The Provocation of Hope

‘Hope is never mere, even when it is meagre. When all other senses sleep, the eye of hope is first to awaken, last to shut.’

(Gil-Galad, The Rings of Power, Season 1, Episode 5)

I’ve been thinking recently about the theme of hope, prompted by a few verses from the Epistles (and that quote from an Elf King). The Apostle Peter writes:

‘Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect’

(1 Peter 3.15)

Most times I’ve heard this verse quoted, the emphasis has been on the first part: ‘Be prepared to give an answer.’ Usually with an encouragement to swot up on apologetics and get better at explaining the gospel – both of which are of course important! Occasionally the preacher might remember to also mention the final clause: don’t just be an intellectual who steamrollers over your interlocutor with graceless logic – remember to treat them with gentleness and respect.

But I’m most drawn to the phrase in between the two. We should be prepared to answer:

‘…everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have.’

There’s an assumption here that our hope should be so evident to others that it provokes them to ask us about it. That’s interesting. We can spend all the time we want preparing answers, but the questions won’t arise unless we’re also cultivating lives that exude hope.

We are living at a time of great upheaval, and it’s hardly surprising that many people feel hopeless and helpless. We are battling through a cost-of-living crisis, the war in Ukraine, ongoing racial injustice, climate change, the lasting effects of Covid-19, the loss of a Monarch, increased distrust in political systems… and far more.

In this age of hopelessness, one of the most provocative things we can do is live as people of hope.

Christian hope is not a naïve optimism, or wilful blindness to the challenges of reality. Peter’s words come in the context of slander, insult, suffering, and threats from those who seek to inflict harm (1 Peter 3.9, 14, 16ff).   

In Romans 12 (which I spoke on at Christ Church Manchester last week), Paul encourages us to:

‘Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer’

(Romans 12.11-12)

Christians are not promised exemption from affliction, but are told to be patient in affliction. Paul’s exhortation is closely followed by instructions to bless those who persecute us, mourn with those who mourn, and resist the urge to seek revenge against those who harm us (v14-21).

Cultivating hope will require us to be careful about the voices to which we listen most intently. I confess, I oscillate between frustration that so many global tragedies barely feature on our newsfeeds unless they have a direct impact on us in the West, but on the other hand a sense of relief because I don’t know how much more bad news I can take!

Like many, I too easily find myself doomscrolling, and am having to think carefully about the type and quantity of media I consume. I don’t want to be overwhelmed by bad news, so feel a pull to delete social media and news apps. But neither do I want to turn a blind eye or stick my head in the sand. Ignorance is not the path to true hope. Somehow there needs to be a healthy middle, and it probably looks different for each of us. I’m trying to calibrate mine.

But what I can be certain of is that I need to dial up my intake of Scripture. Reading God’s word is essential to cultivating hope. It reminds us of our true identity and where our security lies. It speaks to us about the God who makes worlds with a word; parts seas with His breath; owns the cattle on a thousand hills; breaks chains; pulls down the oppressor, and lifts up the oppressed; heals, restores, and raises the dead. God’s word fills us with faith. That is, confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see (Hebrews 11.1).

And it drives us back to prayer. As Paul said,

‘Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer’

(Romans 12.12)

Prayer is the means by which we take hold of what we read and ground it in our own lives. It reminds us that hope comes not ultimately from knowledge and understanding, but from a person with whom we can talk and from whom we can draw strength. And as we spend time with the God of hope, learning to trust Him more deeply, His hope fills us to overflowing. As Paul prays later in Romans:   

‘May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.’

(Romans 15.13)

When we cultivate lives characterised by prayer and deep trust in God, His hope flows into our hearts, and overflows from us, so we become watering holes for a hope-parched world.

I want to live such a life of hope that others see it, crave it, and are provoked to ask me about it. And when they do, I want to be prepared with an answer, delivered with gentleness and respect.

If you found this post helpful or thought-provoking (even if you disagreed with it!) chances are someone else you know may do too. So please take a moment to share it on social media. If you would like to support me further, please consider buying me a coffee via my ko-fi page.

Photo by Nijwam Swargiary on Unsplash

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

One Comment Add yours

  1. Manuel V says:

    Thanks. Very helpful. I too am a pastor and preparing for the final sermon on a series on “Hope Happens Here” (the theme for the National Back to Church event). God bless you.


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