Hope Makes You Sick
“How’s it going as a missionary in Scotland?”
That’s a question our friends have asked us many times over the last few years. This we know for sure: We’ve experienced the sickness of hope more than we ever have before. There are so many wonderful things about hope, but there is a serious downside to hope: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” (Proverbs 13:12)
Hope makes you sick.
By definition, hope always involves waiting. This is probably the primary reason we lose hope. Hope can sicken us mentally, physically, and emotionally. But hope certainly beats the alternative. No one wants to be hopeless! If you hope for something, what’s the antidote to the accompanying sickness? What do you do while you wait for months, years, or a lifetime? One of the best answers to this question is found in Jeremiah 32.
Jeremiah 32:6–15 ESV 6 Jeremiah said, “The word of the LORD came to me: 7 Behold, Hanamel the son of Shallum your uncle will come to you and say, ‘Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours.’ 8 Then Hanamel my cousin came to me in the court of the guard, in accordance with the word of the LORD, and said to me, ‘Buy my field that is at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, for the right of possession and redemption is yours; buy it for yourself.’ Then I knew that this was the word of the LORD. 9 “And I bought the field at Anathoth from Hanamel my cousin, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver. 10 I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales. 11 Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions and the open copy. 12 And I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch the son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, in the presence of Hanamel my cousin, in the presence of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, and in the presence of all the Judeans who were sitting in the court of the guard. 13 I charged Baruch in their presence, saying, 14 ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware vessel, that they may last for a long time. 15 For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.’
I cringe at the thought of real estate. Amy (my wife) and I bought our first and only house in 2006 one month before the birth of our first child. At the time, we believed this starter home would be a good investment for our new family.
Or so we thought.
There’s something called the “principle of anticipation” in real estate. The theory behind this principle is that the property value will go up or down in anticipation of a future event. The real estate market crashed two years after we bought our house. Our condominium suddenly was worth four times less than our mortgage. We simply did not anticipate this.
In 587 B.C., Babylon is the new world superpower. The army of Babylon has Jerusalem under siege (Jeremiah 32:2). Babylon has already captured nearly all the lands of Judah and Benjamin. The capital city is the last to fall. Babylon has Jerusalem by the throat. In less than a year’s time, the city will be burned and its surviving civilians deported to Babylon.
So in the middle of the siege, Jeremiah’s cousin, Hanamel, visits him in jail. He’s on house arrest at the palace. This is because Jeremiah told the King of Judah and anyone who would listen and I paraphrase: “Don’t fight this war. You will lose. Babylon will crush Jerusalem.” The people hate this prophecy. It’s hurting the national morale. The king’s men try to shut him up but Jeremiah keeps preaching because he’s not a patriot, he’s a prophet.
Cousin Mel could be thinking: “Jeremiah’s crazy! There’s a sucker born every minute!” His cousin offers to sell him the family property north of Jerusalem. Remember, the “principle of anticipation”. No real estate expert would ever advise Jeremiah to buy this property. This is the absolute worst time to buy. Babylon now owns this property. They have troops camping on this property! Soon Israel will cease to exist as a country. This is a dumb time to buy. There’s no reason to believe this property will ever be worth anything. Certainly not in Jeremiah’s lifetime.
Here’s the stunner: Jeremiah buys the property. Signed, sealed, delivered. Jeremiah makes what seems to be the worst real estate investment ever.
Why? Verses 8-9: Jeremiah said, “I knew it was the word of the Lord…so I bought the field.” Verse 15: God said, “…houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.” God promises Jeremiah that some day in the future, it will be a seller’s market in Jerusalem. Jeremiah obeys and doubles-down on the promises of God.
It’s the same for us today.
While we wait, God expects us to invest. The man or woman of hope will invest in the Kingdom of God. Even when the heart says there’s no logical reason for optimism, you keep buying in with God.
Perhaps you’re a parent and your child has grown up and wandered away from Jesus. Maybe it’s your spouse, a family member, or a good friend and the person you love is completely lost right now and your heart is sick because you’re waiting for a miracle.
Maybe you’re single and thought you’d be married by now but that hope now sickens you.
Perhaps you’re a new Christian. You’ve invested everything to make Jesus the Lord of your life, but now, six months in or 1 -2 years in and you’re still waiting. Your life hasn’t become easier. Maybe it’s even harder than you’d thought it’d be.
You could be an older Christian and you’ve grown weary of waiting for revival in your own life, revival in your career, or a revival in the church. Perhaps you’re waiting for better health or a painful relationship to heal and you’re sick of it.
Whatever it is, keep hope alive! While you wait, keep investing in the promises of God.
Keep in mind, when it comes to fulfilling promises, God does not work on our timelines. In Jeremiah 29:11, (the famous bumper sticker scripture), God promises his people: “I have plans for you…wonderful plans to give you a hope and future.” That’s fabulous but do not skip the timeline God gives us in verse 10.
All of these wonderful blessings will happen in 70 years.
God’s message to his people is this: You must faithfully wait in exile, become a blessing to the Babylonians, and invest in the future I’ve promised you. The “you” in verse 11 is plural. This wonderful promise of prosperity is bigger and more glorious than anyone’s individual wish list. It’s a promise for God’s community. It’s a promise for generations yet to be born!
It’s the same context in Jeremiah 32. In the prior chapter, God famously promises a new covenant written on the hearts of his people that will restore their fortunes via the coming Messiah (Jeremiah 31:31-34). The prophet then makes an enormous life decision at great personal cost based on a promise God will fulfill to future generations long after Jeremiah is dead.
This begs the question for us: Are we making decisions of hope based on the long-view of things or are we making decisions based on what makes life easier for us this month? Hope tells us to buy-in and invest for the future. We invest for the same reason Jeremiah did: We trust God and stand on his promises. This takes a head of flint and a heart of flesh. Never, ever let go of the promises of God. Keep hope alive! Never stop investing!
After the real estate deal is done, Jeremiah is probably thinking, “what have I just done”?
Jeremiah 32:16–25 ESV 16 “After I had given the deed of purchase to Baruch the son of Neriah, I prayed to the LORD, saying: 17 ‘Ah, Lord GOD! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you. 18 You show steadfast love to thousands, but you repay the guilt of fathers to their children after them, O great and mighty God, whose name is the LORD of hosts, 19 great in counsel and mighty in deed… 24 Behold, the siege mounds have come up to the city to take it, and because of sword and famine and pestilence the city is given into the hands of the Chaldeans who are fighting against it. What you spoke has come to pass, and behold, you see it. 25 [and] Yet you, O Lord GOD, have said to me, “Buy the field for money and get witnesses”—though the city is given into the hands of the Chaldeans.’”
What do you do while you wait? You invest and then you pray. Then you repeat this. Invest and pray. Over and over again.
Verse 17: “Ah, Lord God!” “Ah!” Jeremiah begins his prayer with a groan. Not a real word, but a cry from his soul! Romans 8:26-27 gives insight into this: “The Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans words cannot express.” Hope is deeply spiritual. It goes beyond what words can express.
“Ah, Lord God! What have I just done?”
Since Amy and I moved our family to Edinburgh in 2016, there’s hardly a day that goes by that we don’t think this or pray this. We had very high hopes going to Edinburgh. We’re fighting to keep those high hopes. We love the church here and it’s been the experience of a lifetime. Family and friends overseas cheer us on with phone calls, constant encouragement on social media, and personal visits. At times, it’s been inspiring to live and work for the Gospel in Scotland. And then many other times, our hearts are sick because the church growth we hoped to see has not happened yet.
“Ah, Lord God! Did I make a bad investment?” I feel the shame. I feel the humiliation of the lack of success. The temptation of regret. “What have I done moving my wife and three children to a foreign country?”
That’s the vulnerability of hope. When you hope for God to act in specific, powerful ways and when put yourself out there and make those hopes known, you’re putting yourself in a very vulnerable position. Instinctively, we don’t want to look or feel vulnerable, especially as we get older and wiser. That’s why too many of us are stuck, play it safe, and live boring Christian lives. We don’t want the vulnerability that comes with hope.
In verses 16-25, we read a page from Jeremiah’s prayer journal. After Jeremiah buys the property, he takes his doubts, his fears, and his shame to God. He worships God’s character: “…nothing is too difficult for you; you give steadfast love to thousands, etc.” Next in verses 20-24, Jeremiah praises God’s mighty acts over history. Then to conclude his prayer in verses 24b-25, Jeremiah tells God his plan doesn’t seem to make sense. He feels he’s just made the worst financial decision of his life. “God, what are you doing?” This is the prayer of a man holding on to hope and looking to God to somehow give him strength.
In verse 26, God answers Jeremiah. If you listen, you may hear God speaking to you. You may hear God speaking to the hopes you’ve hidden deep in your heart.
Jeremiah 32:26–27, 36-42 ESV 26 The word of the LORD came to Jeremiah: 27 “Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me? 36…“Now therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning this city of which you say, ‘It is given into the hand of the king of Babylon by sword, by famine, and by pestilence’: 37 Behold, I will gather them from all the countries to which I drove them in my anger and my wrath and in great indignation. I will bring them back to this place, and I will make them dwell in safety. 38 And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. 39 I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. 40 I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. 41 I will rejoice in doing them good and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul. 42 “For thus says the LORD: Just as I have brought all this great disaster upon this people, so I will bring upon them all the good that I promised them.
Seventy years later, God makes good on this promise in a stunning, extraordinary way. I won’t spoil the surprise. Read Ezra chapter 1. But that’s not all. In the here and now, Jesus answers all of God’s promises with a resounding “YES”!
All of our hopes for this lifetime may not come true, but if you’re a Christian, this you can know for sure: Jesus is THE ultimate hope that will never disappoint you! All of God’s promises are answered “YES” in Jesus. If you hope in Jesus, you have the guaranteed hope of salvation, resurrection, and eternal life! For those in Christ, one glorious day we will be “hopeless” in heaven. Faith becomes sight, hope becomes reality, and then there’s only love. No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has in store for those who love him (1 Corinthians 2:9).
In Ephesians 3:20, God gives you the license to dream. We serve an imaginative God who invites you to walk with him and share your hopes with him. Old hopes, new hopes, big, small, and everything in-between. God invites you to partner with him in finding creative ways to fulfill your hopes and dreams. Don’t miss out: This is one of the most exciting parts of building your relationship with God!
In the meantime, hope will make your heart sick.
While you wait, I appeal to you: Stay vulnerable. Keep investing. Keep praying. Jeremiah invested during the darkest of times. He invested in a future he would not see with his own eyes until he reached heaven. Let’s all follow the example of Jeremiah.
I dare you to hope. Our best days as Christians are right in front of us!