Don’t get your hopes up.
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” (Proverbs 13:12)
A statement given and received by all of us at some point or another. “Don’t get your hopes up.” Hope is a curse word in most of our mental dictionaries. We use it to describe a desire that might be fulfilled, but probably won’t, or is at best uncertain. But hope is one of the major concepts in the Bible. It is used over 150 times throughout Scripture. Our culture sees hope as an unfortunate reality of life, while the Bible describes hope as foundational to the Christian faith and to every Christian’s joy.
What is hope?
“Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?” (Romans 8:24)
Hope is, in one sense, just a fancy word for waiting. We hate waiting. And as technology (and with it, convenience) continues to increase, our impatience increases and intensifies. But there is a sort of threshold. If you begin to save up for some significant purchase, say a new guitar, when you finally make the purchase you are thankful for the wait and the hard work it took to save enough money to buy it. On the other hand, if you have been applying for jobs for over a year and you finally get one, you may be thankful for the job, but the wait seems to have very little value, and is seen as more of an enemy than anything beneficial. We may place some value on waiting, but at some point deferred hope becomes discouragement. The certainty of what we hope for decreases with time. The longer we wait the more uncertain we become that our hopes will ever come to pass, with one exception.
The object of our hope.
“And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts…” (Romans 5:5)
Deferred hope almost always disappoints but Christian hope does not. The above verse gives an odd reason for this phenomena, “Because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts…” So hope does not disappoint because Jesus loves me? That sounds a little too “Sunday school” to be of any real help. Why is waiting good news for the Christian and bad news for the Christless? The difference isn’t so much the waiting, but the object of our waiting. What Christians await ultimately is the resurrection. Our hope is anchored in the reality that no matter what this life brings, not matter what disappointments we face, no matter what opportunities, or relationships, or loved ones we lose on this earth, every loss will be regained a thousand times over at the resurrection. Every other hope may disappoint, but the hope of a final resurrection is absolutely certain. God’s love is the foundation for our confidence because He is strong and He is trustworthy. He is strong enough to bring to pass anything He wants, and He is trustworthy enough do exactly what He has promised. So God, being a good Father who loves us, gives us every reason in the world to trust Him when He says that when this life is over, true life will have only just begun. It is His love, having been “poured out within our hearts,” that enables us to trust in His promise of life, and life to the full, forever. Every other hope may disappoint and discourage, but the Christian’s hope of the resurrection cannot disappoint because it is absolutely certain.
The What transforms the Wait.
“We rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame.” (Romans 5:2-5)
The object of our hope changes everything. Every challenge to the hope of the resurrection only increases our confidence in it rather than weakening it. In every other hope, the longer we wait, or the more difficulties that get in the way, cause us to lose hope, but for the Christian, our hope can only increase. Therefore, “We rejoice in hope of the glory of God (that is, the final resurrection). Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” So we rejoice in the hope of the resurrection, but we also rejoice in everything that seems to get in the way of that hope, because every source of pain in this life can only increase our hope for the next life. Every loss here only reminds us of what we will gain there. Every suffering on this earth stirs in us a longing for an end to all suffering, that is, our eternal home. So every hope that fails you now is simply another scale falling from your eyes, clearing your vision to see the light that doesn’t dim, the joy that doesn’t end, the hope that doesn’t fade.
Get your hopes up, and get them high.
“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” (Lamentations 3:21-24)
But this does not mean we should give up on our present earthly hopes. It means the opposite, in fact. Christian hope transforms worldly hope. Buddhism tells us to live this life detached from any feeling of love or joy because those experiences usually bring suffering, and suffering is our enemy. Even the movie Star Wars subtly gives this message. In Episode II Yoda says to Anakin, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.” It makes suffering out to be the ultimate evil, and it makes the feeling of fear and anger out to be enemies that should be avoided at all costs. This is a perfectly understandable idea for those who are not Christians, because suffering has no value. Thus, the world would tell us, “Don’t get your hopes up.” But dear Christian, get your hopes high, higher than ever before, because you cannot lose. Either your Father will bless you with what you hope for in this life, or He will bless you with the suffering that leads to endurance, character, and hope for the life to come. So in a certain sense, there is no bad day for a Christian. Of course we feel pain, but, “This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17), and “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). So you have no reason to limit your hope in anything, because if you get what you hope for you win, and if you don’t you win all the more. This is why Paul can so confidently say, “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37). This year, if you resolve to do nothing else, resolve to hope.