Last year I wrote a piece for Relevant Magazine called God’s Plan Isn’t a Roadmap. In it, I said we have a tendency to overemphasize the stuff God may have for us to do, rather than focusing on who God wants us to become. I anchored this point in 1 Thessalonians. Paul writes “This is the will of God for your life: your sanctification.” Becoming like Jesus, that is sanctification. That is God’s will for our lives. But recently, I’m coming to see that character development is multi-faceted. It is a mosaic, with a large piece among the rest: hope. Paul writes “suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3-5).
God refines our character which produces hope. Through struggling, enduring, our character emerges crowned with hope? I’m quick to admit it. This is a real struggle for me. Hope. It’s hard. I’d rather emerge with some sense of accomplishment or award, but hope?
I have always seen hope as a proclivity, like the whole glass half empty or half full issue. Some are wired for it, others aren’t. I have seen the excessively hopeful as naive, or worse, fake in their perpetual hopefulness. When tragedy strikes, and people put on their rose-coloured glasses and sugar coat it with broad strokes of hopeful cliches, it reeks of insincerity trying to mask fear. But of course, when this is the case, it’s not really hope.
True hope can never be shallow because it is the byproduct of a tried faith. It emerges from suffering, enduring, and deep character. Hope within tragedy knows how to shed tears, it knows how to grieve, and it knows how to cling onto God even in the mist of anger and unanswered questions. This is real hope. It comes through God’s refinement and reordering of our hearts. We hope, but not to avoid harsh realities. It’s quite the opposite. When all things look contrary to how they ought to be, we set our hearts in hope towards God — who may not make things better in our lifetime, but who will ultimately bring us through every trial into his beautiful love and presence.
Over the past year, I’ve had to embrace hope. At times, I have nothing else but hope. I would much prefer to embrace strategic planning and certainty, or emails and productivity. I want to see tangible results, and now! But that’s not how this church planting endeavor has worked. Hope requires remaining helplessly dependent, and honest about my inability to accomplish what stirs both my imagination and heart. Hope requires me to persist through a time where my dreams are nowhere near congruent with reality.
But if I’m honest, I’m afraid that I may be holding onto dreams only to never see them come to pass. I know, without hesitation, that I’m afraid to hope because I fear disappointment. Of course, Paul expects this sort of reservation within our hearts. He finishes Romans 5:5 with “and hope does not put us to shame.”
While it is easy to disdain hope, or even fear hope, hope will not disappoint us. But what if our dreams and hopes aren’t fulfilled? How is that not the shaming of our aspirations? What if I put all this hoping and dreaming into a church that loves our city to life, and it fizzles away unnoticed? What could I say, but that I would have placed my hope in the wrong thing? God doesn’t guarantee us smooth sailing. Following Jesus doesn’t mean signing up for an easy life with an endless list of attained dreams.
Our hope is not in our dreams, our aspirations, or our perfectly completed to-do lists. Our hope is in Jesus. As God refines the rough edges of our character, and mends the cracks of our souls, we start to see that our greatest hope is not in what we can accomplish, but in who we get to dwell with. We hope for Jesus, and the good news is we get to experience him here and now. Paul continues “hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” As we begin to experience glimpses of eternal life here and now, we hope for the enduring nature of eternal life to break through and engulf us. We hope for that. Anything else is too small.
Of course, faith, hope and love are intertwined together. On the other side of eternity, only love will remain. But between now and then, we get to hope. We get to long. We get to anticipate. As we walk through the tension of deep dreams of eternity intersecting with this challenging, and often bleak world, we hope. Our relationship with God deepens as we hope, because we begin to desire him. We desire joining him unhindered.
True hope lays ahold of Jesus and anticipates what He will do with such great expectation that it surpasses all our smaller expectations and little hopes. We can face disappointment, we can face shattered dreams, but none of these things can rob us of our ultimate hope. We don’t need to fear hoping in Jesus, because he is faithful and he will do it. We overcome our fear to hope by clinging to the object of our hope and not our ability to hope. Our hope is in Jesus, whose faithfulness to us surprises us and melts away every fear of being let down, every inclination to disbelieve, and every hesitation to reach out and hope.