Christian Hope: More than a Feeling

Hello, readers!

I know you haven’t heard from me in a while and for that, I apologize. My focus has been on completing the semester in seminary and transitioning to my relatively new ministry role as a youth pastor. This semester has been one of my more difficult seasons of life due to the many transitions I have experienced. For some time now I have been reading and meditating on Ephesians. A few weeks ago I had a conversation with a student about Thirteen Reasons Why (Netflix series) and we discussed the hope that Christian teenagers have contrasted with  Hannah Baker’s  perceived lack of hope. This post is the result of a conversation with one of my students and my own need to be reminded of the hope found in Jesus.

In 2016 Tenth Avenue North released the song, I have this hope”The song is based on Isaiah 43:1-3 wherein God reminded His people that He redeemed them and would not leave them. Jesus made a similar promise to his disciples and gave us the Great Commission. (Matthew 28:18-19)  Religion is not the “opium of the people” as Karl Marx claimed. All of us were created to worship and for relationships with God and others. Christian hope is based on the objectivity of Jesus’s resurrection.

The Apostle Paul prayed that Ephesian Christians would “be enlightened and know the hope of His calling and the riches of His grace.” (Ephesians 1:18)  Paul’s rich prayer and confident trust in God should challenge the way we pray today. I will focus specifically on Paul’s prayer that the Ephesian Christians would know the hope of Jesus’s call.

Defining Terms

Reflection upon Paul’s prayer demands that we must consider how the terms know, hope, and calling are used in this passage. I am providing you with the lexical definitions from the original language.

Know: To grasp the meaning of something, understand, recognize, come to know, experience. (BDAG, οἶδα) More research is needed to determine why Paul used this term rather than other options. Hope is one aspect of the new reality inaugurated by Christ. Contrary to the view that nothing can be known I posit that there are some things that can be known and true. (See F. Leroy Forlines in The Quest For Truth, 1-2. Forlines states, “The culture which denies that Truth exists or is accessible is in desperate need of truth.”) Paul wanted his readers to comprehend and experience the reality of Jesus’s resurrection so they might experience hope.

Hope: This term has been overused and has taken on a completely different meaning in the English language than it was used in Paul’s time. We often say things like, “I hope you have a great day” or “I hope you do well on your exam” or “I hope things will all work out”. When we use the term hope we are referring to a feeling or expectation that something will happen. Paul has a different usage in mind.

Hope refers to Christian expectation rooted in the Gospel and promise of the resurrection. (BDAG, ἐλπὶς) Weeks could be spent examining each passage in the Old and New Testaments to better understand the believer’s hope but that will be reserved for another time. Paul’s desire is that the Ephesian Christians and we will comprehend with our total persons the certainty and result of God’s calling.

Calling: In contemporary language, this term has also been misused. Generally, God calls or elects disciples to make disciples. God’s appears mysterious at times but it doesn’t have to be. Paul’s prayer was that the Ephesian saints would know the hopeful implications of Jesus’s call.

BDAG defines call for verse 18 as “an invitation to an experience of special privilege and responsibility.” (BDAG,κλῆσις) What is the special privilege, you may be wondering? There are many special privileges reserved for those who have applied Jesus’s righteousness through faith, one being free access to the Father. Another privilege is that disciples are given the same authority Jesus had to effect God’s kingdom in the world.

Having defined the terms know, hope, and call we proceed to consider what makes Christian hope distinct from other forms of hope.

What makes Christian hope distinct?

Christian hope is grounded in the Gospel, the person and work of Jesus, and the promise of future resurrection. Whereas earthly “hope” relies upon feelings, Christian hope depends upon objective truth. As Christians, we must remember the difference between joy and happiness. Our hope is not grounded in our feelings but in God’s sovereignty and character.

Suffering is depicted throughout the Biblical narrative but we sometimes forget that it is a normal part of life for the believer. When we suffer we are quick to blame God while ignoring the countless promises that suffering is a natural part of our lives as disciples. (Read 1 Peter in its entirety.) We forget that when “Christ calls a man he bids him come and die.” (Bonhoeffer) When doubt feels bigger than faith we must remind ourselves of God’s promises revealed in His Word. Feelings let us down but objective truth grounded in Jesus and the Gospel never will.

Paul expressed that Jesus’s resurrection is the foundation for Christian hope. (1 Corinthians 15)  This makes our hope distinct. I am convinced there is more evidence that Jesus existed, was crucified, and risen than there is to support that he did not. If all of God’s promises find their yes in Jesus we should look no further than the Gospel as a source of hope.

Now that I have defined key terms and briefly discussed elements that distinguish Christian hope, I will conclude with some ways we can overcome despair or hopelessness today.

Overcoming Hopelessness through the Gospel

I don’t know about you but I can become discouraged and forget the hope found in Jesus. Multiple situations challenge our hope including cancer, unsaved family members, addictions, or even church conflict. Our hope is found God’s word, the Bible. It is living and active and does not put us to shame. (Romans 8:24-25)  I too struggle to remember the hope of Jesus’s calling but I have found the following steps helpful in transforming hopelessness.

  1. Commit to daily prayer even you have been slacking. You are God’s child through faith in Jesus. Prayer changes us and further molds us into the image of Christ.
  2. Find a local church to invest in. We were not meant to be Christians alone. There are NO lone ranger Christians. We need each other. Joining a local body of believers enables us to give and receive grace.
  3. Be transparent with safe people in your life. Not all persons are safe people and we cannot share our deepest thoughts and feelings with everyone. Even so, we all need accountability. Depression vanishes in the context of vulnerable and transparent people who give and receive grace regularly.
  4. Reject that the lie that you cannot be depressed and Christian at the same time. As Protestants, we do a poor job of meeting people where they are even if they are in the “dark night of the soul”. Sometimes we can pray the paint off the walls and do all the spiritual disciplines but still have despair. It’s okay to not be okay, brothers and sisters. Your problem may be spiritual but it could also be a mind problem. Thankfully God has given us tools such as Christian counseling to strengthen our total personhood.

I am praying that all of you will know the love of Jesus and will be reminded of the hope found in his Gospel. Thank you for reading!

 

 

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Praying like Paul: A closer look at Colossians 1:9-14

I am currently serving as a summer intern at Pine Level Free Will Baptist Church. One of my responsibilities is to preach through Colossians on Sunday evenings. For the next few weeks I will be posting a weekly review of some key element of my sermons. I hope these posts encourage you in your Christian pilgrimage.

As Christians we all know that we should pray. We even have special services called prayer meetings. There is a great deal of conversation about prayer. We all seem to recognize that prayer flows from a relationship with our Creator, yet we sometimes struggle with the practice of prayer. Maybe we just need a refresher on how the early church and the apostles prayed. Paul prayed specifically for the church at Colossae. This is fascinating in light of the fact that he first heard about this church through Epaphras. (1:7)

Paul often prayed for the churches within his scope of influence. His prayer for the Colossians is what we want to think about today.

[9]  For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; [10]  that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; [11]  strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; [12]  giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. [13]  He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, [14]  in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins. Colossians 1:9-14 (NKJV)

There are four key themes in Paul’s prayer for the Colossians:

1.) A prayer that the church would be filled with the knowledge of the Father’s will. (v.9)

We love this prayer. “Lord, just let your will be done.” We should pray this way because our Teacher prayed to the Father in this manner. Even so, sometimes Christians pray about God’s will as if it is a mysterious thing. God’s will is revealed to us in his word as well as the person and work of Christ. False teachers believed in obtaining a superior knowledge that would enable them to transcend the material world. Paul’s argument is that true knowledge is found only in the context of a relationship with the creator. True knowledge of God’s will drastically changes the way we live our lives.

We too can pray that other believers would be filled with knowledge concerning God’s will. With lives at stake we should intentionally pray that other believers will grow in their understanding of God’s will. This really is a prayer that others will mature spiritually. I don’t know about you, but I certainly appreciate people praying that I will know His will so that I can love Him more fully.

2.) A prayer that the Christians would walk worthy of the Gospel. (v.10)

The Lord himself said, “To whom much is given, much is required.” (Luke 12:48) Those of us who have been entrusted with Christ’s liberating message are to a greater decree of accountability. How do we walk worthy of the Gospel? Paul tells us that to walk worthy is to be fully pleasing to our Savior and to bear fruit. Paul’s point is that faith is worthless if it does not change the way we live. Our worth is found in Christ alone, but there remains an impetus for us to live a transformed life. Christ paid much to high a price for us to treat grace cheaply.

When we pray we should pray that Christ through the Holy Spirit will help us grow in our holiness. This is not only a prayer we pray for ourselves, but also a prayer we pray for other believers. We need each other’s prayers because it is not easy to be holy. There is no greater encouragement in pursuing holiness than knowing that brothers and sisters in Christ are praying for our success.

3.) A prayer that Christians would be strengthened by Christ’s power. (v.11)

The great feat of Christianity is that God doesn’t expect us to do it on our own. We do need to strive for holiness, but we recognize that God in Christ provides the strength and endurance we need to become more like him. Our creator and redeemer takes an active role in restoring us to the Father. We don’t pursue a more mature spirituality by relying on our own talents and abilities. We pursue maturity by relying on Christ’s power. There is none greater than Christ anyway.

God will make his presence known when his children are actively seeking it. The next time you pray for fellow Christians you should pray that God will supply strength for their various situations. As I write this post, I can’t help but think of Josh and Lydia Provow. They have been struggling to get their visas so that they can serve in Bulgaria. Josh and Lydia, I am praying that you find strength in God’s power. He is able to work this out for his glory as well.

4.) A prayer that joy would permeate every aspect of the believer’s life. (vv.11-12)

Paul prayed that the Colossian believers would be strengthened with all joy and patient endurance. He wrote this letter while he was in prison. Paul possessed an unimaginable joy based on his union with Christ. He prayed that the Colossian Christians would find deep joy in Christ.

Christians should be the most joyous people on the planet. This is not a false joy that is characterized by positive thinking. Every day is not a Friday, no matter how much we would like to convince ourselves that this is true. Even so, Christ’s work on our behalf should bring a new joy to our lives. What exactly has Christ done for us?

Paul answers that question in verses 12-14. The Father has qualified us to be heirs of the promise. He has set us free from darkness. He has invited us into the kingdom of Christ. He has released us from sin’s curse and God’s wrath. He has forgiven us for every and I mean every evil dead. Wow!

When we pray for others we must pray that they will find joy in Christ. As we await the hastening day of our Lord’s return we need only rest in the joy of the Lord. Joy in Christ will give us renewed strength as we continue on this journey. After all, the joy of the Lord is our strength. (Nehemiah 8:10)

An Example to follow

The apostle Paul has left us a great example of how we should pray. No matter who we are praying for, we can pray that they will be filled with the knowledge of God, that they will walk worthy of the Gospel, that they will rely on God’s strength, and that they will have joy. Implement these principles into your prayers and the kingdom of God will advance through Christ’s transforming power.