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Hopeless. In my 25 years of working with people I have encountered scores of people who have felt truly hopeless. Not less hopeful but without hope. I’ve heard parents say about a wayward child, “I don’t think I can keep doing this anymore.” I’ve sat across from pastor friends who still loved God and heard them say, “I quit.”

Helpless. Most people who feel hopeless also feel helpless. They feel like there is nothing more that can be done. I’ve seen very successful people crumble before me because they felt helpless to change a situation. It is a very humbling experience to know that you can build a business, create a lesson plan, or manage a household but you can’t fix something (or someone) you care deeply about.

Worthless. When a person feels both hopeless and helpless, it’s only a very small step to feeling worthless. They begin to think … “There must be something wrong with me. Everyone else seems to be doing OK.” Or, as twisted as it may sound, “Perhaps I don’t deserve anything better than this.”

Unfortunately, many people live without real hope. Or they have a false sense of security based on their income or achievements. Even worse – many people confuse hope with wishful thinking.

Hope is based on a reasonable expectation that what has been promised will come true. Wishful thinking is simply wanting things to get better.

You don’t spend months or years nurturing fear and panic and then just turn it off the next day with wishful thinking.

It is the philosophy of our world to overstate everything and predict the worst possible outcome. The world considers this wisdom. They don’t want to get anyone’s hopes up.

But hope is exactly what we need.

As Christians, our hope is based on God’s character and his faithfulness.

Today’s passage comes from Paul’s letter to the Roman church. Paul was a man who had been on the fast-track to success as a Jewish religious leader. Being blessed with intelligence and a sharp mind, he was prone to trust in his own abilities. That all changed as a result of encountering Jesus. This includes where Paul would find his hope.

1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because Godʼs love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. – Romans 5:1-5

Even though as Christians we have been justified through faith, Paul is aware of the struggles we will face. In fact, he is writing to the church in Rome — to Christians who live with constant persecution (remember a guy named Nero?).

Rather than minimize their struggles, Paul chooses to reframe their struggle in terms of character development. For Paul, sufferings properly handled and interpreted produce perseverance. Consistent perseverance produces character. And it is character that produces hope.

In our modern, 21st Century way of thinking, we would probably reverse that progression. We would start with hope as the catalyst for enduring suffering.

Coming through a time of testing produces hope. Why is that? It’s because hope is based on a reasonable expectation that what has been promised will come true.

When Paul talks about character, he is talking about the difference between a veteran and a rookie. A rookie might have raw talent but a veteran has experience. As you become a spiritual veteran – enduring testing and trials – your confidence in God’s ability to be trusted increases.

And your hope becomes stronger.

This hope is cemented in God’s love for us …

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. – Romans 5:6-8

At first glance, this paragraph might seem like a departure from Paul’s discussion on hope. But it’s not.

The gospel tells you that God loves you whether you feel it or not! The cross reminds us that God’s love isn’t conditional upon you being a good person, much less perfect. In fact, he loved you when you were FAR from perfect.

If I don’t feel God’s love, it’s not that God didn’t give it to me. It’s that I don’t realize what I already have.

Wishful thinking is essentially based on feelings. Hope is grounded on a historical truth: Jesus died for you.

9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from Godʼs wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were Godʼs enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. – Romans 5:9-11

Paul is describing the tension between the “already” and the “not yet.” We have what Jesus has already accomplished and what he will accomplish. In other words, salvation has a future tense as well as past and present tenses.

If someone asks you, “Are you saved?” You can answer “Yes and No” and be correct. Yes — I’ve been saved through Jesus from my sins. No — I have not yet been delivered from this world.

In a later chapter of Romans, Paul tells us that creation is “groaning” (Romans 8). It’s groaning because it’s broken. We live with fallen systems and structures. Evil is ever-present. Although we have been forgiven and redeemed, we still must live in a world that is groaning.

We have been saved and we will be saved.

The question is, how do you navigate the time in-between. With hope. It is hope that holds us together.

There are times when hope is the difference between success or failure, life or death. We were not designed to live without hope. Hope is not a passion for what is possible. It becomes a passion for the promises of God.

The Hebrew word for hope comes from the root word for rope. It gives us the image of a cord attached to something far ahead of us that pulls us toward the future.

God has a destiny in mind for you. To get there you must hold on to the rope – trusting that it is secured by God himself.

You have friends and neighbors who need to know they don’t have to feel hopeless, helpless, or worthless. This is the God they need to know …

13 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