Hope

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Romans 15:13

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.

– Romans 15:13, NIV

Wherever we look today, hope is in short supply. The world is unstable, with terrorism and war looming large on every horizon. If that isn’t enough to chill your hope, consider the current state of the economy. Or look, not at the big world out there, but at the little world of your own life. Think about all the personal difficulties that can beset us: family problems, health problems, money problems; trouble at work, trouble at church, trouble at home; suffering in mind, body and spirit. And if things are going pretty well for you at the moment, just remember: none of us is getting out of life alive.

All the trouble and fear that our lives generate can translate to a loss of hope. As theologian J. I. Packer has written,

Today we are surrounded by people drowning in the raging waters of hopelessness. The proverb rightly says that while there’s life there’s hope, but the deeper truth is that only while there’s hope is there life. When the light of hope goes out, and there really seems nothing to live for anymore, life itself becomes a killing burden. We are so made that we live very much in our future, and the desolation of feeling that there is nothing worthwhile to come, nothing good ever to be expected again, eats the soul away like a corrosive acid.

Christianity Today, 10-28-96

What a contrast that is to the New Testament, where every page glows with hope, and every person lives secure in the confidence that God is in control. The early Christians had none of the benefits of modern life that we so depend on. They had very little protection from diseases, few creature comforts or labor-saving devices, no social security programs or retirement funds, no benevolent government responsive to their concerns. And still, as they faced the uncertain future they were serene. What was their secret? What did they have that so many of us lack in our own time? The answer can be summed up in a verse from the 15th chapter of the book of Romans: “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.” The reason Christians overflow with hope is because they trust in the God of hope. So can you!

THE SOURCE OF HOPE

Where does hope come from? The short answer is: not from ourselves. There is a difference, you see, between hope and optimism. Optimism is the belief that somehow things will get better and everything will turn out all right in the end. It’s the attitude exemplified by Charles Dickens’ Mr. Micawber, who met one disaster after another with the cheerful assertion that “Something will turn up!” Now there’s nothing wrong with being optimistic. It is psychologically healthier and certainly more attractive than the alternative. But this is not hope in the Christian sense. Optimism is often just wishful thinking. Christian hope is different. It’s not optimistic but realistic because it is grounded in the reality of God’s promises. Christian hope is not a feeling based on nothing except the wish that the future will be good; it is a conviction based on the God who shapes the future, and who loves us and has promised good to us.

When Paul talks about the “God of hope” he means that God himself is the source of all real hope. Hope originates with him, coming from him as a gift, a by-product of a personal relationship with him. Hope is the effect that knowing God produces in our lives. It means having confidence for the future based on his protection, help, and care in the past. Real hope, Christian hope, is set apart from every form of merely hopeful expectation because it depends on the trustworthiness of God himself.

Our hope is actually our faith, projected forwards into the future. And like faith, hope is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Paul’s benediction here in Romans 15 is that we “may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” When the Spirit of God takes up residence within us, he brings hope, in addition to peace, joy, faith and love. And he brings it in abundance. God isn’t stingy about it; he has plenty of hope and he spreads it around liberally.

The phrase translated “overflow with hope” in that verse literally is “to have an abundance of.” The same word is used in the Gospel of Luke (9:17) to describe the mountain of leftovers after Jesus’ miracle of feeding 5,000 people. Those who know the Lord can also have hope and have it abundantly.

THE MEANS OF HOPE

Hope is a gift of the Holy Spirit. How, then, is it given? Does it just sweep over us mysteriously, unexplainably and without warning? It might. Sometimes hope comes wonderfully flooding over us in a time and place where we would least expect it and could least account for it. But there are also means which the Lord has ordained for us to use in order to be uplifted and given hope. “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us,” writes the apostle in this same chapter of Romans 15, “so that through endurance and the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope” (v. 4).

The first key to our hope is endurance, or steadfastness in faith. During the sixteenth century William the Silent, Prince of Orange, led the Dutch people in their fight for independence against Spain. The cause seemed hopeless. Spain, enriched by her conquests in the New World, was the greatest power in the world. Little Holland fought alone against all the might of the Spanish Empire in a struggle that lasted seventy years. During the darkest days of the war it was suggested to William that it was hopeless to continue to fight against such overwhelming odds. “It is not necessary to hope in order to persevere,” he replied – an answer that reveals the iron in the Dutch leader’s will, and shows perhaps why victory ultimately came to him.

But with respect to Biblical hope, we could turn William’s answer around: it is necessary to persevere in order to hope. Hope is the reward that God gives to patient endurance. God offers hope to those who don’t give up but go on trusting him and serving him no matter what. The patient endurance or steadfastness which the apostle extols is not merely a matter of our own willpower and strength because even these are the gift of the God “who gives endurance and encouragement” (Romans 15:5).

And here’s the other thing God uses as a means for building our hope: It is the encouragement of the Scriptures. Hope is grounded in the promises of God written in the Word of God. One of the major purposes of Scripture is to encourage us by reminding us what God has already done, and promises yet to do – for us, through us, with us, and in us. The promises that encourage us with hope are nowhere stated more clearly than in this very letter to the Romans, especially in its monumental 8th chapter. Here we are reminded that God remains in control:

All things work together for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose . . . Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

We are reminded that God’s intentions for us are good: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” We are reminded that God is bringing history, including our own personal histories, to its intended conclusion of glory for all who are in Christ: “We are children of God, joint heirs with Christ – if we suffer with him so that we will also be glorified with him.”

Do you have hope, real hope? You could. God gives it to those who are his. It has nothing to do with whether or not your nature is basically optimistic or whether you have the power of positive thinking. Verse 13 that I’ve been focusing on in this message is actually a prayer. Listen again, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him so that you overflow with hope . . .” Hope from God can be yours for the asking!

Do you overflow with hope? Do you have such an abundance of it because you know God and you trust his promises? You not only have enough hope for yourself; you even have some extra that spills over the rim of your life into the lives of all those hopeless people around you. You should, not just for your sake, but for theirs.

INTERVIEW WITH DAVID BROWNSON

Where do you find hope? Not just hope for the future but hope that gives you the strength to get through the next day? For people suffering from chronic illness or struggling with long-term problems, hope can be hard to come by. Yet many Christians bear witness to the truth that in Jesus Christ they find hope even in the most difficult circumstances.

David Brownson was a bright, energetic college student looking forward to a successful life in ministry when he became afflicted with severe mental illness. His entire life since then has been a daily battle with that disease. David Bast recently had a conversation with Dave Brownson in which he shared some of the ways he finds hope for each new day.

One of the things Dave does both as therapy for himself and as a testimony to others is to write. Throughout the conversation Dave reads excerpts from his journals. One additional note – Dave Brownson is the son of long-time Words of Hope broadcaster Dr. Bill Brownson and his wife Helen.

David Bast: We’re thinking about hope today and struggling to find the practical side. We can talk about hope theoretically, of going to heaven and having a future. I think hope depends on having a future, but as you know, life now can be a real struggle and it has been for you. What does hope mean to you?

David Brownson: I think after what I’ve been through in life, I’m pretty much content just to take life a day at a time, and each responsibility one at a time. I’m not looking for some grandiose scenario in the future that will somehow make me complete or make me more of what I want to be. I know that it’s in the day-to-day I find grace. I find the ability to give to others and to find fulfillment for myself.

David Bast: So hope is lived one day at a time.

David Brownson: Yes I think it is. I think that’s a more accurate way of looking at it and that is what Jesus taught us about things too. He said that “sufficient unto the day are the troubles thereof.”

I love to write. It’s helped me to feel better about myself, to believe I have something to say. For a while I had to deal with the subjective sensation that I am “cracked” and that my life is perfectly meaningless because of it. That’s why I’m grateful for writing because somehow it processes the feelings – expresses, thinks, and creates hope over again in a new way.

Lord, let me do something for you in light of all you have done for me. Let me be a person who loves you and seeks to please you in all I do. Let me always seek your face. Let me love you with the love you have put in my heart for you. Let me love myself in all my weakness. Let me be born up on eagles’ wings to you to enjoy fellowship with you. Let me remain ever humble and depend on you. Let your name and grace be known through me, a true and radiant testimony.

David Bast: It was while you were in school that you first became aware of your mental illness?

David Brownson: I would say that’s true, while I was in college. I think at that time it wasn’t exactly – I didn’t have psychotic stimuli, you know, but I had pressure on me mentally and spiritually that made it hard for me to function sometimes.

David Bast: What happened then after your college years? What were some of the experiences that you faced?

David Brownson: I think one of the things that got started in Ann Arbor (and that continued somewhat when I got back here to Holland) was just feeling rejected, feeling like other people didn’t really value me or value the things that I was interested in or value my approach to things. I always got a lot of acceptance and love from my family but I didn’t always get it from other places.

David Bast: That’s really tough, isn’t it? I guess we don’t think about that or maybe realize that, but a person who suffers from mental illness not only has a disease to struggle with but they’re a kind of social leper, aren’t they? I mean people are uncomfortable with that, and a lot of people will reject them.

David Brownson: Quite often. Yes, that’s true. A person with mental illness can make someone else feel very uncomfortable, yes.

My prayer is that my mental illness will have some use if I am to suffer with it. And I pray that I will be delivered of it. Forgive me, Lord, for its excesses. I am not a son of sorrow but one of the living God, a son of Christian parents, a son of a happy and blessed union, a creature whom God has brought into the world for his own praise and glory. The Lord protects me and watches over me, jealous for my care. The Lord is truly great, truly good. He has an eye for my care.

The Lord is the real secret of my life. He keeps me sane in a confusing world. He gives me peace. He is the light of life. He is kind to me. I take my refuge in him and I know he cares for me, even me. Life doesn’t get any easier as I get older. It does get better though. The Lord ministers to us in our sleep. He uses it to build us up, to encourage our hearts, to make us wise.

David Bast: That’s good. Life doesn’t get any easier as you get older but it does get better.

David Brownson: Yes. That’s what I found. I think you can see some ways clearly in which life gets better as you get older. Well, just speaking from the point of view of a Christian, you don’t have sole right to your thoughts. Your feelings about life, they’re given to you by God.

David Bast: You’re accountable for them too, before God.

David Brownson: Yes. One of the things that I did want to be when I was younger, like starting in high school, I wanted to be a writer. Now that I’ve been able to do some of that I feel better about my life. I feel like I’ve met some goals that I had even though they were interrupted for awhile. And a lot of times in life, goals you have might be interrupted for awhile, and, maybe, God grants their fulfillment later. I’d say I’m pretty happy about where my life is right now. I feel pretty good about it.

To be at peace is to have a loving relationship with reality, the rest of the world. To be at peace is simply to be at peace. To be at peace is not to strive over much. Being at peace is beyond being pushed in this way or that. There is acceptance of one’s self and others.

David Bast: You’ve led this ministry – small-group fellowship, Bible study, prayer support – for persons suffering from mental illness for a number of years now.

David Brownson: Yes, 12 years.

David Bast: Twelve years. It’s really neat because the experts tell us that the best way to learn something is to teach it to others. Maybe the best therapy for you has been trying to help and encourage others who have some of the same struggles.

David Brownson: It is true that when you reach out to help others there’s a blessing and a benefit that comes back to you. In a lot of ways I’ve benefitted as I never would have counted on or thought of. I think it’s true too that I can see ways in which others have benefitted from what I’ve done too. And one of the things I’ve found in my leading this small group, Dynamics in Living, is that there is kind of a solidarity among people with mental illness. That soliderity provides for a lot of nurture, support and personal growth. That’s why I think that the founding of this group and asking me to lead it was something the Lord ordained. It was something not just to provide for other peoples’ needs but to provide for my needs too in terms of social nurture and that kind of thing.

I sometimes wish I didn’t have the trials I do but it is true that they don’t last forever. I guess the right perspective on these troubles is to view them as a slight momentary affliction preparing us for the weight of glory beyond all comparison. Still I don’t like dealing with the kinds of thoughts and feelings about myself. But what can you do? Christ was willing to suffer for us so we should be willing to bear our share of sorrow too.

Here’s another one:

Part of life has to do with the struggle to be free and then it has to do with enjoying and using that freedom you fought for, for your own benefit and for the good of others. Blessed to be a blessing.

I thank you, Lord, for the freedom and the life you have given to me. You are truly good as is the world which you have made. The plans you make for us and execute are very good too. The sky looked especially beautiful this morning. What a great sky and what clouds. It seemed to me to be a witness from heaven.

David Bast: Your ultimate hope, your trust and your life are all bound up in your relationship with the Lord, I know that, Dave. What does it mean for you to walk with him even in the struggles that you’ve had day by day?

David Brownson: Well, part of what it seems to mean for me is finding him to be faithful. That is always so encouraging and such a blessing to know that the Lord who sees and knows all still cares about me. He helps me to be willing to not just know it, but actually show it. It’s hard for me to talk about the Lord sometimes because it just means so much to have him in my life. I know that rock-bottom promise that my dad quotes to me is that “I will never leave you or forsake you.” You know, here comes this promise sailing out of somewhere reaching us, that God is faithful and that he will never abandon us.

And our response is, what have we done to deserve this? How is it that we have come to benefit in this way from this God? And at the risk of being theatrical I’m just really grateful for God and his work in my life!

The Lord has ministered healing to me of late. I’m more at peace with myself and his place in my life than I’ve been in some time. My nephews and nieces have had a lot to do with helping me get oriented and assimilated to the world I live in. And my brothers and their wives have really given me very good strong support for my life. I tend to lean on my parents a good bit too. They have been wonderful for me. Thank you for the life you have given me, Lord, its goodness, beauty and blessing.