By Conover Swofford
Several years ago a group of six neighbors were going through different but extremely challenging life experiences at the same time. The neighbors formed a support group they called Crisis of the Day. They ate supper together daily and then discussed their various situations. They voted on who had had the worst day that day.
• On the day that Nita “won,” she had lost all three of her jobs and received a foreclosure notice on her house.
• On the day that Robert “won,” he came home from a job interview to discover that his wife had left him, taking their son and daughter with her.
• On the day that Lynn “won,” she found out that the day-care center where she left her children was under investigation for child abuse.
• On the day that Hank “won,” he was arrested for DUI and thrown into the drunk tank, when in actuality he was diabetic and needed insulin.
• On the day that Betty “won,” she learned that she had to have open-heart surgery and had no insurance to pay for it.
• On the day that Craig “won,” he arrived at work only to discover that his place of employment had been shut down and boarded up—with no warning at all to the employees.
After voting, the group would then read Psalm 42 out loud together. Robert played guitar. The group of neighbors would sit on Lynn’s spacious porch and sing hymns of hope and encouragement. Sometimes other neighbors joined in the singing. After the singing, one of the group members would lead in a prayer before they all went back to their homes.
A Gift from God
Hope is defined as “looking forward with desire and reasonable confidence.” God is our hope. He is the one in whom our expectations are centered. We know that with God in charge, our life events will turn out for the best.
In Psalm 42 the psalmist remembers joyful events from his past when he praised God for his goodness and protection. Remembering how well God has taken care of us so far is what gives us the hope that he will continue to take care of us. No matter what is happening in our lives at the moment, we know that God is using these events to define our futures. Sometimes the only way to get through a difficult situation is to cling to our hope of eternal life with God—to look past this temporary life here on earth to the permanent life we will live in Heaven. The book of 1 Peter reminds us that our difficulties and hardships don’t have to wear us down. We know that God uses our circumstances to strengthen us, and this knowledge brings us hope. Hope is the reassurance that God’s ultimate purpose is to fit us for eternal life with him. Hope gives us the ability to look beyond ourselves to the bright future God has in store for us.
“Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (Psalm 42:5). The psalmist shares his hope and faith in God as he writes his psalm. Sharing our hope with others helps them to fortify their own hopes. When Craig found a new job, the group had a celebration dinner. Seeing our hopes fulfilled gives us the courage and strength to keep on hoping when things aren’t good.
As the Crisis of the Day group shared their daily woes, they also shared their daily hopes. Each one could see something good coming out of another’s situation. When Nita got the foreclosure notice on her house, every member of the group offered to give her a place to stay if she needed it. Sharing our difficulties and hearing suggested solutions helps bolster our faith in God and in our fellow human beings.
Hope for the Hopeless
Nita battled depression following her divorce. Nothing anyone could say made her feel better. Reflecting on her experiences with her Crisis of the Day group, she began once again to read Psalm 42 every morning. Then she read it morning and evening. Then she read it many times throughout the day. At first, she didn’t notice any change in her mood. But gradually, reading the psalm shifted her focus off herself and her circumstances and onto the wonderful things that God had done for her and was doing for her.
Depression can make us feel hopeless. We may start to wonder, What is the point? The point is that God is in charge no matter what. He can and will use our situations to bless us and others. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3, 4). What greater comfort can we give to those who feel hopeless than to offer them hope? God often puts us in situations so that we can understand and help people who are in similar situations.
Even though each of Nita’s neighbors was going through a different type of trial, they encouraged each other by sharing the hope of better things to come.
Seeing How God Works
Our ability to cling to hope comes from our knowledge of how God works. The early Christians were in situations far worse than what most of us go through. Their very lives were at risk. God inspired John to write the book of Revelation to give his people hope. We might not think of Revelation as being about hope; but its main message is that no matter how bad things look or get, God’s good will win over anything evil that comes along. Knowing how God has worked in the past—not just in our past but in everyone’s past—gives us the strength to believe that he is still working in our present. That gives us the courage to hope that the future he has planned for us is one of joy. “I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). God said this to his people when they were in exile in Babylon, but it applies to us too. Hope is trusting that God means what he says and believing that he has our best interests at heart.
Every day the Crisis of the Day neighbors watched God work in each other’s lives. Some people at Nita’s church paid to stop the foreclosure on her house. Lynn’s sister-in-law offered to keep Lynn’s children so that Lynn didn’t have to use day care anymore. Hank’s experience led to a community awareness program about diabetes and its effects. A local cardiologist performed Betty’s surgery without cost. Although Robert wasn’t able to locate his wife and children, he never gave up hope that he would someday. Little by little, day by day, the group members’ situations became better. Other neighbors saw what was happening, and some joined the group. For over a year, the neighbors met daily to eat and read Psalm 42. Then changes in their life situations required that the group disband. Each of them moved away from that neighborhood. Eventually they lost touch with each other. But they never lost the memory, and they never lost hope.
Twice in Psalm 42 (verses 5 and 11) the psalmist redirected his downcast soul to hope in God: “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” We can do the same.
Conover Swofford is a minister and freelance writer in Columbus, Georgia.
True hope is not a light, fluffy, or meaningless sentiment. Our hope in Christ is far deeper than our hope that it doesn’t rain today. It’s even greater than our hope for the health of our loved ones. Biblical hope is profound. Sometimes, though, we don’t take the time to delve into its depth until a crisis comes and it’s the only thing we have left.
Prayerfully use these resources to deepen your understanding of the hope that you have in Jesus.