This is part one of our six-part study series on Hope Deferred. Originally written for Lent 2017, it covers everything from giving God a helping hand to the hope of salvation. Each study includes a short reflection for personal use or discussion with others.
Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.
And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. 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.
I’ve often thought that Proverbs 13:12 is one of the most discouraging verses in the Bible. The only promise it seems to offer is that I’ll be fine when God finally gives me what I’m asking for.
Romans 5:5, however, assures us that hope does not put us to shame (or, as it was expressed in earlier translations, ‘does not disappoint’), even though it’s clear in much of Scripture (and Hebrews 11 in particular), that many godly people die before they receive the fulfilment of the promises they’ve been hoping for. So how do we reconcile these things?
It’s important to remember that Proverbs is a list of sayings and truisms – it speaks about the way the world is, not necessarily the way it ought to be. For example, when Proverbs 18:8 says ‘The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to the inmost parts’, it doesn’t mean we ought to spread around those juicy titbits.
We also need to look at the context of the Romans verse.
I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that whatever we are suffering comes with an equal and opposite hope. For Paul that might have been hope of release from prison, vindication in court, or reprieve from his ‘thorn in the flesh’. For us, perhaps, it is hope for recovery from illness, relief from a difficult boss, or the gift of a longed-for child… We hope that our sufferings will end, yet at the same time, Paul says, we glory in them. Why? Because in the end they produce hope – hope that does not put us to shame. And it doesn’t put us to shame because God’s love has (already – the action is complete) been poured into our hearts.
We can choose how we handle our deferred hope. We can let it fester and make our hearts sick, or we can treat it as Paul treated his sufferings. When we choose to persevere, to pursue God’s glory regardless of our current circumstances, it builds our character (which the Amplified Bible describes as ‘spiritual maturity’). That character gives us renewed hope, but this time it isn’t hope for the fulfillments of our needs, but for a deeper knowledge of and relationship with God. And that hope will never be disappointed.
Hope deferred produces hope fulfilled.
For Further Reflection
- In a world of microwave ready meals, same-day delivery and instant online streaming of the latest films, waiting for anything has become hugely devalued. How do you think this ‘on-demand’ culture affects our character?
- Although deferred hope can be an incredibly painful thing, at least as believers we have someone to cling to – and to rage at – in the waiting time. How might God be able to use your experience of deferred hope to enable you to witness to others?