“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.”
In this verse, Solomon states a reality of the human condition: hope that is seriously delayed or never comes to pass makes the heart sick. But when our longings and desires are fulfilled, the experience is joyfully fulfilling.
The problem, however, is that this describes a way of living that is highly dependent on circumstances. If we get what we hope for within the time we expected, then we are happy. If not, we are bitterly disappointed.
This is not the way Christians are called to live. When we look at this verse through the lens of the kingdom of God, it teaches something essential about our Christian walk, and I believe it links with the previous verse that emphasizes discipline and perseverance.
What you hope for and set your heart on matters, and so does your discipline and perseverance in pursuing what you hope for. At the heart of it all is your attitude; your mindset. Foolish people have a self-oriented mindset, hope for the wrong things, and when their hope is delayed or deferred (which is inevitable in a fallen world), their heart is crushed. As a result, they give up.
Hope for a Christian is very different than the world’s idea of hope. God calls us to a Christ-centered mindset, and our hope is grounded in God’s promises and faithfulness, not in circumstances. As a result, Christians follow a very different path.
In the book of Ephesians, the apostle Paul prays this for us:
"... that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might." (Ephesians 1.17-19)
Paul prays that the Lord will enlighten "the eyes of our hearts" so that we might know and understand the hope, riches, and power that we have in Christ. Paul does not pray a general prayer, such as "Lord, please bless the Ephesians." Rather, he prays specifically that the Lord would enlighten our hearts so that we would understand and act upon the realities of life in Christ.
When scripture speaks of "knowing" or "understanding" a truth or a principle, it is always with action in mind. Not mere concepts or principles, but action and daily practice.
The first reality that Paul prays that we would understand is "the hope to which he has called you." Hope concerns the future. When I read this, my thoughts go immediately to Romans 8:18-21.
"For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience."
Hope for the followers of Jesus is not wishful thinking; rather, it is confident expectation. It is firm assurance. This is what Paul prays that we will understand and act upon. Paul says that God has "called" us to this hope. This means that the Lord has called us to live each day in the confidence that he will fulfill his promise of restoring the earth and redeeming our bodies.
This message is echoed in Titus 2.11-13: "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ ...".Our future is certain. Our hope is secure. Let us then live and work every day in the confidence of the reality of that hope.