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Five weeks of marriage counseling with Bill and Margie seemed to be bearing the sweet spiritual fruit every biblical counselor prays for. Christ-exalting love and unifying joy were beginning to sprout on their once fruitless and withering sprig of a marriage. To my delight, the anger, bitterness and distrust that drove them to the brink of divorce were falling away like so many shriveled leaves on a rejuvenating vine. It was truly a beautiful thing to behold. But then, all at once, in a self-consumed moment of idolatrous desire, it all seemed to evaporate before their eyes. Now they were sitting in my office defeated, dejected, and ready to quit.

Biblical counselors interact with scenarios like this routinely. In fact, we have come to expect that as weary saints fight for joy against the world, the flesh, and the devil, the outcome will not always be triumph. We understand that personal advances often emerge from the valley of defeat — sometimes repeated defeats. Moreover, experience and Scripture has taught us that God’s word is sufficient to address every problem of the heart and his Spirit delights to make us “more than conquerors.”1 But how do we help struggling friends like Bill and Margie find the courage it will to take another step through the thick, polluted muck of their own failures and sins in the valley of defeat? More importantly, what provision has God made to empower them to make the hard choices necessary to get them back on the right path? The answer is found in one simple word: hope.

 

Defining Biblical Hope

What is Hope? Hope is one of the most precious, life-imparting themes in the Bible.  It is spoken of 72 times in the Old Testament and more than 80 in the New. So rich is the meaning of this word, in fact, that its fullest expression apparently requires the use of several different biblical terms. One expert in biblical languages estimates that, “More than a dozen Hebrew words may translate the term ‘hope’ but each has its own nuances.”2 Like a multifaceted diamond glistening in the full light of day, biblical hope reflects the mercy of God with a broad spectrum of dazzling colors.

The Hebrew word Tiqwah, for example, expresses the notion of hope in a way that emphasizes invincible security in time of trouble. It’s a word that literally means “a rope.”3 I imagine a two-man climbing team ascending the 7,500 foot granite monolith, El Capitan, in the high Sierras. What makes the prospect of reaching the summit achievable rather than irrational is the life-sustaining cord attached to each man’s harness. At first blush the feat appears impossible – even foolish! But the rope, securely anchored to the immutable rockface, imparts a confidence that transcends fear. So it is for weary Christians in the valley of defeat. It may not be obvious at first, but in every unsettling trial God’s “rope” of divinely durable hope secures them and bids them to resume the climb.

Within the biblical narrative of the Old Testament we witness this kind of hope in action. David, whose life was constantly in peril, often sang to the Lord such lines as, “You are my hope (Tiqwah); O Lord God, you are my confidence from my youth” (Ps 71:5). I suspect on that fateful day in Socoh of Juda when the youthful, sling-wielding shepherd boy plunged into singular combat against Philistia’s Giant, friend and foe alike thought him mad. But in David’s mind, death-defying courage was the need of the moment and he believed God, his Hope, would keep him secure no matter how unlikely the victory.

Another Old Testament term for hope (yohil) means “to patiently wait.”4 While the previous word points to our security in times of trouble, this word lifts our spirits with the promise of future deliverance. No matter how severe the trial, we may rest in the confidence that help and rescue are on the way. Once again, David’s life bears witness to such hope.

Most famously, Israel’s ancient king employs this word for hope when, in a moment of godly introspection during a particularly vexing trial, he reasons with himself, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (Ps 42:5-6).

Many times, David found himself surrounded by enemies. No doubt he was often tempted to think that the Lord had forgotten him (42:9). But deep in his heart he knew it wasn’t true. Time and again the Lord had faithfully come to the rescue, and he would do so again. Therefore, even in the clutches of a particularly dark night of the soul, David found hope in God, his deliverer.

Hope, however, is not exclusively an Old Testament theme. There is one principle Greek word for divine hope in the New Testament that has buoyed the souls of beleaguered Christians for two millennia. The noun form of this word, elpis, refers to “something hoped for.”5 The verb form, elpizo, means “to expect.”6  We find examples of both in Paul’s letter to the Romans, where he writes, “For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees?” (Rom 8:24).

 

Hope Looks to the Future

The dominant characteristic of hope is its future orientation. It’s the nature of hope to look forward with positive expectation. As Paul asks rhetorically in the passage above, “Who hopes for what he already sees?” Of course, Paul was speaking about the hope of our final experience of salvation in the presence of the Father. In this hope we were saved7 and for this hope we patiently wait.8 This kind of hope is not a groundless wish, dream, fantasy, or ambition. It springs from simple, practical faith in the immutable promise of God who declared, “whoever believes in [the Son of God] will not perish but have eternal life.”9

This promise looks to the ultimate future. But there are many promises that speak to the believer’s immediate future as well. For example, God has repeatedly promised to never leave us or forsake us,10 to grant wisdom when we ask,11 to meet all our material needs,12 to satisfy our souls,13 to answer our prayers,14 to forgive our sins,15 to grant us the power to resist temptation,16 and to progressively conform us to the image of Jesus Christ17 (just to name a few). All these promises are future oriented. They tell us what God will do when we choose to trust his promises through practical obedience.

 

The Priority of Ministering Hope

It is not difficult to see the importance of biblical hope in counseling conversations. There is no good reason why the setback Bill and Margie have experienced has to be the end of their story. Since they belong to God in Christ, their situation is not hopeless. They simply need to be reminded of those precious and powerful promises of God that speak specifically to their present circumstance. They may be experiencing the practical consequences of failure to trust in the Lord, but God’s rope still holds them secure, and their deliverer is poised and ready to swoop in and rescue them once again without condemnation and full of Fatherly love. Contrary to counsel they would certainly have received elsewhere, Bill and Margie don’t need a megadose of self-confidence. They need help seeing the folly of self-confidence and the wisdom of hanging the entire weight of their lives upon the promises of God. As the wisest man in history once counseled, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not only your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your path straight.18

Somewhere in the history of ACBC the brothers who developed the counselor’s Case Report form wisely included the following question: “How was hope or encouragement given in this session?”19 To be sure, it’s important to speak to our struggling brothers and sisters with tender words that cheer, reassure, and encourage. But what Bill and Margie need more than anything as they slouch in their chairs before me this day is for a wise friend to administer biblical hope that’s anchored in nothing less than the mountain of the Almighty. They don’t know it yet, but I am confident that by faith in God’s eternal promises, these dear saints will soon be filled with the kind of divine hope that enables weary saints to ascend from the valley of defeat.

In the next post I hope to discuss the need to help Bill and Margie identify the false hopes that may have contributed to sabotaging their former progress, thus landing them in the valley of defeat. The Bible has much to say about the danger of false promises that subtly arrest our hearts to turn us away from the simplicity of devotion to Christ and the wisdom of his word. The binary themes of true and false hope in the Bible can serve as a practical paradigm for helping people grow into the likeness of their Redeemer.

 

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Footnotes:

  1. Romans 8:37
  2. Myers, p. 500
  3. Tiqwah  Brown, Driver, & Briggs, p. 876
  4. Brown, Driver, & Briggs, p. 876
  5. Louw, p. 82
  6. Swanson, p. 1827
  7. Romans 8:24
  8. Romans 8:25
  9. John 3:16
  10. Psalm 23:4; Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5
  11. James 1:5
  12. Philippians 4:19
  13. Psalm 63:5; 65:4; 103:5; 107:9
  14. Matthew 6:6; Mark 11:24; Luke 18:1
  15. 1 John 1:9
  16. 1 Corinthians 10:13
  17. Romans 8:29
  18. Proverbs 3:5-6
  19. ACBC Case Report form, question #10

 


Dan Kirk is the pastor of Calvary Bible Church in Fort Worth where he has served since 1994. He and his wife, Christine, have been married for thirty years and by God’s super-abounding grace have raised seven children. Dan is a graduate of Word of Life Bible Institute (N.Y), Tennessee Temple University, Dallas Theological Seminary, and The Masters University from which he received his Master of Biblical Counseling degree. He serves as the director of Calvary Biblical Counseling Ministries and Training Center, and is the vice president of the Fort Worth Biblical Counseling Association. He is also a certified biblical counselor and has been a member of ACBC since 2008.


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