I love thinking about hope, by Emily Owen.

Open Ears mini-conference by Zoom, 12th March 2021.

I love thinking about hope, what a wonderful word. Romans 5:5 says “Hope does not disappoint us”.

It does not disappoint us.

A lot of hope is going around at the moment, “I hope I can see my friends and family,” or “I hope I can go out for a meal soon,” but we don’t know those things will happen. If the last year has taught us anything, it’s that things we hope for don’t always happen. Maybe we get disappointed at times but the verse says, hope does not disappoint. I’m talking about hope in God, but maybe some of us here today are disappointed in God, but I want to reassure us, God is with us in our disappointment.

So I want to look at this theme of hope, and encourage us how we can hope in God wherever our starting point, disappointed or not – I want to encourage us to hope in God.

Later on, Marilyn Baker will sing a song called Held in the Hollow.

That reminds us that we are held by God, precious, safe. I don’t know if you have children in your life, I do, my sisters have children. I don’t have children myself, but I have nieces and nephews and when we could see each other, we would blow kisses to say goodnight and then we’d catch the kiss to keep it safe and the kids would go up to bed with the kiss in their hand.

And sometimes when we’re out they’d show me something, “Oh look at this!” A dirty stone or a twig but I had to keep it safe in my hand because it was special to them. Often, six months later I’d find this little twig or father in my coat pocket but they wanted them to be kept secure, they were precious to them.

So what about God’s hand? What’s in the hollow of God’s hand? Isaiah 49:16: “See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.”

That’s what’s there right now: you and it’s not just by the way, it’s saying – see, look where you are!

You are there, safe in the hollow of God’s hands.

There’s so much hope in being held, maybe we can reflect on that fact that we are held, right now, in the hollow of God’s hands, engraved, we can’t be rubbed out, we are safe. As we are held, how do we hold on to hope?

I’ve already talked about living with disappointment, but how do we hold on to hope?

Psalm 43:5 says “Put your hope in God”. Put is a very deliberate word, isn’t it? We put something on a table or shelf, it’s deliberate. So let’s see about putting our hope in God.

Hope has four letters and those letters will help us out this afternoon. I have four words to help us find our hope in God.

For H

H = Hidden

Remember that we are hidden, maybe some of us do feel hidden right now, in lockdown we can’t go out. Maybe home alone, we are unseen, we feel hidden but this does not have to mean unseen. Wherever we are – literally, emotionally, spiritually – God sees us and he knows exactly where we are.

In the Bible, in the account of Hagar (Genesis 16), she went through difficult times. She felt no one was seeing her, she ran off in the end, desperate and there, God chose to come to her and revealed his name, Jehovah Rohi, the God who sees. In the wilderness desert God said to her, I see you.

He said that to each one of us, wherever you are, we are not unseen; but we can be hidden.

One of my favourite verses is Col. 3.3 “For you died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.”

I remember, many years ago, when my goddaughter who is now 16 was very small. We took her on a picnic and of course it rained and it was windy but we decided to go anyway. So we sat down, determined to have a picnic.

Suddenly I felt her snuggling up beside me to protect herself from the wind. She then crawled under my coat – she was actually hidden between me and my coat. She was safe there. Other people walking by might not have seen her, but she and I knew she was there.

It’s the same with us and God. We can know we are hidden with God and he knows it too, God sees us, so a question for all of us: is our life hidden in God?

God wants to keep us safe. Let’s snuggle into him as close as we can.

The second letter is O

O = Open

Remember we can be open. Open-hearted means generous to others and I know for a fact that lots of people here today are very open hearted, very generous, giving, kind, and I want to ask the question slightly differently: what about opening our hearts to God?

It’s not just about giving. Be a bit selfish here: let it be about you for a minute, your own heart being open to God. If your heart is your home where you live, you might invite people into your best room but not upstairs where the mess is. Perhaps there are some places you don’t want people to go, but is there anywhere that’s off limits to God?

Is there any part of your heart that you aren’t letting God into? Living in God’s hope means that nowhere needs to be off limits. God will come into every aspect of our hearts and lives.

A verse in Proverbs 23:26 says: “My son, give me your heart”. That is God saying, it’s safe to give me your heart. Whatever it looks like, however bad you think it is, it is safe to give God our hearts.

That gives us hope.

A verse in Psalm 62:5 says, “Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him”.

I don’t know what you do when you have issues you want God’s guidance about, and you aren’t hearing the guidance. That happens to me sometimes and this verse has taught me to be in those times: give me your heart, and I wait quietly.

If I have a problem I can’t solve, I will hold it in my heart before God, not try to fix it, or rush God, just hold it before him. Try holding it before God, don’t run ahead of God, just holding the thing before God – he says, “Give me your heart and let your eyes delight in my ways”.

As I give God my heart, I do begin to delight in his ways. We can delight in his ways as we hold our hearts before him.

So we’ve had hidden, open, and the next letter is P.

P = Praise

Remember to praise God. Habakkuk 3:17-18 “Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, I will be joyful in the God of my salvation.”

A blossom was a sign that figs were coming. A fig tree with blossoms will carry figs, and in this verse, if the fig tree has no blossoms, there’s no sign that figs are on their way, let alone actual figs.

The fig tree wasn’t doing its job. Maybe some of us feel like a fig tree without blossom – we can’t do what we used to do, or what we’d like to do. We’re stuck in lockdown literally and maybe also metaphorically we can’t do what we want to be able to do.

But the verse says, despite no blossom I will be joyful, so I want to encourage us in hope to look for God every day.

I really like rainbows. I received this card from a friend, that photo was taken in South Africa.

I hope you could see the beautiful rainbow. To me, rainbows are things that happen when things were difficult. A friend of mine texted me this morning and said, I saw the weather forecast and the weather forecaster said today is a rainbow sort of day because it was going to rain, and the sun was going to shine.

I want to encourage us to make every day a rainbow sort of day, look out for his hope and remember he’s the God of our salvation. If you find it hard to find something to hope in, remember the hope of your salvation.

So we’ve had hidden, open, praise and

E = Enabled

It gives hope to know we are enabled. In John 16:33 Jesus said, “Here on Earth you will have many trials and sorrows”. I’m sure we can all agree.

“You will have many trials and sorrows, but take heart, because I have overcome the world,” and that holds so much hope, doesn’t it? Take heart, Jesus has overcome the world.

No matter what your difficulties and troubles are right now, we all have difficulties at times. I remember one time in my life I was paralysed from the waist down because of an operation I had had but gradually I began to learn to walk again – really slowly.

One day, the physiotherapist took me to the hospital gym in my wheelchair. She parked the chair by the parallel bars and told me to walk between them and I said, “There’s no way I can do that, it’s hopeless.” My legs were stick thin, I could hardly move them, but the physio crouched down to my level in the wheelchair and she said, “I think you can do this, I think you can.”

She gave me hope and I did shuffle between the bars, with her encouragement, and Jesus encourages us – I find that incredible!

He encourages each one of us individually, he says, “Take heart”. Be encouraged.

Christine read a verse in Isaiah 40:31, let me read it again.

“Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles, run and not grow weary, walk and not be faint.”

And I think that verse can be summed up in four words: You can do this.

Jesus said, “I have overcome the world”. When we have hope in him, we can face whatever comes our way. We are in his hands, we are safe.

Those are four words then:

We are hidden, we can be open, we can praise God, and we are enabled, in whatever comes our way.

Does that encourage you, Jesus saying, “I have overcome the world”? It gives me hope in my own little world and whatever we come to, Jesus says, it’s ok you can do it because I have overcome your world.

I read an email yesterday from Christian event leaders and one sentence stood out to me “Hope has a name, and his name is Jesus.”

Let’s remember to hold on to Jesus, our living hope. Remember that verse in Romans: Hope does not disappoint us.

Amen.