I have experienced disappointment and letdown time and time again. To have a dream crushed, a promise broken, or trust violated leaves one in pieces, wary and without confidence. And the more this happens, the harder it is to hope in anything good again, to hope that our plans will actually come to fruition.
This is often how it has been for me. And in this sin-shattered world I know this is how, to one degree or another, it is for everyone. I've often thought about how living in the 21st century in the most prosperous nation ever has spoiled me. No doubt it has, but I also think people living 100 years from now, or 1,000 years from now, who will be far better off than I am, will still experience disappointment and letdown, will still experience that unnerving feeling in the pit of their stomach that resonates throughout their bodies whenever they think about the next great longing that is finally visible just over the horizon, approaching at long last, yet nonetheless looms with uncertainty.
But that's always it, isn't it? The fear of progress competing with the desire to progress. Wanting to go from being a boy to being a teenager and socializing with friends and having freedom from the parents. Then wanting to be a man, relying on the strength and wisdom and love of my parents, wishing I had listened to them a bit more and knew a bit more about what it takes to live on your own. Then reaching that place where the desire to start a family hits smack on with the reality that you are taking on responsibility not just for yourself but for others, and not just any others, but your own flesh and blood, the ones you will love most dearly. Most everyone experiences this I'm sure. When it comes to that big job, starting a family, dealing with the death of a loved one, etc., conflicting emotions run rampant. We know how high the stakes are, how costly it can be if things go wrong, how costly and difficult it can be just to get to that certain place we want. We measure it and mull over it, we plan it out and prepare for it. Yet without fail, when it's finally coming, our stomach still does somersaults and we realize we can't predict the future and guarantee that our plans and preparations will avail after all.
It's a cocktail of great delight and longing, tensely mixed with the unsettling feeling that there's a lot of stuff out there that we just don't know yet. But nobody does, not by experience at least, until they do it, until they are actually in the midst of it. And that's the hard part. Wanting something so badly, but then not knowing exactly what it will be like once you have it, as you are going through it. So why hope at all? Why want anything, when by definition to want something is to desire something that you do not already have, and because you do not already have it, you cannot possibly have absolute certainty that it will be easy to keep if you ever do get it; or once having it, that you will like it half as much as you thought you would before you did obtain it.
Whew. But the world keeps spinning, and lovers keep loving, and dreamers keep dreaming, and those hungry for fame or fortune or power keep on chugging, right? Why? Well for several reasons according to God:
Hope deferred makes the heart sick, But when the desire comes, it is a tree of life.
This is one side of the coin. Everyone has hoped. It is human to hope. We were created to hope in God. The problem is we have fallen, sin is prevalent, and thus hope is often deferred. And this deferment of hope is literally heart sickening. This is what creates that longing, that desire. But when the desire approaches, when it is on the horizon, and at last when we have actually obtained it, it is an abundant joy, indeed, a "tree of life." So deep down people still believe that the good life, or true living at all, is having your desires met, reaching that place where your hope is no longer hope but a reality. We are all looking for home, which is the place where all our desires are met and all is well.
It is the last, crucial, decisive step before we meet our hope that is often the hardest. Jesus' sweat was like great globs of blood as He prayed to God and even asked if it was at all possible that the cup- enduring the fierce wrath of His Father on the cross- could pass from Him, that it would:
And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and prayed, 42 saying,“Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.”43 Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him. 44 And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.
Matthew gives an even more stirring account of the same event in chapter 26:
36 Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, “Sit here while I go and pray over there.” 37 And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. 38 Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.”
39 He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”
40 Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “What! Could you not watch with Me one hour? 41 Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
42 Again, a second time, He went away and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless[e] I drink it, Your will be done.” 43 And He came and found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy.
44 So He left them, went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words. 45 Then He came to His disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise, let us be going. See, My betrayer is at hand.”
Now maybe you think I have just lost my mind. The cross? Surely that cannot even be loosely compared to one's hopes and dreams, of landing that big job that you always wanted that is so pleasant to you it's not work at all. It cannot be like getting married and raising wonderful children and enjoying the blessings of family. Surely the cross was something Jesus despised, dreaded, was the last thing He wanted, something he endured with sorrow, with grief and tears, right? Well, yes and no. We do know that martyrs have gone to their deaths for the truth of the cross, singing hymns and psalms and praying for their killers even as they were being burnt alive! Was Jesus then a wimp, a weakling? No. He was enduring the wrath of God on the cross, the sin of His people, something far worse than physical torment.
And that, for Him, was everything- for His Father to be glorified through Him, for Him to be glorified through His Father and the Spirit by dying for His bride and effectively purchasing her with His blood. Jesus was saying to God, "Is there no other way? Fine then, so be it. I will not give Our glory to another. I will redeem my bride, my own people, my Father's own children, with my own blood, by my own death. The greater the cost the greater the glory and the richer My grace, mercy, and love."
Sin necessitated this conflict within Christ. Not Christ's sin, God forbid I suggest that! He had none. No, it was our sin. The same sin that affects our hopes and wants and dreams today, affected Christ's hopes and desires leading up to the cross. But in the end, was the cross without joy? By no means!
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
3 For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. 4 You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin.
So now let's answer the question, "What was the joy that was set before Christ?" What did Christ hope for, long for, what did He desire? He tells us in John 17, the high priestly prayer, which is one of my favorite passages in all Scripture. Really this whole chapter needs to be read to get the full scope and understanding of what Christ was praying for, but for sake of brevity and staying on point I will only quote the last few verses of the chapter:
24 “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father! The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me. 26 And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”This is why we hope. This is why we endure, why we press on. Because Christ did and defeated sin and death for us, but even more than that, because Christ has prayed and is praying for us that every one of God's children see the glory of Christ and His Father. And now that we have received the Holy Spirit, we have what Christ prayed that we would have- we have the very love with which God loves His Son in us, and we have Christ within us! As Scripture tells us, we are not as those who sorrow without hope. Our hope is in the risen Christ. And the risen Christ has defeated and is ridding the world of the very thing that causes our hope to be deferred- sin.
And He is ridding the world of the remnants of sin through the works of His people whom He indwells. So we hope because Christ in us is our hope. We are the salt and light of the earth, because we are the very temples of God. We have the love of God in us, shed abroad in our hearts. His desire is continually becoming our desire more and more as He sanctifies us by His truth (which was also part of Christ's prayer for us in John 17).
It is this simple. For the Christian, our ultimate desire and longing is to see God's kingdom coming down to earth, for His will to be done here as it is in heaven, in essence, for us to dwell in the presence of God once again without fear. Through Christ, that desire is guaranteed to happen. Through Christ, that will happen not by us being mere bystanders and onlookers, but by God using us, His children, to bring His Kingdom down. His glory is what we burn for, and all of our other hopes, dreams and longings must find their fountainhead in His glory. In other words, the streams of all our other desires must ultimately originate from the Great Desire to glorify God and take delight in doing so. Anything else is sin and not worth desiring. Every unique desire should be just another avenue by which we delight in glorifying God.
So when we hope rightly, when we hope for God's glory to shine in our desires to get that job and for God's glory to shine through that job, or our family, or moving to that country or taking up that hobby, or whatever it may be, we can have absolute faith that no matter what happens, God's glory will be perfectly magnified, will be perfectly glorified. Even when we do not get the job we want, or marry the person we always thought we would, even when a loved one dies or we commit some heinous sin, we have the hope that ultimately God is using all this for our ultimate good and His ultimate highest glory. The guarantee of this? The blood of Christ. The cross of Christ. We hope because of Christ. Why does the unbeliever hope? Because the only thing worse than having a sickened heart from hope being differed is having no hope at all. Better to have a fool's hope than to be hopeless.
But by God's grace, through the cross, we have unshakable, unquestionable hope. Hope that makes us bold, that, after we have prayed fervently like Christ, being vexed greatly in body and soul, the Spirit of peace comes, quelling those nerves, those fears and apprehensions, replacing it with quiet confidence that our heavenly Father will bring about exactly what is best for us, no matter how painful or grueling it is along the way. In the end, and all along the way, God is getting exactly what God wants, and we know that, in the end, what God wants is exactly and only what we too will want. So then, in the end, we get all that we want. Thus, we should hope for it all. I'll close with Romans 5:1-5, which puts it very well:
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have[a] peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,2 through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; 4 and perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
For the Christian, hope does not, ultimately, disappoint. So hope in God, place all your longings in Him and His glory, and you will not be disappointed. He promises.