“Everything that is done in this world is done by hope.” Martin Luther
On a certain day each week, the convenience store in my neighborhood has a line stretching almost out the door as the lottery tickets go on sale. Never mind that the chances of winning the lottery are only slightly better than being hit by a meteor, the hope of sudden riches keeps them coming back.
Lotteries run on hope, but not realistic ones. If a person had real hope for a win, they would sell everything they owned to buy tickets. Their hope is just a happy fantasy. Real hope demands the surrender of our souls.
Christianity is a hopeful religion. It has three hopes:
- The ultimate hope of heaven. If we lose our lives in this world, we have a new life in the next. This has sustained martyrs and missionaries for centuries.
- The hope of improving the world. This hope keeps Christians active in evangelism and social change.
- The hope of becoming more like Jesus. This is probably the most essential hope for spiritual growth. Our hope for inner change is necessary to survive and thrive. Our hope to be Christ-like is not for one area of our lives, but in all of them. John says,
“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! . . . Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.” 1 John 3:1-3
What does a hopeful person look like? Hopeful people have four characteristics: perseverance, patience, planning, and flexibility.
Perseverance keeps us on course. A persevering person does not expect instant gratification, but is willing to continue, without seeing results for a long period of time, in hope of future benefits.
Patience is a passive perseverance. We feel we must do something, anything, but wisdom says to wait.
Planning. While we wait, we plan. Planning isn’t worrying. Worry approaches the future fearfully, anticipating all the bad things that can go wrong. Planning approaches the future hopefully, anticipating how things may go right. Worry looks ahead with dread, fretting over how hard the future will be. Planning looks at the future hopefully and in small segments. It doesn’t focus on the top of the mountain, but on what handholds and footholds we might try in the next few feet, and where we will attach our ropes.
Flexibility. No plan ever goes smoothly. Plans are always tentative, subject to God’s higher plan for us. Our plans need contingency plans.
Inflexible people approach targets like a bullet. Once they are committed, there is no changing course. Most of the time, they miss their target. But a flexible person approaches the target like a predator drone, guided intelligently to change course and make correction in flight. A flexible person bent on conformity to Christ’s image may have setbacks, but is pliable enough to recover and continue toward the goal of Christ-likeness.
The hope of a Christian is certain, but the steps to that hope are uncertain. We need to keep our eyes on the hope, and not get bogged down in the details. Just keep moving toward our ultimate goal, which is to be like Christ.