In Proverbs we are told that hope deferred leads to faintness of heart. In Hebrews we are told that faith brings substance to our hope.
12 Hope deferred makes the heart sick, But when the desire comes, it is a tree of life. Proverbs 13:12 (NKJV)
1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1 (NKJV)
We can look at this pithy proverb and conclude that Solomon is merely letting us know that we can get excited when we receive what we want after initial disappointment. Alternatively we could go a little deeper, which I will do here. If we have been alive any length of time we have experienced disappointment, the sense of loss when we failed to realize something we desired. Whether tied to relationships, material things, a job opportunity or a myriad of other examples, the end result is we are negatively affected by how we feel as a result.
Hope deferred needs to be acknowledged and dealt with if we are to get to the substance of things hoped for. That means facing pain or loss so that we can move past it. While this is important on an individual level, it is deeply significant on a cultural scale. Let’s look at the situation when Israel was living in a state of ‘hope deferred.’ When Jesus appeared on the scene they had no actual control over their own nation and were functionally a province of Rome. Look at the verses below.
20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.”
22 Then they said to him, “Who are you, that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?”
23 He said: “I am ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Make straight the way of the Lord,”’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”
24 Now those who were sent were from the Pharisees. 25 And they asked him, saying, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26 John answered them, saying, “I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know. John 1:20–26 (NKJV)
There are a few things here. The religious leaders, in fact the nation, was expecting the Messiah, a deliverer as promised in scripture. The Old Testament had closed with a promise of Elijah coming (Malachi 4:5-6). This Elijah figure was to prepare the way for the Lord (Isaiah 40:3). The delegation from the Pharisees asked John why he was baptizing if he was not the Christ (Messiah in Hebrew), Elijah or the Prophet. They expected a Messiah King (see Psalm 110 for example) and a Prophet like Moses to lead them (Deuteronomy 18:15-19, Acts 3:22-24). They did this while not recognizing that the Messiah and Prophet were one person.
They were living in hope deferred when Jesus arrived on the scene. What is significant for us is John’s statement, ‘there stands One among you whom you do not know.’ The answer to their hopes and dreams was there. He had been living among them for three decades and now was about to be revealed in power.
Perhaps some of you are like me. I have been living in an expectation of a significant move of the Spirit for decades. I am too young to have experienced the Jesus movement and too old to wait decades longer! I have been to many conferences. I remember over a decade ago going to one promoted with great promise. I was deeply disappointed in what actually took place but when I read the subsequent write up describing the conference I said to a friend, “I wish I had been there.” I remember going to a conference in another country in 2008 with my wife. What took place at one point was described as ‘revival.’ There were some very good things that happened at the conference but after experiencing some of what was described as revival I said to some friends that if that was where the church was going I didn’t want to be part of the church!
I won’t belabour my point. I have also over the years had deep and profound encounters with Jesus among His people, yet nothing that I would describe as revival, and I have studied a number of them. I have like many lived in hope deferred concerning a significant move of the Spirit. Now I have far fewer years ahead of me than behind me so I look more closely. This leads me to ask some questions. Is revival now standing among us? Is what many of us have interceded for among us and we do not yet see it? Are there indicators and signs? I don’t want more reports of something happening elsewhere, I want to be one giving reports of what is happening among us. I want vision like Elijah to see a great outpouring in a cloud the size of a man’s hand.
My present response? I continue to pray and look for revival and cultural transformation. At the same time I need to live out of what He has spoken to me. In the fall of 1995 while praying with some friends He spoke to my heart and said, “It is required in stewards that one be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2). So I seek to do that. I want revival but I can’t make it happen and He has His timing. Jesus came in the fullness of time and I believe the coming move of the Spirit that so many have prophesied for decades will come. What can I do while I wait? What can you do? Be found faithful. I know His relationship with me isn’t dependent on revival. It depends on my willingness to draw near to His heart on a daily basis. So while I wait for a hope deferred I can also live in the substance of continued intimacy with Jesus and knowing His heart. I can live out of something else He spoke to me decades ago, “In quietness and confidence shall be your strength” (from Isaiah 30:15). Reflecting on what He has done and spoken while waiting for more brings my heart to a place of peace and rest with the one who stands among us. Please join me in that state.