Hope

Preaching and Worship Resources about Hope

Hope is the posture of confident expectation that is seen in those who wait upon God. Hope keeps God's people standing on tiptoe and scanning the distant horizon, anticipating the appearance and action of the One who makes and keeps promises. While Christian hope is necessarily directed toward the future, it is rooted in God's past faithfulness, which has been most clearly demonstrated in Jesus Christ. Hope has God as its object, is given shape by the coming and promised return of Jesus Christ, and is sustained by the Holy Spirit. Faith is a close relative of hope; it is the oxygen that keeps hope alive.

In Scripture

A Necessary Tool Hope has been a necessary tool in the toolbox of every child of God ever since things went off the rails in Genesis 3. At that time, God promised that he would send One to crush the Evil (Gen. 3:15) — some day. People who live on promises such as this are required to be people of hope. Throughout Israel's history, God's people struggled to direct their hope properly. Instead of placing their hope in God, they grew impatient and began to look to human kings and to the gods of the nations for their deliverance. The prophets continually called God's people to put their hope back where it belonged — in the God who had made and kept covenant with them. The prophets also painted vivid pictures of what God would do for those who put their hope in him. They serve, along with the psalmists, as powerful examples of what it means to live in hope.

In the New Testament, all of Israel's hopes are realized in the person of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 1:20). However, God's work in and through Jesus Christ came in unexpected ways and often went unrecognized (Luke 24:19-24). Furthermore, because Jesus' work is not yet complete and his kingdom has not yet been fully realized, the New Testament epistles continue to exhort believers to be people of hope. This hope looks forward to what Jesus will do in the future, even as it is grounded in what he has done in the past.

God as the Only Object of Hope "The war horse is a vain hope for victory, and by its great might it cannot save. Truly the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love" (Ps. 33:17, 18). "And now, O Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in you" (Ps. 39:7). "Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God . . ." (Ps. 42:5, 11; 43:5). "For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him" (Ps. 62:5).

God's Character as the Source of Hope "O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem" (Ps. 130:7). "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'" (Lam. 3:21-24). "Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful" (Heb. 10:23).

Jesus as the Source and Fulfillment of Hope "If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied" (1 Cor. 15:19). ". . . we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory" (Eph. 1:12). "Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope . . ." (2 Thess. 2:16). "We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain, where Jesus, a forerunner on our behalf, has entered, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek" (Heb. 6:19, 20). "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1 Pet. 1:3).

Exhortations to Hope "Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God" (Ps. 42:5, 11; 43:5). "Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer" (Rom. 12:12). "But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope" (1 Thess. 4:13). "Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful" (Heb. 10:23).

General Observations about Hope "For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience" (Rom. 8:24, 25). "And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love" (1 Cor. 13:13). "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Heb. 11:1). "Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you . . ." (1 Pet. 3:15).

Points to Ponder

Hope or Despair? Well-intentioned preachers sometimes give the impression that the bright light of hope ought to drive away every shadow of despair. However, both human experience and Scripture (and the psalms of lament in particular) suggest that hope and despair can be closer neighbors than we might first imagine. Speaking on the book of Lamentations, Luke A. Powery observes that lament does not represent the erosion of hope but is instead necessary for hope. "Those who do not grieve cannot truly hope," says Powery. "If we don't weep, what are we hoping for?" Powery adds: "Tears form a pillow on which gospel hope rests. If hope is not tear-stained, it is not real hope . . . because hope comes despite and amidst our grief, not without it."

Hope or Optimism? Theologian Miroslav Volf (with a nod to Jurgen Moltmann) observes that though English-speakers frequently equate hope with optimism, there is a significant difference between the two. Optimism looks for a better future based on what is or what was, while hope comes from "the realm of what is not yet, `from outside', from God." Volf writes: "Optimism is based on the possibilities of things as they have come to be; hope is based on the possibilities of God irrespective of how things are. . . . Hope is grounded in the faithfulness of God and therefore on the effectiveness of God's promises. . . . Hope can spring up even in the valley of the shadow of death; indeed, it is there that it becomes truly manifest. . . . Hope thrives even in situations which, for extrapolative cause-and-effect thinking, can elicit only utter hopelessness. Why? Because hope is based on God's coming into the darkness to dispel it with divine light." In other words, Christians may not have cause to be optimistic. But they always have a reason to be hopeful!

Lewis Smedes on Hope: In his memoir My God and I, Lewis Smedes makes several important observations about hope. First, Smedes notes the close relationship between gratitude and hope. "Gratitude is the pleasure of hope come true. Hope is the pain of gratitude postponed." Smedes goes on to observe that hope always comes as a blend of three basic ingredients. First, we must have a dream — a picture in mind of what things would be like if we got what we hoped for. Second, we must have a desire for our dream to come true. Smedes writes, "If your guts do not ache for what you say you hope for, you are not really hoping for it at all." Finally, says Smedes, those who hope must have faith — however fragile. As preachers seek to instill hope in their congregants, they would do well to consider how they might strengthen each of these three ingredients.


Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.