New Year’s Hope
It’s a new year and with every new year comes a sense of expectation. Many of you enter this year with a sense of hope, or at least with some wishful thinking, that perhaps this will be the year. The year you get into shape, find that elusive relationship you’ve been searching for, or get that job you will actually enjoy. This year you will eat better, spend more time with loved ones, maybe read more books. Whatever your personal aspiration, many of us follow a new year’s tradition of making resolutions as a way to cement our often abstract hopes for change. These resolutions are meant to confirm our commitment to making a change for the better in the year to come. Anyone of us who have actually gone through the process of defining a new year’s resolution, though, knows it is pretty unlikely that those goals will actually be realized. In fact, going into 2023 it is thought that only about 38% of people will make resolutions. Of that 38%, only 9% will be successful in keeping them. About 25% of people will quit within a week, and 65% within a month. Humorously, over 40% of people who make resolutions do so expecting to quit within two months.
Whether you find these statistics amusing or just sad, they point to the reality of the human condition. We are marked by a consistent pattern of trying, but failing. We get spurts of hope inspired by things as arbitrary as a new calendar, decide it’s time to get our lives together and become the people we have always wanted to be, try to wrestle ourselves and everything else in our lives into submission, and then inevitably become exhausted and give up when the it becomes clear we can’t create or sustain the kind of change we wanted. After we have gone through this a few times, many of us just give up. We accept that things are just the way they are, and decide there is nothing we can really do about it, so we stop trying and we stop hoping.
How’s your hope?
How’s your hope today? These last few years have been tough for many of us. The unpredictability and tumultuous reality of life made itself apparent to all of us. You may have had your fair share of tragedy and difficulty as well. You have probably tried to make various changes in your own life over the years, some big, some small, some successful, many not. With these last few years of history behind you, do you have hope for good things ahead of you?
You can be honest. If you are ready to give up, it is ok to admit that. If you don’t have any hope right now, you probably have some good reasons for that. Maybe people have let you down. Maybe you’ve let yourself down. Maybe your prayers aren’t being answered. Maybe the financial situation keeps getting worse. Maybe these last few years have just felt like one thing after another and you can’t help but look to the future with anticipation of another frustration, tragedy, or disappointment.
Perhaps you do have hope. It may be just a vague sense that things are getting better. It may be a more specific expectation that some area of your life will improve. It may even be a confidence that your life is moving in a positive direction. Wherever you find yourself, honestly assess your level of hope today as you continue reading.
Why does it matter?
Hope matters. Hope is necessary for healthy human living. Hope has been linked with better mental health and lower levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts. Hope has been shown to be an essential element for recovery from mental health disorders and addiction, and is a necessary motivating force for all sorts of positive change.
Even if we just look at our own experiences, we can clearly observe the impact of hope. When we feel hopeless, we feel tired, unmotivated, often wanting to check out of reality. Without hope there is no dreaming, no purpose worth pursuing, and simply living daily life becomes a constant burden.
The Bible echoes this same theme regarding the importance of hope. Romans 15:13 connects hope with joy and peace. Isaiah 40:31 shows that hope results in renewed strength and endurance. Hebrews 10 describes how hope can power you through suffering and hardship.
Scientific research, personal experience and the Word of God all agree on this matter: we need hope. When we have no hope for a better future, we are unlikely to experience one. If we want a better future, one marked by greater freedom, overcoming obstacles, peace and joy, strength and purpose, then we need to begin cultivating hope.
How do you start hoping again? If you have lost your hope, the idea of getting it back can seem daunting. The thing about hope is that it can’t be forced. You can’t just make up your mind to be more hopeful. You can try. You could trick yourself into false hope for a few days or weeks maybe, but lasting hope requires something more.
If you do have some hope as you enter this new year, how do you sustain it? You need to realize that your hope will be challenged. Not everything you are hoping for will happen. They certainly won’t all happen how or when you want them to. Difficulties and tragedies will still be part of your life. You will be given reasons to stop hoping this year.
So where do we go to renew and sustain our hope? I believe we go to the Word of God. Hope is all about belief. It is about believing that there is good in your future and purpose in your present. Even if you are a Christian, and say that you believe the Bible, you have many other voices competing for your belief. You have people around you who complain, criticize, and catastrophize, creating negative atmospheres, toxic to hope. We live in society so marked by anxiety and cynicism that experts have compared our levels of worry to a national epidemic. Your own past is telling you that what you are hoping for is never going to happen, things are never going to change, so you shouldn’t even bother. Self-help gurus are telling you that you can actualize your hopes through positive thinking and proper planning. All these voices attempt to capture your belief, and if they can get your belief, they can control your life. We live by what we really believe. If we fall into believing the toxic, cynical, fearful, defeated, or misleading voices around us, our lives will be defined by the same characteristics and our hope will not last.
Instead, we need to turn to the voice of God. Though this sounds like a simple solution of just reading your Bible, it is not quite that straightforward. How you read your Bible matters. The way you treat the promises of God matters. Checking Bible reading off your to-do-list as a morning ritual is probably not going to result in abundant and resilient hope. Buying wall decor that quotes Jeremiah 29:11 is good, but I’m not sure that will sustain hope through challenging seasons. Ephesians 6:17 compares the Word of God to a sword, a weapon of combat. Notably, it is an offensive weapon, one you use to attack rather than to defend yourself. Hope will not come without a battle. It will not stay without a fight. In God’s Word we have the only weapon that can win this fight, but we have to use it like a weapon. We need to train ourselves in the Word, be intimately familiar with it, be ready at the first sign of danger to draw it from its sheath and plunge it into the enemies of lies that come daily to attack. If you want to find hope again, if you want hope that will last, go and get your sword…and be ready to use it.
Using your Sword
Wherever you find yourself while reading this, whatever state your hope is in, I want to tell you that there is reason to hope. No, life may not be going how you wanted or expected, things may not turn around quickly, and life will never be easy, but there is still reason to hope. The reason is that there is a God. A God that knows you, knows what you are going through, and cares for you. If your hope is in shambles, He understands. If your circumstances are bleak, He’s still with you in them. If you want to have hope, but just can’t get yourself there, that’s ok too. Come to Him, find Him in His word and let Him inspire hope within you again.
This God tells people suffering due to their own bad choices, that He has plans to prosper them, to give them a hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11).
This God tells people who feel forgotten, overlooked and weary, that He still knows them, that He gives strength to the weak, and that by hoping in Him they can find the power to persevere (Isaiah 40:27-31.)
This God tells people who feel stuck in impossible situations that everything is possible to the one who believes (Mark 9:23).
This God tells people whose prayers weren’t answered how they wanted that He is still with them and that His grace is all they need (2 Corinthians 12:8-9).
This God tells you and I that no matter what we have to face in life, evil, tragedy, or challenge, that He will work it for good and for a purpose bigger than we now see (Romans 8:28).
The question is, do we really believe what God says? Or do we believe our past, our society, the experts? What we believe will determine how we live, so it is of utmost importance that we put our faith in the Word of God above all else. To do this, we may have to read the same verse over and over again. We need to fill our minds with God’s promises. Read them and pray them until you begin living like they are true. If you do this, I believe hope will become a consistent part of your life again.
Depending on what version of the Bible you read and what scholar you listen to, the word “hope” is used anywhere from 129-169 times. That is because God knows, hope matters. Without hope there is no change. Without hope, we live without purpose. Without hope, life is not worth living. And the only hope that can last, the only hope that can survive the trials of life, the only hope that can empower real transformation in our lives, is hope placed on God. All other hopes will fail us. People will continue to disappoint and fall short. Our own energy and ability is unreliable at best. No job, nor amount of money can be trusted. Those in positions of power are just as weak and broken as we are. Worldly wisdom and advice sends us down a path of self-reliance that never works long term. Don’t waste your time and energy hoping in things destined to fail. Put your hope in God.
1. Come to God with your hopes. These may be things you’ve given up on, things that have become pipedreams, or things you still actively hope for. Whatever they are, bring them to God in prayer and leave them in His hands. He is good and He is able to do what you ask, or maybe what you should have asked. Whatever He does, it will be because He loves you and wants your best.
2. Draw your sword. Get into God’s word. Find His promises that speak into your personal life in this season, and memorize them. Pray them and declare them over your life. When other voices are loud, get away from them. Protect your mind from believing in lies. Take refuge in the promises you’ve memorized, that God has made to you.
3. Remember who made the promises. Remember who God is. He’s never broken a promise before. He’s never encountered something too difficult before. He’s never given up on His plans before. He won’t start now. Read the Psalms, Isaiah 40, Revelation 4 and 5, Job 38 and 39. Meditate on the greatness and power of God. He does not make empty promises, nor ones that He cannot fulfill.
I do not know what this year will hold for you. But I do believe that you have a reason to hope, and when you find hope in God’s word, it can be the catalyst to true transformation in your life.
Acharya, Tanvi, and Mark Agius. “The importance of hope against other factors in the recovery of mental illness.” Psychiatria Danubina vol. 29,Suppl 3 (2017): 619-622.
Dastagir, Alia E. “Why It's so Important to Hope.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 10 Oct. 2020, www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/10/10/hope-essential-mental-health-and-well-being-psychologists-say/5942107002/.
de Boer, Mick. “19 Mind-Blowing New Year's Resolution Statistics (2023).” Insideout Mastery, 15 Nov. 2022, insideoutmastery.com/new-years-resolution-statistics/#:~:text=Every%20year%2C%2038%2C5%25,studies%20over%20the%20past%20years.
Jensen, Dane. “Sustaining Hope in Uncertain Times.” Harvard Business Review, 15 Mar. 2022, hbr.org/2022/03/sustaining-hope-in-uncertain-times.
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