This week is the second part of our series, The Hope Series. Today, we look at the role of faith, and the connection between what we believe and the hope we have. Hope is a free gift from God through faith in Jesus Christ, but there are things we can do to strengthen that hope.
This message is based on a reading from Hebrews 11:1-4. To read this now, click here.
Are you familiar with Ripley’s Believe It or Not! It’s grown into quite an operation. I think it started with an odd collection of weird facts that were put into a book. Now there are dozens and dozens of books, there are computer blogs, and at least 56 attractions in 21 cities just in North America, with another 16 attractions overseas and in Mexico.
Let me give you an example of some of the oddities you might hear about there. In India, believe it or not, 18 Asiatic Lions have been arrested for murder. Three separate deaths have occurred, and 18 lions have been brought in in connection to this. There will be a trial by a jury of his peers, I’m not sure what that will look like. The guilty lion will be given a life sentence in a zoo. Asiatic lions are very rare and protected.
Or how about this one, believe it or not, the African country Kenya suffered a nationwide blackout just last week when a monkey fell off the roof of their largest generating plant and landed on a transformer. That transformer shut off and led to a domino effect of one transformer after another shutting down, leaving Kenya without electricity for over 4 hours. The monkey is fine, it was not harmed at any way.
In England there is an interesting phenomenon concerning concealed shoes. Apparently, dating back to the 16th century, people would hide old worn out shoes in the floorboards of homes, or would conceal them in the construction buildings. The shoes are almost always worn out, there is always only a single shoe hidden, many of them are children’s shoes, and it’s believed that almost all of the shoes were placed there during construction. Workers renovating the buildings will often replace the concealed shoe if they find one during their work.
The prevailing theory is that hiding shoes was meant to ward off evil. So if you’re building a house, you want to make sure evil spirits don’t interfere with the people living in that house, you might hide an old worn out shoe somewhere in the walls or floorboards of the house. But nobody really knows for sure. Shoes have been found concealed in cottages, mansions, farms, palaces, pubs, cathedrals, hospitals, schools, they even found one in Charlie Chaplin’s old movie studio.
Most of the shoes are found by workers, and the vast majority probably go unreported, but the North Hampton Museum has been keeping track of the shoes and in the 1950’s began a “Concealed Shoe Index.” There are currently over 1900 shoes found recorded on that index so far.
I titled our message this morning, Believe It or Not. But that wasn’t just so I could share some of these stories with you. Believe it or not, there really is a link to what we believe and the hope that we have. Faith is one of those really important things when it comes to understanding hope. Faith is where hope comes from. Romans 10:17 tells us that “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” So if faith comes from hearing the message, hope comes from believing that message.
Our reading said that “faith is being sure of what we hope for”. Your translation may use the word assurance – faith is the assurance of what we hope for. And it is being “certain of what we do not see,” some translations use the word conviction, it’s the conviction of things not seen. So faith is assurance and conviction. And having that faith, believing, brings hope.
So this morning we’re going to be looking this assurance, this confidence, this hope, to see that it may be strengthened. That we might find hope in our faith, and that hope may be strengthened. So let’s see how hope can be strengthened.
I. First, we ask for hope. We can simply ask for hope, for the assurance God will do what He said He will do. God called Gideon to save the Israelites from the Midianites. The Midianites were ruthless in their oppression of the Israelites, and everyone was looking to God for relief. But Gideon said, in Judges 6:15, Gideon couldn’t believe God would look to him, he said, “My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” When the Angel of the Lord insisted that it was Gideon the Lord was going to use to do this, Gideon wanted to make sure. So he asked for a sign. In verse 17, he says, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me.”
Gideon lack any hope at all that he could make a difference against a people as ruthless as the Midianites. Who was he. So he questioned, he asked for a sign, and a sign was granted. And Gideon’s hope was strengthened. I’m not saying that we should wander around asking God for impossible signs before we do what we feel He’s calling us to do. But it’s okay to make sure. It’s okay to question. The Psalms are full of faithful people questioning. And God will strengthen your faith and your hope, if you ask for it.
2. We ask for understanding. If we could really understand the will of God, we would be filled with hope. But according to Paul, we can have this understanding. He wrote to the Colossians (in 2:2), “My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ.”
This verse seems to be saying that if we are encouraged, and united with other believers, our understanding will grow. And when our understanding grows, hope will follow.
3. We wait upon God. Our hope can be increased and we can have assurance when we wait on God. One of my favorite verses is Psalm 46:10. When I started seminary, Northeastern Seminary sent me a laminated bookmark with this verse on it. I liked it so much, I taped it to my back window, used it like a bumper sticker in my window. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
This is perhaps something that the church needs more of. We need more time when we can be still together, knowing that God is God, and that He will be exalted. We can rely on that promise. And that promise can bring hope in desperate times. God is God. We are God’s. And God will be exalted.
There are a number of Psalms that say this same thing. Psalm 27:14 says, “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” Psalm 33:20 says, “We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield.” But another comes in Isaiah, and it’s written as a prophecy of their destruction, because they wouldn’t be still and wait on God. It reads, “This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy one of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.’” We need times of repentance and rest, times of quietness and trust, time spent just waiting on the Lord. Make sure you’ve incorporated quiet time in your devotions for this purpose.
4. Our hope is strengthened by others. (a.) Our hope can be strengthened by a good example, as in 2 Chronicles 32:8, Hezekiah was the king, and he was speaking to the troops before leading them into battle, and it says, “And the people gained confidence from what Hezekiah the king of Judah said.”
(b.) Our hope is strengthened by teaching. 2 Timothy 3:14 says, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it.” Bible Studies and Sunday School are great places to learn God’s promises, and these promises, and the assurance that they will be kept, strengthen our faith and our hope.
(c.) Our hope is strengthened through prayer. An example of this is found in Colossians 4:12, “Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.” Fully assured means confident and filled with hope.
(d.) Finally, our hope is strengthened trough trials, through the suffering we have to endure. Paul tells in 1 Thessalonians 3:2-3, “We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them.” The Thessalonians were persecuted and suffered at the hands of the Jews for their faith in Jesus. But Paul tells them here that these trials will strengthen and encourage them in their faith, they will find the hope to move forward through these trials.
I don’t know where an Asiatic Lion arrested for murder might find hope. Or a small monkey that’s just caused a nationwide blackout – where do you find hope if your monkey, after that? But I do that you and I can find hope only in Jesus Christ, who died for your sins, and is sitting on the throne today. There is nothing we can do in exchange for hope, rather, hope is a gift; a gift from God to us. But I know that hope can be strengthened as we pray for it, as we spend time waiting on the Lord, as we spend time with others and learn from others.