Hope is Essential. “What breath is to the physical body, hope is to the human spirit.” That’s what John Claypool writes in The Hopeful Heart, (Morehouse Publ., 2003). My acceptance of Claypool’s view of ‘hope’ arose as a result of a situation which was for me medically life-threatening and spiritually life-giving. As a result my soul experienced a fresh infusion of ‘hope,’ something of my character was transformed and the dynamics of ‘hope’ took on a prominence which continues to fuel my ministry today.
Hospital. In March of 2005 I unexpectedly found myself on a hospital gurney observing the medical staff quickly, efficiently and purposefully preparing me for a heart catheterization and the eventual placement of stents in two of my coronary arteries. In a matter of hours my self-perception had morphed from “apparently healthy” to “suffering with coronary artery disease.” Honestly, I felt embarrassed about my arteries – I should have taken better care of them; how could I have let this happen? Before the anesthesia overwhelmed me I vigilantly watched the team and wondered, “What are You up to in my life, Lord?” I was hopeful that He was saving me medically but I was unaware of the character change He had in mind through permitting this modest degree of trauma and suffering. On the spiritual level God was walking with me into the realities of a passage in Romans:
…we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:2-5, ESV)
While I wasn’t rejoicing at that critical moment of medical intervention, I later reflected on the incident, rehearsed the vivid scene and realized this: what I had witnessed in the medical team was active, fervent compassion and their compassion was deeply challenging the relative passivity of my own version of that same virtue. Over the course of the next few weeks I thankfully recovered and returned to life as normal but with one exception: I now desired to become active, very active, in addressing a life-threatening problem within the Church – far too many souls are not richly experiencing spiritual formation and hopelessness in its various forms haunts people’s hearts.
I felt re-vitalized. That aspect of my character known as ‘compassion’ had awakened from its anesthetization – now I wanted to assist the opening of clogged arteries in the spiritual hearts of my brothers and sisters. I wanted hope, biblical hope to grow in people’s minds and hearts; I wanted souls to be restored. So I began in the spring of 2005 to pursue spiritual formation in earnest. Understanding and experiencing hope became central to this quest.
Natural (Human) Hope. Natural hope is a weak, anemic concept more appropriately described as ‘wishful thinking.’ When we hope with natural hope, we do not have certainty that what we hope for is going to happen. At best it has the strength of a desire, and at its weakest it is simply a wish which involves crossing our fingers, holding our breath, and bracing for disappointment.
There is nothing essentially sinful about natural hope – it is good and healthy and optimistic to hope that our circumstances improve, that problems may ease, that solutions will appear, that health will improve, that relationships will heal, that understanding will deepen, etc. The essence of natural hope is to imagine what has not yet come to pass but still is possible. We wish for/desire what is not yet but could be.
Supernatural (Holy) Hope. Supernatural hope rises far above wishing, melds with desire, and transcends them both. There are two versions of supernatural hope – both versions share the following two-point definition and yet differ in terms of the ‘promise’ which is attached to each version. Supernatural hope is defined as…
- a strong desire, confident expectation and patient waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promises
- a full Christ-centered assurance that God’s promises will be realized
Hope - The Promise of The Glory of God. The first kind of supernatural ‘hope’ we encounter in Romans chapter 5 is in verse 2. This is the “hope of the glory of God.” This hope refers to our final destiny as believers – when we pass away we will be glorified, which means in heaven we will be made whole, perfect. We will be free of suffering, there will be no more pain, no more sorrow, no more disappointments, no more shame, no more of our own sin. This is promised and we can be certain of it – just as certain as the reality of the resurrection of Jesus. We will be like Him in heaven. That is our first hope – hope of the Glory of God.
Hope - The Promise of Transformation on Earth. The second version of ‘hope’ is in verses 4 and 5. This is hope for transformation in the here-and-now. This is hope of becoming more like Christ as we live daily on earth.
This process of becoming like Jesus began at our conversion and continues as a life-long process of transformation. This is transformation of our character and our behavior – a process of becoming more whole, more Christ-like. We are to ‘hope’ for these Christ-like changes in our character (being) and behavior (doing) on a daily basis. We are to desire to be more like Christ and we are to expect these changes will actually occur if we cooperate with God.
Unreasonable and Raw. Hope is unreasonable because it cannot be figured out with our reasoning abilities. It requires more than reasoning especially when God takes those things which have caused our broken-heartedness and the things which have held us captive and uses those as the raw material to fashion something new and good. This reality gives us much to be hopeful about.
And while the circumstances of our suffering, trials, tribulations and sin are part of the process, the focal point – the place where we are to train our eyes – is not on our circumstances, but on Christ – who He is, what He has done, what He is doing, and what He wants to do both with us and through us. We are not to deny our circumstances in any way but embrace them as raw materials for God’s workmanship. God has designed ‘hope’ to help us live within the wideness of His BIG story, rather than the narrowness of our small stories. In fact, He transforms our stories when we hope.
My medically life-threatening experience was spiritually life-giving. Compassion in my soul was activated in a new way as we launched our Spiritual Formation Workshop in the fall of 2008. The workshop – a ministry formerly hoped for – is now a reality.