One of my go to Psalms on Monday mornings when I am often tired, and grouchy, and down and utterly emotionally spent after a day of ministry is Psalm 103. When I am completely wrung out it pours into me. And when things are darker and tougher that a typical Monday morning I go often go to Psalm 103, when I am at my lowest it ministers to my soul. And the thrust of the psalm is found in verse 2 “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits.” The psalm goes on to enumerate many of the benefits of a saving relationship with the Lord through faith in Christ, and to extol the character of God. But there is one benefit that is not enumerated (although if you add up all of the benefits mentioned you can’t but help arriving at this one), hope. Believers have hope, sure hope. And this is no small thing. We often take hope for granted but we shouldn’t, and meditating on hope should motivate us to evangelism. I think we need to think more about hope, hopelessness and having compassion for the lost.
Before we move onto thinking about unbelievers, we need to remember how great a role hope plays in the life of the believer. Hope is central to the Christian life, and the life of the Christian. In a very real sense, it is the fuel in our spiritual tank. Consider This passage from Romans.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For 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. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. – Romans 8:18-30
Think of the profound truths in just those two paragraphs. Our current sufferings are not worth comparing with what is to come, that we look forward to our bodily adoption into the household of God, that the Holy Spirit gives us aid, that He intercede on our behalf, that God works all things, even hard painful things, for our benefit, that we will be conformed to the image of Christ, that Christ is our brother, and that our glorification in Christ is already accomplished, even if we are not yet feeling very glorified in our physical bodies. Those are a lot of reasons to hope.
And not only is hope in Christ the fuel in our spiritual tanks, it is our ballast too. Consider the words of the Letter to the Hebrews:
When God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf. – Hebrews 6:17-20
As believers we not only have reason to hope, we have surety in that hope and that hope acts as an anchor preventing us from being tossed to and fro and being dashed on the shoals of our circumstances.
My wife and I are going through a serious trial right now. She is chronically ill and because our insurance changed (we had no choice in the matter) her medical care is really up in the air. One specialist who is central to her care (like she cannot function and can barely stand the days without the care she provides) is barred from seeing her, even if we pay cash. Add to that that all of her other specialists as well as her primary care doctor have to be changed. This really would not be a big deal for most people, but for us it is a big deal, and significant trial. And it is a trial we are in the midst of and don’t know how it will work out.
But we know it will work out, because God has declared the end from the beginning, that He causes all things to work together for the good of those who love Him (Rom 8:28) and that though this deep trial, we are able to count it joy knowing that the testing of our faith produces steadfastness and that is how God grows us into the image of Christ (James 1:2-4). In fact we talked about those things last night after a day that included her crying in a Dr.s office and me crying in the parking lot of a grocery store over this trial. And we confessed that without hope in Christ we didn’t know how we would get through this.
Which brings to the lost, they have no hope in Christ, so they have no hope at all. All they have is their circumstances, and let’s be honest, even the best of years brings dark days to everyone. It was jarring when the meme at left showed up in my social media feed, having been shared by multiple unbelieving friends. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. People on both ends of the political spectrum think we are in a maelstrom of bad governance. Both sides in the culture war are convinced they are losing. Some think climate change is about to plunge us into ecological catastrophe while others think the false narrative of climate change will be used to fuel policies that will leave us in economic ruin. (It is helpful to remember the words of William Randolph Hearst here “No one ever went broke predicting the end if the world”; take doom crying media with a huge grain of salt.) And everyone is going to experience the normal headaches and pain of life; Loved ones will die, jobs will be lost, natural disasters will come, and illness and injury will occur. Apart from Christ I would have trepidation at the coming year too.
When we who have a sure hope look on those who have no hope our hearts should break for them. I have often pondered the horror of being enslaved to sin, remembering what it was like, and have been moved to compassion for those in that lowly estate. I have pondered the horrors of hell, and been moved to compassion for those rushing headlong into the gates of perdition knowing that I was careening along the same path until God graciously saved me. But until I saw that meme, I didn’t give much thought to the horror of hopelessness that is the constant companion of the unbeliever. Honestly, I had forgotten that feeling.
But now thinking on it, I remember the pain of it. I remember thinking that the refrain from a song I vaguely remembered “birth, school, work, death” was about right. And I remember sitting on my couch hopelessly dreading the coming week because at best it would be just like the one that had just past. My heart absolutely breaks for those in that state of hopelessness apart from faith in Christ.
Psalm 103 admonishes us to praise the Lord and forget not His benefits, and one of those benefits is a sure hope. But for those apart from Christ, they have no hope, beyond their circumstances, which are remarkably fragile. That should break our hearts as much as any earthly circumstance. If you find it difficult to watch one of those SPCA commercials featuring abused and neglected dogs, how much more should you be moved by the hopelessness of the men and women all around you? Have enough compassion on the hopeless lost to point them to the sure hope of Christ.