I think we could all agree that the world needs more hope. Maybe we just need to learn how to understand hope so we can really have it.
Looking at social media or listening to the news, there seems to be much talk these days about a lack of hope. People speak openly about their disappointment in political leaders or law enforcement or about the state of race relations.
When we don’t get what we want, or we see others suffer, or a leader fails us, it’s easy to lose hope, isn’t it? To feel like nothing is going to work out, or there’s just no sign of anything positive on the horizon.
But is that all there is to hope? That it’s a risky proposition at best and maybe even a naive attempt at living in fantasy because nothing ever really works out the way we think it should?
What is hope really?
In the most common way of thought, hope is often seen as wishful thinking. “I hope it rains.” “I hope I get a new car for Christmas.” “I hope I don’t see anyone I know when I go to the store on a bad hair day!”
We tend to think of hope as wishing for something to happen (or not happen) in the future.
But in the Bible, hope is defined somewhat differently.
A BIBLICAL DEFINITION OF HOPE
In the Old Testament, hope is often defined in terms of waiting. In the Psalms, we read
And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you.” Psalm 39:7 ESV
The word “hope” in the Hebrew comes from a root word that means “to wait, to hope, to expect; to have hope, to cause to hope”.
But the word “wait” in Psalm 39:7 not only means “to wait”. It also means “to hope and to expect.”
Hope and waiting are intimately bound together. We wait with longing for something. We’re encouraged to hope in God, so this means we choose to wait on Him to deal with things or to come through for us in some way.
In the New Testament, hope is also defined in terms of waiting, but more in a sense of expectation.
Ephesians 1:12 encourages us to know the hope to which God has called us. The Greek word for “hope” means “to have an expectation of good, to hope“. It also means “to anticipate, usually with pleasure”.
So in New Testament terms, to hope means we have an expectation of something good, and we anticipate it with pleasure. God asks us to put our hope in Him. Hope is expecting God to bring about good in our circumstances and in ourselves.
There are numerous times where God encourages us to put our hope in Him. I encourage you not just to skim these verses but ponder them and meditate on them.
- Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God. Psalm 42:11
- For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from Him. Psalm 62:5
- Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God. Psalm 146:5
- The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear Him, in those who hope in His steadfast love. Psalm 147:11
- The Lord is my portion” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in Him!” The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him. Lam. 3:24,25
- 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. Rom. 15:13
- Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. Hebrews 10:23
All verses from ESV
God really wants us to live in hope. Let’s look deeper at what is hope and can we really have it.
UNDERSTANDING HOPE FROM ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE
Sometimes it helps to understand a concept if we look at its opposite. I’ve always thought the opposite of hope would be despair. And maybe that’s true to some degree. But I’ve come to believe recently that the opposite of hope really is fear. Here’s why.
One of my favorite passages in the Bible is Joshua 1:9.
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9 ESV
I love doing word studies, so I used the Blue Letter Bible to find the original meaning of the Hebrew words from Joshua 1:9. One of the ways that this phrase “do not be afraid” can be translated is “do not fear”. So then I decided to use the Webster’s 1828 Dictionary to see what the word “fear” really meant in English. I was blown away!
Basically, the definition of fear is:
a painful emotion excited by an expectation of evil or an apprehension of impending danger. Fear is an uneasiness of mind, upon the thought of future evil likely to befall us.”
Isn’t this interesting? Hope is an expectation of good. Fear is an expectation of evil.
Now I realize we don’t always make a conscious choice to feel a certain emotion, especially when it comes to fear. But looking at this definition, maybe we can make a choice that when fear comes knocking, we can stop to see if our expectation is one of evil things to come.
When we give in to fear, we are basically choosing to expect the worst. We are joining forces with the belief that whatever will happen is going to be bad. And we are probably not going to have any hope that expects good.
HOPE AS OPPOSED TO FEAR
After learning the definition of fear, I now have a more clear picture of why there are so many verses in the Bible saying, “Do not fear!” Choosing to give in to fear is saying “God, I’m going to think the worst right now. I’m going to believe what my emotions or my thoughts or even my eyes are telling me right now rather than trust in You.”
Now granted, there are times we are stirred with the emotion of fear because a real and tangible danger might be lurking ahead of us. But most of the time, I think those emotions are stirred more by possibilities than they are actualities.
Our Father gives us a very solid and real promise – If we love Him and are called according to His purpose, He will work things out for good. (Rom. 8:28) We really can trust that His heart is for us and not against us.
And this brings us back to His definition of hope. An expectation of good. We can put our hope, our expectation of good things to come, in God. Why? He’s already promised us the outcome. We don’t have to fear and have an expectation of the worst.
DOES BIBLICAL HOPE MEAN WE GET WHAT WE WANT?
Now we also have to consider something that trips people up with this whole concept. If we put our hope in God, expecting good, does that mean we get everything we want? Will life go exactly as we plan, and we never have another bad day? Maybe. And maybe not.
Maybe we need to look at God’s definition of “good”. Does He want us to live in great health, good finances, solid relationships, with fulfilling purpose? I believe so. His original desire for us was to live in complete harmony with Him in the garden, in right relationship, having no needs or worries, but knowing Him and trusting Him.
Man’s sin brought a different result, and our choices have continued to cause problems throughout history. But God hasn’t changed His heart about us. He still wants to bless us with good. And He keeps calling us back to believe Him.
In the midst of a fallen world full of chaos and calamity and terrible choices (many not made by us but we are still affected), we can still make the choice to believe God. We can choose to look past what our eyes can see and maybe even what our emotions might be broadcasting to us and choose to believe He wants to bring us good.
He may not give us everything we want, but He will give us absolutely everything we need. And we might come to realize that what we need is actually what we really desire at the deepest level.
IS BIBLICAL HOPE EVEN POSSIBLE TODAY?
I’ve often wondered how people who live in war-torn countries or in extremely oppressive places can have faith to believe in God. How can they choose to have hope when there may be no evidence of things getting better in their near future? How can someone who is tortured or put to death for their faith hang on to the end and still believe God is good?
I think they are able to see beyond this life. Maybe it’s because they have fixed their eyes on Jesus, on God the Father Himself who is our hope. They see with an eternal perspective that reminds them that this life is not all there is, and it is not as good as it gets!
As much as we can be encouraged to hope for good in this life, we have even more reason to have hope for all of eternity because of Jesus.
God promises in Revelation 21:3 that He will come and walk with us again, just like in the garden. No pain or sorrow or worries. No sin. And no more enemy.
Stephen Curtis Chapman expresses this so beautifully in his song “Our God is in Control”. You can listen here.
His very Presence will be seen with our own eyes. And we’ll just experience a continuous life of expecting good. Of being in a fulfilling relationship with God and with others and never having a reason to fear.
Now that is hope.
REAL HOPE COMES FROM GOD
Using Joshua 1:9 one more time, God encourages Joshua to not be afraid. Why? Joshua was getting ready to go into a new land, leading a huge group of people, and going up against numerous groups of hostile enemies.
How could Joshua have hope? He could have hope because God promised to go with him. He would go with him wherever he went.
The promise of the presence of God with us can give us courage and confidence, too.
We aren’t alone in all of this. We can rest assured that whatever comes, He’s right there with us, and He wants us to know we can trust Him. He’s got it, and He won’t leave us alone to deal with it by ourselves. He is our door of hope.
This can be my expectation of good – that whatever I might be facing, I can rely on God to be with me and to bring good out of it. I can live in anticipation of seeing God at work.
For me, this is learning to see with different eyes. To not allow myself to be sucked into the noise and stress and chaos of life and be affected by it. I can choose instead to look for God in the midst. To see what He wants me to see.
And expect He will bring about good.
God encourages us to have hope. He will never warn you to not get your hopes up. He is calling you to wait on Him, in trust, expecting and anticipating that He will bring about good.
And one day, all will be good, even to our eyes.
Expecting good with you,
In the comments below, please share with us where you’ve seen hope in action in the past. Maybe you were suffering financially and the people who brought you meals and helped you out are now your closest friends. Maybe you were fired from your job, but you later realized it was for the good because God was leading you to follow a passion you had always felt to start your own business. We’d love to hear your stories of how God showed up with good in the midst of what might have looked hopeless. Our testimonies can give us all more hope! Thanks!
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