January 19, 2018

The Blessing of Hope

Dale Heffernan

The American Heritage Dictionary defines “hope” as “looking forward with confidence or expectation.” Such anticipation of future events is one of the greatest thrills of the human experience. Children wait excitedly for their birthday celebration. Hope drives fans to fanatical dedication at athletic events. People often work hard all their lives and save their money with the anticipation of retiring and living an easier life. Women who are “with child” are called “expectant” mothers. In the country of France, it is polite for one who is introduced to an expectant mother to say, Je vous felicite de votre esperance (“I congratulate you on your hope”). Such is the pervasiveness of great expectations in our society.

God has built anticipation into the Christian experience. The New Testament word for eager anticipation is the word “hope.” Scripture addresses the idea of hope in numerous passages, providing the believer with many reasons to anticipate good things from God. The prestigious list of three Christian virtues summarized in 1 Corinthians 13:13 includes “hope.”

The ability of the believer to experience a consistent excitement in the Christian life comes from the very goodness of our great God who is “the God of hope” (Rom. 15:13). The believer’s expectation has an eternal foundation: God’s trustworthiness. If God can be trusted, the Christian has every reason to be continuously full of hope.

Even unbelievers know that for hope to have any legitimacy, it must have a strong foundation. A little over a month before he died, the famous atheist Jean- Paul Sartre declared that he so strongly resisted feelings of despair that he would say to himself, “I know I shall die in hope.” Then in profound sadness, he would add, “But hope needs a foundation.” In stark contrast, the Christian has the character of God as a foundation for hope.

Because God has also demonstrated His ability to keep His Word, He continues to show the Christian that He can be trusted. The apostle Peter praises God for this demonstration which “hath begotten us again unto a lively hope” (1 Pet. 1:3). What is this powerful demonstration? It is “the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”! Since Jesus rose from the dead, the believer has an unlimited supply of hope for any situation.

Hope must be acted upon by the believer. The Christian must trust what God has said. The Psalmist repeatedly reminds the reader that his hope is in God (38:15; 39:7; 71:5, etc.); he then implores the reader to place his hope in God (42:5, 11; 43:5). The believer must deliberately choose to trust in all that God has promised.

When a Christian places his trust in God’s promises, he testifies to others of the trustworthiness of his Savior, for now and for eternity. The example of one woman illustrates such a hope and expectation. Having been diagnosed with a terminal illness, the woman contacted her pastor to discuss certain aspects of her final wishes. She told the pastor which songs she wanted sung at the service and what Scriptures to read. She also requested to be buried with her favorite Bible. “There’s one more thing,” she said excitedly. “I want to be buried with a fork in my right hand.” The pastor stood looking at the woman, not knowing quite what to say. The woman explained, “In all my years of attending church fellowship meals, I always remember that when the dishes were being cleared, someone would inevitably lean over and say, ‘Keep your fork.’ It was my favorite part of the meal because I knew that something better was coming. Some wonderful dessert was awaiting me. So I just want people to see me and know that I believe after this life the best is yet to come!”

God provides not only hope for the present but also hope that points believers to the future. In Hebrews 13:5, He has promised He will always be with us. From Romans 8:28, we learn that He is in control of what happens in our lives. Through life’s experiences, He is conforming us to Jesus Christ so that we can “wait for the hope of righteousness” (Gal. 5:5). Future events that we can look forward to with joy include the imminent return of our Savior: “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). When this life is over, God has eternal life in Heaven awaiting those who are redeemed (Titus 1:2). These promises provide the believer with hope for this life and for eternity. Eugene Lang greatly changed the lives of a sixthgrade class in East Harlem. Lang, a self-made millionaire, had been asked to speak to a class of 59 sixth-graders. What could he say to inspire these students, most of whom would drop out of school? He wondered how he could get these predominantly black and Puerto Rican children even to look at him. Scrapping his notes, he decided to speak to them from his heart. “Stay in school,” he admonished, “and I’ll help pay the college tuition for every one of you.” At that moment the lives of these students changed. For the first time they had hope. One student stated, “I had something to look forward to, something waiting for me. It was a golden feeling.” As a result of the hope that Mr. Lang offered to these students, nearly 90 percent of that class went on to graduate from high school.

When the believer, trusting God, determines to anticipate the good things that God has promised, wonderful results take place in the area of practical living. He will not be ashamed to live for Christ: “and hope maketh not ashamed” (Rom. 5:5). The Christian will be emboldened in his testimony for his Savior: “Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech” (2 Cor. 3:12). He will stay clear of attitudes and actions that displease the Lord: “and every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself” (1 John 3:3). And his very countenance will be noticeably changed: “rejoicing in hope” (Rom. 12:12).

One cannot help noticing the abounding hope expressed by the apostle Paul in all of his epistles. A casual reading through Acts reminds the reader of the intense opposition and difficulties experienced by Paul. Yet he still chose to anticipate good things from God. The Christian believer should have this same attitude of hope. Christians would do well to demonstrate the same hopeful attitude as that of a Little League baseball team member whose team was behind by 18 runs in the first inning. “Boy,” said one spectator, “I’ll bet you’re discouraged.” “Why should I be discouraged?” replied the player. “We haven’t even gotten up to bat yet.”

When the believer grasps the magnitude of God’s love for him in the marvelous salvation through Jesus Christ, he cannot help being filled with joyful anticipation of the good things God has in store for him. If God would go through all that trouble to redeem mankind to Himself, He must have something wonderful awaiting those who trust in Him.

How much do you trust the Lord? Do you trust Him for what He has promised, even though you cannot see it now? When hope is held in the heart, it has the ability to sustain a person through even the most difficult circumstances. Such was the case for a small boy in the hospital. The school system in a large city had a program to help children keep up with their schoolwork during stays in the city’s hospitals. One day a teacher who was assigned to the program received a routine call asking her to visit a particular child. She took the child’s name and room number and talked briefly with the child’s regular class teacher. “We’re studying nouns and adverbs in his class now,” the regular teacher said, “and I’d be grateful if you could help him understand them so he doesn’t fall too far behind.”

The hospital program teacher went to see the boy that afternoon. No one had mentioned to her that the boy had been badly burned and was in great pain. Upset at the sight of the boy, she stammered as she told him, “I’ve been sent by your school to help you with nouns and adverbs.” When she left she felt she hadn’t accomplished much. But the next day, a nurse asked her, “What did you do to that boy?” The teacher felt she must have done something wrong and began to apologize. “No, no,” said the nurse. “You don’t know what I mean. We’ve been worried about that little boy, but ever since yesterday, his whole attitude has changed. He’s fighting back, responding to treatment. It’s as though he’s decided to live.”

Two weeks later the boy explained that he had completely given up hope until the teacher arrived. Everything changed when he came to a simple realization. He expressed it this way: “They wouldn’t send a teacher to work on nouns and adverbs with a dying boy, would they?”

Hope is a must for the believer. Hebrews 6:19 states that hope is the “anchor of the soul.” A sick man in a hospital bed turned to his doctor who was visiting his room posing this question to his physician: “Doctor, do you know what Heaven is like?” As the doctor turned toward his patient, he heard the sounds of scratching and whining outside the door. Opening the door, the doctor watched the man’s dog spring in and leap on his master with an eager show of gladness. Turning to the patient, the doctor said, “Did you notice how your dog entered the room? He has never been in this room before and did not know what was inside. He knew nothing except that his master was here, and when the door opened he entered with great anticipation. I know little about Heaven, but I have the excitement of knowing my Master is there, and that is enough.”

What if things are not going well? Keep anticipating the good things God has planned for those who are His. Martin Luther once said, “Everything that is done in the world is done by the hopeful.” “Other men see only a hopeless end,” said Gilbert Beenken, “but the Christian rejoices in an endless hope.” Believer, keep hoping in God!

“An atheist has a reason, but no hope for his reason. A hypocrite has a hope, but no reason for his hope. A Christian has a reason for his hope, and a hope for his reason” (Viola Walden, ed., Sword Scrapbook II [Sword of the Lord Publishers, 1975], p. 174).

If you are low in hope, turn to the Scriptures and trust the promises of God. Through faithfulness and through claiming the promises of God, your anticipation of God’s bestowment upon you of His goodness will increase. Romans 15:4 says “we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” Give thanks to God for the blessing of being able to anticipate good from Him as we serve Him faithfully. God is so good to give us the opportunity to live life with excitement about all that He is going to do. Paul rejoiced in this “good hope” given to us from God by His grace. Even in the midst of adverse circumstances, others have demonstrated this same eager anticipation. You too can rejoice in the blessing of hope afforded us by God. Let’s determine by the grace of God to “lay hold upon the hope set before us” (Heb. 6:18).

Dr. Dale Heffernan planted Midland Baptist Church in Wichita, Kansas, in 1986, where he currently pastors. He also is director of Challenge Christian Camp.

(Originally published in FrontLine • May/June 2005. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)

Although Proclaim & Defend is the blog of the FBFI, the articles we post are not an expression of the views of the FBFI as a whole, they are the views of the author under whose name they are published. The FBFI speaks either through position statements by its board or through its president. Here at Proclaim & Defend, we publish articles as matters of interest or edification to the wider world of fundamentalist Baptists and any others who might be interested.

Submit other comments here.