Hope is a quality that can run very deep. It’s a belief that the best is yet to come. Those with hope have courage that allows them to dream big and take risks. Hope enables us to endure pain and overcome grief. With it we are able to surmount obstacles, frustrations and failure. Join us Sunday as we learn how to be carriers of hope rather than despair.
Full Sermon Script
I think one of the greatest examples of hope is in a book by Steve Ambrose.
It’s a book about the Lewis and Clark expedition in the early days of the 1800’s called “Undaunted Courage.”
He writes about how for two years they faced unbelievable problems — unfamiliar territory, hunger, heat, exhaustion, fatigue, desertion, morale problems, hostile enemies, serious illness, and even death — going through virtually uncharted territory.
After two years of this, they reached the Continental Divide. And according to the best advanced information they had, their expectation was that once they crossed over the Continental Divide they would face about a half day’s worth of traveling over land, and then they would come to the headwaters of the Columbia River, which would float them gently down to the Pacific Ocean. That was the expectation.
Now, they come to the Continental Divide, and Lewis leaves the team behind to climb up the bluffs to look at what’s on the other side.
Imagine what goes on in his spirit when he’s expecting to find just a gentle sloping valley and the waters that will take them home free. And instead of seeing that, he becomes the first American citizen to see the Rocky Mountains. And he realizes, before they head for the easy part of this journey, they’re going to have to climb the Rockies.
Imagine leading that expedition. What do you say to that little team that’s waiting for you to come down the bluffs about what they face?
They’re going to have to strap all the equipment on their backs and climb, who knows how long, to face who knows what lies beyond the other side.
Now, because they face the adventure of climbing the Rocky Mountains —
They would have to dig down deeper than they knew they could.
They would get more creative than they knew they could.
They would find reserves of strength and will that they didn’t know they had.
And because they were actually able to do this, they would be filled with a confidence that they could face absolutely anything. The challenge of crossing the Rocky Mountains would do that for their spirit.
But, of course, before they climbed the Rocky Mountains, they didn’t know that. All they knew was — they thought they were almost home free, and then they had the biggest mountain of all still to climb.
The truth about us is we all face the Rocky Mountains at some time or another — financial pressure, relational challenges, vocational difficulties, spiritual problems, health issues. It’s inevitable — you will hit the Rockies.
But what happens when you hit the Rockies? That’s what’s important.
There’s a whole field of research in the social sciences that study what’s called “resiliency.” These are studies that involve people who have been through very deep trauma.
Survivors of prisoner camps.
Prisoners of war who went through brainwashing attempts.
People who have been in hostage situations.
People who have had traumatic accidents.
People who grew up in Fresno… that kind of thing.
And many, as you might expect, just get defeated by the Rocky Mountains. They come to this mountain range and they experience a loss of hope, resignation, isolation, defeat, withdrawal.
Whatever hope they may have brought with them is gone, and their heart melts.
However, there are some, usually a minority, who face these very traumatic situations and are characterized by what researchers in this field call resilience — a resilient spirit.
They experience — in the face of tremendous challenge and even trauma and pain — a fierce sense of independence; a resolution inside them that says, “I will not give up.”
And they find themselves continually exploring creative solutions. They move towards action.
And if one thing doesn’t work, they try to find another.
And they find within themselves, as Victor Frankel, a survivor of World War II concentration camps talks about — an attitude and spirit that says, “No matter what my captors might take away from me, they cannot take away that ultimate freedom to choose my own attitude, the posture of my own heart.”
And because of this, they actually enlarge their capacity to handle problems. So that in midst of this very difficult situation, they not only survive — they grow… they deepen.
Now, what’s the difference? Why is it that some people face the Rocky Mountains and are defeated and go home, and others face them and are challenged and even, in a sense, exhilarated and grow stronger?
Well, there are certain core themes that continually emerge in these studies that mark people who display resilience of spirit. And these findings are very consistent with stories and teachings in Scripture about those who have a resilient hope in God. And the good news is, they are skills that really can be developed. They really can.
So in the rest of this message, I want to talk about — what is it that enables resilient people to live in a spirit of hope? >>>>>
The first thing I’d like to talk about is — Resilient people attend to their physical, emotional and spiritual health.
It may be that you’re wrestling with a lack of hope or a sense of discouragement or chronic sadness. I want to encourage you, if that’s the case, if that continues over time, to ask this question — Is a physical or emotional problem contributing to my loss of hope?
I want to spend a moment on this because I recognize this may not sound like a real spiritual question.
But the fact is, God made your body… and your body is arranged with amazing complexity. And I’ve seen too many people who have a chemical imbalance, which affects their mood, beat themselves up for not being spiritual enough, or mature enough, or having enough faith, when their real problem, in fact, was a biological problem.
I’ll give you an illustration of this from a friend… his wife had a thyroid imbalance. It was diagnosed and it was treated. And after this, she asked her doctor, “What would have happened if my thyroid hadn’t gotten fixed?”
And his first words to her were, “You would have gotten a divorce.” And he explained the emotional effects of a thyroid problem, which can be huge. My friend said:
For the period of time when she was hyperthyroid, her metabolism got sped way, way up.
She would stay up until real late at night, could hardly sleep at all.
She would be up again at the crack of dawn, which was kind of unusual for her, and just bounce off the walls with energy all day long.
I would come home from a meeting at night… she would be up cleaning the house, looking for something to vacuum at 10:00 at night.
She had so much energy, she was up for any physical activity… and I mean, any physical activity.
He said, “Those were the good old days.” He misses her thyroid.
The doctor said, if untreated, that thyroid, which was hyperactive, eventually would have burnt itself out. And then she would have been at the other end of the spectrum – sluggish, with a loss of energy, and/or depressed. And it would not have been because she didn’t trust God enough or had bad thought patterns. It was a physical deal.
Now, for the most part, it’s not easy to separate what’s a physical issue, an emotional issue, or a spiritual issue. We are whole beings, and these areas largely overlap. They’re interconnected… and usually they must be addressed simultaneously. But my point is this:
If you’re sincerely seeking hope and joy and you’re praying about this, and you’re attempting as best you can to walk with God, but you’re unable to make significant headway with depression or loss of energy or loss of joy and so on… please, I encourage you…
Get a very thorough medical evaluation.
Check with a competent Christian counselor.
It may be that your problem is, at least partly, a physical problem. And part of what resilient people do — part of what those who follow Christ do — is honor the body because God made your body. Your body is the residence of God. It’s the temple of the Holy Spirit inside of you. >>>>>
The Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 6:19: Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?
God is concerned about your body. Resilient people honor that truth.
What else do resilient people do?
Resilient people take responsibility for their own hope.
Believe me, I know that on a subject like this there will be this thought that goes through your mind. It may be going through your mind right now. “Yeah, it’s all well and good for you to talk about hope, but you don’t know what I’ve been through.
You don’t know about the loss I’ve suffered.
You don’t know how bad things are with my work.
You don’t know how badly my upbringing was.
You don’t know the difficult person I’m married to.
You don’t know the kind of dreams that have never, and will never, be fulfilled for me.
You don’t know how much I’ve suffered.
You don’t know my problems.”
And do you know what? You’re right. I don’t know. No one knows the unseen scars and wounds and hurts — the disappointments that mark the heart of anyone else. No one knows that. I just know this. In some of you, if you take nothing else away today, you need to take this away. I know this: People who live with the habit of hope live better lives than people who live with a habit of despair.
People who live with the habit of hope live closer to God.
They live lives that are more filled with faith.
They’re more likely to embrace today and anticipate tomorrow.
They’re more likely to be open to joy and gratitude.
People who cultivate the habit of hope live better lives than people who cultivate the habit of despair. And you’ll have to choose.
That may be a difficult thing for you. Maybe you received cranky genes from your parents, and you’ll have to fight cranky genes your whole life. Well fight them! Just fight them because you are responsible for your hope — not your mom or your dad; not your brother or your sister; not your neighbor; not your friend; not your spouse if you have one; not your boss. There is a choice, and it’s in your hands.
When you face the Rockies, and you will face the Rockies — some of you are facing them right now — there is a choice you’ll have to make. And the truth is, you make this choice all the time, every day.
It’s a choice between hope and despair.
It’s a choice between life and death.
It’s a choice between trusting that with God all things really are possible, and giving into defeat and despair.
Some of you are facing some major difficulties right now. And many of the things we face in life are out of our control. This, again, is one of those areas in which Christian hope is quite different from just a general positive attitude.
You were handed some genetic material. You had no choice about that.
You grew up in a family of origin for better or for worse. You had no choice about that.
You were plopped into a certain environment. You didn’t have much choice about that.
But the writers of Scripture say way down deep — deeper than your genes and deeper than your environment and deeper than your family — you were made in the image of God.
And partly, what that involves is the fact that somewhere, way down deep inside you, you can choose. You are a spiritual being. You are an immortal person created in the image of God, and you can choose hope or despair. And every time you make that choice, a small part of your character and your spirit are effected.
And every time you choose despair — every time you allow the Rockies to defeat you and cause you to quit — you make it that much more likely that the next time it will take a smaller mountain to defeat you. And the next time a smaller one yet, until one day, you don’t even launch out on the journey.
There is such a thing as resilient people. And there is such a thing as a resilient faith in a good God. And this faith is open to you. It’s available to you. God has made himself available to you.
I don’t know what challenges you face. I don’t know what obstacles you face. I don’t know what burdens have been laid on your shoulders. But I know this — you are a child created in the image of God, and His hope and His help are available to you.
And I know that resilient people understand that the habit of hoping leads to a better life than the habit of despair. >>>>>
Alright, another thing about resilient people. Resilient people regularly do reality checks.
Resiliency is not the same thing as living in denial or clinging to the past or foolish stubbornness. If you’re still holding on to your stock at Blockbuster Video… it’s time for a reality check.
There are times for a hope adjustment.
There are times when I must face that some particular hope that I cherished may not be realized.
There may come a day when I will know it will never be realized.
Resilient people do reality checks. And this may well involve grieving — maybe deep grieving. And some of you may need to do that. But I will need to do this without losing my ultimate hope in God.
Someone I know once said this: “Basically, I like this girl. She doesn’t like me. I know she never will, so I’ve let it go. I’ve given up. It’ll never happen for me. Love will never happen for me.” It kind of sounds like he’s doing a reality check, but underneath it there is this unmistakable tone of self-pity. And what he doesn’t say is: “But I know,” or, “I believe,” or “I want to believe that God still has good things for me. And I know that my life can have meaning and purpose. And so, I will embrace life the best I can. I will fight every day, from the moment I get up until my head hits the pillow at night. I will fight for life. And I will fight for joy. And I will cling to a God who I believe has good things for me… even though I’ve lost this one particular hope.”
To contrast that, I talked to a woman who said she and her husband have been holding on to hope for years that they would have children. And there are some real serious obstacles to that, and it’s not clear whether that will happen or not. And she said, “The day may come, I hope it does… but maybe it won’t. And the day may come when I’ll have to die to that hope. I’ll have to let that hope go. And that’s going to be really hard. If that day comes, I’m going to cry a lot. I’ve already cried about that actually. But if that day comes, I will cling to the deeper hope —
that God has good things for me.
that God has good things for us.
that there is a loving God that I can trust.
and that my life will not be over.
and it will be filled with goodness and purpose and joy.”
You see, true hope adjustment is grounded in a deeper hope. And one of the litmus tests for this is whether or not there is the presence of uncontested self-pity. Resilient people do grieving, sometimes very deep grieving. But they do not do chronic, terminal, uncontested self-pity. >>>>>
Another thing about resilient people:
Resilient people understand failure is part of the learning process.
For the most part, when we enter this world, most of us are somehow born with a certain level of resilience and hope bred into our bones. We just come that way. Look at a little toddler beginning to walk. The day comes when he takes his very first step. And then, pretty soon, he falls. But very rarely does a toddler just lie there on the ground saying, “Oh, I look like an idiot. I’m never going to learn how to walk. I should just stay down here on the ground forever.”
There is something inside that toddler that says, “Someday, I’m going to be a walker. Maybe not today and maybe not tomorrow, but my day is going to come, and I’m going to walk all over the place. I’m going to walk to places and do things that will make my parents wish I’d never started walking at all.” Somehow we’re born with a kind of unconquerable spirit. But all too often, somewhere along the line, over time, life has a way of eroding this inner resiliency in far too many people.
I think of a man who, for a long time, was a major player in the world financial market. He had several decades of success, until he was worth something like 3 billion dollars. He was the feature of cover stories on some of the most prestigious financial publications in this country. And then, one year, he guessed wrong on a few occasions. And he lost about 2/3 of everything he’d built up over all those years. But worse than that, he lost a spirit of hope. And his sense of confidence and vision and fire just eroded, until he just wanted to withdraw. I feel bad for him. He’s still worth like a billion dollars, so I don’t feel too bad for him, but I feel bad for him.
Failure is indispensable to the learning process.
I read about a ceramics teacher who divided a class into two groups. One half was graded solely by the quantity of their work – 50 pounds of pots would be an A, 40 Pounds would be a B, and so on. The other half was graded on the quality of their work. They only had to make one pot each, but it had to be a really good pot.
When grading time rolled around, a strange thing happened. The quality pots were made by the quantity group, even though that wasn’t their aim.
Apparently, the quantity group learned to make a good pot by just churning out pots. In the beginning, they made bad pots. But every time they made a pot, they learned from their mistakes. And every time their work got a little better until, in the end, it was really good.
The quality group, on the other hand, was so paralyzed by the fear of failure that they sat around theorizing about perfection. And in the end, they had nothing to show for it but theories about perfection… and one really bad pot.
In the end it was only people who were willing to experience and even embrace failure — because they were willing to try — who were able to learn from failure and, eventually, were able to transcend failure.
And it’s just that way in life.
It’s that way in your work.
It’s that way in acquiring skills.
It’s that way in learning to communicate.
It’s that way in parenting.
You’ve got to try. And when you try, especially when you begin to do something that’s difficult for you —
When you try to speak assertively.
When you try to speak the truth and you’re used to just shrinking back.
When you try to confront someone else.
When you try to be gentle.
When you try to express affection and you’ve never done it before — at first you will do it badly.
It’s okay. Do it badly… and learn. Fall on your face… and learn. And get back up. >>>>>
The writer of Proverbs puts it like this: Though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again, but the wicked stumble when calamity strikes. — Proverbs 24:16
I love it that the writer doesn’t say, “For the righteous never, ever fall at all.”
They fall seven times.
They fall and fall and fall again, but they keep getting back up.
They keep getting back up because they’re connected to a God who offers mercy and grace.
But the wicked stumble when calamity strikes, because they have no God to raise them back up again.
Tomorrow you’re going to fail.
You will fail at work.
You will fail in communicating.
You will fail as a parent or financially or socially.
The difference between resilient and non-resilient people is not that resilient people don’t fail, and non-resilient do. Everyone fails! The difference is how they respond to it.
How do you respond to failure?
You see, God created human beings to dream. You know that. When you entered this life, you came into this world wired up to dream that one day you were going to walk. And one day you were going to talk. And one day you were going to have work that would stretch you and make a difference in this world. And you were born to dream about serving God; and doing something that would honor God and change lives; about friendships that would run deep and shape hearts; about a healthy marriage, maybe, or great family. And the loss of hope means that all these dreams die before you do.
So then, you just learn to live without them. And then you’re really just trying to look like you’re alive.
I’ll tell you kind of a parable about this.
A woman happened to be looking out the window of her home one day. She was horrified to see her German Shepherd shaking the life out of a neighbor’s rabbit. Her family had been quarreling with these neighbors. And this was, certainly, going to make matters worse.
She grabbed a broom and ran outside pummeling the dog until he dropped the rabbit, now covered with dog spit… and extremely dead.
After a moment’s consideration, the woman lifted the rabbit with the end of the broom and brought it into the house. She dumped its lifeless body into the bathtub and turned on the shower. The water ran over the rabbit until it was cleaned. She then rolled him over and rinsed the other side. Now, she had a plan.
She found her hair dryer and blew the rabbit dry. Using an old comb, she groomed the rabbit until the rabbit looked pretty good. Then, when the neighbor wasn’t looking, she hopped the fence, snuck across the backyard, and propped him up in his cage. There was no way she was taking the blame for this.
About an hour later, she heard screams coming from the neighbor’s yard. She ran outside pretending she didn’t know what was going on. ‘What’s happened?’ she asked innocently.
Her neighbor came running to the fence. All the blood had drained from her face. ‘Our rabbit, our rabbit,’ she cried. ‘Our rabbit died two weeks ago. We buried him. And now, he’s back!’”
Had the neighbor poked the rabbit or tried to play with it, she would have discovered the truth – the rabbit was dead. And playing with a fluffed up, dead rabbit is not much fun.
The same is true with fluffed up dead people. The truth is, it is possible to get dead and buried before we’re dead and buried. We lose hope. We’re afraid to live life. We’re afraid to take risks. We’re afraid to start again. We’re afraid to do anything that isn’t fully secure and safe. We’re afraid to do anything that could make us vulnerable. And when that happens, you’re just marking time.
God’s plan for your life was never about being propped up in a cage. God’s plan for this earth is not that it be full of fluffed up dead people.
I want to close by telling you that from a Christian perspective, this ability to face the future with confidence does not ultimately rest on your competence… or your level of giftedness… or your determination… or your resolve… or your character. It doesn’t ultimately rest on you at all. I want to tell you about the birth of hope, of Christian hope.
One day, over two thousand years ago, a group of people put all their hope in a rabbi named Jesus. He was filled with an unshakable confidence in his Father that was so solid, they were convinced they could put their lives and their future in his hands.
And this strange thing began to happen. An oppressed nation – a group of mostly marginalized people — began to hope. They hadn’t hoped for a long time.
Lepers began to hope that they could be cleansed.
Prostitutes began to hope that they could be pure.
Crooked tax collectors, who were despised, began to hope that they could be honest.
The blind began to hope that they could see.
The lame began to hope that they could walk.
Sinners began to hope that they could be right with God.
Lonely people began to hope that they could be loved.
Weak people began to hope that they could be strong.
There was something about Jesus that made people hope who hadn’t hoped for a long time.
And I think that’s part of why Jesus was such a magnet – why people were so drawn to him. Because when you get around Jesus you start hoping.
Well, Jesus was so filled with this unshakable confidence in his Father, he was so clear on his identity — who he was, and his mission — what God called him to do, that he could not be deterred. And it got him into trouble. The religious leaders didn’t like that. But he was so clear. His confidence was so strong that he wouldn’t compromise. He wouldn’t back down. He wouldn’t turn around. He wouldn’t be stopped.
And eventually, in desperation, those powers had him arrested and tried and condemned on trumped-up charges. And they mocked him and they beat him and they hung him on a cross to die. For all these people that had been following him, when he died, their hope died with him. And they thought it was the end.
No matter how smart or strong or clever they were, they thought it was the end… until they heard this screaming come from over the fence. And a group of Roman soldiers with the blood draining out of their face started to say, “This rabbi, this rabbi, he died two days ago. We buried him. And now, he’s back!”
And for 2,000 years, that has been the foundation of hope. For the followers of this rabbi who experience suffering or persecution or failure or deep disappointment or sickness or death, they’re able to live with confident expectation. Not because of their own strength or ability or cleverness, but because they look forward to another day — maybe not today or tomorrow, but someday, when a trumpet is going to sound and death will be no more. And then the whole world will say, “He’s back.” That’s Christian hope.
One last thing about resilient people:
I started with a story about a mountain and I want to close with this story about a mountain. Edmund Hillary is the guy who climbed Mount Everest for the first time.
It took him many attempts.
There were many unsuccessful attempts to climb Mount Everest.
They were very painful, very frustrating to him.
And one time, when he was defeated, he was down at the base of Mount Everest and he spoke to the mountain. >>>>>
He shook his fist at Mount Everest and he said: “Someday, I’m going to climb you, mountain. And I’ll tell you why. Because you’re as big as you’re ever going to get, but I’m still growing.”
You’re as big as you’re ever going to get, but I’m still growing. – Edmund Hillary
I don’t know what your mountain is. Maybe it’s fairly small today. Maybe it’s the Rockies. I don’t know what it is. I just know one thing. If God is with you — the God who says, “With me, all things are possible,” if God is really with you, you’re still growing.
Would you pray with me? Would you bow your heads and close your eyes for a moment. I’d like you to take a moment just to consider where is it in your life that, right now, you’re most vulnerable to losing hope? Where is it that the winds are kind of blowing in the wrong direction right now, and you are most tempted to give up? Would you just take a moment to talk to God about that? Tell him where it is that you need hope. Tell him that you really do want to cling to him. Ask him for wisdom. What do you need to do? How do you need to respond? How can you re-engage in life with a firm confidence in God and an unshakable spirit as you partner with him? Just take a moment to pray silently right where you are. And then the band is going to lead us in a closing song.