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How to have hope in hard times

In Hebrews 6, we encounter a writer who was addressing a community of believers who were struggling to hope in God. The author tells his audience, “We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.” In Hebrews 6:13-20, the author moves from the general exhortation to “have faith and patience” to specific details that should encourage his audience to demonstrate faith and endurance when they are struggling to hope in God. 

I believe this passage provides at least three points of guidance to help us when we are struggling to hope in God.

First, when we are struggling to hope in God, we need to consider the hope of others.

In verses 13-15, the author of Hebrews gives us a specific example of someone who placed their hope in God during an unbelievable difficult time. The example is the story of Abraham and Isaac from Genesis 22. In the story of Abraham and Isaac, we encounter the man that God promises to make into a great nation. However, when God made that promise to Abraham (in Genesis 12 and 15), Abraham did not have any children. 

Eventually, as an elderly man with his elderly wife, Abraham and Sarah had a son, and his name was Isaac. Isaac was the promised son to Abraham. But in Genesis 22, we see God testing Abraham’s faith by calling him to sacrifice his son. This is an unbelievable call upon Abraham. Yet, with a heavy heart, full of hope in God, Abraham made his way to the mountain that God had appointed with the intention of sacrificing his son. At the final moment, just about the time that Abraham’s knife was about to drop on his son Isaac, an angel restrained him, and God provided a ram caught in a bush for the sacrifice. Abraham was committed to obeying God because he had hope in him. He believed that God could raise Isaac from the dead, if necessary. 

It is against the backdrop of the story of Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22 that we are directed to consider Abraham’s obedience and patience. By hoping in God and patiently waiting, the author of Hebrews says, “Abraham received what was promised.” In Abraham’s case, the promise was that God would make him a great nation. And God kept his promises to Abraham, who continued to hope in God during exceedingly hard times.

What the hope of Abraham teaches us is that sometimes God will call us to certain things that appear to threaten all of our hopes and dreams. Sometimes we will find ourselves in the midst of great trouble, pain, and fear. And when this happens, we must remember stories like Abraham and Isaac and how God not only intervened but was actually working in the midst of the confusion, pain, and fear. While we might be uncertain, filled with confusion and fear, God is never uncertain, confused, or worried. 

When we are struggling to hope in God, we need to contemplate the promises of God.

The example of others who have hoped in God will help us to hold on to God as our hope when we face hard times. But why should we trust God in these hard times? How do we know that God will be faithful to us? While the hope of others is encouraging, it cannot be the sole reason that we hope in God. There has to be more. There has to be some good reason that God can be trusted. This brings us to the second point regarding what we need to do when we are struggling to hope in God.

Second, when we are struggling to hope in God, we need to contemplate the promises of God.

Verse 13 made this point: “When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself.” This is crucial for understanding why God’s promises are trustworthy. God wants us to know how serious he is about his promises. So, instead of simply giving a promise, God takes an oath. The oath serves as a guarantee of God’s promise. God is swearing by his own reputation when he makes a promise to Abraham and to the descendants of Abraham. As Peter O’Brien commented, “The idea that God swears by himself (Ex. 32:13; Isa. 45:23; Jer. 22:5) indicates that he is bound to his word by his own character. His oath provides the guarantee that removes doubt and underscores the validity of the promise.”

What this means is that God would sooner cease to exist than break his promises that he has sworn an oath to fulfill to those who place their hope in him. The promises of God to his children are as sure as his character. He can no more fail to fulfill his promises than he can fail to be God. The promises of God are sure because God himself is unshakable. He cannot lie, as verse 18 tells us. And God intends for this reality to “greatly encourage” the heirs of the promise. And who are the heirs of the promise? Those who have set their hope in God. The heirs of Abraham’s promise are not his physical descendants. It is not those who keep the law. It is those who place their trust in God. The apostle Paul addressed this reality in Galatians 3, when he said, “Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham.” And then again, Paul wrote, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to promise.” 

So, we participate, enjoy, and inherit the promises of God’s blessing through faith in Jesus Christ. We, like Abraham, are called to place our hope in God, even when we are facing trials and difficulties that are inexplicable and overwhelming. And why can we do this? It is because God’s promises are sure to his people. He does not break his Word. And who are the people of God? Those who trust in Christ.

Finally, then, when we are struggling to hope in God, we need to confess the work of Christ. 

When we talk about persevering, placing our hope, and enduring patiently, if we are not careful, we can come to believe that everything depends on us. We can start believing that the only way that we can receive the promised blessings of salvation is if we work hard on our own. But if we start to think like that, we will soon weary ourselves with our own work and grow exceedingly discouraged.

However, as children of Abraham, our hope must rest in Christ. And as our hope rests in Christ, we must consider what that means. Verses 19-20 gives us a glorious glimpse of Christ’s work on our behalf. The author describes “this hope in Christ as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” In other words, the One in whom we have hoped is sure and steady. While the ship of our life is tossed back and forth by the storm, the anchor of our soul, Jesus Christ himself, holds us fast to the promises of God. 

How do we know that his promises hold fast for us? Because Jesus Christ, our Hope, has entered into the “inner sanctuary” into the presence of God as our mediator. Verse 20 describes Jesus as our forerunner who has entered “on our behalf.” Right now, even in the midst of the storms of life, our hope, which is not in the things of this world, but instead, in Jesus Christ, is in the presence of God the Father, serving as our mediator. As a high priest, Jesus represents us before God and invites us to follow him into God’s presence because he has made it safe for us. Jesus has dealt with our sin and uncleanness. He has made a way for us into the presence of God. 

So, when we find ourselves struggling, wondering, asking, “Am I going to make it? Am I going to be OK? Will I inherit the promises that God has made to me?”, we need to see Christ, like an anchor for our souls, immovably fixed behind the curtain in the presence of God the Father. He reminds us that because the Father is pleased with him, he is also pleased with those who have put their trust in him. And just as sure as Jesus was raised from the dead with immortal life, so we will also be raised with him. God is committed to us. In fact, God is more committed to bringing us safely through the storms of this life than we are to ourselves. And why is this the case? Because God has sworn an oath with his promise to make sure that all who trust in Jesus endure, persevere, and enter into the fullness of the eternal life that Jesus secured for us.

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