Faith, Hope, and Prayer

Dan Lenington on December 13, 2013

The relationship between these three words is sometimes the subject of frustration among Christians. It is related to the clash of the so called optimist and pessimist. The pessimist likes to call himself a realist basing his expectations primarily on experience. He feels that it is his duty to bring the dreamer back to reality so that he won't set himself up for a huge disappointment. The optimist feels like the pessimist creates his own disappointing experience by not expecting anything more, a self fulfilling prophecy if you will. I believe that neither of these positions is entirely accurate by itself. In other words, there is a call for balance, and I believe Scripture can give us the right perspective.

I have been called an optimist over the years, and that label was largely accurate. I didn't like the negativity of those who always assume the worst. Some of these people would tell me that if you assume the worst, then when the worst happens you won't be surprised. You will be mentally prepared for it. If, however you assume the worst and it doesn't happen, you will be pleasantly surprised. This may seem like a comfortable place for some, but I baulked at the complete lack of hope for something better. Instead, I would assume the best about the person or situation because it made me feel better. The downside was that it tended to create unrealistic expectations. I didn't mind that so much. I would just shrug if off and keep going, but others who heard my optimistic assessment would often be discouraged when it failed to materialize. The basic problem was that my optimism (hope) was not based upon anything substantial. It was the proverbial "pie in the sky."

So when I began to learn how to pray a few months ago, this struggle escalated. I realized that prayer can actually change reality in meaningful ways. James 4:2 tells us "Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not." Christians miss incredible blessings all the time because they don't ask. So God is not just going to do or give whatever He would whether we pray or don't pray. So I began the process of learning how to pray in order to receive the things needed for life and ministry. Along the way, I've learned key pieces of the puzzle such as not asking with selfish motives (James 4:3), not asking with un-confessed sin in the way (Ps. 66:18), and praying in faith (James 1:6-7). I have seen some incredible and fast answers to prayer but also some confusing lacks of answer to prayer. By taking these dilemmas to God, He has always given me insight as to why certain prayers were not answered in the way I expected. So my faith has not diminished in the power of prayer to change reality, but it has been tempered. I've come to recognize that I cannot create my own scenario and expect God to confrom to it. Instead, prayer is learning God's will and coming into line with it. Then we can ask whatever we will since our will is in line with God's will. Biblical hope is the earnest expectation of what God has promised. Biblical faith is trusting in what God has revealed as His will. That is no unrealistic optimism for a better tomorrow somehow.

However, many still confuse biblical faith with unrealistic optimism. They maintain that we can only expect to happen what past experience would indicate will happen. This mentality is a self-fulfilling prophecy since God declares that when we don't expect much from Him we won't get much from Him. (Matt. 9:27-29; James 1:6-7). This is seen most abundantly in the current attitude of conservative Christians toward our increasingly secular American culture. Over the past 50 years we have seen a dramatic shift away from biblical Christianity towards a contemporary, flesh-driven, self-serving, social replacement. This has created much discouragement in conservative Christians to the point where this experience causes them to believe that the end is near and that we are not to expect a great revival or movement of God. However, they may not realize that apostasy and resulting judgment are quite effective in preparing people for great revival. Remember Israel's Babylonian captivity. Personally, I have found that the children and teens of today are hungry for the truth after having been raised completely out of church. We have a great opportunity to present it to them if we will trust God's promises and pray in faith expecting to see great things from God in this generation. Prayer without faith in the power and promises of God is very close to worthless. Don't be deceived into thinking it's all over. Satan loves to see Christians give up and just coast until the rapture. Honestly, since the rapture is imminent (could happen at any time) there is no reason to believe it will happen soon. So let's get busy praying and expecting God to work according to His will right here, right now.