This summer it has been my privilege to coach my son's 9-10 year old little league baseball team. It's been a long and rough season for the West St. Paul A's, as we started the season 0-14. Problems at the plate and in the field have plagued our team, but our players have been improving as the season goes along, which is really the most important thing. But wins have been hard to come by for our team.
A couple of weeks ago we played our regularly scheduled game, and something strange happened: we took the lead in the first inning. After the inning was over, we were ahead 3-2. And then the next inning came and we added on to that lead. By the last inning of the game, the score was 13-4 in our favor. As the coach I was excited because I really wanted our team to get a taste of victory, and to be able to celebrate a job well done together, and to finally be able to say that we won a game.
I had previously told our team that at the time of our first win, I would buy them all ice cream from the snack bar located at the ballpark. So during this game, before the last inning, I called my wife over to the dugout and told her to get ready to buy the treats for our team at the conclusion of the game. "But don't buy them yet," I said. "I don't know yet if we're going to win." The other team had not yet completed their last turn at bat. I hoped we were going to win, but I just couldn't be sure. We had had leads in games before, but the other teams came back and beat us. Could we hold on to this lead and secure the victory? I didn't know, but I hoped so.
Then the opposing team came up for their last at-bats. They scored a run. Then another. Then another. But finally, we were able to shut them down and came away with the win, 13-7. Now that our victory was certain, I looked over at my wife and gave her the signal to go buy the ice cream! There were smiles all around.
When the Bible talks about hope it does not talk about it in the way that I hoped for our team to win that game. My hope for winning was uncertain - it was a possibility, but it was never guaranteed. The Bible talks about hope in a very different way: biblical hope is a confident and eager expectation of something certain.
The foundation for biblical hope is not founded on the skill of little league baseball players or the law of averages, but the character and nature of God. If I hope that our baseball team will win the season tournament at the end of the summer, my hope will be founded on the ability of the players to win baseball games (which has not been a firm foundation thus far!). Or, think about that promotion at work that you are hoping to get. What is the foundation of your hope? The approval of your boss, or your sales numbers, or your seniority level, or whatever. When it comes down to it, those are all very shaky foundations upon which to place your hope.
Biblical hope is founded on the character and nature of God. God is always faithful to his promises, and he will always do what is right. As Christians, we look into the future with hope that is founded upon who God has said he is in his word, and what he has said he will do. This means that when we are in trouble and hope that God will deliver us, our hope is very secure because God has promised to deliver us, and he is always faithful. Or if we are unjustly treated we hope that the wrong will be made right, and our hope is very secure because God is a God of justice.
Psalm 43.5 says, "Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God." As the author of these words thinks about the problems in his life, he knows that there is no reason for his soul to be down cast, or for him to suffer inner turmoil if his hope indeed is in God. Because hope in the one, true, faithful God of the Bible is not "iffy." It's not a gamble; it's not a 50/50 chance. Instead, it's a sure thing, because that's the kind of God that God is. He is a God who keeps his promises and does what he says he is going to do.
It would have been foolish of me to buy the ice cream treats for our team before the game was even played, because my hope of winning would be based on their ability and effort. But living and walking in hope in God being true to his promises is not foolish - in fact, it's wise and prudent, because God never slumbers nor sleeps. There is nothing that will keep him from keeping his promises to his people. We can know that we are hoping in God when our lives begin to take on the characteristics of someone who is looking forward to a future "payoff" of God's faithfulness with eager and confident expectation, whether that happens in this life or the next. The question is, what should my life look like if I am living with an eager and confident expectation for God to be faithful to his promises? This is what it means to hope in God, and to live a life that is characterized by hope.