“Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life.”
What is hope? We greatly misuse the word ‘hope’ in our modern day language. We hope that it will rain when the weather has been dry. We hope it will dry out when it’s been raining for days. We hope certain things will come about, when what we really mean is we wish for a certain thing or would like for things to turn out a certain way. Often, we don’t give much more thought to the word ‘hope’, and we use it in a rather loose manner.
From a scriptural standpoint, hope is much more than just a preference, or a want, or wishful thinking. As children of God, we have a great hope and a great reason to hope. In fact, we have the greatest hope, the hope of glory, which is Christ in us. This hope is more than a wish or want, but it is something that we truly expect. It is the earnest expectation of the soul. It is something of which we are convinced, even though we have not yet seen it come to pass. And such hope saves us! Through a faithful, obedient walk after the Spirit, our hope is made brighter. Our souls are delivered from the enormous weight of the burdens that accompany the sufferings and afflictions of life. Ultimately, our hope looks to the day in which our mortal bodies will finally be redeemed, made incorruptible and immortal, and be made like unto the glorious body of Christ. Hope indicates a time of patient waiting. Without patience, hope would never work in us the salvation, or deliverance, we need. The hope that saves us draws out patience; and as patience has her perfect work, it works peace within.
The wise man Solomon says that if hope is deferred, the heart becomes sick. To defer something means to draw away, to prolong, to delay, or even to remove. A sick heart indicates a heart that has been worn down and wounded through grief and affliction; a heart that is perhaps fighting disappointment and disillusionment; a heart that at one time was optimistic, but now feels as though all is in vain. A person with a sick heart is in danger of slipping into depression and can easily become dependent on anything that will mask over the fear, disappointment, and discouragement brought on by afflictions and trials. If that for which we hope is delayed, or the waiting time seems to have been prolonged, or if it seems to have been removed altogether, our heart becomes sick, worn down, tired. But it may also become restless, and find itself in a condition to take hold of anything to relieve the burden.
What defers hope? What causes our patient waiting to seem unfairly prolonged and delayed? What can cause our hope to be darkened? What can make it seem as though all hope is lost? Let’s look at a few things that might help answer these questions, so that we can be better prepared when it seems our hope may be deferred.
Hope and faith are so closely related, we dare not try to separate them. In Hebrews chapter 11, we learn that faith is the substance, or the ground, the foundation, or the assurance of those things for which we hope. When our faith is strong, our hope is bright. When we are walking by faith, our hope is nearer than ever. On the other hand, when our faith is weak, our hope is darkened. Our hope sometimes begins to wane when our faith is sorely tried. On more than one occasion, Jesus admonished the disciples for their little faith, and even asked where their faith was. It may be that our faith is misdirected. Perhaps we have misunderstood God’s word. So many in the world of religion would have us to believe that if we are truly following Jesus, we’ll never suffer. God tells us over and over again in His word that a godly life will bring persecution and that we can expect to suffer for His name’s sake. Others tell us that if our faith is strong enough, we won’t face certain diseases and physical afflictions. Such heresy brings confusion and may cause us to doubt our gracious state in the Lord. If we have been deceived by such lies, and suffering and trials do come our way, we become discouraged and begin to lose hope because we are led to think that our faith is weak. But God’s promises are sure. He has assured us that whatever the trial may be, He has provided a path for us to follow so that we, by faith, can see through to the other side.
Fear has a devastating affect on our hope. We look at the world around us and worry about our future and the future of our children. We may get swallowed up in fear because of political or economic conditions. We learn that our job that has provided for our family for so long is now in jeopardy, forgetting that it is the Lord who provides. Fear of circumstances is the opposite of faith and trust in the Lord. Often we fail to remember God’s Providence in our lives; how His grace and mercy has sustained in the past. Fear is usually the result of losing our focus. Because we live in a ‘microwave’ society, expecting immediate results, and because most of us have a ‘short-term’ memory, fear creeps in when our prayers aren’t answered according to our timeline. The doctor gives us the news we’ve been dreading, and we begin to panic when we realize our time is short. We look at the time we’ve wasted and we fear the Lord’s displeasure rather than faithfully seeking His mercy and guidance for our remaining days. Fear, or the lack of faith, causes our hope to dim.
There are times that we lose our focus, and we are drawn away. The riches of this world may attract our attention, but we soon find out that we cannot depend on those riches. A person may direct their focus toward their job, or a hobby-turned-obsession, or worldly entertainment. A church may begin to focus so much on doctrinal purity that she loses sight of the love of God, which should motivate us in every thing we do. On the other hand, a church may focus so much on numbers, she begins to lose her identity as the Lord’s church. When a person or a church begins to forget that our focus is to magnify Christ and to minister to others, the result is nothing like what we were expecting, or hoping for, and is far removed from anything that is pleasing to the Lord. If we lose our focus, we become confused over the outcome.
Disobedience always brings upon us the chastening of the Lord. If our reaction to such chastening is rebellion, we may become indignant toward God. If we haven’t recognized our sin, we will continue to kick against the rod and our path becomes even more difficult. In our rebellion, with the hand of the Lord upon us, we may begin to feel forsaken, or begin thinking we’ve been treated unfairly. We must never lose sight of the fact that God chastens and rebukes those He loves. Our rebellious spirit must be broken. As much as it may hurt, we must submit to the rod and not view it as a grievous, but as the loving hand of the Father bringing us back into the path of righteousness.
Discouragement serves to weaken our faith and darken our hope. It should be no surprise that the world discourages us. We may look for peace in the world, but we must remember that Jesus promised us his peace, which is everlasting. But sometimes, discouragement comes from those closest to us. Granted, we can be optimistic to the point of being unrealistic, but pessimism has no place in the life of a child of God. Our words and our manner of speech, including our attitude, becomes corrupt communication if it is always negative and full of discouragement. We have the blessed privilege of ministering grace to those who hear us, giving them words of wisdom and encouragement that can be used to edification. If Christ is in us, and we understand that he has overcome the world, was victorious over death and hell, has redeemed us by his blood, and that the Holy Spirit is working in us, then we should be the most optimistic people in all the world. We know that even when this world passes away, we have a life of eternal bliss and joy awaiting us on the other side.
This is the end, or the goal attained, of our faith and hope – that some day, regardless of the trials and afflictions of this life, which are not worthy to be compared to the glory that shall be revealed in us, even our very bodies will be changed and fashioned like unto the glorious body of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Mortality shall be changed into immortality, corruption will put on incorruption, and when he shall appear, we shall be like him, and will be satisfied. When our hope is deferred, the heart is made sick. But thanks be unto God, His faithfulness will never fail us! And when our desire, our expectation, is fulfilled, it is a tree of life, providing the strength and sustenance, peace and assurance that only God can give.