Hope: Seeing Clearly

Colossians 1:3-6

Several years ago I knew a young man named Steve. He had struggled with depression and darkness in his life. One day I got the word that he had attempted suicide. I say attempted because he failed. He had taken a gun and put it in his mouth and pulled the trigger. The bullet managed to go between the lobes of his brain and exit through the top of his skull. The damage required major reconstruction and he lost his sight in one eye and a major part of his memory, but he lived. Steve and I talked many times after that about the events that led up to his attempt. What he said was “I simply lost hope.”

You might be able to relate. He’s not alone.

Elijah could relate. He had just come off of the greatest victory imaginable on Mt. Carmel, but then Queen Jezebel brought Elijah to his knees with the promise to have him killed. He fled into the wilderness and when he could go no farther he fell down and prayed, “I have had enough, Lord. Take my life.”

Jeremiah could relate. Jerusalem was surrounded by the Babylonian army of King Nebuchadnezzar. Jeremiah is preaching to the people that this is God’s judgment upon Judah for their sins and their rejection of the Lord. The leaders in the Temple are upset and offended that Jeremiah is accusing them of sin, so they arrest him and beat him and put him in stocks. And there, Jeremiah prays, “Cursed be the day I was born! May the day my mother bore me not be blessed! Cursed be the man who brought my father the news, who made him very glad, saying, ‘A child is born to you—a son!’ Why did I ever come out of the womb to see trouble and sorrow and to end my days in shame?” (Jer. 20:14-15,18)

It is in those darkest moments that we lose sight of hope. And when we lose hope, we cannot see clearly, our vision is muddied, our thinking is muddled. Godliness does not exempt you from despairing of life at times.

We began last week with that intriguing phrase in 1 Corinthians 13, “Now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” This powerful combination is not just a random collection of attributes, but the very heart, the very roots of our relationship with God.

We began last week by looking at faith – that remarkable inner strength by which we reach up to God in confident trust, stepping out in obedience, knowing that God is and that he rewards those who seek him with all their heart.

This morning our focus is on hope. Hope is the watershed of our lives. With hope, we can withstand any crisis, move forward under any burden. But without hope we are like sheets on the clothesline in a tornado – blown, whipped, ripped and shredded.

What kind of hope are we talking about, though? We’ve all put our hope in people and things that have failed us and disappointed us. We’ve gotten our hopes up that things would go this way or that and those hopes have been crushed. It’s almost as if hope were this flight of fancy that has no substance to it and little likelihood of coming about. We’ve all found ourselves saying, “Well, I hope so.” But what we meant was, “I doubt it.”

The kind of hope we’re talking about this morning is more than a flimsy wish thrown out on the wind. It is the substance upon which we are staking our lives when we sing, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness.”  That’s what Paul wrote about in 1 Cor 15: If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1 Cor 15:19-20)

The substance of our hope is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And so, when we say “I hope” our confidence is absolute. It is based on the infallible promise of God.

The apostle Paul describes the key role of hope in our lives: Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because 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. (Rom 5:1-5)

I love how he said, “And hope does not disappoint us.” You may have been disappointed by lots of things in this life, but your hope in God will never disappoint. Why? Because this hope flows out of God’s love that has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.

Hope is the wellspring of faith and love: We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints—the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you. (Col 1:3-6)

Again, this trio of faith and hope and love. Faith and love spring from hope. And this hope is stored up for you in heaven. If our hope is built on anything less, it is as fragile and vulnerable as a turtle crossing an eight-lane highway. But the hope we’re talking about this morning is solid and enduring.

Listen to how Peter describes the effect of hope: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5) This is a living hope, built on the resurrection of Jesus Christ, kept in heaven, shielded by God’s power. This is something you can stake your life upon.

There are some enemies of hope, and too many times we lose hope because we don’t pay attention to the things going on in our lives that threaten it.

I had a friend who climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, the tallest peak in Africa. It is an eight day climb to the summit at 19,341 feet. It is at times a difficult and strenuous climb. He said that on clear days, the group would move briskly, keeping their eyes on the snowcapped peak in the distance, like a compelling goal. Though many, they climbed as one, all pushing toward the summit together. On days when clouds enveloped the mountain, the climb was arduous. Eyes were down and thoughts were inward. Tempers were short and complaints stung like thorns on the trail. The goal was obscured and weariness was their constant companion.

Sometimes our hopes are vulnerable because we take our eyes off the goal. Our vision is obscured, our thoughts turn inward and weariness takes its toll. That’s why the Hebrews writer told those Christians who were struggling under persecution and discouragement and wondering whether it was all worth it Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:2)

Fear can drain the hope from our lives. When Jesus was arrested and crucified, his disciples ran and hid in fear. They cowered in the upper room, believing that Jesus was dead and hope was gone. Then suddenly in the evening of the third day, Jesus appeared among them and said, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds?” (Lk 24:36-38) When we see Jesus, fear and doubt are dispelled.

Aloneness can also quench hope. Like Elijah, who complained to God in the wilderness, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty… the Israelites have rejected you, they have put your prophets to death, and now I am the only one left and they want to kill me too.”  God’s answer to Elijah? “Go back, you are not alone. I have 7,000 others who are still faithful.”

Hope is a journey best travelled together. Whenever we isolate ourselves and focus on our problems, the journey becomes more difficult and wearisome. Hope shrivels and doubt takes over. But as we work together, strengthening one another, our hope becomes stronger, our goal becomes clearer.

We need each other. That is the constant, recurring refrain of scripture:  See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first. (Heb 3:12-14)

Even Paul needed the encouragement of others:  I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong—that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. (Rom 1:11-12)

I pray that you are walking in faith and hope together with someone. If you feel isolated and alone and your hope is struggling, reach out to someone who is a person of hope. Find strength in each other’s faith, find a companion for the journey.

A second thing, if your hope is waning (and I can’t apologize for sounding like a broken record) – get back into the word of God. In that passage we read a few minutes ago in Colossians 1, Paul said: “… the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you.”

Where does hope find its source and revelation? In God’s Word. If you’re spending more time in the world than in the Word of God, then no wonder your hope is drowning in a sea of despair – that’s what the world specializes in.

Take Paul’s encouragement to the Philippian Christians to heart: Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (Phil 4:8-9)

When you do that, listen to what the result is: “this gospel will bear fruit and grow, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it….” (Col 1:6)

If you have lost hope, you don’t need a prescription for Prozac, you need an infusion of God. Now, I’m not against medication, and yes, there are appropriate uses. But so many use it as a substitute for what they need most. The 5th century theologian Augustine said that we all have a God-shaped hole in our lives that we attempt to fill with all manner of substitutes, but only God can truly fill.

Hopelessness is that reminder that what we need most in our lives is a daily, intimate relationship with God. He is the one who pours hope into our lives through his love.

I pray for your hope to be strong and your vision clear – that as you walk and live your sight is fixed firmly on the cross and the empty tomb. Hope is what fills our lives with great expectations.

We’re going to sing a song: “Will your anchor hold in the storms of life, when the clouds unfold their wings of strife? When the strong tides lift, and the cables strain, will your anchor drift or firm remain?

The question for you this morning is: where is your life anchored? When the storms come, will your hope remain strong because you are anchored in the one who looked up into the sky and shouted, “Be still!” and the winds and the waves obeyed him.