March 23, 2006

Talking About Hope

The following is an abbreviation of a devotional presented October 9, 2005, during the Annual Council of the General Conference, in Silver Spring, Maryland. --Editors.
HE SAHARA, THE LARGEST DESERT in the world, fills nearly all of northern Africa, with a total area of about 3.5 million square miles (nearly 9 million square kilometers). It’s classified as one of the harshest environments known to human beings, and many areas are considered too hot and dry for human habitation. The majority of the people living in the area are nomads, continuously moving from region to region in search of food and better living conditions.
However, there is little to offer for food, few plants being able to tolerate the climate. Temperatures can reach well above 130 degrees during the hottest seasons, and the area receives less than three inches (7.6 centimeters) of rain a year.
Yet a few years ago the World Press Review carried a quotation from the National Concord of Lagos, Nigeria, reporting that 26 lakes have been found beneath the Sahara Desert. The American space shuttle Columbia determined by echoes it received that there are miles and miles of underground rivers beneath that arid land also.
How sad to think of people starving and dying of thirst, while those underground lakes and rivers remain untapped! 


In the same way, there are people all around us today living in desert places in respect to the circumstances of their lives. They thirst for the life-giving waters of hope for their arid souls. But seeing none, they die in their thirst. Are we like those underground lakes, like those hidden rivers, full of life-giving water, rushing to and fro, but just out of sight, inaccessible to those who are most in need? Are there times when we fail to share the hope that is within us?

Ellen White says that “the churches need to have their eyes anointed with the heavenly eyesalve, that they may see the many opportunities all about them to minister for God.” She says that “even within the shadow of our own doors are families in which we have not shown sufficient interest to lead them to think that we cared for their souls.”1
We Adventists love to talk about, to preach about, to consider our “blessed hope.” It’s an essential element of our identity. We have the hope of Jesus returning to this atmosphere to take us away from this turmoiled place. Our hope contains within it the promise of new bodies, renewed minds, new homes, and eternal life--literally. In short, we have a hope that would make a difference in the lives of the hopeless!
Beyond Wishes and Dreams
Hope is a major theme in Scripture, appearing in the New Testament alone 318 times, I’m told. However, we often define it in a very causal manner--as a wish or dream, or even as desperation, or as defying the odds. But for us, hope is a certainty; and we should be the most hope-filled people in the world. For our hope is centered in the certainty of the return of our Savior.

Bible scholars have shown that in the Old Testament hope is closely related to the character of God. Those who hope in God trust God and His promises. Because God is the hope of the righteous, they can expect good things from Him and wait patiently for His help and deliverance. This patient hope is firmly anchored in the history and narrative of Scripture. The God who has fulfilled His promises to Israel in the past will continue to be faithful in the present and the future. This is the hope we must share with others.

The New Testament concept of hope is rooted in the Old Testament. It includes trust in God, patient waiting, and confidence in God’s future. It’s an essential characteristic of the Christian life. Every statement Paul, for example, makes about it is also a statement about what God has given the believer in Christ. In his letters, especially in Romans, Paul explores the ground of Christian hope, what it means to live in hope, and the Christian hope for the future. He addresses the church as a community of hope, grounded in God’s act of salvation in Christ, living in the power of the Holy Spirit, and moving toward the full realization of the purposes of God.
Yes, we Seventh-day Adventists have a hope that is the core of our faith. It’s the foundation of our belief system; the essence of our outlook; the overarching perspective of our worldview. It’s what lifts us up when we’re down; what settles us down when we’re overwrought; what keeps us going when we’re weary; what balances us when we’re out of control. Hope is what gives us power and at the same time humbles our spirit. We know without doubt that Jesus is coming again, and that hope makes it possible for us to endure all things as we wait in hope.
Hope is an encouragement to believers--indeed, to anyone--in the midst of suffering. But it also prevents us from being content with present circumstances, insisting that we wait with eager longing for the great day when all of God’s promises are fulfilled. Hope’s statements of promise stand in contradiction to present reality.
Christians who live in hope, therefore, are coworkers with Christ, living and striving for the glorious kingdom and waiting patiently for it. The masses of this world exist without hope, longing and searching for something to sustain them. As Christ’s coworkers we must bring them hope.
Sharing--Our Duty and Privilege
Ours, then, is not the luxury of just experiencing hope; nor the joy of simply talking about hope; or even the thrill of preaching hope. We have a greater responsibility. Our responsibility as the repositories of hope is to share hope with the hopeless masses--with those feeling desperate, discouraged, doomed to failure, useless, pathetic, inept, clueless, despondent, downhearted, forlorn, and miserable. Isaiah, in chapter 61, issues a challenge for God’s anointed to preach the good news to the poor, bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim freedom to the captives, and comfort all that mourn. We must take this charge seriously.
We are under a call today that is even greater than before, for these last days will demand more of us as the people of hope. As surely as we’re called to the work we do, the positions we hold, the places where we live and labor, we’re also called by God to go beyond our typical ways of sharing this gospel of hope.
We find the following words of Jesus in Matthew 25: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (verses 35, 36).
Projections on world conditions for the 15-year period from 2000 to 2015 are startling. We find forecasts for increases in drought, shortages of potable water, increases in famine, increases in catastrophic diseases--such as HIV/AIDS--increases in crime, terrorism, and war, as well as other calamities.2
We will need to increase our ministries to the people of the world at very personal levels. Ellen White admonishes us not to look with indifference and contempt upon those who have laid the temple of their souls in ruin. These are still objects of divine compassion. “Even those who have fallen the lowest are not beyond the reach of His love and pity.” She says that “if we are truly His disciples, we shall manifest the same spirit. The love that is inspired by our love for Jesus will see in every soul, rich or poor, a value that cannot be measured by human estimate.” She urges us to let our lives “reveal a love that is higher than we can possibly express in words.”3
This, brothers and sisters, is as much a part of sharing the gospel of hope today as is the preached word--not in terms of a social gospel, but as the living example of our Lord. In these last days we must actually be hope to those who have no hope--hope personified in every aspect of our daily walk. We must be the icon that appears on the computer screen of the minds of all who come into contact with us when they need to pull up hope.
As members of an eschatological community living between the resurrection of Christ and the ultimate realization of the eternal kingdom of God, we live in hope, because God’s promises in Christ stand in contradiction to the reality around us. We are sustained by a different reality--the reality of a future that has already begun, but is still awaiting its final consummation. We have more than God’s faithfulness in the past and promises about the future to give us hope. God’s gift of the Holy Spirit provides an experiential basis for hope in the present.
When Paul writes about the Christian’s future, it never becomes detached from the present experience of life in Christ (Col. 1:26, 27). The future Christians anticipate a consummation of activity that began with Christ’s death and resurrection and continues in the present. What is now the ground of Christian hope will then be fully manifested. The object of Christian hope is explicitly mentioned in Titus 2:13 as “the glorious appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” An agonizing and dying world needs to hear this.
Ellen White says that we must work to bring sunshine back to souls from whom hope has departed. She says, “God calls not only for [our] benevolence, but for [our] cheerful countenance, [our] hopeful words, the grasp of [our] hand. As you visit the Lord’s afflicted ones, you will find some from whom hope has departed; bring back the sunshine to them.”4 We must be hope walking throughout our neighborhoods and our nations.
The Lord’s messenger also cautions us in this service. She says: “In trying to help the poor, the despised, the forsaken, do not work for them mounted on the stilts of your dignity and superiority, for in this way you will accomplish nothing. Become truly converted, and learn of Him who is meek and lowly in heart. We must set the Lord always before us. As servants of Christ, keep saying, lest you forget it: ‘I am bought with a price.’”5
Perhaps if we remember a time when we too were lost or off course without hope, we will be more apt to seek out the lost and offer the hand of hope.
Giving All We Have
A little boy came into a church one cold wintry morning to get out of the snow and blustering wind. He’d been trying to sell newspapers, but not a single customer had passed by. Sheepishly he entered the auditorium, hoping to pass an hour unnoticed on the back row. Though the crowd was slim, the preacher delivered a stirring message on Jesus’ sacrifices for us, and at the end called for an offering.
The deacons went from row to row, and one drew near to the little newspaper boy. Stopping right in front of the little boy, he held out the offering plate. The boy’s eyes were fixed upon it, and after a long pause, he made an odd request of the deacon. Asking the deacon to place the offering plate on the floor, the little boy did something even stranger, yet so beautiful. He literally stepped into the offering plate. As he slowly looked up with big tears streaming down his little cheeks, he said, “Preacher, I don’t have any money; I haven’t sold a single newspaper today, but if Jesus did all you said just for me, I will gladly give my life to Him.”
The story is almost certainly apocryphal, but it has a good lesson, nonetheless. Paul urges us to present our bodies as living sacrifices to God, holy and pleasing to Him, as an act of spiritual worship. Surely this includes using our bodies as instruments of good deeds as those who, as Jesus instructed, love God supremely and others as themselves. Won’t you with me step into the offering plate today? One day very soon we will hear what sounds like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, the shout: “Hallelujah, for our Lord God Almighty reigns.”
Let us touch the world with this hope while we wait for the culmination of our blessed hope--the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
1 Testimonies for the Church, vol. 6, p. 294.
2 The National Intelligence Council, Global Trends 2015.
3 Testimonies for the Church, vol. 6, p. 279.
4 Ibid., p. 277.
5 Ibid.
Ella Smith Simmons is a vice president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Silver Spring, Maryland.