Popular belief has it that the third Monday of January is the most depressing time of the year. In fact this is probably now one of those self-fulfilling prophecies that will indeed prove to be true. Whatever the case, it’s certainly true that January, with cold rain lashing against the windows, Christmas bills still unpaid and the summer a long way off, is not associated with universal jollity.
That given, let me therefore commend to you that great virtue, hope. Let me take the letters of HOPE and suggest four important aspects.
- Hope Heals. By pointing forward, hope helps us put the past behind us. Hope takes hurts, sorrows, defeats and wounds, and buries them. Doctors suggest that hope helps physical healing; it is certainly a major help to psychological and spiritual recovery. In fact, by allowing us to move on, hope even helps that most difficult task, forgiveness.
- Hope Overcomes. Hope stops us from being deterred and helps us to think in terms of possibilities rather than problems. Hope has a way of levelling mountains and raising spirits; it crushes obstacles into stepping stones and transforms difficulties into challenges. To be without hope is to be, in every sense, hopeless; it is to see yourself as being pushed around by hostile forces beyond your control. To be without hope is to be defeated before you start.
- Hope Prioritises. Twenty-first-century life is a constant battle against a dozen challenges in a dozen areas of life. Without hope life becomes ‘one thing after another’ and we find ourselves constantly engaged in either crisis management or damage control. It’s easy to have a life where events take control and eventually crush us. We can all identify with those moments when you find yourself simultaneously facing forty-five unread emails, ten unanswered text messages, a leak and a punctured car tyre. Hope gives you a changed perspective on life. It takes the hundred things we could do and highlights the handful that we must do. Hope lets us begin to define who we want to be.
- Hope Energises. Hope is a source of power and energy for life. Hope gets us out of bed, has us smiling as we walk into the office, boosts our morale as we struggle with paperwork, helps us dismiss someone’s criticism and takes us home still able to hum a melody. Hope gets us through January.
We all need hope. The problem is there’s a lot of fake stuff on offer. There is hope that is deluded and hope that is diluted. There is even that most fragile and futile of things, hope in hope itself.
So where do we find true hope? We need hope that is proven, that has been tried and tested over the years and found to be reliable through both good and bad times. We need hope that is unlimited, that can handle all our moral failures, our problems in relationships, health and finance, and all the thousand things that life – and death – can throw at it. We need a hope that is inexhaustible; a hope with sufficient resources to handle, not just our problems, but those of our family, our friends and everybody else without running out. We need a hope that is everlasting, something that will not just work today and tomorrow but for years, indeed for the countless ages of eternity. And, finally, we need a hope that we can relate to; a hope that isn’t just a principle to admire but a person who can sympathise and understand us, a person who we can know and love.
Those are the very toughest of requirements. When I look around to find who can meet them I find myself coming back again to the one who taught the highest wisdom, knew God as his father, forgave sins, healed the sick, raised the dead and who triumphed over death itself. When I need hope I know that there’s only one person big enough for all that life can throw at me. That’s ‘Christ Jesus our hope’ (1 Timothy 1:1 niv).
Revd Canon J.John