Saturday, 28 July 2018

Let's talk about hope

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... it’s a great theme, treasured by religious and non-religious people alike.

“Hope springs eternal in the human breast” wrote the poet Alexander Pope (though bitter experience teaches us that there are tragic occasions when it does in fact crack and give way to despair).

“Where there’s life there’s hope”... “If it were not for hope the heart would break”... there’s two non-religious sayings. And this from a Christian angle: “Other men see only a hopeless end, but the Christian rejoices in an endless hope” (Gilbert Brenken, about whom I’m afraid I know nothing). Hope matters; and it matters vitally.

This prompts a question: not “Am I a hopeful person?”, because “hopeful” is a very vague word, but “Am I a hope-filled person?”, which is a different thing altogether. If ever any person should be hope-filled, that person is the Christian, for hope is one of the crown jewels of the Christian faith. (In 1 Corinthians 13:13 Paul offers us that wonderful little trio, “faith, hope and love.”)

Here, as he draws towards the end of his long letter to the church in Rome, Paul wishes them the little benediction we find in Romans 15:13: and hope is at the heart of it. It tells us most of what we need to know about the nature of Christian hope - true hope. Let me boil it down to five headings.

First, true hope comes from God alone, for he is “the God of hope”.

Other philosophies, creeds and religions may aim for hope, and they may say some good and true things. But their visions of hope are man-made rather than God-given. Christianity alone offers the world hope based on a concrete historical event - the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

Few things engender hopelessness more than the grim, unavoidable reality of death. So to know that just once in history that reality has been turned on its head is a wonderfully hope-giving thing. Death, what the Bible calls “the last enemy”, has been defeated! If that indeed is true, we can dare to hope in any and every situation.

Second, true hope comes as part of a package.

Paul brackets hope with “joy and peace” - two wonderful aspects of “the fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace...”

Everyone wants joy; everyone wants peace. But where are they to be found in our spoiled and cruel world if not in Christ? Yes, we may know a temporary happiness through many experiences the world offers, and there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. And we may experience a calm and rest we call peace, and there’s nothing wrong with that either. But, beautiful though they may be, they don’t come close to the lasting joy and peace we find in Christ.

Third, true hope can’t be contained, but bubbles out of the person who has it. Paul’s prayer is that the Christians of Rome may “overflow with hope.”

The hope-filled person has a way of acting and talking - just a way of being - that sparkles with hope. Nothing shallow; nothing artificial or forced: but simply a personality that has been steeped in the hope that is in Jesus.

Fourth, true hope depends on faith.

All the beautiful things Paul wishes for the Roman Christians will come about, he says, “as you trust in him”. Those words are vital. No faith equals no hope. And faith is all about a conscious, deliberate determination to recognise the presence of God our heavenly Father with us every day, and to live in willing obedience to him.

Faith can falter, let’s be honest about that; it can be stretched to breaking point when things are hard. So let’s not feel guilty when hope dwindles and threatens to melt away. At times like that we need to look to our fellow-Christians to help us through. But as a general rule, strong faith means lively hope.

Fifth, true hope depends also on the Holy Spirit.

Paul finishes his benediction with the words “by the power of the Holy Spirit”. The Spirit is the energy, the very life, of God within us. He is the one without whom we haven’t the remotest prospect of living the Christian life. Which is why the New Testament tells us to “be filled with the Spirit”. Putting it very simply, if I am filled with “the God of hope” himself, how can I not be filled with hope? That just makes no sense.

I heard it said once that “peace is faith resting, joy is faith dancing, and hope is faith marching.” May we be able to testify to the truth of that as we trust in the God of hope!

Lord God, as I pledge myself to trust and follow you minute by minute and day by day, may the hope of Christ crucified and risen so fill me that it radiates out of me, bringing hope to everyone I meet. Amen.

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