This morning, we’re going to be encouraged in how to receive and maintain hope in life.  Hope itself is a confident expectation; to hope is to, well, expect confidently.  🙂  Hope is an intangible substance and yet it is so real to those who truly possess it. 

Hope is like a placeholder that fills the gaps of our lack until we receive that which we long for.  Though hope is intended to be a positive and encouraging thing, it does have a dark side.  If we have hope, that means we have lack or need.

Romans 8:24-25

24 …But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

Hope is a powerful thing!  Hope has enabled people to overcome impossible odds and experience firsthand the miraculous acts of God.  Hope has equipped people to endure through the harshest of circumstances and darkest of seasons and watch them fade away into their past.

Hope can be a dangerous thing, too!  Misplaced hope can lead to the very places which hope was intended to lead us out of.  Many heartbreaks in life are the result of hope placed in something or someone that failed us.  Perhaps you have recently felt this pain. 

When this happens, it tempts us to give up on hope and to lower our expectations.  It can even cause us to begin expecting the worst to happen.  Just because one relationship ends badly, we transfer that same expectation onto our relationships following it, just waiting for the worst to happen.  We get unfairly let go from one job and we start to expect the same thing to happen when things get rough at the next one.

However, God challenges us not to give up on hope, but to transfer what our hope is placed in.  People will fail us, jobs will fail us, cars will fail us, everything in this world will let us down at some point.  Therefore, if we place all of our hope in these things, we are setting ourselves up for failure at some point.

True and enduring hope is not hope placed in anything of this world, but in the person of God alone.  Our hope can’t even be in the abilities of God or in the possessions of God, but in who God is.  Our hope needs to be in the person of God and not in the solutions that He can provide.

Otherwise, if our hope is in God’s ability to heal, we’ll get hurt and confused when He chooses not to; our hope will be shaken.  Otherwise, if our hope is in God’s ability to provide, we’ll get let down when He chooses not to; our hope will be shattered.

To have our hope in God is to also trust His timing and His wisdom.  Listen to just some of these scriptures about hope and what they encourage us to put our hope in.

Psalm 25:3

No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame…

Psalm 39:7

“But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you.

Psalm 42:5;11; 43:5

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

Psalm 130:7

Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption.

Isaiah 40:31

…those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

This morning, we are being challenged to hope again!  After all, hopelessness is a self-fulfilling prophecy.  If we expect to see trouble everywhere and to get let down in life, it will happen.  In this world, we will have trouble, but that doesn’t mean that we will only have trouble. 

Without hope, we will never be able to move beyond hurt and disappointment to the incredible blessings that life can also contain.  Hope gives us a healthy perspective in life and equips us to move through troubling seasons to ones of abundance.  Hope enables us to expect better things even in the middle of the trials and tribulations.

As I was trying to conjure up a picture of what it looks like for us to have hope, God reminded me of a common situation that I run into with our dogs.  I’ll share with you now exactly what I’m talking about because our dogs, now they know how to have hope!

 Here are three things that my dog teaches us about hope:

1. Offer your best

When my dog approached me in hope, he brought me something.  He brought me an offering even though he had not yet received a thing from me.  It was his expression of love to me. 

He brought me not a sock that he had been playing with, not a leaf that he had brought in from outside, but his favorite toy.  He brought me his best as an offering that expressed how he felt about me.

It isn’t that I need anything from him at all, but his offering touched my heart and put a smile on my face.

Sure, we are blessed when we obey God’s command to bring into the storehouse our tithes and our offerings.  However, we bless God when we offer to God our very best with gladness and without counting the cost.  Generosity  isn’t about how much we give, but our motive and attitude in giving.

One day while Jesus and his disciples were passing by the temple, the disciples started to remark about the precious stones it was made of and the costly gifts that it was made with.  Jesus turned to a widow giving just a few small coins to the temple treasury and commented that she gave more than all of the others.  They gave extras from the abundance of their wealth, she gave all that she had even in her poverty.

Just before the last supper, a woman came to Jesus as He was at the home of Simon and poured out an alabaster jar of expensive perfume made of pure nard and emptied it on Him.  Those with Him were upset at the offering and started debating about how valuable the perfume was and the good that it could have done.  After all, it was worth about a year’s wages!

Some questions to consider:

How do we respond to extravagant giving?

How much do we value Jesus?

How do we approach God? 

Do we expect much and give little? 

Do we offer to Him what is left over in our lives, or do we give Him our very best?

Do we count the cost when we give, or do we give recklessly and cheerfully?

While you are waiting in hope, offer your best to God!

2. Wait eagerly (patiently) expecting to receive

When my dog approaches me in hope, he is patient and eager.  His tail is wagging and his eyes are fixed on me.

Romans 8:24-25

24 …But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

Perhaps one of the greatest tests of hope is time.  We find ourselves in need, we have God’s promises to meet our very need.  It’s easy to enter into worship and prayer and approach God with bold confidence and eager expectation initially.  However, as we are left with hope in place of the fulfillment of that promise over time, hope can begin to fade.

Like David, we sometimes need to give ourselves this little pep talk:

Psalm 42:5;11; 43:5

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

No matter how long the meal may last and no matter how many meals happen without my dog receiving even a morsel, he never ceases to approach me with the same level of eagerness and expectation.  He still patiently sits there wagging His tail focused on me.

While you are waiting in hope, do so patiently and eagerly.

3. Guard and defend

On this same subject of hope getting put to the test, we must guard and defend our hearts and minds.  While our dog is waiting in hope, he guards and defends his hope very closely.  When our other dog or our cat come over and try to distract him from me, he growls at them warning them to back off.  There is nothing that is going to get between him and his food!

When we are left in need, thoughts start creeping in and others start to tell us things like, “Maybe this is just God’s will for you.”, “You just need to accept this.”, or “What if…?”.  When this starts to happen, we need to tell them to BACK OFF!  Hope and doubt can’t co-exist.  Hope leads to the fulfillment of God’s promises and we can’t afford to allow anything to cause us to doubt them.

Now my dog doesn’t get food every time, he sometimes hopes and does not receive what he hopes for.  However, he knows me well enough to maintain hope even through his disappointment.  He knows that it is just a matter of time and his hopes will be fulfilled.  Every time, he comes to me without any doubt that he is going to receive what he hopes for.

When I don’t fulfill his hopes, he doesn’t turn on me in anger, he doesn’t run away from me, he doesn’t stay distant from me.  Nope, he still draws near to me and loves me unconditionally.  It doesn’t seem to effect our relationship in any way at all.  The very next meal, his hopes are still just as great as they were when he was let down last.

Do we approach God in the same way?  Do we continue to press in and seek after Him with fulness of joy even through the disappointment of unfulfilled promises?  Do we love Him unconditionally and fully trust Him?  Keeping our hope in Him and not in His abilities or possessions can help us continue in this way.

It isn’t the unfulfillment of promises necessarily that cause us grief and heartache.  What really kills us is when we give up hope of fulfilled promises. 

Proverbs 13:12

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.

Proverbs 13:12 (GNT)

When hope is crushed, the heart is crushed, but a wish come true fills you with joy.

While you are waiting in hope, guard and defend your heart and mind from doubt.

We are well aware that we also have an enemy.  To our dogs, the enemy is the cat.  She doesn’t ask like the dogs do, she just takes what she wants.  If they get in her way, she just shoves them aside with her paw.

Thankfully, we are not unaware of the schemes of our enemy.  He comes to steal, kill, and destroy and if he can get us to doubt, then he has achieved that mission.  If the enemy can get us to waver in hope and lean instead into doubt, then we have allowed him to steal God’s promises from us, kill our hopes, and destroy our future.

James 1:6-8

6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

How is it that the enemy causes doubt in our lives?  He gets us to begin questioning that which we have built our hope on!

In the garden, it was, “Did God really say that?”  To Jesus, it was the question of, “If you really are the son of God…”  The enemy still gets us to question God’s word and our identity still today.

God’s word is truth and His promises are certain.  If you have placed your faith in Jesus, then you are a child of God and have every right to come boldly before His throne and to walk confidently in this world.

It always amazed me how our dogs have responded to our cat from day one when she was just a tiny runt.  They just bowed to her wishes and let her rule and reign over them.  They gave her a place of authority in their lives and I’m not exactly sure why.

You don’t have to walk around like a victim in life being bullied around by the enemy the way that our dogs choose to respond to our cat.  You can rise up and tell the enemy to back off!  You can remind him of his future and of your own!  Hell is his future, but yours is a future of hope and the abundance of life! 

Be on your guard.  Don’t let him deceive you into thinking any less of yourself and any less worthy to receive every single promise of God!

1 Peter 5:8-9

8 Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith…

Be a rebel, not a victim!  Rise up in hope and let nothing steal it away!

Whatever your circumstances, whatever life has thrown your way, hope again.  Place your hope in God alone and watch what He can do!  Put Him to the test and find truth that:

Psalm 25:3

No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame…