As I wrote over at Pyro today, hope is as necessary to the human being as food and drink. You can't really live without it.
I started to write "to the Christian," but that isn't true. Everyone needs hope, and everyone has it. The unredeemed man has his own hope, but it is a doomed illusion. Eve and Adam hoped to have God-like knowledge and freedom and autonomy. They acted in hope. But because they did not act in faith, which is to say according to truth, what they attained instead was guilt and shame and wrath and misery and death. And so is the lot of every child of theirs who follows in their footsteps. I wrote a lot more about that somewhere, and it isn't my focus here today.
I lived for years without (or with very little) hope, as a Christian. It was a dark, horrid time. With the occasional clarity of retrospect, I see that the real lack was a lack of faith.
Don't love that phrase much because it's overused and abused, but it's the truth. Understand, though: by "lack of faith" I do not mean "lack of orthodoxy." I was perfectly orthodox. That's not a self-congratulatory statement; it's categorical. I affirmed the verbal, plenary inerrancy of Scripture, the truth of the Trinity, the truth of penal substitutionary atonement, and on and on. Affirmed them with all my heart, internally and with my mouth and fingertips.
The trouble was that I did not embrace for myself the sweetness that comes from those truths to believers. Here we camp a moment on Ephesians 6:16 — "In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one." I see the shield as a bit different from the rest of the armor. "The faith" probably does refer to the revealed body of truth. However, excepting the only the sword, all the other items of armor just stay on, once donned. Put on the helmet and leave it; strap on the sandals, and leave them; belt on the belt, etc.
But the shield doesn't do you a bit of good if you don't hold it tight and hold it close. Possessing a shield alone is of little practical value. The only way you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one is if you hold the shield and hold it tight and hold it close.
So for that period, I bristled with flaming darts and little hope, because I possessed the shield, but I didn't hold it close. John Piper's Future Grace helped me see that, and it combined with other facets of the Lord's patient dealing with me to turn me from despair to hope.
So hope comes from personal, appropriating, clinging, living faith, and that faith must come from revealed truth.
We need to have it, live it, speak it. Joni — who has known daily suffering for decades, to a degree few of us can imagine — speaks passionately, eloquently and movingly on the importance of hope. Parents need it, spouses need it, singles need it; all of us need it.
Worldlings have to make it up or materialize it. All of their hopes either are based on lies and illusions, or deal with things that thieves, moths and rust can destroy. They amount to a chimera. Barring repentance and saving faith in Christ, all their hopes are in the final analysis utterly and completely doomed. However good things are now, one day they will turn for the unimaginable worse, and will never improve.
The Christian's case is the precise and exact opposite.
Pastors should cling to and preach more hope. I've known pastors who show little hope; I've been a pastor who showed little. Pastors (most pastors, anyway, superstars aside) are exposed to such disappointment and sorrow and heartbreak. People fail, fall, betray, deceive, slander, malign, are ungrateful. Churches stubbornly refuse to grow. The hardened stay hard. Miracles are few and far, far between.
And you as a pastor may care more intensely than anyone else. Others drop by, go home, flick on the TV, and they're done. The pastor lives and dies with the church. He needs to have a hope that goes beyond how the church is doing this week, or how it's likely to do next week.
And more, the pastor really needs to hold it and preach Biblical hope. As I said, I've known pastors who've been so beaten-up by the church that the whole service has a doomed, gloomy feel. I'm not saying this either in harsh judgment (believe me!) or in lofty disdain (believe me!). I'm just saying it because it's true. My heart bleeds both for them and the church.
Those pastors need to find a hope that will lift their spirits and give them joy regardless of how faithful or faithless or feckless people are. They need that to lift them, and they need that hope to fill their preaching.
Yes, absolutely, preach the holiness of God and the fearful terrors of sin. But also and with equal passion (like Isaiah! like Jeremiah! like Ezekiel! like Paul! like Peter!) preach the sweetness and glories of the Gospel and its hope and promises.
I say this to you, and I say this to me.