Digging into hope

We watched The Lion King in class today. To be more exact, I saw the first 30 minutes of the Disney film four times in rapid succession to the delight of each four class periods. Each time, the good King Mufasa falls to his death below the wildebeests hooves right as the school bell signals the change of class periods. My kids had worked hard during our recently concluded Ancient Africa history unit, and what better way to celebrate the mastery of the Epic of Sundiata than watch the animated version of the tale?

Okay . . . to be honest, I had worked hard during the past Ancient Africa history unit, and a morning of less intensive instructional requirements allowed me to catch up on grading and to-dos, even if Simba was still just a whimpering cub by the end of each class period. The simple lesson plan also gave me time to meditate and sort through some of my pre-dawn devotions. I feel like I am on to something . . . something that could transform my feeble efforts to take my eyes off my circumstances and focus them on what God has promised. Perhaps, the whimpering lion cub will rise to courageous action after all.

All too often, it appears to me that warm and fuzzy words like faith, joy, love, and peace are bandied about like over-played, worn out TV commercials. Many intone their single syllables, but few seem to be able to claim any real personal knowledge regarding how to apply and live in the powerful simplicity of their true meanings.

Take hope for example. What does hope actually imply? What does it mean to let “hope be the anchor of the soul”? Surely, hanging an embossed “HOPE” plaque along a carefully decorated fireplace mantel should not be its main role in our homes. Surely, hope is not just a synonym for “dream” or “I-want-it-really-badly.”

My friend with a terminally ill child does not just want a miracle “really-badly.” I don’t just “dream” of salvation. No, hope has to have substance. Forgive my southern analogy, but there must be some meat with those potatoes and gravy.

For me, hope has been an elusive if not ethereal ideal that I grasp for in the last couple of months, but rarely seem to claim. However, I refuse to believe that the days and moments of “wish-believing” are the stuff of soul anchors. In humility and weakness, I admit that my soul has often waffled between mild disbelief and all-out fear of disappointment. Mantle decorations aside, I need more than a cultural cliché or overused commercial to radically change my perspective on what it looks like to abide in hope.

I don’t seem to be the only one. Browsing blog post titles this evening, here are some of the first that appeared on my screen . . .

“Hard to Swallow”

“Waiting for My Next Big Disappointment”


“There Goes My Zen”

“In Need of an Island”

I’ve had heartfelt, honest journal entries that reflect the same attitudes of those posts. Like the recently-freed Israelites in the nation’s early history, I’ve wandered around in the desert a few times, unsure of how to exist outside of captivity. As I read Exodus, however, I don’t believe that the Egyptians were the Israelites biggest problem. Their own complaints and disbelief single-handedly overpowered them before an enemy soldier ever needed to draw a sword. They were condemned to wander in the desert because they refused to allow the tribulations of Egypt to refine their characters and prepare them for supernatural intervention.

They dismissed the possibility of a miracle. What a scary thought.

Thanks to a phone conversation with my mom, I found myself pouring over the words of Romans 4:13-25 and 5:1-5 this morning. Here are a few verses that particularly arrested my attention . . .

vs. 17-18 “God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did; who, contrary to hope, in hope believed”

vs. 20-21 “He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was able to perform”

vs. 3-5 “And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

How is that possible? What contradiction is this? How does hope not disappoint? Is my view of hope so skewed that I have replaced this anchor of my faith with something much more feeble and passing away?

What if we have it all backwards?

In the midst of challenging circumstances that rock our belief in the goodness of God, do we cling to the ideal of hope so strongly that we miss the perseverance and character that must precede this foundation? As I examine my own life, I think that I want to “hope” so badly that I have refused to submit myself to the refining process that tribulation works.

I believe that hope is the anchor of the soul because hope is the product of testing out God’s invitation in the midst of storm, stepping out of the boat into the crashing waves, and learning to walk on water. Then we will know what it is to hope. Then we will know how to step out of the boat with greater alacrity next time, more faith that our hope will not disappoint, more trust that we will not sink.

I’m choosing to submit myself to the tribulations that God has allowed in my life, so that through perseverance I will become more and more like my Savior and more and more confident that He is good. All the time. Even in the face of terminal illness. Even “when things that do not exist” must be called into existence.

Hey . . . maybe Simba will leave behind his outcast status and become king tomorrow.

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