Introduction It’s a popular statement. I heard it years ago though I’m not sure who first said it.: Human beings can live for 40 days without food, four days without water, and four minutes without air. But we cannot live for four seconds without hope.
Humans seek after hope like moths seek after light. It’s intrinsic to who we are. Neuroscientist Tali Sharot argues hope is so essential to our survival that it is hardwired into our brains, arguing it can be the difference between living a healthier life versus one trapped by despair.
Studies show hopeful college kids get higher GPAs and are more likely to graduate. Hopeful athletes perform better on the field, cope better with injuries, and have greater mental adjustment when situations change. In one study of the elderly, those who said they felt hopeless were more than twice as likely to die during the study follow-up period as those who were more hopeful.
It’s pretty clear: hope is powerfully catalytic, and why Dr. Shane Lopez, the psychologist who was regarded as the world’s leading researcher on hope, claimed that hope isn’t just an emotion but an essential life tool.
The Hopeless World
And maybe we perk up a little more about this topic because we live in what appears to be an increasingly hopeless world with its broken government, climate change, wars, and famines.
Not to add that our own lives aren’t free from trouble. Some find themselves in the throes of divorce. While others with children struggling with addictions or some form of rebellion. Or maybe it’s the despair that comes with chronic illness, be it physical or mental.
No matter the reason, it’s easy to get to a place where joy feels in short supply and pain and anxiety come by the truckload. It all feels so hopeless.
Many react out of desperation. Some draw into themselves. They circle the emotional wagons and close the world off where friendships die and futures fade. Others do the opposite. They live with frivolity and gaiety, partying it up with drink or food or drug trying to forget even for a moment the pressure cooker their lives have become. It doesn’t break us free but makes us slaves all the more. Neither extreme works. They just make us less than ourselves and deep down inside we know it … if we just could have hope.
False Dawns of False Hopes
And that’s where the danger lies: Where do we find our hope?
Some fear loneliness, so they place their hope in the idea of marriage and having a spouse—so they find a guy or gal, get hitched, and have kids. But surely some of us have lived long enough to see that one of the things that pokes a hole in the balloon of having your spouse as your hope is finally getting a spouse. It turns out they’re broken people too.
Others fear being destitute, so they place their hope in money and they work, work, work. But how many times have you seen someone who has made their bank account their hope do so at the expense of their family? There’s a thin veneer of togetherness, but in reality no one really knows each other—just roommates in a really big house.
Still others fear getting sick, so they’re fanatical about eating well, exercising as much as they can, and taking their vitamins as their hope is their health. But, well, some of us hate to break it to you, but you’re going to get old.
A few weeks back, I was at my urologist for a kidney stone removal. And I joked, “Man, I’m not even 50 yet, and I have to come see you.” And he said, “Oh, don’t worry, in 10 to 15 years from now you’ll be seeing me a lot more when it all starts falling apart.” I laughed, then I cried in the corner.
You see, the question isn’t “Do you need hope?” or even “Do you have hope?” The question is “What is your hope in?” Not all objects of our hope are the same. They can just be false dawns where we think they’re the answer but leave us lacking.
Find Your Hope in God That’s why the call for followers of Jesus is to find our hope anchored in God and him alone. This call is repeatedly echoed in the Psalms:
-Psalm 42:5, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation.”
-Psalm 39:7, “And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you.”
-Psalm 71:5, “For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth.”
-And Psalm 131:3 where the call goes out to all God’s people: “O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.”
We are to find our hope in God. How do we do that? I want to encourage you to take a 360-degree approach to finding your hope in God. In order to anchor your hope in God, you must look:
Back in the past
Around in the present
Out in the future
That’s the 360-degree part of it. We’re looking at who God is and what he’s done for us in Christ in the past, we look at who God is and what he’s doing for us in Christ in the present, and we look at who God is and what he’s going to do for us in Christ in the future.
So the key to finding hope—real, unshaking, unfailing hope—is disciplining yourself to stop and look behind you, right in front of you, and out ahead of you.
A Look at Psalm 46
I want to show you how you can look around in the present to build upon that hope. And I want to do it by looking at Psalm 46. Psalm 46 is a song of praise that celebrates God’s unique presence among his original promised people Israel, specifically his unique presence at the Temple in Jerusalem, aka Zion.
Theirs was a world of international turmoil. They were beset with enemy nations seeking to destroy them, some of them several times bigger than they were. As you might expect, it put anxiety and fear at the forefront of their minds. Yet listen to how they allowed who God is for them in the now to give them hope.
1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Stopping at verse 1 we see from the outset, the declaration of Israel:
“God is the One in whom we find our protection and sustenance, and this isn’t because we’re looking back to his great deeds (though I’m sure they did that at some point). No, this is all about who God is in our here and now. He is our very PRESENT help in trouble.”
This is instructive because it’s easy to think of God’s work in our life as only past tense. God sent us Jesus to live the life we were to live, die on the Cross in our place, and rise from the grave to show his victory over sin, death, and hell—what we know as the gospel, the Good News of Jesus. And that’s true. It all happened in the past. But it’s not an action that only impacts our past (e.g., we’re forgiven, reconciled). It thrusts us into a new reality in the present.
Think of it this way: Let’s say someone brought you with them to a new country years ago where you became a citizen. And while that action impacted you in the past, it also has implications for you in the present as you enjoy the benefits and blessings of that citizenship today.
Israel knew that God didn’t make a covenant with them in order just to deliver them by Moses from Pharaoh in the Exodus and then take off. The Lord stayed with them—first in the portable Tabernacle, then once they conquered the Promised Land, his special presence would be at the Temple in the capital city of Jerusalem.
He was to have a real, ongoing relationship with them in the present, one that would bring them help in their immediate problems. And it was his presence in their present that ignited in them something we can’t live four seconds without: HOPE!
Listen to them:
2 Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, 3 though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah
By the way, scholars aren’t sure what selah exactly means. It could be a musical term, possibly to mark a pause or break. But it doesn’t change the meaning of the text, which is clear: Israel thinks that even if the whole universe falls apart, the land gives way, the mountains fall into the ocean, they’ll face it with hearts full of hope because of God’s presence in their present.
They keep singing about God’s hope-giving presence:
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. 5 God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. 6 The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. 7 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah
Do you hear their confidence? “As long as God stays right here with us, we shall not be moved and though the nations around us fight and kingdoms fall, God will help us for he is with us! He is our fortress!”
They can’t stop bragging on him:
8 Come, behold the works of the Lord, how he has brought desolations on the earth. 9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire.
They recognize that God is so powerful that he will stop the wars around them and tell those outside of Israel:
10 “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”
I used to think this text was a call for believers to simply stop and know that God is in control, but based on the context and the fact that it’s a plural command, it seems the truth is that God’s actually telling the other nations that they should recognize, based on his silencing their warring power, that he alone in the one true God.
Talk about power. And if you’re Israel, this is your God; you are his people. And he’s said he will be present in your present.
No wonder Israel concludes by declaring in verse 11,
11 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah
Here is our hope: the God who hasn’t just performed for us in our past but is present in our present. He “is with us.”
The Key to Finding Hope in the Present
You want to know how to find hope in the world today? Follow Israel’s lead in Psalm 46. Realize that in the gospel God has given us his presence for our present. He “is with us.” Let me offer a few ways that is true.
First, God gives us his Word (the Scriptures) for guidance to show us not only the story of the kingdom but the character of the King and the role that we, as its citizens, are to play under his rule. Scripture is the primary way we hear God’s voice in our lives. I love Bruce’s saying that when we open our Bibles, God opens his mouth.
No wonder saints of old said things like,
-Psalm 119:114, “You are my hiding place and my shield; I in your word.”
-Psalm 119:147, “I rise before dawn and cry for help; I in your words.”
-Psalm 130:5, “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his I hope;”
-And why Paul could say to Christians in Romans 15:4, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
God not only gives us his Word but gives us his Holy Spirit to do his will and word. More than that, his Spirit empowers us to believe the truths we discover about Christ, so that our hope doesn’t hinge on how strong we believe but upon the strength of the One in whom we believe.
It’s why Paul can say in Romans 15:13, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Want to grow in hope? Spend time in the Scriptures asking God’s Spirit not only to help you understand what you read but to believe what you understand.
Thirdly, God gives us his people, the church, for our support and care. I pity followers of Jesus who try to live in this world outside of the grace God gives through the community of faith. One of the lines I hear time and again at our church is someone saying, “I couldn’t have made it through without the love, care, and support of my small group.” There’s a reason 1 Corinthians 12 calls the church the “body of Christ”—because it’s a very real way God ministers his presence to us in our present.
He gives us to each other, filled with his Spirit, equipped with gifts, and hearts to bear each other up in hope. It is to this community God says:
-Galatians 6:2, “Bear one another’s burdens …”
-1 Thessalonians 5:11, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”
-Romans 12:10, “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.”
No wonder God calls the church Christ’s body. It’s a way he cares for us and gives us hope in him.
These three gifts God gives us via the Cross. Three ways he is present in our present: his Word, his Spirit, and his people.
There have been a few times where I’ve come home and my kids were by themselves. Jen had run some errands or had small group, and it was stormy and a little scary and the house was dark but for their room, but my kids didn’t realize I’d gotten in the house. One time it happened, and one of my boys came into the bedroom where I was reading and he said, “Oh thank goodness it’s you. I didn’t know you were home, and I couldn’t go to sleep until you got here.” Why? “Too scary, too fearful.”
“But son, I’ve actually been home for a while. There’s my car in the garage, there’s my knapsack on the chair, the jacket on the couch, and more than all that, there’s the light on in my room—all those things ought to tell that I’m here. They ought to give you more than hope that Dad’s with you right now and will protect you.”
When you’re down and out, or maybe you feel scared and alone as you sense the darkness around you. Just looking for hope. Imagine God saying, “I’ve been here the whole time. Just like I was for Israel of old. I’m here for you now. Did you see the Bible over there on your table? Remember the Spirit I put in you? Or the church that you’re a part of and the small groups they have for you?”
Those are God’s way of letting us see, if you will, that his car is in the garage, his knapsack on the chair, and more than all that, there’s the light on in my room—all those things ought to tell you that I’m here. They ought to give you more than hope that Dad’s with you right now and will protect you.
To remind you that:
7 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress
Better than Israel of Old, we don’t need a Temple to be reminded of God’s unique presence in our present, he gave us Jesus—the true Temple—not a symbol of God with man but actually God with man, God as man. By his Spirit, God will always be present in our present.
The question is, do we realize that? Do we avail ourselves of his presence in our present?
The Love of God in Christ
All the gifts of his presence (Word, Spirit, church) are testimony to probably the greatest gift he gives us in Jesus: his never-failing, everlasting love! It’s unbreakable because it’s his covenant or promised love to you in Christ. This means God loves you as much as he loves Jesus. And no matter what trials or struggles you’re going through—or maybe what sins and screwups you’ve committed—God has put his love on you not because you’ve been good enough for it, but because Jesus has been good enough for you.
And that truth alone can lift your head and fill your heart with hope in a world full of darkness. That’s why Israel would sing …
-Psalm 130:7, “O Israel, in the Lord! For with the there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption.”
-Psalm 147:11, “But the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, those who hope in his steadfast love.”
-Psalm 33:18–22, “Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love, that he may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine. Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you.”
The ancient believers sang this. Will you? Will you look “around the house” and see the backpack of his Word, the car of his Spirit, and jacket of his church—and the light on of his steadfast, always faithful, never-ending love found only in the gospel of Jesus? So that no matter what happens in your present, you will know that God is there too, and that he’s for you, behind you, and will love you to no end.
He is present in your present. Look around and find your hope in him.
Yancey Arrington is the teaching pastor at Clear Creek Community Church in Houston, Texas, and the author of the newly released Preaching That Moves People (2018). He blogs at YanceyArrington.com