Hope Well Placed
Reading: Romans 15, 16
The book of Proverbs says that: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life” (13:12. NIV).
Last night, Sidney Crosby returned to captain the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team after almost a year’s absence due to a concussion. I suspect he might have known something about “hope deferred” as the doctors and coaching staff held him off from playing in order to be sure that he was fully recovered. Watching his teammates play the game that is his life while he sat on the sidelines must have been a difficult experience. As I watched Crosby as the singing of the national anthem came to an end prior to the game, I saw him cross himself. Whether or not it has been his habit to stand with his head bowed and then to cross himself before every game, I don’t know, but every eye in the hockey world was on him last night. Was he grateful to God for that “longing fulfilled?”
After a while a hope unrealized becomes an incredibly heavy weight to bear. The longer the fulfillment of that hope takes, the more difficult it is to maintain that glimmer of “maybe soon” in the face of the cold reality of “it feels like never.”
Paul’s passion was to bring the gospel to the Gentiles, to see them fully integrated and accepted into the church of his day. He had given everything to accomplish the mission God had tasked him to complete. Despite his successes at reaching the Gentiles, for as many as came to faith there were still many more who didn’t. Added to this, their integration into the faith community was not an easy process. As he ended his letter to the Roman church, he encouraged unity and understanding, tolerance and acceptance of those who came to faith from traditions different than those the community was accustomed to. He quoted the Old Testament to remind the Jewish believers that their prophets had foretold the entrance of the Gentiles into the family of God.
But he knew the process of acceptance and unity would be a long one. Just before he wrapped up his remarks and sent his greetings to particular friends, he writes: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13, NIV).
He recognized that as each group, Jews and Gentiles, struggled to accept each other, there would be times when the coming together seemed impossible, when tempers would be frayed and feelings hurt. He encouraged them not to put their trust in their own ability to resolve the issues but to look to the Source who guaranteed the fulfillment of the longing of their hearts. Hope comes from Him and because of Him. Paul reminds them that, not only was God the Source, but He didn't jealously guard the hope that they needed. Rather, He would abundantly pour it out to them through the Holy Spirit who now resided in each one of them.
It is only when our hope rests in God, whatever the circumstances, that we can be certain that what we long for will be realized. And throughout the process, however long it may take, God supplies the joy “in spite of” and the peace “in the face of” while we wait for the God of hope to satisfy the longing.