I’ve been thinking about how a lot of my sermons tend to be about combating the stuff going on around us in a spiritual manner. It gets a little depressing, and I don’t want to ruin the summer sun and fun and warmth by looking at how depressing the world around us is. So I thought and thought and thought and prayed and prayed and prayed, God, what positive, uplifting, hopeful thing do you want me to say this week? I’m getting tired of looking at all the depressing stuff around us and basing sermons on that.
And I got nothing.
CNN has recently bashed evangelical Christians in a scathing op-ed. And I found out this week that more Christian leaders in the Christian entertainment world have been falling away, or deconstructing their Christian beliefs. And it’s disappointing, and I feel as if I need to speak out on that. It’s become a growing trend.
In addition to that, it’s hard to stay positive because when I drive around, I listen to talk radio, and there’s a lot of inspiration for sermons. I mean, every day, there’s something new that you could put together in a sermon.
So I thought and thought and thought and fought and fought and fought and said, “God, I don’t want to focus on another negative thing.”
And God didn’t bring anything to mind. Except for the stuff going on in the world and a desire to speak out about it. Again.
And I felt as if the Lord said, “Give them hope. It’s a tough world. They need hope.”
So, I said, “Okay.”
If you have your Bibles, please turn with me to Romans, Chapter 15. We’ll look at just one short verse. Romans 15, verse 13.
As you’re turning there, I want to share a quote from thelife.com.
When we as believers speak of hope, we don’t mean a desire that may or may not be fulfilled. No, our hope is certain. Our hope for forgiveness, for reconciliation with God and eternal life, rests on the finished work of Jesus.
Thelife.com goes on to say:
The world lacks hope. Human beings are clamoring to fill their empty lives with stuff. Abuse, addiction, illness, and broken relationships surround us. People need to know that Jesus came to bring hope, that He is our hope, and that our hope is alive.
Let’s take a look at our scripture in Romans. This is a simple blessing that Paul gave to the Roman church:
“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.”
Now, the greater context of that was Paul, telling the Roman church that they, too, are loved by God. It wasn’t just the Jewish people that God loved, but that everyone is loved by God and can partake in the hope of Christ through the Holy Spirit.
So many people through the ages put their hope in worldly things or worldly systems such as governments. Two years ago, people so desperately wanted this candidate or that candidate in the White House because their candidate was going to solve the world’s problems. Now, here we are at the worst point we’ve been in for a long time. Where are people’s hopes now?
They’re already talking about the list of 2024 candidates, and we haven’t even had the mid-terms yet. People are so desperate for hope, yet they place their hope in the system of government. Psalm 20 said, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”
Some who suffer from more personal strife such as depression or hopelessness for whatever personal problems they are going through often end up in some kind of addiction to comfort themselves, but these addictions can’t satisfy their longing. It gives them temporary relief, but they get used to it; so they have to have more and more to satisfy their peace or joy. But drugs, alcohol, gambling, and pornography, are a temporary ‘high’ that never even promises to give anyone any actual hope. It just makes them feel good but doesn’t solve any problem.
But in Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we have a hope that is above and beyond anything or anyone on this earth. It is higher and more powerful. God is above and beyond our troubles. And we can have His peace and His hope to such a degree that we can not only live in it but overflow with it.
I’d like to break apart what Paul says here. Beginning with just the first five words: “May the God of Hope…”
Let’s reflect on that for just a moment. “May the God of hope.”
As I said, this is a blessing on the church. Paul is calling on God to bless them, but he addresses to them that God is not just God. He’s the God of Hope. Why? Why does he specifically and intentionally use the phrase, “The God of Hope?”
To plant a seed of encouragement in their hearts. To give them a little nugget to chew on.
The Roman pagan religion had a god of hope. Hope had his or her own temple. That temple was destroyed by lightning. Suffice it to say, many Romans were literally without hope. Now Paul emphasizes that the new and real God that they were serving is the one God of everything.
They didn’t have to serve a god of this and a separate god of that. This is the one true God of everything.
Just as He is the God of Love, the God of Mercy, the God of Peace, the God of Righteousness, and earlier in this chapter, Paul also tells the Roman church that God is the God of Endurance and Encouragement.
As with all of those things, Hope is an attribute of God.
The Bay Area Christian Church has a quote on its website that said, “Hope is a defining quality of who God is. Hope is the condition of God’s heart. It is not possible to be close to God and yet have no hope. God’s hope fills us with joy and peace.”
It’s so easy to get bogged down with where we are and struggle with finding hope in the midst of our circumstances. It’s easy to struggle with giving into defeat.
My personal struggle with finding hope is that I need answers, then I can have hope. God, if you just tell me what’s going on and why this is happening and how long I have to endure this, then I’ll have hope.
But that’s not how it works. God wants to build our faith, and sometimes we have to struggle with finding hope when we don’t have the answers. We just have to trust. And when we trust, when we let go of the whys and wheres and how-comes, we find that we still receive hope nonetheless.
It doesn’t help when you’re a pessimist. The word pessimist in the dictionary is defined as, “emphasizing or expecting the worst.”
I guess my parents should have just named me Charlie Brown and gotten it over with.
But God is not a pessimist. There is no such thing as defeat in God’s mind. Only hope. Only victory. Yes, we experience failure, but not defeat. God is not a God of defeat. Even in failure we still have hope. And in a tragic situation, we still have God as a source of hope when we don’t have any source left in our own being or we can’t find it anywhere else.
Some people who do not have God–even some people who have sworn that there is no God will turn to God when they have no other hope. Because they will still know–whether they admit it or not, that God is their only hope.
Gary Thomas, in Christianity Today (October 3, 1994, p. 26) wrote that:
As Vice President, George Bush Sr. represented the U.S. at the funeral of former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. Bush was deeply moved by a silent protest carried out by Brezhnev’s widow. She stood motionless by the coffin until seconds before it was closed. Then, just as the soldiers touched the lid, Brezhnev’s wife performed an act of great courage and hope, a gesture that must surely rank as one of the most profound acts of civil disobedience ever committed: She reached down and made the sign of the cross on her husband’s chest.
There in the citadel of secular, atheistic power, the wife of the man who had run it all hoped that her husband was wrong. She hoped that there was another life, and that that life was best represented by Jesus who died on the cross, and that the same Jesus might yet have mercy on her husband.
Moving on, Paul says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him.”
So not only does Paul stir within his listeners a fresh new wind of hope because their reliance is in a God of hope, but Paul is praying that the very God of hope would fill them with joy and peace as they trust in Him. As they trust in the God of Hope.
Now, I have to admit, I really wrestled with this piece of scripture, because you’d think that Paul would ask that the God of Hope fill them with…well, hope. But that’s not what he asks.
So why does Paul ask that the God of Hope fill the Roman church with joy and peace? Because it all goes hand in hand. By praying that they may receive joy and peace, his prayer is that the end result would be an overflow of hope.
“13 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.”
Going back to the Bay Area Christian Church, they said, “Joy is satisfaction regardless of circumstance. Peace is being secure with who you are and confident that God is in control no matter what.” And how do we achieve these things? We must first have a foundation of trust in a God of Hope or else our reception and stability of joy and peace tumbles. And when we receive and experience and have that stability of peace and joy, it stirs within us more hope. It’s cyclical. It’s like gears to a motor.
Near where I live, we have these giant windmills. They’re actually called “wind turbines” and they’re located on “wind farms.” There are about 50 wind turbines altogether in the town of Cohocton. And these turbines produce energy. But how do they produce energy? The wind spins the blades, and the motion of the blades turns a generator inside the hub that produces energy.
But then, the energy that’s produced from there goes down the tower to another generator where the energy gets boosted underground, and then, I believe there’s another generator where the energy from several or more turbines goes to, where the energy gets boosted again before it goes into the grid. So power produces more power, which produces more power, which supplies power for others.
That’s kind of like the way in which God produces hope within us. He gives us a spark of hope which generates joy, and joy generates peace, and peace generates more hope, and then we find we have more joy and more peace and more hope. Each time, it gets boosted. There’s a momentum that’s produced. And then we have an overflow that supplies hope for others.
But like a wind farm, a day comes where there’s no wind. We have hot, humid days with no wind. It happens. We need that fresh wind to come along, and that fresh wind, in our lives, is The Holy Spirit.
In, Bookends of the Christian Life, Jerry Bridges wrote, “Every believer needs this divine encouragement because our opposition is relentless, and there are plenty of disappointments along the way.”
G.K. Chesterton said, “Hope means hoping when things are hopeless, or it is no virtue at all…As long as matters are really hopeful, hope is mere flattery or platitude; it is only when everything is hopeless that hope begins to be a strength.”
And that leads me to my last point. Let’s look at the rest of the verse:
“So that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Paul is asking God to bless the Romans with joy and peace that produces–not just hope, but an overflow of hope. This hope, joy, and peace can only be produced by The Holy Spirit. Joy and peace are attributes of the Fruit of the Spirit.
No matter who we are, no matter how optimistic we can be, we cannot produce an overflow of hope on our own. There are times when we have hope. There are times when we can muster it up. And some of you can even call yourselves optimists. But like I said, there are times when even optimists can be depleted. Our enemy, Satan, is relentless. Only God, the source who never runs dry, the Living Water, The God of Hope, can not only supply hope and peace and joy but enough to overflow.
To give you a picture, the Greek word here for ‘overflow’ is the same word that was used after Jesus fed the 5,000–when the baskets returned and the baskets were still overflowing. God can give us that kind of hope. When we have hoped for something, we can have joy and peace as we trust The God of Hope to supply us with so much hope that we have plenty of hope that spills over. Hope not only for ourselves, but hope to share with others.
What does that look like? Hope that is so overflowing in us that we can share it with others.
J B Phillips paraphrases this prayer…
“May the God of Hope fill you with joy and peace in your faith, that by the power of the Holy Spirit, your whole life and outlook may be radiant and alive.”
If we are radiant and alive, living out of the overflow of God’s hope, how can we share that hope with others? What does that look like? What does it look like in a practical way?
Some translations read: “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.”
Often, sermons focus on the negative aspect of what flows from our mouths and teach us to be careful. Which is something we need to hear. But, if you are filled with God’s hope, you are going to overflow with what is in your heart and effect positive change in people and not even know it.
A school system in a large city had a program to help children keep up with their school work during stays in the city’s hospitals. One day a teacher who was assigned to the program received a routine call asking her to visit a particular child. She took the child’s name and room number and talked briefly with the child’s regular class teacher. “We’re studying nouns and adverbs in his class now,” the student’s regular teacher said, “and I’d be grateful if you could help him understand them so he doesn’t fall too far behind.”
The hospital program teacher went to see the boy that afternoon. No one had mentioned to her that the boy had been badly burned and was in great pain. Upset at the sight of the boy, she stammered as she told him, “I’ve been sent by your school to help you with nouns and adverbs.” When she left she felt she hadn’t accomplished much.
But the next day, a nurse asked her, “What did you do to that boy?” The teacher felt she must have done something wrong and began to apologize. “No, no,” said the nurse. “You don’t know what I mean. We’ve been worried about that little boy, but ever since yesterday, his whole attitude has changed. He’s fighting back, responding to treatment. It’s as though he’s decided to live.”
Two weeks later the boy explained that he had completely given up hope until the teacher arrived. Everything changed when he came to a simple realization. He expressed it this way: “They wouldn’t send a teacher to work on nouns and adverbs with a dying boy, would they?”
Think about that. When we have an overflow of hope, we live in such a way that we are giving out hope and don’t even realize it. We are empowered by The Holy Spirit. We work out of the overflow.
So I want to encourage you today to look to The God of Hope to grant you peace and joy in your circumstances, and that peace and joy might catapult you into a hope that is overflowing.
People are going to take notice. People are going to see that you’re not afraid of the recession. People are going to see that you’re not afraid of who’s elected to office this Fall or in 2024. You might be concerned, but not afraid. People are going to see that you’re not afraid of whether or not Monkeypox becomes a big deal. People are going to see that you’re not afraid of what CNN has to say about those of us who go to this church. Perhaps righteously angry, but not afraid.
And that hope that is overflowing might catapult you into greater joy, greater peace, and greater hope. And that joy and peace and greater overflowing hope could be spilled out on everyone else around you, to a fearful world who so desperately needs to see for themselves that this God of ours is a God of hope who is alive and active in our lives and can be alive and active in theirs as well.
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on First Baptist Church of Watkins Glen