Christina Fox received her Master’s Degree in Counseling from Palm Beach Atlantic University. She writes for a number of Christian ministries and publications including Desiring God and The Gospel Coalition. She is the author of A Heart Set Free: A Journey Through the Psalms of Lament (Christian Focus, 2016). You can find her at www.christinafox.com, @christinarfox and www.Facebook.com/
Do you ever wonder about the words we use, what they really mean, and why we use them? Take hope for example. People often use the word hope to mean something like a wish. "I hope you feel better." "I hope it doesn't rain tomorrow." "I hope we get home on time." Such a definition has no power. It's like sending someone happy thoughts, as though our thoughts alone could do anything to heal a person or hold back the rain or make the roads free from traffic.
Often, our hopes let us down. We hope for dreams to come true and they crash to the earth, shattered into pieces. We hope for a better day today than the one we had yesterday, only to find that we are living out the 90's classic, Groundhog Day. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
The Bible, however, uses the word hope in a more certain and concrete way. Not as a wish but as though hope is a real thing. As though it is tangible, like something we can grasp. And like it is a foregone conclusion.
"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope." (Romans 15:13)
"Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope" (1 Timothy 1:1)
"To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory." (Colossians 1:27)
"We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain" (Hebrews 6:19)
Hope isn't a wish. It isn't a strong feeling sent out into the universe that boomerang's back with our desires met. Hope is a person: Jesus Christ.
Jesus is our hope because only he accomplished what we could not do. He lived a perfect righteous life. He bore the weight of our sins upon the cross, suffered, and died. As the perfect Son of God, he defeated death and rose triumphantly from the grave. He proved in his life, death, and resurrection that he alone is our hope.
As the hold hymn goes:
"My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus' blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
but wholly lean on Jesus' name."
Christ gives us hope both now in the present and also in the future. We have this hope with us now, through the work of his Spirit in us. All that Christ is and all that he has done gives us hope in our daily life as we live out the realities of the gospel each day. We also have a future hope that awaits us and is the final installment of all that Christ purchased for us at the cross. Life eternal. Heaven. Perfection. No more sorrow, tears, or brokenness. Joy forever and ever.
When the rough winds of trial blow into our lives, Christ is our hope. When the uncertainties of life in a fallen world threaten to drown us, Christ is our hope. When we are overwhelmed and feel helpless over our sin, Christ is our hope. When temptations encircle us from every side, Christ is our hope. Christ is our hope in all things.
"His oath, his covenant, his blood
supports me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way,
he then is all my hope and stay."
So when we as believers use the word hope, it's not a positive or happy thought. It's not a wish we say while crossing our fingers. It's not a desire or dream that flutters just out of reach. Our hope is an anchor we can grip and cling to. It is real, lasting, sure, and secure. It is our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Contentment is something we as believers often pray for. It's one of those things we desire but often feels just out of reach. We read Paul's description of contentment in Philippians and it seems like an impossibility, "Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need" (Philippians 4:11-12).
To be content in whatever situation? What does that even look like?
How are we to be content when we lose our job, when relationships are hard, when our bodies don't work right, when everyone else's dreams come true while we stand there with hands left empty?
Sometimes I think that one of the problems with our contentment is that we are content with the things we shouldn't be content with and discontent with the the things we should be contented with.
Perhaps we are discontent because we are too content with the wrong things.
We are content in our lack of growth in faith
We are content with barely skimming the top layer of Scripture
We are content with this world and what it has to offer
We are content with how we treat others
We are content with our bad habits, the idols of our hearts, and our "respectable" sins
We are content in the superficiality of our relationships
We are content with our text-like prayers and crying out to God only when we are in need
We are content with how little we really know about God
We are content with a heart that loves this world more than we long for the next
In being content with these things, we find ourselves discontent with where we live, our marriage, our friendships, our work, and where God has placed us. We zero in on these things and think that if they changed, our life would be better. We compare what we have to what others have. We disconnect and disengage and seek all that is greener on the other side.
In effect, we are content with a halfhearted devotion to Christ. Our hearts are turned away from Christ and toward false idols we think will satisfy a parched soul. The secret to Paul's contentment in all circumstances, whether he had plenty or had little, was that his heart was fixed on Christ. "I can do all things through him who strengthens me" (vs. 13). Like Paul, our own contentment needs to be rooted in Christ, who he is, what he has done, and who we are because of it.
In Christ, we have all we need or could ever desire. In him we find our meaning and purpose. We find our identity as an image bearer and as a child of the living God. Finding our meaning in him keeps us focused on the work he has for us rather than what he is doing in the lives of others. In Christ, we find the mercy, grace, and salvation we desperately need. This is our greatest need and one that can only be met in him.
And as we look to him, seeking to know him through his word, our hearts are surgically transformed by his living and powerful word. The more his word and the truths of the gospel work in us, the more our desires conform to his will, and the more we find ourselves content with whatever circumstances the Lord provides.
When we find our hearts discontent and we long for something new and better and we begin to look for it in all the wrong places, we need to cry out to God. Not to ask him to make our lives better but to ask for a clean heart. We need to seek him in repentance, applying to our heart what Christ has done for us in the gospel. We need to abide in him, remembering that apart from him, we can do nothing.
Then the one thing we ask for won't be what our neighbor has. It won't be a change in circumstance. It won't be a plea for something new or better. Rather we'll be able to say with the psalmist, "One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple" (27:4).
I still remember the moment when I first glimpsed the Rocky Mountains. I was sixteen and joined a group of friends from my church on a journey from the east coast to Colorado. We drove for hours and hours from the suburbs of Washington, D.C., past cities and small towns, through the farms and plains of the Midwest (and strange features called buttes), until finally out of nowhere rocky peaks jutted out from the flat pasture that had been our roadside companion for what seemed like days on end.
It was an extraordinary sight, like nothing I had seen before. The Appalachians were my only prior mountain experience and in comparison, the Appalachians were like gentle rolling hills. But we were still hours away. Even though the Rocky Mountains seemed so big and magnificent from our position on the road, we still had a long drive before we actually got there.
Imagine if we had stopped at that point in our journey and said, "Well, we've seen the Rocky's. Let turn around and head back." It would have been crazy. Sure, we saw the Rocky's, but from a distance. We hadn't truly seen them. We hadn't been up close to see the jagged peaks. We hadn't walked its trails. We hadn't camped on its ground or smelled its flowers. We hadn't felt our lungs struggle for oxygen as we increased in altitude.
To turn around at first glance and say we had seen the Rocky's would have been like saying we had been to a state simply because we had flown to an airport in the state and made a connection there before going on our way.
As crazy as that all sounds, we often respond that way to knowing God and his word. We step back and take in the big picture and think we know all there is to know. We are satisfied with merely a taste of who God is and then we think that's all we need. We are content with never going deeper and further in our knowledge of God. Like viewing the mountains from a distance, we learn a few things about him and then move on.
On that trip to the Rocky's we saw the mountains up close. We drove to the top and saw the view from 14,000 feet. We camped in Estes Park and hiked from the bottom to the top, experiencing each change in elevation and in ecology. We saw the wild flowers in the tundra and the marmots scamper across the rocky terrain. Then we saw the mountains from the bottom, in a river raft, as we moved swiftly through the canyon over swirling, foaming white water. At the end of that trip, I felt like I had truly experienced the Colorado Rocky's.
We can't say we've been somewhere if we've only viewed it from a distance. We can't say we are friends with someone if we've never spent time with them. We can't say that we love someone if we don't even know what matters to them. And we can't say that we know God if don't bother to be in his presence. If we don't take time to read what he has written to us and respond to it in prayer. If we don't taste and see that he is good.
There is more to know of God than we could ever know in a lifetime. Even in eternity, we'll never plumb the depths of his magnificence. Even so, we shouldn't hold back on learning about him now. Paul prayed for the Ephesians, that they "may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God" (3:18-19). This ought to be our prayer as well. May we never be satisfied with just a cursory glance from afar, rather may we always yearn and seek to know the breadth, length, height, and depth of our Savior God.