Wheat in the snow - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

What is hope?

Hope is dangerous. I posted about that earlier in the month, and it’s true. We have to be so careful where our hope comes from. But what I failed to ask is a basic question that I don’t think people really think about: what is hope?

Everybody talks about hope. Everybody wants hope, especially those people who have lost it. But what is it? Where do you find it? How do you hold on to it? Is it some ethereal concept just floating around in the void? Or is it a concrete choice that you make every day?

Wheat in the snow - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Wheat in the snow – Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Romans 8:24-25.

We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.)

Whenever I think about hope and trying to understand what it is and where it comes from, this is one of the passages I go to. The other passage is Hebrews 11:1.

Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.

Maybe Hebrews 11:1 is more about faith than hope, but it just demonstrates that hope and faith are inseparable. Hope is part of a process. You don’t just wake up one morning and have hope in a general sense. Hope isn’t general. I mean, you can be a generally positive person. But generic hope isn’t really hope; hope is specific. And hope always comes from faith.

If you want to have hope, first you have to have faith in something.

The passage out of Romans refers to “this hope” that we received. The hope Paul is talking about is the promise that God made that we would be adopted as God’s children and given new bodies. That is a promise God gave all those who choose to put their faith in Christ, but that promise has yet to be fulfilled. So we’re waiting for the day when it happens. We are hoping for that day, hoping to see the promise kept, hoping to get to be with God.

Scripture says it better than I can. If you already have it, you don’t have to hope for it.

It’s like kids opening presents on Christmas morning. They’ve told their parents what they want, and they’ve had to wait for a month, every day seeing the number of presents beneath the tree increasing. Until finally on Christmas Day, they get to open their presents and see what their parents have given them. Once they open their presents, they don’t have to have hope anymore; they know.

What part does faith play, though? Scripture says faith is confidence that what we hope for will happen. So hope stems from faith. If you don’t have faith, you can’t have hope.

Going back to the Christmas analogy, if a child doesn’t have faith in his or her parents, they aren’t going to look forward to receiving anything from them for Christmas. So why should they get excited about presents under a tree? Why should they get excited about Christmas at all? They don’t have any faith, so there’s no reason to hope. And if there’s no reason to hope, there’s no reason to participate at all.

Faith is the foundation of everything, but hope is the result of faith. If you choose to put your faith in someone (or even in a purpose or a way of life), you choose to trust that person. Usually that person has made a promise and you are trusting that person to keep his word. And because you trust that person, because you have chosen to have faith in that person, you have hope.

So just as you have to be careful where your hope comes from, you have to be careful who you put your faith in. Because who you put your faith in will determine how resilient your hope is.

Who do you trust to change your life? Who do you trust to repair your relationships? Who do you trust to put the pieces of the American economy back together? Who do you trust your children to? Who do you trust your future to?

If you trust another person, you need to prepare yourself for disappointment. Because people will let you down. Whether it’s Oprah or Dr. Phil or Dr. Oz or any other television show personality who claims to have all the answers, none of them can claim a level of perfection above you. Maybe they have been trained, maybe they have some life experience, but no truth they preach on television is their original discovery. The same is true with our country’s leaders. No presidential candidate is going to solve all our problems. I don’t care if you’re conservative or liberal.

Faith should be in someone who isn’t going to let you down. Faith needs to be in someone who can actually keep the promises he makes. Why else would you trust him?

If you have faith, your heart will change. And I’m not talking about the fair-weather faith that only runs to God when trouble is brewing. I’m talking about real faith, where you believe and you trust even if it doesn’t necessarily make sense to anyone else. If you trust God, your life is going to show it. How? Because you’ll have hope.

And hope is truly dangerous, dangerous in a way I didn’t post about last week. People who have hope are frightening because they are unstoppable. And I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for some unstoppable Christians. And even though the world doesn’t want them, the world needs them now more than ever.

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Irises - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Balancing faith with hope

Are you surprised when God answers your prayers? Does it catch you off guard? It does me sometimes. I ask Him for something, but a part of me doesn’t really expect Him to answer. So when He does, I don’t know how to react.

I don’t have a problem believing that God can do everything He says He can. That’s a no brainer. If He made the universe, He can answer my prayers. But what I struggle with is finding the balance between knowing He can and expecting Him to.

Irises - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Irises – Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verse is Psalm 120:1.

I took my troubles to the Lord;
    I cried out to him, and he answered my prayer.

The Psalms are songs; did you know that? And Psalm 120 is a Song of Ascent, which is possibly a song that pilgrims sang on the way up the mountain to Jerusalem for festivals and such. So if you read the whole of Psalm 120, you’ll get a better idea of what the writer is talking about.

One of the things I love about the Psalms is that the writer never hesitates to tell God exactly what he’s thinking and precisely what he wants. The Psalms are genuine, full of real pain and real life and real troubles.

I’m not a scholar, and I don’t speak any biblical languages. So that’s why I always use multiple translations, and I discovered something unusual about Psalm 120:1. The main translations I go to (New Living Translation, Amplified Version and the Message) differ. They don’t usually. Usually their context is the same. But in this case, an entire sentence is missing.

The Message goes like this:

I’m in trouble. I cry to God, desperate for an answer:

Okay. Where is the part about God answering? It’s in New Living. It’s in Amplified. So I randomly checked a few of the other translations available on BibleGateway.com, and the majority of them include it. But some of them don’t.

I can only assume it’s a Hebrew language thing. I don’t speak Hebrew, so I’m not going to try to delve into the language for an explanation. And I know from other verses (and from my own life experiences) that God answers prayer. But this still got me thinking. Because we are supposed to ask God for everything, and we are supposed to do this while expecting Him to answer us.

Mark 11:24 is just one example of this.

I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours.

But what happens when God doesn’t answer? What happens when you beg and plead with everything you are for God to do something, and He doesn’t do it? What does that mean? How do you keep expecting Him to do something for you when what you really wanted is something He refuses to do?

If God doesn’t answer your prayer, the first thing you need to do is make sure you’re asking with pure motivation. James 4:2-3 tackles that concept:

You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.

If your motives are wrong for what you’re asking, God won’t give it to you. A dream that comes from God will always help people and bring Him glory. That’s how you can identify a desire in your heart that is from God, because it’s not about you and it’s not about bringing yourself fame and it’s not about ensuring that you always have an easy life. So if you ask God for something like that, yeah, He’ll answer.

And if you’re not living the way you’re supposed to be, He won’t answer either. Obviously none of us are perfect, but if our lives aren’t reflecting the principles of Scripture, if our hearts aren’t set on seeking God, why would He answer our prayers? If we aren’t ready to live the way He’s told us expressly to live, why would He answer our requests?

But if your heart is right and your life is clean (as much as possible), you’re supposed to ask God and He has promised to answer. So why doesn’t He?

I’ve struggled with this for so long because there are so many things I want, so many dreams I have that can only happen if God intervenes. And for the most part, He hasn’t seen fit to step in yet. And after years and years and years of asking Him for the same thing, how am I supposed to still hope that He’ll answer?

That’s where faith comes in.

How do you balance faith with hope? You can’t have one without the other. But if you focus too much on one, the other will weigh you down. If you have nothing but faith that God does what He wants to do without taking the time to listen to your petty requests, you won’t have any expectations from Him. You won’t ask Him for anything. And that’s not what He wants. But if you don’t temper your hope with faith, you’ll have no foundation for your expectations. And when God doesn’t respond the way you believe He will, all your hope will crumble.

So where’s the middle ground? Is there a middle ground?

Some time ago, I had a revelation about dreams and how they affect my life and God’s answers, but I still ask Him for things. And He still is holding off on one or two of them, and the only way I’ve found to keep hoping that some day He’ll answer is to believe (to remember) that He knows what He’s doing.

I trust Him. And if He hasn’t answered, that just means it isn’t time yet. Either I’m not ready or the rest of the pieces of the puzzle aren’t aligned yet. And He’s just waiting for the day when everything will come together. He’s the one in charge, after all, and He can see the end result. So it’s my job to be patient and keep hoping and keep believing that He’ll do everything He’s promised.

So if you’ve asked God for something and your heart and life match up to what Scripture says and God hasn’t answered yet, don’t give up. God does answer prayers. I can honestly tell you that I know now why God didn’t answer my prayer when I started praying it 10 years ago. I had so much growing to do, and I’m not done yet.

Keep asking, keep hoping. And when He does answer, it’ll be beyond anything you’ve dreamed. He’s working out the details. We just have to let Him.