- “I was trapped. I saw no way out.”
- “The only light I could see was a train headed straight for me.”
- “Everything became dark—my marriage, my job, my health.”
- “I had no reason to keep going.”
These are some of the sentiments of men and women caught in the throes of addiction. They all share a common denominator . . . a sense of hopelessness.
Without hope, we die—slowly or quickly.
Viktor Frankly was a Jewish psychiatrist who survived the horrors of Auschwitz. As a prisoner, he became a keen observer of camp life and later recorded his observations in what has become a classic, Man’s Search for Meaning. One of his main interests became the subject of what distinguished those who lived from those who died.
He concluded that the primary factor was not physical strength, survival skills, or intelligence. It was hope. “The prisoner who had lost his faith in the future—his future—was doomed. With his loss of belief in the future, he also lost his spiritual hold; he let himself decline and became subject to mental and physical decay.”
Hope is truly a matter of life and death.
Times are difficult. The threat of terrorism and random acts of violence, mounting national debt, climate change, and the spread of infectious disease (to name a few) coupled with the drama of our own everyday, ordinary lives exposes us to innumerable vulnerabilities resulting in increased anxiety. Recent polls and surveys reveal a growing pessimism about the future among Americans.
Hope is critical. It is the fuel, the will to press on, to move forward, to keep going . . . despite the odds.
Hope is also resistance.
Hope is fighting and standing in opposition to the frustration, disappointment, and trouble that threaten to undo us. Abraham of old refused to accept the reading of reality by the majority opinion. Though he and his wife were barren with no foreseeable future, he made a decision which changed not only the course of his life but the entire history of the world. The Apostle Paul comments, “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations” (Rom. 4:18).
One of the primary distinctives of being Christian is hope—a hopefulness in the face of, in spite of, . . . notwithstanding—the injustice, evil, and pain of life on a broken planet.
Hope is not denial. It does not turn its head away from loss and sorrow and play a game of make-believe. It is well aware that life is not as it should or was intended to be.
Neither is hope minimization. Hope does not make light of suffering. It weeps and laments. In fact, it is precisely because of hope that we do not become indifferent or apathetic as we see the disparity between God’s original design and the present conditions.
A person cannot flourish without becoming a “hoper.” That is why much of our programming at Life Challenge is designed to help recovering addicts acquire real hope. Not a cheap, self-serving, wishful-thinking kind of hope but one that is comprehensive, substantial, life-transforming.
The resurrection of Christ is that solid ground. Because of Christ’s empty tomb, we as believers are assured that death does not have the final word. Resurrection power has been infused into this world. Life—not death—is the operative principle. Christ is the first fruits—the example and guarantee—of an entire world that is going to be renewed (see 1 Cor. 15:20 ff.).
Hoping is far from easy work, especially when one’s world is crashing. It is a practice that one must learn, a discipline that takes time and effort. It does not come naturally.
Thankfully, the Christian faith gives us many resources for improving our “hope quotient.” From Scripture reading to singing spiritual songs, partaking of the sacraments, prayer, observing the Sabbath, along with a host of other Christian exercises . . . each serving as channels through which grace can meet us.
One practice that is in the decline these days is “fellowshipping.” As a society, while we may be more “connected,” we are also more isolated—whether we are Christian or not.
We cannot forget that hope is social. It is something more caught than taught. It is born and grown in the context of living life with other believers. No wonder the writer of Hebrews charged his congregation with these words: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing” (10:25).
Just as addiction-recovery cannot happen except in community, so hoping cannot happen in a vacuum. We need each other.
Finally, hope is personal.
Hope is not a set of propositions, principles, or ideas that one espouses. It is not a faith system, a certain way of thinking and believing. Hope is first a person.
Again, the author of Hebrews: “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” (Heb. 6:19)
Hope is Jesus.
The late Lesslie Newbigin, a British theologian, missionary, and bishop, was once asked whether he was an optimist or pessimist as he looked to the future; he replied, “I am neither an optimist nor a pessimist. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.”
Gospel hope does not mean that we will conquer the world, that life will go our way, or that we won’t stress.
It does mean, however, that one day all will be well. Heaven will kiss earth.
In the meantime, as we live between the ages, we will have our share of trouble, . . . but we have hope notwithstanding. And that is what will see us through.
So let the church, God’s people, live in ways that reflect our most holy confession: Christ is risen; He is risen indeed!
I really needed this! Thanks Pastor Jeff!
What a beautiful message! We always need reminded where are hope comes from…Jesus!! God is my Anchor! It is so easy to focus on our circumstances and lose our focus. Thanks be to God for loving us and redeeming us!
This will preach!
( Maybe at Néw Hope Assembly in Three Rivers this Easter season! )