Real hope for tough times

You can sustain a lot of losses in your lifetime, but when you lose hope, life can become depressing and your previously strong faith can become as weak as stump water.

During tough times, hope becomes the fuel that energizes your determination and perseverance. Emphasizing the necessity of hope in the human experience, Emil Brunner wrote, “What oxygen is to the lungs, such is hope to the meaning of life.”

Micah was called by God as a spokesperson during a very tough time in Israel’s history.  While circumstances were extremely discouraging, Micah rose above the pessimism of his day and said, “But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord,   I wait for God my Savior;    my God will hear me. (Micah 7:7)

Now, over 2500 years later, our hope in Christ reminds us that through the ever-changing circumstances and seemingly insurmountable challenges of life, “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).

As our national leaders wage a verbal warfare, rooted ideological differences and political partisanship, their rhetoric sounds more indicative of superficial posturing than substantive problem-solving.  A current cultural malaise that is saturated with complaint and mostly devoid of optimism seems to be contagious, not just around our nation, but around the world.

And to make matters worse, that sense of hopeless discontent has infiltrated the church.  If the church, which is the real bastion of hope, a people called to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13),   forfeits hope for hopelessness, we may find ourselves rushing toward an apocalyptic future.

Real hope, the kind of hope we see in Micah, is neither blind nor naïve.  Real hope motivates us to rise above despair and deal with challenging circumstances proactively, constructively, and collaboratively.

A few years ago I read of a rather profound exchange between two clergy who were working together during a season filled with monumental changes.  In 1960, John Claypool began his tenure as pastor at the Crescent Hill Baptist Church in Louisville.  Shortly after his arrival, Claypool became friends with a Jewish rabbi who was forty years his senior.  Their friendship grew deeper as they worked together in the civil rights movement. After a tense and unproductive meeting one day, Claypool looked at his Jewish friend and said, “I think it is hopeless. This problem is so deep, so many-faceted, there is simply no way out of it.”

The rabbi asked Claypool to stay a few minutes after the meeting and said, “Humanly speaking, despair is presumptuous. It is saying something about the future we have no right to say because we have not been there yet and do not know enough. Think of the times you have been surprised in the past as you looked at a certain situation and deemed it hopeless. Then, lo and behold, forces that you did not even realize existed broke in and changed everything. We do not know enough to embrace the absolutism of despair. If God can create the things that are from the things that are not and even make dead things come back to life, who are we to set limits on what that kind of potency may yet do?”

In the movie, “Hope Floats,” central character Birdee Pruitt describes the emergence of hope like this: That’s what momma always says. She says that beginnings are scary, endings are usually sad, but it’s the middle that counts the most. Try to remember that when you find yourself at a new beginning. Just give hope a chance to float up.

Like the stoking of warm embers to re-awaken the flame, real hope can be rekindled by stoking the fire in our bones that propels us “to act justly and love mercy and walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8) in all of the seasons of life, even the season we find ourselves in.

Barry Howard

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Barry Howard serves as senior minister of the First Baptist Church of Pensacola.

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