This is the first Sunday of Advent. The other Sundays include Peace, Joy, and Love. Advent culminates with Christmas Day.
During this season we take the time to ponder and consider four of the most powerful qualities brought to us through the potential of the baby Jesus and continue to be realized daily by acknowledging our Christ within.
I used to be a bit confused by the celebration of hope. I was taught in school that hope meant to wish for something; to expect something but without certainty that it would be fulfilled. To hope meant that we desired something very much, but there was no real assurance that we would obtain our desire.
That is the modern meaning of hope; it is a weak, powerless, and insubstantial yearning. Why do we spend time on this sort of quality? There’s nothing Christ-like about this kind of hope to me.
But the Biblical meaning of the word ‘hope’ is different. Hope in those times meant a strong and confident expectation. Hope in the early days meant trust and confidence. Hope stressed the future, invisibility, and expectancy. So according to the Bible when we hope, we are looking to the future for things yet unseen and unreceived, with confidence, expectancy, and certainty.
Romans 8:24-25 states: For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one also hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.
Faith relies on hope; Hope activates faith. As Hebrews 1:11 tells us: “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.”
Hope is not passive; it is not static. Hope is active, moving, inspiring, dynamic, and sustaining. It is the opposite of an idle escape from our challenges or reality. True hope, the hope of Christ Jesus, readies us, motivates us, and moves us into action.
One of the characteristics of hopeful people is resiliency. Psalm 31:24 teaches: Be strong, and let your heart take courage, All you who hope in the LORD. Being resilient means that we have the ability to bounce back from adversity, failures, and other challenges, and respond positively. Being Divinely resilient means that our internal locus revolves around two things: “With God, all things are possible,” and “Wherever we are, God is.”
Joshua 1:9 tells us: Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
With these two thoughts held in mind – God is with me and makes all thing possible – we are resilient, and we are hopeful. We can keep our eye, heart, and mind on the future; we can make goals and pursue our dreams with confidence, positivity, and expectancy.
Hope is not a fixed trait within us; there is an ebb and flow. Sometimes our hope can waver, and at other times it will shine steadily. Much of it depends upon our focus. When we allow our hearts and minds to move to the future, is it with hope and the assurance of God’s good and perfect plans for us, or is it with fear, dread, and negativity?
When we are hope-filled, we do not attribute the causes of all the unfortunate events in our lives to ourselves. Certainly, our thoughts and actions are the cause of some of the calamities we experience – but not all of them. We do not have to internalize the blame for everything; some of it must be appropriately externalized.
Hope allows us to find meaning and purpose from our negative experiences and move forward better armed. Those without hope are overpowered by challenges and succumb to a fatalistic victimhood. Everything is bad, and forever is going to get even worse. Not much room in this heart for hope.
Hope allows us to know that “This too shall pass.” It may be dark now, but the sun will rise again. Winter will give way to Spring. Allowing the hope of Christ to fill us enables us to accept our feeling of despair and dread but know that the darkness will not last; it is temporary visitor. We can study the ‘dis-ease’ and conflict within us, bless it, and release it.
When we quicken the energy of hope within us we can accept our failures, and not shirk from our mistakes. Under God’s guidance, we are the authors of our lives, the master’s of our own ships. God provides the wind, and we set the sails. When we are choosing to live a life of Hope we face our errors and take ownership, then find the lessons within those setbacks to improve, grow, learn, and move forward again with certainty. For the hopeful, failure is just another opportunity to succeed. In the immortal words of Thomas Edison regarding the lightbulb, “I did not fail. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Hope is a learnable set of skills. To move from despair to hope sometimes requires just a change in thought and word. Instead of thinking and saying, “Everything is horrible,” perhaps we can learn to think and say, “Today was a horrible day.” With even more hope we could say, “Today has been horrible so far. I will make this afternoon better.”
Remember what Romans 8:28 tells us: “…we know that all things work together for good to those who love God...” There is always room for hope in a truth-filled mind. Our negative emotions tend to lead us toward generalized fears and blanket false statements. To speak the words: “Everything is horrible,” is a lie. It is not the truth, but our emotions lead us to state that.
In the truth-filled mind, our past does not dictate our path. Just because we have done something the same way for 40 years does not mean that we must continue doing it that way. To say, “This is who I am, and this who I always will be. This is the way I’ve done it, and this is the way I always will do it. This is how I think, and this is how I will always think.” Each of these statements is untrue. They are choices, not determinants in our lives.
Rather, we can choose to embrace the truth of Romans 5:3-5. “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.”
As we embrace hope, we move toward the truth. The truth is that all things will pass; this negative time will pass. The truth is that we can learn from our despair and fear and the adversities in our lives, or we can succumb to them and claim, “Everything is horrible.” We can believe the lies of the ego in its attempt to control us and limit our behavior and who we truly are. Or we can seek the Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love of Christ that abide within.
Jeremiah 29:11 states: For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. I will continue to use that verse repeatedly, because I believe it is one of the most powerful messages from God to us in these times.
My prayer for this week is that we can set our focus on these two simple ideas: With God, all things are possible, and God is always with us. Then from these two ideas can we move forward resiliently with Christ-powered Hope emblazing our hearts.