"God is with me" as an antidote for wishful thinking.
"May the god of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with HOPE by the power of the holy spirit."
EATING HOPE FOR BREAKFAST
Francis Bacon once quipped, “Hope is a good breakfast, but it is a bad supper.” Translation: Don’t put too much hope in hope. Sure, hope gives you a boost at the beginning. But if all you have is hope, you’ll end up empty. According to Bacon, hope is only a prelude to disappointment.
Bacon’s assessment is pretty dismal. And maybe you, being a natural optimist, think he was just being a bit too moody. (Perhaps he missed his literal breakfast that day?) Then again, you might agree with Bacon. You’d rather plan for the best than hope for the best. You’ve never been mistaken for an optimist.
Whether you are a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty type of person, you can recognize a bit of wisdom in Bacon’s wet blanket of a proverb. Wishful thinking, on its own, doesn’t lead to good outcomes. If we want to see change—in our lives, in our families, in our communities—it will take more than simple desire. It will take long periods of intentionality, habit, and accountability.
Another point in Bacon’s favor: We control a lot less than we’d like to think. You may hope for the best and work for the best all you want, but life is tricky. We don’t know the future. We certainly don’t control it. So it’s wise to be open-handed in what we think will happen next.
Was Bacon right or not? It all depends on how we’re defining “hope.”
If hope means wishful thinking and naive optimism, then Bacon was right. But biblical hope is something else entirely. Biblical hope can actually do more than fill an empty belly; it can fill an empty soul.
So what is hope, exactly?
HOPE’S REFRAIN IN YOUR LIFE
Most of our friends and neighbors use the word “hope” the way Bacon did. It’s an expression of future desire, but it’s tremendously fickle: “I hope my kids don’t get teased at school today.” “We hope you get better soon.” “I hope this meeting doesn’t run late…again.” There’s nothing wrong in wishing for the best. But unless you have a guarantee, you’d be a fool to bet on it.
And yet, when we Christians read about hope in our Bibles, we tend to carry this cultural idea with us. So we read about hope and think God is telling us to be certain that every aspect of our lives will turn out rosy, as if God is saying, “Listen, I know you’re going through some tough stuff right now. But hang on just a bit longer, and you’re going to win. Just believe!” It reminds me of the (otherwise wonderful) play Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat where the chorus repeatedly reminds Joseph:
Go, go, go Joseph, you know what they say,
Hang on now, Joseph, you'll make it some day.
Don’t give up, Joseph, fight till you drop,
We’ve read the book and you come out on top. *
The trouble with that refrain isn’t that it’s wrong, but that it’s incomplete. Yes, Joseph had received a unique promise: One day he would rise to prominence, in the process saving his brothers—and, essentially, the rest of the world. But during Joseph’s long years of imprisonment and slavery, we don’t read about the promise. Instead we find this refrain: “God was with him.”
I doubt any of us have received a promise like Joseph’s. But like Joseph, we have been given a preview of the end of the story. We’ve read the book and Jesus comes out on top. That promise shows us where our story is headed: healing and wholeness and beauty.
Hope’s refrain in our lives, however, cannot merely be, “It’ll be alright in the end.” Like Joseph, we need something more immediate. We need not only a future promise to hope in, but a presence.
In Jesus, we have it. Jesus came to earth, proving once and for all that God intends to dwell with his people forever. He lived his entire life—the high times and the hard times—in the power of the Holy Spirit. Even when he left, he didn’t leave us alone: he sent the Holy Spirit to dwell inside everyone who trusts in him.
Romans 15:13 talks so much about hope, calling God “the God of hope.” But what is biblical hope? Let’s take an overview. It’s something far more robust than our puny cultural understanding of hope. The cultural version always looks to the future, guessing at something hazy. The biblical version looks to the future, too, but the power isn’t out there. It’s already right here: God is with me.
Cultural hope lives (or dies) in outcomes. It says, “I don’t want to be lonely anymore. Maybe tomorrow things will change.” Or it says, “I don’t want to be anxious about my finances. Maybe tomorrow things will change.” Or, “I want the pain to stop. Maybe tomorrow things will change.”
This kind of “hope” leads to the worst kind of supper. Or no supper at all.
But biblical hope lives in relationship. It says, “Even when I feel lonely, I know I am not alone. God is with me.” “Even though I’m not sure about paying my bills, I know I am not alone. God is with me.” “Even if this pain persists the rest of my life, I know I am not alone. God is with me.” In high times and hard times, hope reminds us that we can always feast on God’s presence.
GOD OF THE MESSY MIDDLE
God is with me. Those four words are the surest and strongest basis of our hope.
But remember: it's not just that God is with me in my journey. That's wonderful news. But there's more. God, in a very real sense, has walked my path before me.
In life’s hardest moments, we don’t just want any companion. To fill us with hope, we want—we need—the right companion. We need someone filled with peace (because our hearts are in turmoil). We need someone filled with power (because our spirit is weak). We need someone who has seen the end—because we feel stuck in the messy middle.
The Spirit who guides us today is the same Spirit who guided Jesus. When Jesus stepped into the messy middle of human existence, he did so by the power of the Spirit. Because the Spirit led him to his finish line with peace and power, we can trust him to do the same with us. This isn’t his first time down the path.
Our God is the God of hope. Not a distant God telling us how to walk along our path. But a present God who has already walked it—who, through the Spirit, is walking at our side even now, saying, “I know this road is hard. But with me, you can take the next step. And I’ll be here, every step of the way.”
* “Go, Go, Go Joseph,” text by Andrew Lloyd Webber, track 9, on Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Canadian Cast Recording) (London, UK: The Really Useful Group Ltd., 1992).
ON THE PODCAST
Overflowing Hope // Courtney Doctor
In this week's episode, Natalie Abbott and Courtney Doctor are taking a deep dive into this month’s verse, Romans 15:13. So what is “hope”? And what are we supposed to hope in? Is overflowing with hope really possible? Don’t miss this uplifting conversation where you’ll be encouraged to remember who God is, be rooted in why hope and joy and peace that defy our circumstances is a reality for those who trust in Christ, and be stirred to think about how this overflowing hope isn’t just for us, but for those around us as well.