The dictionary definition of hope reads, ‘a feeling of expectation and desire for a particular thing to happen.’ This definition seems to put it in the same category as wishing for something – as we would do with the vagaries of British weather. When asked if it is going to be sunny, you would probably reply ‘I hope so!’
Yet Paul uses this word in an entirely different way. He speaks of ‘The hope of glory,’ he tells of us ‘rejoicing in hope,’ and even of us ‘abounding in hope.’ What kind of a thing is this hope and how is it different to the wishful thinking we often find hope used for?
In Romans 5, Paul explains that it is a feature that we acquire when God’s refining process has had some time to work in us. He says, ‘we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.’
So, this kind of hope is really a deep abiding assurance of God’s love. Even though we have not seen Him yet, it is proven by our lived experience. It is the essence of our faith.
When PF Project Lead Rachel Coulson led a Sycamore Tree Tutor Gathering recently, she told us about the statistics she had drawn from the evaluation forms of people who attended Sycamore Tree in the last year. They made truly wonderful reading and made my spirit soar with gratitude. They said three things:
- ‘95% of participants said that Sycamore Tree had given them more hope for the future.’
- ‘97% of participants now believe that they can build a crime-free life because of the Sycamore Tree programme.’
- ‘94% said that Sycamore Tree has changed their life for the better.’
This is not a discipleship course. It actively tries not to ‘preach’ to learners. Yet, in a way that can only be described as miraculous, it manages to produce a hope in them that must surely be a God-given response to the love, compassion, encouragement and kindness poured on them during those six short weeks. Whether this leads on to a spiritual awakening is another matter. But we have given them the gift of hope. And we pray this small seed grows into the hope Paul refers to in Romans.
When we go into the prison, whether it is to visit, to attend Chapel or to run a course, we carry with us that wonderful hope that the Holy Spirit stirs in us. It is because of ‘the joy of our salvation’; it is because Christ ‘holds the keys of death and hell’ and is now ‘seated at the right hand of the Father’; it is because He said ‘It is finished!’
As you go about your business in prison, and supporting from outside, this week, ‘May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.’ And may that hope brush off on all we meet, for His glory.
Janet Bevan is a Bible Study writer and part of PF Swansea.
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