The civil war continued sporadically. My friend took me to see the community development project he managed in a village about two hours North of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. But for a long time, nothing much had changed. The village was caught between two opposing forces and they were unsure which way the outcome would turn. During the day, the government was in charge but at night the dominant force was the Khmer Rouge. With the future being so very uncertain, the villagers lacked hope. And without hope, working for change seemed a bit pointless. Within a year these Khmer Rouge had defected to the government: and hope began to drive a desire for development and change for the village.
International church (IC) preachers desire to inspire their churches to engage missionally in the cities in which they are located. One of the most powerful motivators is hope. But hope for what exactly? Which hope?
- Instant success?
- Lots of easy converts?
- People loved and served such that they are able to taste, see, feel and understand the Kingdom and its King?
- The opportunity to make a real contribution to the future new heaven/earth?
- A hope that is so rich, broad, deep and substantial that everyone can have an impact regardless of personal flaws and failings?
- A hope that focuses on leaving this earth and this life to go to elsewhere where singing is the primary activity?
- Hope in victory over sin?
- Prosperity and a good life or suffering as servants of the Suffering Servant?
Which hope permeates your preaching? Is it fluffy and ethereal or solid and substantial? Does it inspire imaginative vision for mission with a hope and a future for the context in which your people live and work? In particular, does it bring concrete clarity as to how your church can missionally engage in word and deed? Will your people see how the Kingdom brings tangible hope for the real issues being faced by persons and societies?
Whatever it is, however well developed or not, please have no doubt that hope is one of the most powerful motivators for mission engagement.
Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things.
In the musical “Annie”, Annie is asked how she survived in the appalling circumstances of orphanage in which she lived. She responded with a song of hopes and dreams for the future, “Tomorrow”.
The main character in the movie “The Shawshank Redemption”, Andy Dufresne, makes this statement to his friend, “Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”
For decades now, people have attended performances of the musical version of “Les Misérables”. Hope is a profoundly strong theme throughout culminating in a passionate declaration of the drums of the future sounding out hope in images reminiscent of Isaiah.
Hope matters. It matters a lot. For every single human being, expectations for the future shape the present, whether pessimistic or optimistic, detailed or vague, developed or just assumed without much conscious thought. This affects everything: attitudes, lifestyle, priorities, what they live for, how they treat others. Everything is affected. “Hope and hopelessness shape present reality.” “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” (Proverbs 13:12).
Anthony Kelly represents many as he explores hope. He features Jesus as functioning with a “subversive imagination” in that “He imagined the world otherwise” and served towards that world to come (p. 182). The Gospels portray Jesus as embodying and practicing a vision for the future. Hope, as Kelly describes it, is far more than mere optimism. “Hope operates in a world of meaning and values. It has a conscience and an intelligence that mere optimism lacks” (p. 5). Hope “focuses on what is truly important” and “is not mere wishing for something more. It is a conduct of life.” (p. 6. Emphasis original.).
“Hope inspires action. It gives vigour and buoyancy to intelligence. It engenders a deep moral sense and points in the direction of a more passionate self-involvement in the making of the world. Hope’s imagination and deepest feelings resist all forms of cultural depression. It enables one to risk even life itself for the greater good of oneself or others. It is capable of taking a stand with the hopeless. Hope anticipates a future fulfillment that is yet to be given.” (p. 6)
The work of EFICOR (The Evangelical Fellowship of India Commission on Relief) is described by CB Samuel during his time as Director (1985-2001) as, development work driven by hope. He concludes that hope is crucial if people in difficult circumstances, and with limited capacities, are to make serious efforts to overcome. When everything is bad, hope is all the poor have. Hope has the capacity to drive their history. So, within the constraints of staff capacity and opportunity, the poor were helped to see the hope of a renewed world in the coming Kingdom of God. As this hope developed substance and detail, so people were encouraged to imagine what their own context might be like if such a hope was fulfilled in the future. By fleshing out how everything would be different in such a renewal, people were then able to identify mission and development practices that would move the community in the direction of that hope. God’s work towards the future utilizes the church as His instrument of change. Mission in EFICOR of word and deed was fashioned eschatologically wherever possible even as the range of more standard development factors in theology and the created order also informed mission.
Hope is fundamental to being human. Bauckham and Hart affirm, “Hope comes close to being the very heart and centre of a human being.” Hope is at the heart of human motivation for constructive engagement. One of Bosch’s mission elements is “Mission as Action in Hope” as he argues for an eschatological dimension for mission.
With hope having such a strong motivating effect, it is not surprising that those with a well-developed hope regard it as a key factor in the design of Christian mission. For each of these, as for Kelly, the impact is not determined by a selective reading of Scripture but by an expanded vision that embraces all from the created order to Christology and redemption, to the Kingdom of God, and to the fulfillment of the Kingdom in new heaven/earth. “… our vision of the future molds and determines the content of our mission.”
Out of your preaching, do people get stirred with hope for the Kingdom fulfilled?
Love: the best of love is rich with hope.
Consider our God. A good friend and I recently were discussing the teleological character of all of Scripture. That is, everything is caught up in, and shaped by, God’s ultimate future plans for His creation and His people. The narrative that begins in Genesis 1:1 is eschatological in direction and purpose. Yet, our God is also the one who does all things out of love. In all things, God loves towards the future.
God’s person and work are not divided into distinct categories or phases of history. Each manifestation of God emerges out of and carries with it whatever has been before. The creation was always eschatological in orientation; it always had a teleological direction and the redemptive work of God in Christ’s death and resurrection was, and is, an essential and pivotal moment in history that makes eschatological hope real. Every providential act of God in sustaining the creation is also redemptive and eschatological. Love and the way of the cross in the Biblical narrative are deeply embedded in hope. Consequently, all mission engagement facilitated by eschatological hope, inextricably requires love and sacrifice in action informed by the wealth of knowledge that comes from creation and new creation, and from the Kingdom promised and the Kingdom fulfilled in the New Jerusalem.
Consider the text. Hope has practical consequences. Colossians 3:1-4:6 specifies many instructions that follow from being heavenly minded. Paul may have written in Colossians with a more realized eschatology but the hope of a future united heaven and earth (Colossians 1:15-20) makes these instructions even more appropriate for people who live with such hope. For Jesus, love-infused hope was a significant factor in His motivation and in His understanding of His mission (Hebrews 12:1-2). Hope and endurance do not function in a vacuum but draw God’s people into the character and work of God in Christ. Here love abounds, and eschatological purpose is a constant presence.
Love is “because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.” (Colossians 1:4-5, cf. Romans 5:5). The faith, hope and love trilogy utilized by Paul intertwines these three implying that one without the other two is to misunderstand all three (1 Corinthians 13:13, 1 Thessalonians 1:3, 5:8). Hope drives and empowers faith even as faith gives birth to hope (Hebrews 11:1-12:3). These concepts are not narrow and precise independent factors, but three equally essential and integrated consequences of a Spirit-filled and Christ-oriented discipleship.
Paul weaves together his mind-boggling vision of creation’s hoped-for liberation with the certainty of this hope in the love of God that cannot be defeated (Romans 8:15-39). We ought not be surprised that hope radically shapes Paul’s theology; he was steeped in hope even before Christ re-focused this hope (Acts 26:4-8). We know how much hope inspired the prophets’ expectations of the Kingdom when Messiah came. The piety of the Psalms is likewise hope-filled.
God the author of hope.
How well, out of your preaching, do people know God? He is the God of hope (Romans 15:13) who works through the Holy Spirit to generate hope within us (Romans 5:5, 15:13, Galatians 5:5). Paul prays that hope would increase (Romans 15:13, Ephesians 1:18, 2 Thessalonians 2:16). Does your preaching inspire your people to pray that the Spirit would increase hope?
Hope is centered on God Himself; it is far from just having an optimistic personality or wishful thinking: and God brings content to our hope. The Old Testament Kingdom promises for both Israel and the nations are foundational for understanding the hope that comes with Jesus. Jesus’ resurrection brings hope for resurrection for us, and this hope embraces the new life of the Kingdom, and the glory and inheritance therein for us.
If hope so strongly flavours the narrative of the Scriptures, what is the substance of this hope? What do we look forward to and is this expectation clear and strong enough to shape all we do?
How strongly does hope pervade your preaching? Are you ensuring your people see enough of the future to inspire them to live hopefully in the present? Do they have vision? Does your preaching give people enough clarity as to what God is working towards such that their own work is driven by this same vision and hope? Remember, in ICs there are a mix of people with quite a variety of assumptions. Unless you build up a clear substantial hope, they will hear your references to the future within their assumptions.
Consider these diverse options (each with many variations) for how preachers represent hope, what vision for the future does each present?
- Focus just on the present (responsibilities and blessings), or the past, and give little attention to the future.
- Present only a doom and gloom future for all of human society and this earth as Christians depart permanently for heaven.
- Refer only to heaven, often in quite ethereal and narrow spiritual terms.
- Feature new creation in earthy, holistic terms.
- Express hope as a version of nationalistic fervour, buying into a particular political ideology with all its socio-economic values and assumptions such as individualism or socialism.
- Look towards the transformation of all things in the Kingdom of God fulfilled.
- Cast a vision of escaping this world, abandoning it to eventual total destruction.
How are we to present the hope in Revelation 21 for a new heaven and earth? And what does this mean anyway? The constant theme of Scripture is that God’s Genesis’ vision for the best the creation can be, with human participation in the process, has not been abandoned by God. The Kingdom is about this vision, expressed as new heaven and earth in Isaiah and Revelation.
Credibility in any world-view or system of beliefs, increasingly for so many, requires a serious engagement with the major issues of our times. For hope to be taken seriously, it must bring hope to the mega-issues that currently are mostly feeding fear and pessimism. What is God doing about such things? Does He have a plan? Will He put all to right? What about the multiple expressions of violence, the corrupt and inept world of political leadership, the growing gap between rich and poor, the massive environmental and climate issues that increasingly have impact on everyone, the clash of cultures, and the growing xenophobia as migration in all its forms keeps on increasing? And woven into these huge social issues are the personal ones of brokenness, failure, shame, fear, sorrow, selfishness as well as deep longings for all that is good.
A Gospel of credibility is a Gospel of hope. This is a Gospel which features the great work of God through Jesus and the Kingdom to restore, redeem, renew and transform “all things”. All creation liberated, all things reconciled to God. The totality of life made suitable for the joining together of heaven and earth. The whole earth, and all of human society, made holy for the permanent presence of God and the Lamb. This is also a Gospel that calls persons and communities to faith in Jesus that they might be included in this global work of God.
Hope beyond the immediate.
Our instant-obsessed culture finds it harder to appreciate just how multi-generational is the work of God. Too many incline towards evaluating the worth of missional effort by how quickly it can be achieved. God gives the growth and utilizes as many as he wishes in doing so (1 Corinthians 3:5-9). We would do well to ponder how our God sees our work.
“When we think about eschatological continuity, we should not think only in terms of the work of isolated individuals, but also of the cumulative work of the whole human race. The work of each individual contributes to the “project” in which the human race is involved. As one generation stands on the shoulders of another, so the accomplishments of each generation build upon those of the previous one” (Volf 1990:31).
There is no fast-food knowledge of the future.
Only one way works when it comes to ensuring hope pervades our preaching. This is the way of study and learning. We need a sufficiently detailed and comprehensive vision of the Kingdom of God to get this into the DNA of how we process all theology; and how we preach every sermon. Herein lies the problem. Are we preachers prepared to do such a depth of study? Are we prepared to work our way through the narrative God has caused to be written down for our learning? Will we commit to reading the wealth of good materials already published on this narrative of the Kingdom? Yet, such publications are only ever summations of the vast wealth of Kingdom material from Genesis to Revelation. The only way is patient attention to Biblical detail, not selectively but comprehensively, in each phase of the narrative. Build upon God’s vision for creation in Genesis and see how Scripture returns so frequently to this vision despite the necessity along the way for God to deal with sin and all its consequences.
Obviously, such diligence in study should never be in isolation from a life-experience of learning. Every moment, and every experience, is rich with potential for theological learning; love, heartache, sunsets, listening to the stories of others, serving the poor, struggling in prayer, music, gardening, meditation, explaining the Gospel to sceptics, the still small voice of the Spirt within, and a multitude of other diverse experiences flesh out our theological depth bringing maturity and substance. But, for the preacher who desires to routinely integrate the Kingdom message of hope into the DNA of every sermon, there is no substitute for study.
The best of preaching is saturated with deep passion. The richer our knowledge and appreciation of the hope Jesus brings in His Kingdom, the more this hope will engage our hearts and souls. With such engagement, the content we proclaim more readily will impact the whole person for each listener. Your dedication to study as a preacher is one of the best things you can do to stir up hope-filled passion in others. After all, the Spirit’s sword is the Word of God.
The narrative of the Kingdom begins in Genesis 1-2 and builds up gradually through covenant promises, through hard experience, through law and poetry and Psalms, and then through the multiple ways the prophets express this hope for Israel and the nations. Jesus and the apostles flesh out what this means in the inauguration of this Kingdom in Jesus’ first advent and its completion in His return. In the meantime, it grows gradually as several parables of Jesus indicate.
How will you search out this Kingdom vision? Unless we consciously strive otherwise, we will read through the lens of the subconscious values and priorities of our culture. With what eyes will you read the text?
- Social culture or Christian culture, the problem is the same. Most of us will assume an individualist lens for reading – and we will find much to justify such a reading in the Bible’s material on personal salvation.
- Others will focus more on personal spirituality and again find plenty of good material. But if we stop here we will not see the extent to which the transforming presence of the Kingdom is so completely comprehensive.
- We also need to read the narrative with social eyes, especially tuned in to God’s passion for a society of justice and peace in which the poor and powerless are exalted and blessed. We see communities and cities in which holiness fills all relationships, all work, and all culture. Social realities include economics and politics, and all the other ways societies function. There is considerable Biblical material for such a reading.
- Then there is the lens of land, earth and creation so that we might appreciate just how much the Kingdom is a symbiotic package deal in which humankind, non-human creation (including animals) and God Himself are reconciled together in new heaven and earth.
- A further lens is the passion of God for nations so that ultimately all nations can take their place in the new creation of new heaven and earth. Here is a vision of nation-building though of a very different kind to the ways of the world. A comprehensive vision of the Kingdom is the only way we can begin to see how God’s ways of nation-building are so important, and so very different.
- Spiritual powers of many kinds, and their impact on human persons and societies, is a further perspective to be explored. We see how much the downfall of Satan is a key factor in the Kingdom’s presence and growth. So, Paul addresses the impact of radical change on the “basic principles of life” and the “principalities and powers” that play such a significant role in the shaping of human society and life.
- The creativity of God from day one generates an appreciation of just how much God gains pleasure from beauty, music, art, poetry, and so on. Honoring Him requires a lens of beauty and creativity for a further reading of the Kingdom narrative.
- Woven into the best of all that the Kingdom brings is the refining work of God. His final judgement will remove all evil and sin, all that is beyond redemption and purification. In each of the lens we just noted, there is much that needs the sanctifying work of God before it can be accepted into the presence of God. Also in each lens are persons, powers, and various entities, that will be excluded; exiled permanently from the Kingdom. This refining work of God is a further essential lens for the reading of Scripture.
Finally, there is the lens of the Kingship of the Kingdom. The rule of God from the very beginning and its emergence into the rule of Jesus who has now been exalted as worthy to rule as Lord of heaven and earth; worthy to unlock the scroll of the Kingdom and its completion. He is “both Lord and Messiah” (Acts 2:36) to whom has been given “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18).
We see in Scripture what we are looking for. We need multiple lenses that our eyes may be fully opened to the marvels of the hope of the Kingdom. It is imperative that we learn together to see much more comprehensively than our own cultures allow.
Hope is worthy of more than just being the subject of an occasional sermon; this will not generate a deep hope in your people. Real hope fills everything, renews all perspectives, shapes every sermon, gives direction for all application, stirs up deep passion for the vision of the Kingdom completed no matter the passage or topic of the sermon. Sometimes more so, sometimes less, but once Kingdom hope gets into the whole mindset of the preacher, every sermon will be different.
Preaching hope brings three very significant changes to the people of God. First, it liberates. It brings freedom to be much less burdened by the present realities. This liberation reduces the extent to which life can be bogged down in everyday practicalities and hardships. Secondly, hope makes people less tolerant of trivialities; especially those that often seem to preoccupy churches!! Be warned, hope can be hard to contain!! Thirdly, hope gives direction and purpose for life, for work, for relationships, for prayer, for serving the poor, for caring for the creation, for explaining the Gospel, for putting the Gospel into practice in the multiple practices of mission. And because hope is born of God, is of God, is His work and purpose, we simply cooperate with Him: and this means rest from a works-centered, result-based ministry.
The best of hope, well understood, inspires missional practice. The more hope has substance, gets into the detail of life, and enables people to see something of how God is addressing the personal, social and environmental issues of the day, the more God’s people can figure out missional engagement. The best of hope is earthy, and rich with the full potential of being human. This is hope that declares that the whole of personal and social brokenness and longing is on the Kingdom agenda. This is a hope that is well utilized by the Spirit to drive God’s people into mission.
What will you do to ensure Jesus’ vision for the Kingdom in new heaven/earth so fills your mind and soul that every time you preach, people hear hope?
 Christian, Jayakumar, 1999. God of the Empty Handed: Povert, Power and the Kingdom of God, Monrovia, CA: MARC. p. 138.
 Kelly, Anthony, 2006: Eschatology and Hope, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.
 Interview with C.B. Samuel, 20 April 2012.
 Richard Bauckham& Trevor Hart, 2000: “The Shape of Time.” Fergusson, David & Sarot, Marcel (Eds), The Future as God’s Gift: Explorations in Christian Eschatology, Edinburgh: T&T Clark. 41-72, p. 60. See also Richard Bauckham& Trevor Hart, 1999: Hope Against Hope: Christian Eschatology at the Turn of the Millennium. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. Their extensive discussion on the place of hope in human experience also builds upon contributions from Bloch, Steiner and Moltmann. In other words, there is a considerable literature that explores the essential nature of hope for human flourishing that we are not able to indulge in at this time.However, much of this exploration comes out of Western contexts. If hope truly is so much at the heart of being human, how does it manifest in isolated mono-cultural communities where nothing changes generation by generation, in cyclical rather than linear cultures, or in cultures that are fatalistic such as those that believe the present cannot change due to Karma?
 David J Bosch, 1991: Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, p. 498-510. “We do distinguish between hope for the ultimate and perfect on the one hand, and hope for the penultimate and approximate, on the other. We make this distinction under protest, with pain, and at the same time with realism.” p. 510.
 Vinay Samuel & Chris Sugden, 1999, “God’s Intention for the World.” Vinay Samuel & Chris Sugden (Eds), Mission as Transformation: A Theology of the Whole Gospel, Oxford: Regnum, p. 192.
 If the whole of the New Testament narrative is eschatologically driven, both realized and in anticipation of the Parousia, then hope must be a major factor in the shaping of life, church and mission. Hope is an integral factor in all of the practical expressions described or prescribed in the New Testament with the church itself being a serious expression in its everyday practice of the already-but-not-yet Kingdom.
 Romans 4:18, 2 Corinthians 3:12, Philippians 3:13-14, 3:20-4.1, 1 Thessalonians 3:13, 1 Timothy 4:9-10, Hebrews 11:1-12:3, 1 Peter 3:15, 2 Peter 3:11, 14, 1 John 3:3.
 Note the extensive references of Jesus to the present yet future Kingdom of God.
 Note: Love “is a foretaste of the ultimate reality. Love is not merely the Christian duty; it is the Christian destiny” N.T. Wright, 2003: The Resurrection of the Son of God, London: SPCK, p. 296.
 Romans 5:1-5, 1 Corinthians 13:13, Colossians 1:1-5, 1 Thessalonians 1:3, 5:8.
 See also Matthew 12:21, Luke 24:21, Acts 2:25-28, 26:6-7, 28:20, Romans 4:18, 15:4, 12,
 Psalms 9:18, 33:18, 22, 39:7, 42:5, 11, 43:5, 62:5, 65:5, 69:6, 71:5, 14, 78:7, 119:43, 49, 74, 81, 114, 116, 147, 166, 130:7, 131:3, 146:5, 147:11.
 Matthew 12:21, Luke 24:21, Acts 24:15, 26:6, Romans 15:12, 15:13, 1 Corinthians 15:19, 2 Corinthians 1:7, 1:10, Ephesians 1:12, Colossians 1:27, 1 Thessalonians 1:3, 1 Timothy 1:1, 4:10, 5:5, 6:17, Titus 1:2, 2:13, 1 Peter 1:3, 1:13, 1:21, 1 John 1:3.
 See note 10 above.
 Acts 23:6, 24:15, 1 Peter 1:3, 1:21.
 Romans 8:18-25, Galatians 5:5, Ephesians 1:18, Colossians 1:5, 1:27, Titus 3:7, 1 Peter 1:3-5, 1:13, 1 John 3:3.