Over the last couple of years, the question, What are we hoping for? has been an important one to chew on. We each have a multiplicity of good and right hopes. We’ve been hoping that the pandemic will come to an end, that restrictions will be alleviated, and that church life will return to normal.
Perhaps your hope has been to continue in the bold work of reaching the lost—discipling people and planting churches. Perhaps we’ve been hoping to see parents or grandparents again, to safely hug those we love, to enjoy lifted travel restrictions. And perhaps, on a larger level, our hope has been for a less angry and divided society, or for leadership we can follow, respect, and trust.
These hopes may be entirely good, but they’re shortsighted. They’re only foothills compared to the mountain of hope the Bible sets out for us. When our focus is only on the foothills, we might be tempted to wave the white flag and give up.
What are you hoping for in 2022? Be honest. My battle over these last 24 months has been to make sure I don’t lose sight of the mountain—that my little hopes don’t end up eclipsing my big hope.
Hope Like the Thessalonians
As Paul writes his first letter to the church in Thessalonica, the idea of hope is at the end of each chapter (1 Thess. 1:10, 2:19, 3:13, 4:14–18, and 5:23). It’s never far from the surface; just scratch a little and hope is always there.
God worked powerfully in this church; they persevered in his strength and shared the message of Jesus even through opposition (1 Thess. 1:6, 1:8, 2:14–16). Indeed, they were a community birthed in opposition (Acts 17:5–9) and so, from day one, the hope of Jesus’s return shaped them. They knew Jesus would come back.
Paul uses three words to describe the Thessalonians that we would do well to consider at the start of a new year: “. . . you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:9b–10, emphasis mine). Like the Thessalonians, we are to be turners, servers, and waiters.
Repentance is a 180-degree action: we turn from something in repentance and we turn to God in faith. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event and a daily occurrence. As John Calvin put it, our human hearts are perpetual idol factories. Because of our bent toward self, we need to be forever aware of what captures our affections and play constant whack-a-mole with our idols.
We get duped again and again into thinking they can offer us the life and joy and reward they promise. But whether health, family, followers, comfort, kids, or ministry fruit, they will not satisfy. Idols won’t keep us going; we must turn from them and to God. Because of our bent toward self, we need to be forever aware of what captures our affections and play constant whack-a-mole with our idols. Click To Tweet
The Thessalonians are also servers—they’ve turned from dead idols to serve the living God. Human beings are all servers, but our natural knee-jerk service is to ourselves. Two people can do the same thing for two very different reasons: one to serve God, with a desire to make him look good, the other to serve self, with a desire to make himself look good. It’s true in life generally and also in ministry—we act as glory thieves seeking to take what God rightfully deserves and make it about us.
Obviously, motives on this side of Jesus’s return will always be mixed. But perhaps a good question to ask at the start of 2022 is: Even in my ministry, how much do I serve myself, and how much do I serve Christ?
The Thessalonians waited. They waited because they knew Jesus was coming back. That firm future shaped their present life. Jesus’s return was not a theological idea that made little difference to daily life. It was a real comfort that fueled their faithful living each day. They knew Jesus had been raised and so they knew he would return to rescue and bring justice. Hope kept them going. Jesus’s return was not a theological idea that made little difference to daily life. It was a real comfort that fueled their faithful living each day. Click To Tweet
This brings us full circle. Especially at the start of a new year, it’s right to ask, What has our hope been? What will we hope for in 2022? Perhaps too many of us, like me, have set our short-sighted hope in the foothills and lost sight of the glorious mountain of our Savior’s return. Good health, lifted restrictions, seeing family, and ministry fruitfulness are all excellent hopes—but they must be kept in their proper place in the foothills.
So, what are you hoping for? In the new year, “set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:13). As we fix our eyes on Jesus, looking to his return and holding all other hopes loosely, we’ll have Spirit-filled strength to press on in ministry.