Monday, March 1, 2010

Taking Hold of Hope

By two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. (Hebrews 6.18) 

In Reverse

So many of us have been disappointed so often that the instant we see any hope for our circumstances, we seize it and throw it in reverse. We get it backwards. Broken promises have conditioned us to place conditions on our hopes. If what we’re told to expect doesn’t materialize in a certain manner or timeframe, we give up. But hope’s sole purpose is sustaining us so we won’t give up. “I hope” and “We’ll see” are no longer statements of faith. They convey shaky belief. And they usually come far too soon after a promise is rendered, planting poisonous speculations it won’t be realized early on. As a consequence, rather than abiding in hope, we teeter in disbelief. Our backwards understanding of what hope is and how it works actually assists doubt in draining our confidence. When confidence goes, patience to wait on the promise goes, too. We fall into doubt’s clutches with a resigned sigh. “I should have known not to get my hopes up,” we say.

Nowhere is hope more essential than areas where we rely on God’s promises. And since we depend on His Word and Spirit to guide our lives, hope plays a critical role in everything we do. It’s so integral to our faith Paul assigns it equal status to faith, ranking both just below love. When all is said and done, he says, “These three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13.13) In Romans 5, he asserts the main reason for our trials is generating hope: “We have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand,” he writes in verse 2, saying we should rejoice not just in this, but also in our struggles. “We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” (v3-5) There they are again; faith, hope, and love, each following the other. When we entertain doubt—even with seemingly benign comments—we reverse the process. We question God’s love, which steals our hope, which causes us to lose faith. We give up before we’ve started to grasp His plan to honor His promises.

Built on Hope

In typically dense and meticulous fashion, the Hebrews writer insists everything we believe is built on hope. In order to confirm hope’s fundamental significance, the author turns to Abraham, who God vowed to bless with many descendents. “Since there was no one greater for him to swear by,” Hebrews 6.13 reads, “he swore by himself.” God took an oath, verse 17 says, “to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised.” According to verse 18, He did this “so that, by two unchangeable things”—His word and His supremacy—“we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered us may be greatly encouraged.”

In plain English, here’s what Hebrews is saying. God’s promise to Abraham set a precedent for every promise that followed. His word is absolute and final without any possible ifs, ands, or maybes. He swore by Himself to be very clear that future generations had no reason to doubt the pledge He made to their patriarch. With no power in Heaven or Earth higher than He, none could challenge His authority to make good on His promise. And the same principle applies to all of God’s promises. He established this precedent for us, encouraging us to take hold of the hope we find in His Word. Scripture repeatedly tells us we live by faith. Here, Hebrews teaches the faith we live by is founded on hope. Thus, when hope gives way, faith fails. And when faith fails, we fail to live.

Unshakable

“Tell me, how did you feel when you came out of the wilderness. Were you leaning on the Lord?” the spiritual asks. Leaning on the Lord—that’s the chief reason we enter the desert voluntarily at Lent. It’s also why we’re led into uncharted stretches of desolation throughout the year. We’re tested to renew our acquaintance with God, to trust Him to help us endure our trials, to be reminded that perseverance shapes and builds character, and finally to strengthen our hope. When we’re cross life’s deserts, hope is our only sustenance. We have no choice but leaning on the Lord, because when everything else fails, His promises remain true. We can’t afford to be shaken by doubt, and the only way to maintain unshakable faith is by embracing unshakable hope. In the desert, “I hope” translates into “I’m confident,” and “We’ll see” means “It is so.”

Wherever life takes us, we keep hope in hand, knowing God’s promises are uncontestable and unfailing.

Postscript: You Are My Hope

The song says it all. “You Are My Hope” by Skillet.

2 comments:

claire said...

Tim, have you ever participated in weekend retreats where you witness your faith to help the people who attend find theirs anew?

I will have to print this post of yours. I love how you bring everything fitting together. I too am a fan of 1 Cor 13 and Romans 5...

YES!!!

And then you're helping me with Hebrews which somehow so often tastes like plain oatmeal to me... I will have to reread it.

Thank you!

Tim said...

Claire, I've attended several retreats and been lifted each time. But your asking comes as a confirmation. Last year, the Spirit planted the seed of an idea about a potential Straight-Friendly retreat that might bring many of the astute believers (and thinkers) together to share God's grace and His Word.

I discussed this with Annette, Fran, Harvey, Missy, and a few others, all of whom were genuinely supportive of the idea. I even explored possible locations, etc. The timing was premature, though, and I pulled back. But lately this idea has resurfaced in my Spirit and (this what amazes me) I've been thinking about mentioning it to you. And... well, isn't this the way all things start working together? In the next day or so, I'll dig up a one-pager I put together and forward it to you.

Part of what I'm hearing, though, is also my need to reenter the "retreat scene" to become more familiar with it, etc. So if you have any recommendations, I'd be delighted to hear them.

Ah, Hebrews. It's granularity is why I think you find it so mealy. It's tough going, mainly because it's a grammarian's nightmare (or delight, if compound-complex sentences are your thing). At times, I've actually pulled out a blank sheet and tried to diagram the sentences just to get to the core meaning because I've got halfway through one and realized I've lost all sense of what the subject is.

But as an overall strategy, this may help you. Read Hebrews as a legal brief, since that's what it basically is. The passion comes through in its thoroughness more so than its language. And the central issue, I think, is the piercing of the Temple veil at Calvary's consummation. The writer is arguing for equal access through faith, something we both care deeply about!

Blessings, my dear sister. I'm so grateful for you.

Tim