“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (Romans 15:13)[I first wrote of our need to raise the ceiling of our hope in 2006 – the year I first began writing articles for this wonderful newspaper. Thirteen years later, the importance of that message has only increased, so please receive this revised version of that article]
In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul describes the three greatest spiritual gifts: faith, hope and love. Christians talk often of love and faith. God is love. The Great Commandment is love of God, neighbor and self. We are saved by grace through faith, and should walk by faith rather than sight. But where does hope fit in?
We don’t teach often on hope. Maybe we think all Christians are “hope-full” by definition. We look forward to eternal life. We believe our God is all-loving and all-powerful, and that all things are possible with Him. (Matthew 19:26)
But for virtually all the church in America, the symptoms I see reflect not hopefulness but a deep need for more hope. We live in extraordinarily difficult and divisive times. Meeting this need for more hope is crucial because the ceiling of our hope defines the ceiling of our effort. We will not reach or pray beyond what we have at least some hope for.
Even more important, Hebrews 11:1 tells us faith is the “substance of things hoped for”. So the ceiling of our hope defines the ceiling for our faith. Let me explain.
Hope comes from putting together two ingredients: expectation (what we think can happen) and desire (what we want to happen). If either ingredient is absent, there is no hope.
When we “expect the worst”, it is not hope because we don’t desire the “worst”. It is pessimism.
And when we have desires but lose all expectation that we can obtain them, we have hopelessness – shattered dreams.
Hope requires both desire and expectation. And faith develops as our hope and expectation of receiving our desires increases. We move from wishful thinking toward a level of assurance and, ultimately, God’s goal of “faith without doubt” (Matthew 21:21).
But this movement from hope to faith, while increasing our expectation, is still limited to the desires we were hoping for in the first place. Our faith does not reach higher than the hope it springs from, and our hope does not reach higher than the desires we have.
Proverbs 13:12 tells us, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick….” All people experience this at one time or another. We wanted to be a sports star, wealthy, happily married w/ children until death we part, etc., but something else happened. If that something else was still ok, some can redirect their hope, but when everything continues to go wrong, many will despair and give up dreams altogether.
Most of us, however, don’t totally give up. Instead, we experience a heart sickness more subtle and difficult to diagnose – half-hope, the condition where we lower our desires and hope for far less than God wants to provide.
To understand “half-hope”, ask yourself these questions. Do you hope to experience God’s Presence each day in prayer or worship? Do you hope for a marriage that grows closer to God and each other every day? Do you persist with optimism in daily prayers of salvation and healing for lost and hurting loved ones? Do you minister in our community as the royal priesthood of believers with an expectation that things will significantly change, despite all adversity, for the better? (1 Peter 2:9)
For too many Christians, the answer to these questions is, “Not really”, despite the fact God’s Word has promised all those things to His people.
My friends, let God raise the ceiling of your hope! Pray to the God of Hope that by His Spirit, you will overflow with hope. (Romans 15:13) Faithfully study the Bible, individually and with others, so that its truths will help you desire the right things: His plan for your life rather than worldly plans, and treasures of heaven rather than treasures of earth (Jeremiah 29:11; Matthew 6:20).
Most of all, embrace the “Hope of Glory” that is already yours as a child of God – “Christ in you! (Colossians 1:27). Jesus said we would do “greater works than these” (John 14:12) because we can do all things through Him. (Philippians 4:13).
The Lord is able and ready to do far more than we can ask or imagine! (Ephesians 3:20). As the ceiling of our hope rises, so will our faith, our service, our prayers and God’s answers to them.
God bless you, and God bless our community.