The Scriptures are worthy of our diligent study and demand our careful attention. It is no light task to “do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the Word of Truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).
And yet we may often benefit from slowing down our studies. A good schoolteacher knows that there are moments when it is better to stop drilling grammar and instead to open a good book so that the young minds in her care will learn to simply love and enjoy literature. And as students of the Word, we ought to take time, too, to stop, rest, and let the promises of God’s Word simply wash over us so that we may relish His goodness.
One rich place to practice this is Paul’s prayer in Romans 15:13: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” As we consider biblical hope, here are six things to remember that will offer encouragement to our hearts.
1. Hope Is Not Natural
Biblical hope is not something with which men and women are naturally acquainted. Whatever level of optimism we may find in others around us, whatever kind of upbeat outlook on life, it does not negate the basic biblical truth concerning the human condition: if we are apart from Christ, we are people with “no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12).
All of the superficial joys of life eventually butt up against the gloomy realities described for us throughout the book of Ecclesiastes: that “all is vanity” (Eccl. 1:2), that all our labors resound to nothing, that all our wisdom and toil dies with us. We need God to step into our lives and bring about a change for us.
And because God is willing and able to supernaturally transform us, we can be grateful for a prayer like the apostle Paul’s, asking God to intervene on our behalf: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”
2. Hope Is Not Contrived
Biblical hope is not wishful thinking contrived by man. It is happy certainty established by God. For most, the word hope signifies little more than a bare wish accompanied by realistic doubts about its fulfillment: “I hope the weather will be sunny,” or “I hope I pass my test.” But in the Bible, hope signifies a confident anticipation that’s grounded in the certainty of God’s promises.
Paul is not wishing for us to see the glass half full. He wants us to trust resolutely in the overflowing provisions of God’s mercies. Thus the Book of Common Prayer can speak of a “sure and certain hope” that God will raise us to new life. “Hope,” Paul says, “does not put us to shame.” How can we be so sure? “Because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom. 5:5). Our hope is as sure and certain as our God is.
Biblical hope is not wishful thinking contrived by man. It is happy certainty established by God.
Paul is seeking a subjective sense of this objective certainty for us when he prays, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”
3. Hope Is the Believer’s Birthright
For those of us who are in Christ, this happy certainty is ours because of our new birth into God’s family, as 1 Peter 1:3 makes clear: “According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope.”
Paul dwells on this theme again and again, but Romans 8:20–21 is especially forceful in its impact: “The creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (emphasis added). Climate change, wildfires, windstorms, politics, “wars and rumors of wars” (Matt. 24:6)—whatever anxieties we may face on this earth, we may be confident that God is going to put it right for His children.
In the Bible, hope signifies a confident anticipation that’s grounded in the certainty of God’s promises.
Consider Ephesians 1:18, where Paul prays “that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.” Think about Colossians 1:5 and that hope that Paul says is “laid up for you in heaven.” Observe that certainty that is communicated in a phrase in Colossians 1:27: “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Because of the hope of the Gospel, the believer may sing,
Mine! Mine! Mine!
I know Thou art mine;
Savior, dear Savior,
I know Thou art mine.
This is the sort of personal appropriation that Paul is seeking for us when he prays on our behalf, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”
4. Hope Is Grounded in God and His Word
God is the author of our hope. He is “the God of hope.” If you speak about God, you speak about hope. If He is in our lives, then hope is in our lives. If one is missing, the other will be missing too.
God is also the object of our hope. When we think about why we hope or why there would be certainty in the face of all the trials of life, the answer always ought to begin “Because God…” Paul summarizes it in one phrase in Romans 8:31: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” And Psalm 73:25–26 puts it marvelously:
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
And of course, God’s Word is the avenue of this hope. Paul tells us in Romans 15:4 that “whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” That’s why we read and study the Bible—not so that we get points with God but so that we may know God Himself and may know the hope that is ours in God. Hopeful churches are full of Bible-reading, Bible-loving, and Bible-applying Christians.
So it is to God and to His Word that Paul longs for us to look when he prays for us, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”
5. Hope Comes with Love, Joy, and Peace
Biblical hope is not known except in relation to love, joy, and peace. Paul writes that “hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts” (Rom. 5:5). Peter says that though we don’t see the Lord with our eyes, we “believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible” (1 Peter 1:8). And Paul further reminds us that as we lay our anxieties before God, who is our hope, in prayer, we will experience “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Phil. 4:7).
Hopeful churches are full of Bible-reading, Bible-loving, and Bible-applying Christians.
How are these blessings obtained? Well, we’re told right there in Paul’s prayer in Romans 15:13: “in believing,” or “as you trust in him” (NIV). If we don’t trust in Him, we will not know these blessings. It is only if we look away from ourselves and look to God our hope, confident in His promises to us, that we can know His love in our hearts, rejoice with joy at His presence, and find ourselves under the protection of His peace.
It is so that we might experience this love, joy, and peace that Paul prays for us, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”
6. Hope Overflows
Finally, this hope overflows the boundaries of our hearts as a result of the Spirit’s power within our lives. Hope is not a compartment in our lives. Rather, the Spirit’s ministry within our lives makes us “abound in hope”
As we look to the certainty of God’s promises with the help of His Spirit’s encouragement, and as the hope of heaven brightens the gloominess of earth, we will live differently. The Christian is able to sing in the pain of loss, to rejoice in the bitterness of disappointment, to bear testimony to a God who makes the difference when confronted by the tender wounds of failure. It as the Spirit comforts us in the face of such suffering that there is opportunity to “make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15), for the fruit of our hope bears testimony to the work of God in our lives.
It is with this outlook toward God’s glory and the adorning of the Gospel that Paul prays for us, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”