses human understanding (Philippians 4:7). We can be like Jeremiah and allow our inaccurate thought processes to cause us to feel depressed about life and the nature of God’s love. The problem for many of us is we try to assume we can read God’s mind. We need to have faith that God knows what is best and will work it out in our lives in His time.
We need to give up our distrust and suspicions regarding God’s faithfulness. In other words, do not let hopelessness steal your joy! Identify the lies that you believe. Replace them with the truth and send despair running for its life.
Eventually, Jeremiah changed his mind about what the Lord thinks. Fifteen chapters later Jeremiah discovered the “redemptive thoughts of the Lord. In one of the most quoted verses in the Bible, Jeremiah writes in 29:10-11, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
What does God think of us? His thoughts toward us are thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give us a future and a hope. Hope is at the very heart of the gospel. Human hope may have died the day Jesus was crucified, but biblical and eternal hope emerged from the tomb in the person of the resurrected man, Christ Jesus. The empty tomb of the risen Jesus makes this bold proclamation: there is no hopeless situation.
As we go into this Christmas season, may we experience this blessed hope that comes from knowing God and trusting in His promises that He has revealed to us in His Word.