From the last article, I hinted that we will be exploring some of the resources that God offers to all who come to Him through Christ, “… the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints” (Eph. 1:18 KJV). The bible states in 1 Cor. 13:13 that these three things abide: faith, hope, love. Today I wish to develop the theme of hope and the importance of hope to our mental well being.
Hope is an essential ingredient for living and for life in general. Perhaps the most essential ingredient for living. We live in hope. Each day we wake up with certain expectations from the day. At the end of each working day, we part with our colleagues in the office with these words, “see you tomorrow” in the hope of seeing them the following day even although there is no absolute guarantee of this happening. We saw in Japan a few years ago how fragile human life is when we woke up to the devastating effect of an earthquake. Each morning I see parents taking their children to school in the hope that one day they will grow up to live the dreams that they have for them. I see city workers each Monday morning rushing to work in the hope that at the end of the month they will be paid some amount of salary to meet their mortgages, put food on the table and guarantee a holiday. However the reality, as the global crisis has revealed, is that the economies of this world are just unpredictable and unreliable as evidenced in our own country as well as places like Cyprus and Greece. Yet in spite of how unreliable the things we set our hopes upon, they do give men a reason for living. It may sound obvious, but a life without hope is a hopeless life.
Hope is important to mental well-being
As the saying goes, ‘you do not know the worth of a thing until you lose it’. One of the outstanding signs that mark the life of a person who becomes depressed is a deep, pervasive and utter sense of hopelessness – a loss of hope about ones’ situation and about ones’ future that often comes with a lack of the will to live. To wake up in the morning to find no reason for living can be a scary and devastating experience and is what often drives a person to the brinks of despair and suicide.
The potential to live one’s life to the fullest is indeed affected when a person is beset with a sense of hopelessness. This is when one begins to question the point of living. In the well published, “Cognitive triad of depression” by Aaron Beck in 1976 he proposes three (3) types of negative thoughts associated with depression namely negative thoughts about:
• The self – the self is worthless
• The world – the world is unfair
• The future – the future is hopeless
This sense of hopelessness comes with “the belief that troubles will continue indefinitely and that the future will only bring hardship, deprivation and frustration”. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beck’s_cognitive_triad)
In a depressed state, therefore, an individual’s perspective of the future turns grim and bleak, becoming devoid of any sense of expectation or hope.
The importance of hope in our lives was brought home to me at the beginning of this year when I applied for a post in the organization I work in. In my view, like a nutshell, this post seemed to bring together all the experiences and skills that I had developed over the years and I got quite excited about applying for it. However before I could have the chance to complete the application, the advertisement was closed before the formal deadline at the discretion of the employer/advertiser, much to my disappointment. I later came to understand that the organisation had the right to close applications before the formal closing date once it had received enough applications. A few days later as I lay in bed, reflecting on the incident, I began to see how I became pre-occupied with the position. It was because, the post was able to inspire and build within me a sense of expectation for the future. It was able to harness within me a latent potential source of unharnessed energy and motivation. Such energy that I was not aware was available within me. As I pondered over the post, I began to count a number of possibilities and possible futures that could open up to me. Such is the power of dreams – the ability to inspire hope.
The power of dreams and hope
Hope creates the sense of possibility (see Ezekiel 37) and is able to stir up the mind and senses of a man to achieve great things. On a visit to Haiti, I saw the number of people who live in slums, limited in their vision by the abject poverty and the derelict surroundings in which they found themselves. Yet out of these same environments, young people were being fired up by leaders with vision and dreams to look beyond their immediate surroundings to build a better future for themselves. Dreams carry in their wombs the seeds of life that drives men to achieve greatness.
Dreams, as pictures of the future, give rise to hope and this in turn gives us a purpose or reason for living in the present. Hope is the anchor for living out our purpose today. Our hope, vision or the picture we hold of the future makes all the difference to how we live today: whether to live a driven and purposeful life in the present or otherwise. In one we see a bright future and in another we see a bleak future. It is not by chance that when God calls people, he gives them a prophetic picture of the future (Jer. 29:11).
In my local church, the Rhema (spoken) word of God at the beginning of this year was that God was giving “Beauty for Ashes” to His people (Isaiah 61:3). In the bible, ashes and sackcloth are a sign of mourning, sorrow and despair. Ashes, being the remains of a living thing may also represent death or an end to life. I believe that when satan wants to cut people off, one of the ways he does this is to fight, snuff out or cut off their hopes, dreams or visions to bring their lives to an end. After all, what is the point of a man who is alive without hope! St Irenaeus, who lived in the second century, put it this way, “The glory of God is a man who is fully alive.” As man is made in the image of God, God indirectly gets the glory when men live their lives to the full potential in all aspects of their being, spirit soul and body.
God inspires hope
One of the exciting things about the life that God offers in Christ is that it inspires hope for living both in the present and for eternity. You and I know that there is enough on the news to leave one in despair. This world is a dark place (John 1:5). Anyone who cares to read the Holy Scriptures, will soon realise that they cannot but be filled with hope. Jesus, when he was about to leave and go to the Father after his earthly mission said in John 16:33 “In the world, ye shall have tribulation but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (KJV). What words of hope for all who put their trust in Him!
The God of the bible inspires hope in Himself. The bible describes God “an everlasting rock” (Isaiah 26:4 AMP). The psalmist writes “He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my defense; I shall not be greatly moved (Psalm 62:2, KJV). The bible teaches that those who put their hope in the Lord will never be disappointed or put to shame. The more we get to know the God of the universe, the more rooted and established our hope in Him will be in all circumstances.
We get to know this God through his Word. As we build a relationship with God through his Word, we are filled with growing confidence in Him as He manifests Himself to us. By coming to know God we begin to realise (as Selwyn Hughes and Trevor Partridge outline in their epic work – Caring God’s Way, 2000) that:
1. God knows everything that happens to us
2. God’s grace is sufficient for every need
3. God brings positive benefits from negative circumstances and He turns setbacks into springboards
4. God deepens spiritual qualities and characteristics in the process.
We cannot talk about the hope of the scriptures in its fullness without making mention of the hope of eternal life. I like how the Holy Spirit, through the Apostle Paul puts it: “If in this life alone we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable” (1 Cor. 15:19 NKJV). It saddens me that today most of us Christians live miserable lives, devoid of any hope or joy, simply because we have taken our eyes off the very thing that should make our life here on earth the most exciting i.e. setting our eyes on the hope of eternal life promised through the resurrection life of Jesus Christ. In 1 Peter 1:3-5, the Apostle Peter wrote “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy, has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…” (NKJV). He promised that through this victory over death, He will now come and take us to where He is – for He has prepared mansions for us (John 14:1-3). What glorious hope! The bible calls the hope of the Christian, a living hope not a dead hope. Any form of hope placed in this world or the things of this world is an empty hope for this is a fallen world and all the things in it is passing away.
The hope of eternal life is the greatest hope of all. For what hope is there that a man will enjoy all there is in this world and end up in the flames of eternal fire. On the contrary the expectation of a glorious future in the presence of God (Rev. 21) gives a focus on how we live today – as pilgrims, helping us to get the most out of the Zoe life that Christ offers even here on earth.
Oh that our focus may remain on the Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious son of God through whom we have such great inheritance in God!