One day, soon and very soon, you will wake up in a new Country. As you wake you will be suddenly and astutely aware that in this new Country there is no more mourning, or crying, or pain anymore, for the former things will have passed away (Rev 21: 4). You will notice that there is no rot, nor rust, nor decay. You will notice that you do not feel shame, or regret, or fear. Your heart is full. Your eyes will see brightly and your ears will hear clearly. When you stand up from your bed your knees will not creak and your back will feel strong. You will have died, and you will no longer fear death. This is a God sealed promise for you, dear Christian.
When I was a child our mailbox would begin to receive toy catalogs from different toy companies at Christmas time. Each year, a favorite Christmas ritual of mine was thumbing through these catalogs with a red pen and circling the toys that I wanted in hopes that my parents would happen upon the marked-up pages and help the toys find their way under the tree by Christmas morning. This marketing scheme was a wise one. It certainly worked on me! The pages of these catalogs were filled with images of happy children playing with the latest toys. These images were playing on a very specific emotion in me. They were trying to create hope. Hope that I, come Christmas morning, would be like those children in the catalogs. The toy companies did this because they knew of the power of hope. Do you remember that Christmas Eve hope that you had as a child? You could hardly bear to sleep for the anticipation of what was to come! This is right where the toy companies wanted us. If they could create in us that hope they would have us hooked. We did not simply want the toys anymore. We needed them.
Hope is the lifeblood of the Church of the risen Christ. As it is described by Paul, hope is the patient waiting for something not yet seen (Rom 8:25). To hope is to adopt a present attitude of focused devotion based on a future reality. Christian hope is the adoption of a present attitude of focused devotion to Christ based on the future reality that he is going to make all things new (Rev 21). Christian hope says that “to live is Christ, but to die is gain” (Phil 1:21). Today I can offer my body to Christ as a living sacrifice because I am confident in the promise of tomorrow (Rom 12:1). Dietrich Bonhoeffer stated that “when Christ calls a man he bids him come and die”. The call of Christ is a call to abandon all earthly comfort for the promise of a better, future comfort. This is what I mean when I say that hope is the lifeblood of the Church. We can only obey the call of Christ when we are fully bought into the hope that he promises. It must be our greatest desire. The hope of the resurrection, of waking up in that new Country, is the sole reason that Christians have, for thousands of years, given their bodies over to horrific persecutions in the name of Jesus. They took Christ at his word when he said that “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt 10:39).
The tribes of Jerusalem hoped for hundreds of years for a Messiah that was promised to them through the prophets. It was this hope in the coming of a Messiah that gave them the courage to face the hardships of their present day. A savior was coming. That promise acted as an anchor for their souls. Every Christmas we celebrate the fulfillment of that promise in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Today we find ourselves in an incredibly similar position. We are awaiting the return of this very same Messiah. He came once, fulfilling that original promise which the tribes waited so eagerly for. We now wait for him to fulfill a new promise: that he is coming back again.
Hope, however, can be tricky. Hope is not simply an emotion that we can will ourselves into. Hope is a conviction. It is a conviction that must be trained in us like a muscle. I would like to leave you with a few very practical ways that you can exercise that hope muscle.
- Know what you are hoping for – Do you know, truly, what you have placed your hope in? Ask yourself the question. If your answer comes up anything short of the Gospel of Jesus Christ then it may be time for a refresher. Read the book of Revelation. Read the prophecy of Isaiah. Read Romans chapter 8. These books are filled with beautiful words on the future hope for the Christian. Scripture hints at these topics in much greater detail than we may realize. When we have a clear image of what our hope is actually in, it is much easier to flex that hope muscle when we need it.
- Dare to imagine – Hope is an inherently imaginative exercise. It is looking forward to what we cannot yet see. Scripture tells us some of what we are to expect. There are other things that we are left to imagine. What could be a better use of a free afternoon than to imagine what eternity with our Lord might be like? Remember those Christmas catalogs? What if you were to treat scripture the same? Taking a red pen to the Word and circling all of the gifts that you desire to see come to fruition. Take time to read words like this from the prophet Isaiah: “In Jerusalem, the LORD of Heaven’s Armies will spread a wonderful feast for all the people of the world. It will be a delicious banquet with clear, well-aged wine and choice meat.”. Then circle them saying “Oh, Jesus! Is it true? What a wonderful gift! I cannot wait for the day that I can sit at that banquet with you”. Really imagine it. Hear the sounds of tinkling silverware and plates. Listen to the laughter of your King at the table. Smell the foods, the wine, the fresh air. Taste it all. See the faces of long lost friends seated in banquet halls. I get it. Imagining is scary. What if we come to be disappointed? I can promise you this, you will not outdo the Lord with your imagination. The real thing will be infinitely better than whatever you can dream up.
- Acquaint yourself with the one who holds the promise – A promise is only as good as the promise keeper. Can he be trusted? That is a real question that many of us have yet to answer. Perhaps it begins with a prayer as simple as this: “Jesus, teach me to trust you more”. He delights in answering these prayers. Read the Gospels. Read Revelation. Get to know this God-man Jesus. Who is he really? What is he like? Is he the kind of man who goes back on a promise?
- Talk about your hope with other believers – Christian, you were not made to carry the burdens of this world alone. You were not made to hope by yourself. Some days it is just really hard to hope. Some days you see one too many news articles or you are let down one too many times to believe in hope. If I am honest, I have these days more often than not. I rejoice in the fact that Jesus has prepared for me his Bride, the Church, to help carry me. If you have never had a conversation with another believer about your future hope I would like to dare you to try it out. There are very few exercises that I have found to be so encouraging. You will begin to be reminded of truths that you may have long forgotten. You will begin to remind your friends about truths that they may have long forgotten. Share your hope. Do not suffer in silence.
- Pray the word “Maranatha” – It is an Aramaic word that we read in 1 Corinthians 16:22. It is a clever play on words. When read as “mara-natha” it means “the Lord has come!”. When read as “maran-atha” it means “Lord, Come!”. It is a single word which, when prayed allowed, can mean so much. When we pray “maranatha!” we are praying a word of hope. We are exercising that hope muscle. We are saying “Lord, I know that you came before. You are a promise keeper. I want to pray now that you would come again, and soon. Bring that new Country crashing through the clouds. Our world is far too broken. We need you. I place my hope in you. Lord, Come!”