Psalm 131: Cultivating Hope (Part 1)

Viktor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist, wrote of his years imprisoned in the horrors of Auschwitz and Dachau, describing cold, fear, pain, vermin, starvation, and exhaustion, but said he survived because he never lost hope. He also wrote of what would happen when a prisoner did lose hope: he would refuse to get out of bed, refuse to dress or wash, turning a deaf ear to his friends’ pleading and his captors’ threatening. He would simply lie in his bed until he died, having surrendered all hope.

Hope is absolutely crucial to Christians. When it weakens, the result is always the same: spiritual inertia. It’s imperative, therefore, to remember that we’re on a journey—still a long way from home—and that hope is the fuel that keeps us going. We must guard and nurture it. But what exactly is hope? Oftentimes, we’re saddled with clumsy definitions and so don’t quite understand the concept of hope. Is it to believe that anything can happen? Is it to expect that things will get better? Is it to wish for something against all odds? Is it to maintain a sunny outlook despite what happens? No, it isn’t any of those things. Simply put, to hope is to wait confidently and expectantly for what God has promised.

To begin with, this means that hope is fixed on God’s promises: “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). The Bible shows us what God has promised. He has promised eternal spiritual blessings—unconditionally (Ephesians 1:3). And he has promised present temporal blessings—conditionally (Matthew 6:33). These present-day blessings are provided based upon what he deems best for his eternal glory and our spiritual good.

Furthermore, the definition means that hope is fixed on God’s attributes: “For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him” (Psalm 62:5). There’s no hope if God isn’t immutable; his promises might be altered. There’s no hope if God isn’t sovereign; his promises might be thwarted. There’s no hope if God isn’t omniscient; his promises might be misdirected. There’s no hope if God isn’t omnipotent; his promises might be hindered. But he is all of these things— and much more. “Who in the skies can be compared to the lord? Who among the heavenly beings is like the lord?” (Psalm 89: 6). The mightiest of angels and the greatest of humans are but a shadow of a shadow in comparison to God and less than nothing in relation to him. God alone is infinite in power, wisdom, and goodness.

This kind of hope serves as a strong anchor to the soul: “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf” (Hebrews 6:19–20a). What purpose does an anchor serve? It keeps the ship steady in turbulent waters. Similarly, hope provides stability when the circumstances of life threaten to overwhelm us.

That’s why David declares in Psalm 131, “O Israel, hope in the lord from this time forth and forevermore” (v. 3). He encourages God’s people to wait confidently and expectantly for what God has promised. How? We find the answer in the earlier part of the psalm. Basically, David affirms that we must come to terms with two things. First, we must come to terms with our pride by subduing and humbling our heart (v. 1). Second, we must come to terms with God’s providence by calming and quieting our soul (v. 2). It’s impossible to wait confidently and expectantly for what God has promised when our heart is inflated and our soul is troubled.

Excerpted from Longing for Home by J. Stephen Yuille.

Tomorrow: Part 2: Subduing and Humbling the Heart

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