It has been said that the life of a believer is more like a marathon than a sprint. Yeshua (Jesus) says in Matthew 10:22, “But the one who endures to the end will be saved”. While the Bible is clear that God preserves his children, holding on to us through everything (see John 10:28-30; Romans 8:31-39), it’s not as if we are to be passive in the process. Rather, we are called to endure until the end.
Right now, you might be simply trying to endure until the end of the day, never mind the end of your life, but thinking long-term is necessary, since ignoring the future will inevitably lead to disaster. Also, learning to think long term is what is going to make us more effective in short term.
We live in a culture that is very focused on the now. I remember hearing about the “Now Generation” in the 1970s. So if the 70s were the Now Generation, we must be in the Digibit Generation (I think I made that up). The Digibit Generation is focused on the thousands of tiny bits of information that constantly bombard us though texts and tweets. Technological advances develop at such lighting speed today, we hardly have time to catch our breath, let alone think about their long-term implications.
Having said that, there are so many life disciplines that demand careful attention to detail and precision, where distraction and/or rushing can be disastrous. Surgeons, airplane pilots, and baseball players, among others, are keenly aware of this. But I wonder even among those who know these principles so well, do they take the time to notice how similar care is required for their personal lives as well? Or is it just a matter of time before they too burn out if not blow up?
There are various ingredients in life that are helpful in making sure that we finish our lives well, to make it through life successfully God’s way. Basics include being right with God through faith in His Son, keeping short accounts with God and others whenever we do wrong, focusing on what’s good and godly, and building healthy relationships. Then there are the spiritual disciplines of daily Bible reading and prayer, spending time with other believers and nurturing godly community. But there’s an ingredient of life that is most essential for the long hall. Without it, it won’t be long before you find yourself completely deflated and “endurance” sounds like a dirty word. That ingredient is…hope.
Proverbs 13:12 reads, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” This divinely inspired saying contrasts the difference between serious disappointment and fulfilled expectations. This is not those normal disappointments we face every day that we easily dismiss. It’s the big ones. The “will my dream ever come true?” kind of disappointments. Those disappointments that not only threaten our life expectations—career or otherwise—but, due to how much heart we have invested in them, they also threaten to destroy the very core of who we are.
Before I discuss how hope works as a necessary ingredient in facing disappointment, I want to make it clear right here that I don’t believe that the key to avoiding being devastated by dashed expectations is in not caring about your dreams. “If you hope for nothing, you will never by disappointed” may be true, but I don’t believe God wants us to live that way—especially since many of the dreams and desires we have are from him in the first place.
Biblically based spirituality is not learning to disconnect from life. It’s one thing to become so obsessed with our life goals that we become blind and deaf to everything else. That’s making your dreams an idol, which will do you in eventually. But if your dreams are from God, they are important—important enough to cling to even when they seem almost impossible to attain. In fact, a biblical understanding of hope should help you pursue your dreams in the way God wants you to.
The word translated “hope,” both in the Old Testament (the Hebrew word “tikvah”) and the New Testament (the Greek work “elpis”) doesn’t mean “wishful thinking” as in “I hope it doesn’t rain today,” or “I hope I get a raise.” It is actually the idea of “confident expectation.” It’s what keeps you waiting at the coffee shop, for example, when your friend is late. Based on your knowledge of his or her character and ability, you hope for their coming. If they said they will be there, they will be there. Your confident expectation makes you stay in spite of appearances and your discomfort. The longer you wait, the more uncomfortable it gets, but your confident expectation—your hope—allows you to endure. This kind of hope is more dependent on the one your hope is in rather than the one doing the hoping, yourself. When we talk about the essential ingredient of hope for life, we are not talking about hope in just anyone, but in God, who is absolutely dependable.
The great hope or expectation for the believer is in the return of the Lord—that the Great Judge is coming, and he will one day deal with all the corruption of this age and make everything right. If we are convinced that he is coming to call his creation to account, then we can put up with his seemingly long delay and continue to live in accordance with his will in spite of the fact that it may seem that evil has the upper hand.
But is Yeshua’s return our only hope? Is it right to allow our hearts to be filled with expectation for anything else besides God’s future eternal reality? Absolutely! We are not on this earth at this time in history just to bide our time. God created us on purpose and for a purpose, and he expects us do the best we can to discover that purpose and fulfil it, whatever it might be.
So how do we know if our dreams and desires are from God or not? That’s a good question. A question that could only be answered by God. And he will answer it, if you seek him diligently. King David gives us a hint on how to synch our desires to God’s desires. He writes, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).
If your delight is in God, then his desires will become your desires. His dreams, your dreams. And when his dreams are your dreams, he is more interested than you are to ensure they come about. But the road from the birth of a dream to its realization can be a difficult one.
Sticking with David for a moment, he was probably in his late teen years when the prophet Samuel anointed him the next King of Israel while King Saul was still king. It was soon afterwards that he killed Goliath and became Saul’s armor bearer. Not long after that, he was successfully leading battles. But that success made Saul jealous to the point of wanting to kill him. He eventually ran for his life, hiding in caves and living in exile. Some dream! No one would blame David for being discouraged and losing hope. But he didn’t. He held on. He held on to what God said, and he held on to the God who said it.
Now just because we have a dream or a desire that is rooted in God’s heart, doesn’t mean we truly understand what it’s all about—which is something the years and the challenges help clarify. But through it all, if our confident expectation is in God, yearning for that clarification from him, he will sustain us for the long term.
Centuries after King David, the prophet Isaiah spoke about the kind of thing that David would have already understood so well:
Why do you say, O Jacob,
and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the LORD,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint (Isaiah 40:27-31).
The word “wait” in “they who wait for the LORD” is the essential ingredient, “hope” (tikvah), confident expectation. It is those who put their hope in God who will renew their strength and will have what it takes to endure until the end.