Sunday, 28 December 2014

New hope for a new year

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Romans 15:13

Hope is a little word with a big meaning. The Bible speaks of it often, but so does the world in general: “Hope springs eternal in the human breast”; “While there’s life there’s hope”; “Hope for the best!” - you don’t have to be a Christian to recognise the universal human need for hope.

But it is especially important for the Christian, for it is an essential part of the bundle of rich gifts that God gives to the person who trusts in Christ. Hence this beautiful doxology Paul sends to his Christian readers in Rome. It doesn’t tell us everything there is to know regarding Christian hope, but it certainly tells us a lot.

1 Hope begins and ends with God.

Paul describes God as “the God of hope”. Yes, of course he is supremely the God of love, of grace, of power, of wisdom. But hope too is a key aspect of his character. 

The Bible is full of stories of people who were hope-less, on the verge of despair, but whose hopelessness was turned to hope. 

You think of the Israelites on the shore of the Red Sea, expecting to be cut to pieces by the Egyptians - only for God to open up the waters before them. You think of Israel, in despairing exile under the Persians - only for King Cyrus of Persia - a pagan king! - to command that they be allowed to return to Israel and rebuild their temple. You think of the sick, the grieving, the demonised, the lepers of Jesus’ day - only to be made whole by his loving power. You think of the disciples, broken by his death on the cross - only to meet him again, more alive than ever, on resurrection morning.

Surely, yes, God is a “God of hope”!

The god-less person is ultimately a hope-less person - for if there is no God how can you possibly have any reason to hope? The world says “While there’s life there’s hope”; but the Christian replies “No: while there’s God there’s hope”.

Which raises the obvious question: Is God a reality to you?
2 Hope depends on faith.

Paul makes clear that hope is only a reality to the Christian “as you trust in him”. This is vital: if we don’t trust in this God of hope how can we expect to experience the hope he gives?

To trust is to believe, to actively and consciously rely on someone or something. True, it is sometimes hard to believe in God when bad  things are happening. But if you have come to the faith that there is indeed a God, that he is all-powerful, and that he loves you personally, even the tiniest seed of hope will carry you through the darkest times.

It’s good to have great faith. But it’s even better to have little faith in a great God.

3 Hope comes as part of a package.

Paul prays that God will fill the Christians of Rome “with all joy and peace as you trust in him”

I picture hope as a person walking along the road. His right hand is holding the hand of joy, his left hand that of peace, and they are walking together. Isn’t that a trio you would be happy to meet!

The essential moods of the Christian life are here: hope is faith dreaming; peace is faith resting; joy is faith dancing. Even in the darkest times these three are our companions on the journey through life.

4 Hope flows out of us.

Paul prays that his readers will “overflow with hope”. What God pours so generously into us then flows out of us for the good of everyone we meet. 

In other words, hope isn’t something we hug to ourselves, like a millionaire who possesses great works of art that only he ever sees, or a miser who never shares a penny of his riches. No, hope flows and glows. It turns us into true optimists, people who don’t just “hope for the best”, but people who demonstrate by the way we live that all is not lost, that there are great things ahead. 

The true Christian, then, is never cynical or gloomy, but radiates a beautiful and irresistible confidence in the purposes of God for the future. He or she is a person of conviction; when he prays “May your kingdom come, may your will be done" he actually believes that the day is coming when that prayer will be wonderfully answered.

So thank God for the gift of hope! May we ourselves enjoy it. And may we, through it, bring joy and peace to everyone around us. Amen!

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