“And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you.” – Psalm 39:7
In the 1950’s, a psychologist named Curt Richter performed an experiment in which he placed rats inside jars of water to see how long they could swim until they drowned. Total bummer if you’re a rat (is rat CPR a thing?), but the findings revealed something Richter didn’t expect.
He ran several variations of this experiment attempting to find why some rats seemed to perish almost instantly, while others could swim for several hours or even days without drowning. The main finding of this experiment was that one group of rats, when put in a set of more hopeful conditions, were able to see a way out of their present circumstances and survive for a longer duration of time. Hopelessness, on the other hand, caused even the most healthy rats to drown rather quickly. Essentially, hope was the differentiating factor.
So what do swimming rats have to do with the Christian life? The answer is that both heavily rely on one thing: hope.
To the Christian, hope is an enduring and defining characteristic of our relationship with Jesus (1 Cor. 13:13). Because of the Gospel, we can have hope that God is sovereign, and he is at work to bring about his glory and the good of those who love him (Rom 8:28). Even when it feels like we are drowning, we can trust that God has a plan (Jer 29:11-13), and that he is with us and won’t abandon us (Deut 31:6).
As Christ-followers, we have the ability to be light in a dark world expressly because we have hope in the one who defeated death, and we believe he can do the same in our lives (1 Thess 4:13-18).
That hope is what sets us apart from the rest of the world. Hope is contagious. It’s attractive, especially if you don’t have it. In fact, Peter wrote that a believer’s hope may cause others to ask for an explanation; for “a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). Never forget, the purpose of hope is to point others to where they can find it, in the person of Jesus Christ.
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Okay, I hear you. How do we stay hopeful during dark times? How do we get hope when we don’t feel particularly hopeful? Put another way, how do we keep swimming in the dark, in the jar? Here are two ideas that can help us set our hope on Jesus:
Be honest. There’s a false impression that being hopeful is the same as being naive. That people who have joy are either unaware, or are ignoring the harsh realities of life. That’s not necessarily true. Hope is not afraid of honesty, on the contrary, it requires it. There’s no doubt that in this world, you’ll face trouble — Jesus guaranteed it — but hope sets it sights on a God that works through all things to fulfill his promises.
Get perspective. All throughout the Bible, God fulfills his promises in ways that no one could have predicted. He chose unlikely leaders, sinners, and even a terrorist named Saul to be his servants in a narrative that is bigger than you or I can see. He chose the Savior of the world to be crucified and killed. God chooses the things that we would never expect to show how big he is.
Sometimes life can feel like you’re in a cruel experiment, like drowning rats. The difference is, we can know that the God, who went to such great lengths to save us that he gave his own son, is at work even when we can’t see the outcome. Don’t give up. Find hope. Give hope. Point others to Jesus and give them an answer for the hope that is in you.
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Justin Laskowski (@justlaskowski) works on staff at Northridge Church with student & family ministries. He writes about pointing others to Jesus and connecting the Gospel to everyday life at www.justinlaskowski.com