A couple weeks ago I said in my sermon, “Sometimes the best we can do is simply endure.” Life can be difficult and painful. There are times in which the pain we encounter overwhelms us and all that seems to be in our grasp is endurance. We grin and bear it. This quality is often lacking in some. Resilience is a vastly underrated quality that each one of us should pursue. Life can be quite difficult and resilience in the face of pain or difficulty is necessary. Rather than curl up in a ball and hide, resilience enables us to continue on in the midst of the pain. Resilience is courage plus determination. Resilience says that no matter what you encounter, you will persevere. Sometimes this means enduring with no real apparent progress. Those are the times we “simply endure”. Those times are rare, though. Most of the time painful obstacles are able to be overcome and not merely endured. Whether we stand still and endure or we press on and endure, as followers of Jesus there is a simple and profound word that enables us to do so: hope.
In his letter to the Roman Christians Paul wrote about the Jew / Gentile divide. In the minds of many ancient Jews, there were the Jews and then there were the Gentiles—the nations. This way of seeing the world was a change from the origins of the nation of Israel. As you know, Israel became a nation at Mount Sinai and was comprised of ethnic descendants of Abraham and the “mixed multitude” who joined them in the exodus from Egypt. Both Caleb and Rahab were Canaanites who joined the people of Israel. It was during and after the exile from the land that the Jews began to think of the nations with great hostility and a desire to remain separate from them. Paul wrote his letter to the Romans to encourage them—Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians—to worship together, with one voice rather than remain in separate churches divided by ethnicity (see Romans 15:5–7).
The reality is that the cultural differences between Jews and Gentiles were a natural dividing line for them. They saw the world differently and ate different foods and came from different religious backgrounds. It was easier to worship with those just like them than it was to worship with those who brought strange dishes to the potluck meals or wanted to sing different melodies in their worship songs played with different instruments. Paul tells them that God’s intent was for the Gentiles to join Abraham’s family (Romans 15:8–12), citing different passages from the Old Testament about the Gentiles praising the God of Israel. He quotes the prophet Isaiah who said the “root of Jesse”—the promised son of David—would come to rule the nations, and in him, that is, in Jesus all the nations will hope. In other words the work of Jesus includes gathering in all of God’s people from every tribe and language and people and nation, that they might all have hope. Then he writes this:
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.Romans 15:13 ESV
Paul calls God “the God of hope”. We often use the word this way, but hope does not mean wishful thinking. If I were to say, “I hope it won’t snow again this winter”, that’s just wishful thinking. It’s January. There is no real basis for hoping it won’t snow again this season. I “hope” this because I hate snow and I hate shoveling snow. There is zero chance it won’t snow again, and zero reason to think it’s even possible. That is not what the word hope really means.
Hope is a confident expectation of something that will happen in the future. It means to look forward to something in confidence. Hope isn’t blind, though hope cannot actually see what is hoped for. I wake up every morning in hope that my wife will continue to love me and be my biggest supporter. I can’t see what the day will bring but I can look back on nearly 28 years of marriage and see her steady faithfulness. I have reason to hope. I can’t see the thing I hope for but I can see the reason I hope for it. This is what Paul means when he calls our God the God of hope. God himself is the reason for our hope.
Look again at what Paul says. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing”. He’s talking about a quality of life. He doesn’t say, “May the God of hope fill you will a trouble-free life”! In the midst of whatever circumstances you find yourselves, Paul asks the God of hope to fill you with joy and peace, and this comes through faith—through believing. Faith, like hope, is rooted in who God is and what God has done. Faith and hope are directly connected. Both are rooted in God’s unchanging character. Paul’s prayer is for the God who is the very reason for hope to fill their lives with joy and peace as they continue believing in him. Again, this is a quality of life. It is a way of living in the midst of whatever turmoil and chaos they may encounter.
He continues. “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.” He’s asking for God’s divine intervention in their lives, with the result of this divine intervention being their abounding in hope. The means for you and for me to abound in hope, to have this confident expectation of what is to come, is the Holy Spirit of God at work within us. To say it another way, it is not up to you and to me to scrounge up the courage to press on in the midst of difficulty. It is not up to us to come up with reasons to be resilient. It is not up to us to muster the courage necessary to face dark times. We trust in God—the God of hope!—who works in us through his Holy Spirit, and his Spirit causes us to abound in hope.
May the God of hope, through his Holy Spirit, fill you with ever-increasing hope. May your confident expectation of something that will happen in the future abound, or be in abundance. May your cup of hope overflow. When you and I face those dark times of pain and struggle, God is at work in us, filling us with peace and joy, so that we overflow with hope. I love how Frank Thielman put it:
Paul prays here that this time of waiting might not be characterized by grim endurance, but that the quality of his audience’s confidence in God might give them “joy and peace”.Frank Thielman, “Romans”
This joy and peace in the midst of suffering and pain is the quality of life God brings about in his people. Our quality of life isn’t about comfort and material ease, but about a confident faith and hope in our God and Savior. Yes, there are those times in life when the best we can do is simply endure, but we endure by fixing our gaze on Jesus, the God of hope, knowing what is to come. We endure, but then we press on in hope. We press on with the joy and peace that God’s Spirit causes us to experience even in the midst of great suffering and pain.
The truth is that God has promised a day on which he will wipe away every tear from every eye, a day when death will be no more, and there won’t be mourning or crying or pain anymore, for the former things will have passed away. That day is not yet here, but we have hope it will come.
Whether it snows today and tomorrow and all of next week or you experience a great tragedy in your life, the truth is that our God never changes. It is because he never changes that he is the God of hope, for we can always look back on an eternity of faithfulness and accurately predict what will come in the future: still more faithfulness. God will still be there with us through it all, whatever this life brings. He has always been with us, and we have full confidence this will never change. Believing this results in joy and peace in the midst of sorrow. That is the quality of life you and I should long for.