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Quotations I love: Bishop Desmond Tutu on hope

Thursday December 1 2016

Quotations I love: Bishop Desmond Tutu on hope

“Hope is being able to see there is light despite all of the darkness.” —Desmond Tutu

In 2010, I had a weird physical ailment. My left foot was cold all the time, and my energy was low. Over the course of the year, my foot got colder and my energy dropped lower. In the second half of the year, I cut back my work hours and began medical testing. I was pretty sure I had a brain tumor, but the brain MRI was normal. The neurologist I was seeing couldn’t find anything wrong. The months dragged on, and the medical testing also dragged on.

On March 5, 2011, some elders from church came over to pray for me. Within days, my energy started coming back and my foot stopped being cold. This was the only medical miracle I have ever personally experienced. What a gift.

I was very grateful for God’s miraculous healing. But I was numb and a bit raw from months of not feeling well. It was as if all of my sense of hope was stripped away. So I decided to focus on hope for the remainder of the year.

I bought myself a ring with anchors on it. “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Hebrews 6:19). I wore the ring all the time, and when I looked at it, I pondered what exactly hope is. I began noticing the word “hope” all over the place, in poems, hymns and people’s spoken and written words. Emily Dickinson’s words about hope are often quoted:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers  – 
That perches in the soul – 
And sings the tune without the words – 
And never stops – at all.

In those months of recovery from my mysterious illness, there was nothing with feathers perching on my soul. I just couldn’t get ahold of hope.

The months went by, the numbness and rawness receded, and slowly but surely I began to feel some flickers of hope again. I kept thinking about the line in a praise song, “In Christ alone, my hope is found,” and a line in an old hymn (a hymn that I never liked), “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” Ultimately I decided that my hope is in Christ, and that’s really all I can say about it.

I think I’m still a little bit hope impaired. I read words like these of Desmond Tutu: “Iam a prisoner of hope. Yes, many awful things happen in the world. But many good things have happened and are happening.” I find myself wondering what it would be like to feel like a prisoner of hope.

I recently did a survey of the 165 verses in the Bible about hope. I learned that Bishop Tutu’s words about being a “prisoner of hope” are a quotation from Zechariah 9:12. I found that rooting my sense of hope in Christ has biblical precedent. The psalmist writes, “You, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth” (Psalm 71:5). Paul calls Jesus “our hope” in 1 Timothy 1:1.

I found numerous verses that imply that hope is a choice. We choose where we will set our hope.

“We have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people” (1 Timothy 4:10).
“Set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed” (1 Peter 1.13).
“In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:11, 12).

The psalms link hope with God’s love and God’s word:

Truly the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, 
on those who hope in his steadfast love. . . .
Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us,
even as we hope in you. (Psalm 33: 18, 22)

My soul languishes for your salvation;
I hope in your word. . . .
You are my hiding-place and my shield;
I hope in your word. (Psalm 119: 81, 114)

The Bible has a lot more to say about hope. I’m giving you a bonus quotation from Colossians 1 below, a chapter that mentions hope three times.

Since 2011, while I’ve been pondering hope, I think I’ve done one thing wrong and one thing right. I have fallen into the error of thinking that something is wrong with me because I have felt limited emotions of hope. But I have definitely tried to live in God’s love, faithful to God’s word, and from the scriptures I looked up, it sounds like I have been setting my hope on God, without naming my actions that way.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).

(“Faith, hope and love” watercolour by Dave Baab. Next week: Frank Warren on secrets and compassion. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

Bonus quotation:
“In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. . . . And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him—provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard. . . . I became its servant according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:3-5, 21-23, 25-27).

This is the 14th post in a series on quotations I love. Here are the earlier posts:   
Four Quotations about attention            
Breton Fisherman’s Prayer  
Arnold Glasow on feeling at home with people  
A. W. Tozer on worship that illuminates work  
The Jerusalem Talmud on enjoying good things  
Thomas Aqinas on loving people we disagree with  

Paul Tournier on building good out of evil 
Thomas Merton on our transparent world  
Moving from intending to pray to actually praying  
Eugene Peterson on paying attention  
Regret and fear are thieves  
Rick Warren on love and disagreement  
Henri Nouwen on being beloved
 

What is hope?

Tuesday February 10 2015

What is hope?

In the second half of 2011 I did a private research project. In the midst of academic research and writing, I explored the role of hope in my life.

Between mid 2010 and early 2011 I was sick for many months, and no one in the medical community could figure out what was going on. On March 7, 2011, some of the elders of my church prayed for me, and I had a miraculous healing. (That’s another story. Perhaps someday I’ll tell it on this blog.) After I got better, I realized the months of not feeling well had robbed me of hope, and I couldn’t figure out how to get it back. In fact, I couldn’t figure out exactly what it is.

So I began watching for the word “hope” in books, conversations, sermons, prayers and the Bible. I began asking friends where and when they experience hope. As I listened and pondered, I could hear hints of two kinds of hope: hope for life after death and hope for daily life on earth.

I realized I don’t have any trouble with hope for heaven. We have hope that after we die, we will have new bodies (I Corinthians 15:35-49), our tears will be wiped away (Revelation 21:4), and we will live with Jesus forever (Revelation22:4). For some odd reason, that form of hope has always been very alive and real to me.

But surely the “God of hope” (Romans 15:13) also wants to give us hope for the days of our life on earth. The months of not feeling well had pretty much wiped that out for me.

So I kept listening, reading and thinking. I heard people use “hope” to describe a sort of vague wish. That wasn’t the kind of hope I was longing for. I heard people use “hope” in relation to upcoming events and plans they had, sometimes with a strong confidence that I admired and wished for. Increasingly I could see that hope is rooted in confidence. But where does that confidence come from?

At the same time as my informal research about hope, I was doing academic research involving interviews about listening. (That research resulted in my book, The Power of Listening.)  Many of those interviews touched on the need for improved listening skills because of the decline of the church in Western countries. Two people said almost identical words in interviews: “I have so much confidence in the power of the Gospel.”

Their words brought many of my thoughts together. Where does confidence about the future come from? From the power of God, which we see revealed in Jesus Christ. Jesus is our only hope for the distant future, for life after death, but Jesus is also our only hope for today and tomorrow. God has blessed me with so many good things all my life, and I can have confidence that God will continue that blessing the rest of today, tomorrow, next week and next year. Sure, that blessing isn’t always an experience of pure joy. Even in the hard times, God is present, giving the comfort of companionship and the redemption of pain. (I recently wrote a post about this wonderful reality.)

What more confidence do I need? What more do I need as a foundation for hope?

“In Christ alone my hope is found.” It sounds simple, even simplistic, but that statement sums up six months of pondering. (It’s from a praise song by Stuart Townend that I mostly, but not entirely, like.) Before my pondering, when we sang those words in church – In Christ alone my hope is found – they made no sense to me. Now they seems like a profound truth. Thank you God, for meeting us in our questions and searching. And thank you for the precious gift of hope.

What gives you hope? Where is your hope found? What spiritual practices help you experience hope? Lent begins next week, and these questions are a good foundation for thinking about doing something different or special during Lent.

(If you'd like to receive an email notice when I post on this blog, sign up under "subscribe" in the right hand column. This post originally appeared on the Thoughtful Christian blog, Gathering Voices.)