Hope. The expectation and trust that good things will happen.
The Scientific Definition of Hope
In the world of psychology, the definition of hope involves three things – goals, agency and pathways. Essentially, it is having a vision for what is possible, a pathway (plan) to change, and the motivation to get there.
Hope is what picks us up and keeps us going. It’s the power we need to persevere when things look bleak.
This all sounds lovely in the theoretical realm. If we can just increase our level of hope we can envision a better future, make a plan, and keep working until we get there. A strong hope that our efforts will pay off and we will someday arrive at that place we want to be can be powerful in the midst of fears, failures, and personal flaws.
The Limits of Scientific Theory
But real life doesn’t always play well with our theoretical definitions.
If part of hope is having personal agency, the feeling of having a sense of control over our actions and outcomes, how do we keep hope in situations where we have little agency?
Where is hope in the midst of deep suffering?
The scientific definition of hope is all about me. I feel optimistic that my future can get better. I come up with pathways and plans to get me from where I am to where I want to be. And I have confidence in myself that motivates me into forward action. These are great qualities and beliefs for an individual to have.
But we are humans. We don’t control everything. And even if we did, we still have weaknesses and failures that can hold us back from the life we want to live.
What is Hope for Christians?
This is why, as Christians, our hope is not in ourselves. Our hope is in God alone.
The Bible talks about hope more than 130 times.
We are instructed to put our hope in the Lord. “The Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love” (Psalm 147:11, NIV).
“Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31, NIV).
A Christian view of hope does not rely on me.
I feel optimistic that my future can get better because I trust in God’s unfailing love for me that won’t harm me, but will give me hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11).
God has plans and pathways for me. I can trust in the Lord instead of leaning on my own understanding, knowing that when I submit to God, God will make my paths straight (Proverbs 3:5-6).
I don’t have to find confidence in myself alone because I know that God’s grace is sufficient. God’s power is made perfect in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9, Isaiah 40:29).
A Christian definition of hope doesn’t leave us to figure it out and muscle our way through alone. I know myself and I know that I constantly mess up. If my ability to hope has to rely entirely on myself and what I can control, I worry for my future. I’m just not good enough.
God’s Promise of Hope
The Creator of the Universe has promised to go before me, to be with me. The Maker of galaxies will not fail me, and will never forsake me (Deuteronomy 31:6-8).
I can hope, not because of my abilities, but because of who God is and how great God’s love is for me.
God loves you just as much. Unconditionally, completely, overwhelmingly, and eternally. There is nothing that you can ever do, think, or be that will ever hinder God’s great love for you.
You are not alone. You don’t have to hope in yourself. Place your hope in the One who formed you from nothing, the One who made you exactly as you are and called it “very good”. Trust in the One who made all your weaknesses, flaws, and imperfections on purpose in order to show you just how great and powerful God’s love and grace truly is.
God has a vision for your future that is good. God will lead you on the right path to fulfill all that God has uniquely called you to. And God will strengthen you and help you every step of the way.
Today’s Action Step
One of the issues that I have with placing my hope in God is trusting my own ability to accurately know God’s will for me. I think that I know, but what if I’m wrong? He doesn’t send burning bushes to give people specific instructions these days. Instead, God sent us the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit doesn’t tend to shout or give us any kind of audible. Instead, we have a still, small voice. Take some time to listen to that internal voice of guidance. It takes practice and awareness and you may never be fully confident that you’ve got it right.
But here’s what I know. The Bible tells us stories about times when God sent a whale, a donkey, a burning bush, and a bright light to let people know they were on the wrong path. The Holy Spirit will not let you keep walking the wrong way. Trust that God is big enough to get your attention and loves you enough to guide you in the way you should go, even if you misunderstand the first time.
Learn how hope fits into the HERO framework of PsyCap in episode 16 of the Working Mom’s Balance podcast.
The Science of Virtue: Why Positive Psychology Matters to the Church by Mark R. McMinn – this was one of my “textbooks” for my Master’s program. Some of the thoughts about hope from this post come from this book if you want to take a deeper dive.
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