There are many passages in the Bible that I find confusing or even bewildering, but one of the strangest, at least to me, is Romans 5:3–4, where we read that we can rejoice in our sufferings because we know that “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope…”

What struck me was that this trajectory starts in suffering but instead of ending in sorrow or sadness or despair, it ends in hope. In the mysterious ways of God, suffering doesn’t strip away hope, but ultimately produces it.

Surely that cannot be right? It is when I suffer that I often feel most hopeless. One of my go to’ verses when I’m deeply disappointed with my circumstances is hope deferred makes the heart sick”. The writer of the Proverbs gets it. He gets me. Suffering, in my case, usually means hope has fled. But this is the way the gospel works – it is the surprising, unexpected way of God that the darkest nights are entry ways to the brightest dawns. All things work together for good, even things meant for evil. Ashes become beauty. Mourning turns to dancing. Sorrow becomes singing. The cross leads to the resurrection. Death leads to life and suffering produces endurance, which produces character, which produces hope.

Hope is at work in our lives in countless ways, small and big, important and unimportant, all of the time. We probably hope for dozens of things every day – I hope I’ll get all my work done today, I hope my dinner will taste nice, I hope my car won’t break down, I hope my energy bill won’t be as bad as predicted, I hope I’ll get a good night’s sleep, I hope more people will book in for the Jubilee+ conference, I hope people will be well served by my church’s new warm bank’, I hope I’ll meet my future husband. Some of these are quite likely.

Some of them perhaps not so much. But biblical hope is something far deeper than an optimistic outlook towards the things facing us today. Hebrews speaks of the full assurance of hope” (6:11) that we’re called to hold fast to” (6:18) because it is a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul” (6:19).

Our hope is solid, trustworthy, dependable. It anchors our souls because it is a hope based not on the temporary, but on the eternal. It is founded not on circumstances – neither on what we wish for (optimism), nor what we see around us (realism), but on the One it comes from: we have our hope set on the living God” (1 Timothy 4:10), who is the God of hope” (Romans 5:13).

As those who know what it is to worship the God of hope and to find our hope in Him, we are called to be hope-bringers. Right now, we’re experiencing the cost of living crisis and uncertainties surround us, ranging from how high the price of food will soar to whether we’re on the brink of a nuclear war. Yet in the face of this, we have the kind of hope that our communities are crying out for – one that anchors the soul even in the midst of the blackest nights and bleakest days.

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Boat anchored to the shore idea online Jan 2023

Our hope fixes its eyes on the One who is in control, trusting in His goodness and knowing that two things rest securely on His shoulders, not ours: the government of the whole world (Isaiah 9:6 – 7) and us, His beloved children (Deuteronomy 33:12). Therefore, we can place our hope securely in Him for every little aspect of our lives, and for the biggest issues facing the world today.

It’s this sure and steadfast hope that enables us to hold on during hard times and mature through our suffering. Not only that, it also frees us from worrying about the cares of our lives that crowd in on us, which in turn empowers us to be active in doing others good. Jesus told us that we don’t need to be anxious about the everyday essentials because God is our good Father, who knows what we need and delights to provide us with not just the basics but with all the blessings of His kingdom!

Darkest nights are entry ways to the brightest dawns.

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Natalie Williams encourages us to respond locally to the cost of living crisis