Some words are more important than others. They speak to the human heart, describe our inner longings, and rally us around a cause.
One of these words is hope — a faith-filled word that is particularly relevant during this global pandemic.
Hope is the experience of anticipating a future that is better than the present. It is to adopt a posture of thankfulness in spite of one’s troubles. To hope is to wait for something or someone new; a change, a breakthrough, a deliverance. Rather than being passive, real hope is active! It requires energy and effort to lean into a future that is not yet realised.
In the biblical narrative, several words are used to convey this idea of hope. The first is yakhal, a Hebrew word that means “to wait for.” When we hope (or yakhal) we wait expectedly for God to break-through, like when Noah waited forty days for the waters to subside. In the Psalms, we see persistent waiting, or hoping, when David cries out to YHWH: “For I hope in You, O Lord, You will answer.” (Psalm 38:15)
Another Hebrew word for hope in the Older Testament is qavah. Like many Hebrew idioms, qavah is a word picture depicting the experience of hope in a physical way. ‘Qav’ means ‘cord.’ If you stretch a cord for long enough, with enough tension, it will eventually release, which is qavah. When we hope, we are a bit like a cord on stretch, primed for release. By waiting with expectation, under tension or pressure, we are “in hope.” It is this feeling of being stretched and strained that prepares us for when God turns up to deliver us from our current situation. And when he does, when we meet Him afresh, our hope turns to joy and celebration.
Does this sound like something that we need in a pandemic? You bet!
Right now, all across the world, the Holy Spirit is raising up Christian leaders who are rallying around the word hope. If you pay attention, you will hear of various evangelical initiatives – Hope Groups, #HopeStory, Hope for the Harvest, Hope Bible studies, 90 Days of Hope – many of which have started independently by different leaders, in different places, orchestrated and coordinated by the spirit of God. The Holy Spirit is putting hope in the hearts of His people, providing a common language and a shared vision to reach lost lives with the hope-filled message of Jesus. It’s amazing!
For me, as a pastor of a small church community in Hobart, my passion for sharing “hope” began in early March this year. COVID-19 was beginning to spread across the world. Pastors were scrambling to understand and re-imagine what ecclesia might look like in a non-physical space. Supermarkets were running out of toilet paper. The panic of the pandemic was beginning to set in. In response, I found myself spending hours with God, walking in the Tassie bush, asking Jesus what our response should be. As I walked and prayed, a theological vision captured my heart, not just for my own church community, but for the Church as a whole. In particular, I was drawn to Esther 4:14, where Mordecai challenges Queen Esther: what if you have been put into a position of power and authority “for such a time as this.” In my spirit, I realised that we were entering an Esther moment – a moment of great significance – one that was not primarily about the church, but about the world. God has allowed His world to be shaken in order to prepare the hearts of people for renewal. He is calling us, as apprentices of Jesus, to look outwardly, not just inwardly in this moment. He is calling everyday Christians like you and I to reach out, proactively, to share the message of Jesus with those who need everlasting hope.
And so, unaware that I was a small puzzle piece in a bigger global jigsaw, our small church community launched a new initiative to train and equip Christians from all around Australia, to start Hope Groups.
A Hope Group is a group of 3-4 people who meet online (and now offline) each week to support each other, using a simple process that almost anyone can follow. We express what we’re thankful for, share a personal challenge, read a scripture of hope from the life of Jesus, make a plan to help others, and say a short prayer. Easy.
These groups address the three felt needs that I have observed in people during this pandemic — the need for social connection, the need to help others, and the need for spiritual meaning in times of hopelessness. Based on the Discovery Bible Study method, we have seen a tremendous interest in Hope Groups among secular Aussies who would not normally engage in religious activities, or attend a church. In my leadership team alone, we asked more than a dozen people to join a group to explore hope in Jesus, and every person said “yes!”
Part of our success (notwithstanding the centrality of prayer and reliance on the Holy Spirit) has been our use of the word “hope.” People are looking for hope, for both themselves and others, and are keen to join a group that offers hope. Rather than “read the Bible with us,” we have experienced success in inviting people to join a group to socially connect, give and receive practical help, and experience gratitude through the hope-filled stories of Jesus. Now of course, we are reading the Bible together, yet the way in which we are asking seems to soften the invitation. This is not to suggest that a Hope Group is seeker sensitive – we are overt about our love for Jesus and our passion for the Gospel – but we do so in a way that is accessible to people who are far from God and in search of meaningful community.
Simplicity and authenticity is the key. Thanks, challenge, scripture, help and prayer. That’s all you need to remember to get moving. Almost anyone can start a group, with our vision being for Hope Groups (and therefore the Gospel) to become contagious. Jesus is our hope! He waited longingly for us (yakhal) and allowed Himself to be stretched and torn like a broken cord (qavah) in order to offer us everlasting hope. How might we respond? By pointing to Him, of course!
Will you join me in sharing the hope of Jesus with a world that is shaking? In line with the GO2020 vision, will you pray for 5 friends, share your #HopeStory (personal testimony) on social media, and invite people to enter the life of an apprentice of Jesus, by starting a Hope Group?
If you are interested in learning the skills you need to know to run a Hope Group, check out the Together Network. Training is free, takes 1.5 hours to do online using Zoom, and is available multiple times each week. Alternatively, contact me to start a conversation about how we might equip your church to run Hope Groups.
Acknowledgement to The Bible Project for first showing me the Hebrew origins of Hope.
[Photo by Arthur Poulin