Thursday, September 24, 2009

No Hope in Sight

Hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

                        Romans 8.24-25

Needing a Peek

One evening before Christmas, when I was seven and my brother five, a pastoral emergency called our parents away. They wouldn’t be gone very long. So they left us alone, telling us to call our aunt down the street if we needed anything. “We’ll be good,” I promised. After they pulled off, I told Steve, “I know how to wrap presents. If we’re careful, we can open our gifts, wrap them back up, and Mom and Dad will never know we peeked.” Of course, I knew nothing of the sort. Our parents returned to a disheveled mess beneath the tree. They couldn’t help laughing—we looked so pathetic. Dad said, “Well, there’s no point waiting. You might as well take your gifts now.” Mom added, “Too bad you’re going to spend the next couple weeks hearing what your friends are hoping for while you already know.” Neither let on that bigger gifts—including new bikes—hadn’t made it to the living room. Until they showed up on Christmas Eve, we experienced what life without hope feels like a highly vivid way.

We never fully outgrow needing a peek, especially when it comes to faith in our Creator. We give Him detailed lists of hopes and like kids waiting for Christmas, we trust we’ll receive what we ask for. Yet the longer we wait, the tougher it gets without seeing something to confirm our faith will be rewarded. A tiny peek will do. If we allow the urge to know what’s “under the tree” to overwhelm us, however, we risk interfering with God’s plan. Worse than that, we rob ourselves of the joy in hope. “Hope that is seen is no hope at all,” Romans 8.24 says. “Who hopes for what he already has?” What’s more, as my brother and I learned, we may settle for less than we hope for, not knowing our requests will be fully met. Verse 25 encourages us to hang on until everything falls into place. “But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” Moral of the story: we place no hope in sight.

Belief Beats Knowledge

Hebrews 11.1 defines belief: “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” If we’re confident our hopes will be realized, certainty cancels out the need to see. Faith is completely counterintuitive. It asks us to forego our compulsion to know so we can sustain hope in what we can’t possibly know. Thus, faith begins with a sobering confession: we don’t know, nor will we ever know, what God wants to do, can do, and will do for us. He takes mundane hopes and mortal crises and solves them on a scale beyond our comprehension. As Paul reminds us in Romans 8.28, we believe “all things work together for good to those who love God, who have been called according to his purpose.” Faith takes effect by permitting God to work things out per His plan. We concede our ideas to His infinite power and wisdom. He tells us in Isaiah 55.9, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Seeing isn’t believing. It’s knowing. Believing is not seeing. Hope springs from resolute awareness we can never see, explain, or know the vast scope of God’s plan for our lives. Depending solely on what we can see restricts us to our capabilities, leaving us nothing to hope for and precious little to show for in our lives. There’s a lot more we’ll realize if we can overcome our inadequate ability to see and know. Paul says, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2.9) For this reason, belief beats knowledge every time. Our drive to find out what’s happening may reveal a few things, but it ultimately impedes our faith and expectation for greater gifts God intends to give us. He wants to bless us in ways unlike any we’ve ever seen, heard, or experienced. Impatience to know cheats us by getting in His way. We place no hope in sight.

How We Lose Faith

Hope doesn’t look ahead; it looks beyond. Faith doesn’t rely on what happens; it happens by relying on hope. Neither seeks arbitrary proof or indicators. They operate entirely on what’s inside us—unyielding confidence in our Maker’s supremacy and love. Ephesians 3.20 offers the Bible’s superlative definition of Who God is and how He works: He “is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.”

How do we get faith? Where do we find hope? There’s no “getting” or “finding” them, because God’s already given them to us. Romans 12.3 charges us: “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” Insisting we see what we hope for, waiting to know before we believe, constitutes pure arrogance. It expects God to earn our trust. Who are we to challenge Him, when His ways and thoughts are higher than ours, we’re too limited to perceive His intentions, and our imaginations fall short of His abilities? We want Him to change others to love and accept us; He wants to change us to love and accept them. We want a promotion; He wants to open a more prosperous, fulfilling career. Without disciplining our impatience, we’ll never realize what’s possible by relying on the faith God gives each of us. Needing peeks and answers is how we lose faith, not find it. Faith is already there, hiding in the open to be found once we stop placing hope in sight.

We never fully outgrow the need peek. But seeing is not believing. Believing is NOT seeing. And without belief, we have no hope.

(Tomorrow: Training for Life)

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