By Rev. Kyle Norman, Crosswalk.com
Christians are to be people of hope. This call is peppered throughout the Bible. We are to ground our lives in the audacious belief that we are never outside God’s presence or purpose. To have hope is to live in optimistic expectancy, daring to believe that, at any moment, God’s purposes will be accomplished, revealed, or made known.
This sounds simple enough but is more radical than it sounds. What makes hope difficult to cultivate is that we feel it most in those places wherein we are tempted to deny it.
Like a candle flickering against a dark background, hope shines brightest against the backdrop of struggle and hardship. While this is what makes hope difficult to cultivate, this is also what makes hope powerful and transformative.
Perhaps this is why, amidst a discussion about signs of the End Times, amidst depictions of the earth being in distress, Jesus calls his followers to have hope. Jesus triumphantly states, “When you see these things begin to take place, raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28). Jesus calls Christians to the audacious belief that somewhere within hardship and struggle, God is at work.
How do we cultivate hope today? In the very same passage, Jesus highlights two practices. Jesus says, “Be always on the watch, and pray, so that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand on before the son of man.” How do we cultivate hope? We watch and we pray.
1. Be Watchful
Watchfulness is an active discipline. To be watchful is to look forward in anticipation, to dare to believe that God is at work in our lives. Psalm 130 describes this act through the image of a sentry awaiting the dawn.
The passage reads, “I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word, I put my hope. I wait for the Lord more than watchman for the morning” (Psalm 130:6).
Sentries would stand on the walls surrounding a city awaiting the sunrise. The night was a time of unseen threats and the potential of danger. The morning, on the other hand, brought a sense of safety, a sense of newness. The morning testified God had protected the city through the dark night.
The reason why this image is so provocative is because the sentries knew the dawn was coming, even if they could not see it. Even when the sun was below the horizon, sentries knew the sun was still rising. Even the unseen rising of the sun produced hope.
When we go through times of struggle or discouragement, it can be easy to dwell upon the negative and the destructive. Our vision can be easily consumed by all the ways that things fall short of the ideal. Yet, the more we allow this to be our focus, the more our hearts become weighed down. Instead of hope, we cultivate a heavy spirit.
Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth (Luke 21:34-35).
Of course, we do not deny the hardships of life. Hope is not blissful escapism. Jesus doesn’t call his followers to dismiss the anxieties of life. Rather, Jesus calls us to deeply acknowledge them.
In naming our hurts and struggles, however, Jesus calls us to believe that such struggles are never the full story. The hardships and discouragements of life, even at the point of the end of the age, do not discount the Lord’s presence and activity.
The renowned author Henri Nouwen once wrote, “The master is coming — not tomorrow, but today, not next year, but this year, not after all our misery is passed, but in the middle of it, not in another place but right here, where we are standing.”
The reason that Christians have hope is because Jesus always works towards our redemption. Even on the hardest of days, we are encouraged to look for signs of life.
2. Cultivate Prayer
The second way to cultivate hope in anxious times is to pray. This sounds more simple than it actually is. Prayer is the heartbeat of the Christian life. It is hard to have an active faith if prayer is not a part of our lives. Furthermore, it is nearly impossible to walk through times of distress or confusion if we do not turn to prayer in some way.
Yet prayer is more than just “saying our prayers.” Often this is what we think. We believe prayer is equal to “talking to God.” Prayer is more internal than external, and the power of prayer is found in what we do internally, rather than what we externally say or do.
This means that prayer can involve a liturgy, praying a well-known prayer (such as the Lord’s prayer), or even letting our fingers run over prayer beads. True prayer can even involve sitting in silence and allowing ourselves to feel what we are feeling. At its heart, prayer is about uniting ourselves with the presence of Jesus.
We hold on to Jesus, tightly and fervently This inward reaching out towards Jesus helps us remember that our lives are lived in Jesus’ presence. After all, if Jesus is present amid our difficulty or discouragement it means we are not alone.
Prayer alters our focus. Prayer lifts our eyes to Jesus and away and stops us from feeling overrun by all that we face in life. Prayer demands that we dare to believe that, with Jesus’ help, we can move through all our struggles.
Yet more than just anticipating a day of redemption, Prayer calls us to recognize that we stand with Jesus in the here and now. This is the heart of prayer. This is the basis of hope.
3. Cultivate Hope
Christians are called to cultivate hope, a hope that is expressed in the moments and minutes of everyday life; a hope that dares to look at the world around us and declare that redemption can be found; a hope that will name the agonies of life, or cry through all the pains, but will, at the same time, believe that Jesus is working life and vitality.
This hope, the Bible says, does not disappoint us because the love of God has been poured into our lives through the Holy Spirit. “And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).
So, as we walk through the highs and lows of life, may you keep your eyes open for the places where God reveals God’s love and redemption. It happens all around you. And may you be prayerful, daring to believe that you stand within the presence and purpose of Jesus.
Nouwen, Henri; 1972. The Wounded Healer; (Image, New York, NY) pg.102
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Reverend Kyle Norman is the Rector of the Anglican Parish of Holy Cross in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He has a doctorate in Spiritual Formation and is often asked to write or speak on the nature of the Christian community, and the role of Spiritual disciplines in Christian life. His personal blog can be found here.