In my most honest moments, I have to admit things seem pretty tough right now. All I have to do is look around—at my friends, family members, colleagues, neighbors, and even at myself—to see that the struggle is real. People everywhere are suffering. You might be hurting, too.
But if you are a follower of Christ, I’ve got something to tell you. I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve heard it before. It’s really important, though, so I’m going to share it with you anyway. Ready?
Our God, the creator of the universe, the Triune God made known through Jesus, is primarily in the “hope business.” God offers hope to our anxious and weary world. A quick tour of God’s word in Scripture reveals some details of what God’s promises to us:
- eternal life (John 3:16)
- renewed hearts (Ezekiel 36:26)
- new creation (Revelation 21:1)
- rest (Matthew 11:28)
- forgiveness (1 John 1:9)
- grace and salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9)
- strength (Isaiah 40:31)
God even offers us the Holy Spirit as a down payment of the hope that is yet to come (2 Corinthians 1:21-22). These are truly astonishing gifts—I mean, have you seen that list? Read it again, slowly, and imagine what this kind of glorious existence would actually be like.
The best part is that these blessings are available to us now, not just at some point in the future. Yet if this is what God intends for us, then why is our present reality often so different? For many of us, our days tend to be more hopeless than hopeful. We are often brought low by fear, worry, anger, despair, or sorrow. These are not the fruits of hope that God desires for us. So what’s missing?
Spiritual practices for hope
The key to unlocking the abundant life God has for us today is to draw near to God’s presence. We can’t manufacture hope ourselves, either through our actions or through our will. Hope is a byproduct of the time we spend with God. So how do we connect with God?
Through the centuries, Christians of all kinds have used spiritual practices to help them deepen their relationship with God. Spiritual practices are hand-on ways of living out our faith. They include common Christian activities like prayer, worship, and scripture study along with ancient disciplines like fasting or silence and solitude. These practices correlate with stewardship because they help us manage our time, encouraging us to make choices that better orient us toward God.
Spiritual practices place us in God’s presence so God can do transforming work within us. We say a practice “works” for us if it draws us into a deeper relationship with God. Not every practice works for every person, so part of the journey is discovering how God has made you and how you best connect with God. To get started, here are some practices that can help you begin to reclaim hope.
- Slow down. Open space in your schedule for God to fill. Be curious about where God might lead you. You could end up having a conversation with someone, or be in the right place at the right moment to make a difference in someone’s life.
- Be present. Learn how to be attentive to the people around you. Give them the gift of your presence by really listening to them. Make eye contact and notice what is said and also what is left unsaid. Look for opportunities to authentically affirm, encourage, and bless others.
- Notice. Pay attention to what God has done for you and for other people. Name where you’ve seen God at work in your life today or this week. Help others name the times and places where God has shown up for them.
- Pray. Lift your requests to God. Offer prayers for yourself and on behalf of others. Pray for the people you love and especially for the people you don’t. Ask God to help you see the world through spiritual eyes of faith and love.
- Be generous. Use the material gifts God has given you to meet the needs in your community or neighborhood. Practice gratitude for what you have as you share with others.
Reclaiming our hope
The hope we receive from God is not just for our own benefit. As we experience the love of God, we are encouraged to pass that love along to a hurting and desperate world.
I recently had the privilege of seeing God’s love in action. This fall, I taught a 7-week course that introduced the nuts and bolts of several spiritual practices. We spent one week on intercessory prayer—praying for others but also listening to what God desires for them rather than just our own inclinations.
Two powerful stories arose from that week. One woman was prompted to reach out to her brother whom she hadn’t spoken to for decades. She initiated contact and they had a good phone conversation that opened the door for future interaction. The tears in her eyes as she told her story said everything about the significance of that encounter.
Another woman listened to God’s nudge to connect with her estranged aunt and invite her to join the family for Christmas. The aunt accepted and plans to travel hundreds of miles to stay with her niece over the holiday. In both cases, the practice of prayer and carefully listening and responding to the movement of God’s Spirit resulted in reconciliation and hope for these families.
This Advent season, as we remember God’s nearness to us through the arrival of Jesus, we ourselves are invited to be God’s instruments of hope in the world. We’ve received an incredible gift that we can share with others. Our hope is the world’s hope. What will you do with God’s invitation?