American teenagers are more depressed than ever and are struggling with resulting mental and physical health challenges. A recent secular article summarizing these issues concluded lost hope about the future was a major determining factor in this development.
The Bible describes a situation like some are facing today: “We were completely overwhelmed – beyond our strength – so that we even despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death, so that we would not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a terrible death, and he will deliver us. We have put our hope in him that he will deliver us again” (2 Cor. 1:8b-10). Our hope is in Jesus – who conquered every evil power, including disease and death.
Hope is the oft-minimalized portion of the tri-fold declaration of Christian virtues. Paul wrote, “Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love – but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13). No one disputes the importance of love – or of faith for that matter – but hope often gets the short shrift.
Hope is devalued because it is often sentimentalized. Phrases like “hope springs eternal” are often associated with romantic love or wishful thinking about dismal circumstances. But hope is so much more than this. It is grounded in the eternal reality of Jesus – alive and protecting his people through every circumstance up to and including death.
Everyone is looking for hope. Secular advertisers and marketers know this and use this longing to sell everything from clothes to cars. They assure us having the right things will give us hope. Other influencers take a higher road – hope is found in relationships. They assure us hope comes when we find the right person to make our lives complete. Even those of us who have strong marriages and families know how transient and unpredictable these relationships can be. Finally, particularly in American culture, some believe hope is found in achievements. Conquering life brings hope – so they promise – but really these efforts just put us on a treadmill to nowhere.
We must maintain faith in God’s promises and strive for the best, believing that over a lifetime God’s ways produce positive results. The only problem is, sometimes they don’t. That admission may shock you. God’s people are sometimes thwarted, not just in their lifetimes but for several generations (remember 400 years of slavery in Egypt?). Spiritual forces, evil people, and imperfect institutions conspire to produce this grim reality.
But wait! Hope is only lost when our perspective is flawed. God promises to make all things right at the end – of time, not at the end our project, ministry career, or lifetime. Justice is coming. God’s ways will prevail. God’s work will be established. Righteousness will reign. Every unfair outcome will be reversed. Every abused Christian will be justified.
But when? When Jesus returns all things will be made right. Not before, not necessarily in your lifetime, and certainly not on your timetable.
Part of your leadership challenge is maintaining hope. Doing so isn’t simply practicing a high level of spiritual denial. Hope takes the pain and problems of our world seriously, admitting the worst of them. Hope also admits, in the short run, God’s people will be abused and his work stymied. Hope begins with honesty about life as it is, not as we wish it would be. Hope, however, is not overwhelmed by these immediate realities but fixed on the only real Hope for the future – Jesus.