The Underappreciated Effect of Hope

Our family was recently spending time with some good friends at their farm. The farmer was almost done milking cows and needed help distracting his kids. He suggested I take all of the kids (7 boys including mine) and drive them out to the tree house on the golf cart. He said, “just be careful, it’s been shutting off lately.” I should’ve been smart enough to recognize the prophetic note here, but it didn’t sink in until we were halfway there and the golf cart shut off. I debated what to do for a minute then had my boys get out and start pushing us back to the farm. 

When they tired I got out; when I tired the farmer’s boys got out. It didn’t take long because with all of us working together we kept the momentum going. Unsurprisingly, we discovered that as long as the cart was rolling forward, it was easier to keep it rolling forward. 

Hope is what keeps us rolling forward. It has a positive continual momentum, and in the church world, it keeps rolling things forward until the glorious return of Jesus. Until that time, we are always in the hope business, and alongside faith and love, there really isn’t anything more vital than hope.

While there are plenty of places we could go to consider this in Scripture, I want to draw our attention to two simple examples placed side-by-side in the gospel of Luke.

Now there was a man named Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on Him. It had been revealed to Him that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. (Luke 2:25-26)

There was also a prophet, Anna…she was very old…she never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying….she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Israel. (Luke 2:36-38)

I truly love these Scriptures. They each speak of hope fulfilled in a moment, while also alluding to hope that had lived for decades. That means there was hope present when others thought it was pointless. While there were seasons and reasons for hope to fade and hope was a scarcity, Simeon and Anna had a hope that was a central thread carrying through their lives. In the end, their hope was fulfilled in a mighty way.

That’s the nature of hope – it can be so incredibly, powerfully, perseverant. It can drive anyone to do anything, and in Luke, it led these two wonderful saints to live out their days waiting for a single precious moment, seeing the Messiah face to face. As we reflect on such a marvelous concept, I want us to keep in mind the testimony of Simeon and Anna, two individuals with no other reason but hope to live.

What Difference Does Hope Make?

If a singular hope can define a decades long direction of an entire life, what can it do in our church? What difference could hope make through us in our community? What legacy can it leave after our ministry? I guess what I am asking is, “what hope do you have for hope?” I have seen it gel fractured ministry teams. I have seen it lead loved ones to the Lord after years of prayer. I am also confident that if we can reinvigorate a Simeon/Anna-like hope within our churches, we will each have new songs to sing in praise of what God has done.

On the contrary, think of the daunting concept of trying to counsel a marriage where each spouse has no hope. What are the chances for a baseball team if the players have no hope? And if the church – which is the pinnacle of hope – has no hope, what will it accomplish?

In the Christian world things often look bleak, and bleak is discouraging. Yet what we see again and again in the Scriptures is that bleak does not defeat hope.

I often joke with our congregation that I am a die-hard Patriots fan. Yes our glory days are probably behind us, but those truly were some incredible days! In Super Bowl 51 we were down 28-3 with 7:50 to go in the third quarter, and it was bleak. It was embarrassingly bad, but I still couldn’t stop watching. Even with the opposing team’s owner making his way onto the field in a move of early celebration, I knew we had this quarterback named Brady. Look, the church has this Savior named Jesus. The very one whose death, shadowed by the darkened sky, ripped through the veil of the temple. The same one whose resurrection brought brilliant light and life on Easter morning. Deconstructions may rock us, cultural moral degradation may challenge us, the furry of the darts from Satan may sting us, but with Jesus Christ, hope beats bleak.

So how do we see hope grow in our midst?

I believe hope is built in two ways: wonder and expectation. In my own world, nothing quite fuels hope like wonder. The more wonder I have from being immersed in Scripture, the more I am stilled/moved by the beauty of creation, the more I reflect on the mystery and majesty of God’s orchestration of events, the more I hope. Taking time to be lost in wonder over things in the past and present binds my heart to the potential of what God may do in the future. That’s because wonder makes me consider the possibilities, and so wonder leads me to hope.

We need to get lost in the wonder of a doxology, the wonder of a Christ hymn, or the song of the Saints in revelation. We need to allow our hearts to sing those things now, shortly before we sing them in His presence. The wonder in these poems and songs produces a hope with an influence that exceeds the impact of any sermon we preach or staff meeting we lead. To sing these songs with a wondrous heart is to put hope directly into our soul and into the church the way an IV puts medicine directly into our bloodstream. For as I wonder, I wonder about what God may do through me.

It is in that way that wonder creates an expectation. I don’t mean expectation in the sense of a demand we place upon God, but rather as a certainty that we have come to expect. We have a saying in our church, “We expect God to do great things, because He always has.” It’s one of our values and I am always encouraged to hear one of our volunteers say it at a key community outreach. It changes the entire mentality and mood of everyone who is at the event. We are there expecting that God will show up and do something that will leave us dumbfounded. Such expectation produces a hope, allows faith to keep its eyes open, love to keep its arms open, and a church to keep its doors open. Hope sees potential everywhere it looks, and when it’s looking to see what God can do, I find we are far more motivated and prepared to join Him in the work.

Practical Ways to Build Hope In a Church: 

  • I believe hope wants to create hope. If it’s a struggle for you or your church, connect with other churches and build bonds with them in reaching the community together.
  • Don’t focus on defense. Hope is about offense in the sense that we are pursuing the mission of the gospel which naturally lends itself towards offensive movement. If your teaching is primarily about what not to do, what to avoid, or what false teaching is, it can set a tone of fear and isolation which keeps hope on its heels, not its toes.
  • Schedule a staff team fun trip with one lesson you can briefly talk through to instill a central hope. Consider renting a small private movie theatre to watch a movie that has a point you want to make with your team. They’ll be surprised, relieved and plus you get popcorn and snacks. Sit down and watch the movie and then afterwards simply make your connection and encourage them in what they are called to.

Rolling Forward

Hope in the Scriptures is a matter of perspective, not a change in reality. It doesn’t come because we alter the course in front us, it comes because we see what is actually there. It comes because we wrap our hearts around the hope of the gospel, anticipate the hope of glory, redirect our eyes to the God of hope and let hope keep rolling things forward.

As for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more.

Psalm 71:14

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Matt Saxinger has served in the EFCA for 14 years. He currently is the Lead Pastor at Susquehanna Valley Church in Harrisburg, PA. He has a heart for the gospel and seeing the next generation rise up in leadership.

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