You can’t spend much time on social media today, New Year’s Day, without seeing a flood of optimism. Between simple well wishes of a Happy New Year to statements of intent to change things for the better with new year resolutions, people from all walks of life are expressing hope that good things are coming their way today.
Have you ever asked yourself why people do that?
Hardwired to Hope
It turns out that as human beings we are hardwired to hope. God made us to be optimistic by nature, to look for the good, and to expect things to improve.
Pessimism is a learned behavior and not the way we start out in life. Did you ever notice how optimistic children are?
Ask young children what they want to be when they grow up and you will probably hear something exotic like an astronaut or a princess. Kids have an optimistic view of their future even though the odds are much more likely that they’ll end up working in the food service industry, retail, customer service, or sales.
Yet as we get older we tend to lose that optimism as we get more “realistic.”
The Bible observes that phenomenon for us.
Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when the desire comes, it is a tree of life.— Proverbs 13:12
World of Hard Knocks
As we live our lives the world has a tendency to batter and bruise us with disappointments and unmet expectations. This recurring pattern of setbacks, shattered dreams, and unfulfilled hopes wears us down. It hardens us.
There is a natural tendency for older people to see younger optimistic people as idealistic and naive. “Well when you get older son you’ll understand that just isn’t the way the world operates.”
After all, statistically speaking hardly any new year’s resolutions actually survive beyond January anyway, right? Even though it’s not the way we started out it is natural to fall into that pattern of pessimism as we go through life.
The Bible says that pessimistic condition, that so-called realism, is actually a sickness of the heart. And it’s caused by deferred hope.
One Day of Optimism a Year
Yet even the most die-hard “realist” among us will tend to look on each new year with at least a sliver of optimism. That’s because this year is still an empty slate. It’s still free from any of last year’s setbacks and disappointments. Things really could get better this year couldn’t they?
And so those normally negative people give themselves the luxury of a little optimism once a year. The truth is they mostly can’t help themselves because we are wired to hope in our innermost being.
Danger of False Hope
There is a very real danger when it comes to allowing ourselves to hope. When we put our hope in things that are false, the disappointment of their failure crushes us a little bit more. Our hears grow a little sicker every time that happens.
For far too many people the continuing cycle of new year’s optimism is slowly eroding their souls. Each unmet hope is another dose of slow motion poison that hardens them and drives them further into futility and despair.
But forbidding ourselves to hope is not the answer.
Life Giving Hope
Because something very different takes place when what we hope for does actually happen. The Bible says that seeing our longings, desires, hopes, and dreams come to be fulfilled is a tree of life.
It actually feeds our very souls in a life-giving way that builds us up. That’s powerful stuff right there.
Did you know that phrase “tree of life” is only found in three places in the Bible?
There is the tree of life that was in the Garden of Eden in Genesis chapters 2 and 3. That tree isn’t found again until the book of Revelation. The tree of life is also mentioned in the letter to the church of Ephesus in chapter 2 and then it is described in more detail at the end of the book in chapter 22.
The third place we see the phrase “tree of life” is in the book of Proverbs where it talks about a tree of life. There are four things that Proverbs says act as a tree of life for us:
- Wisdom and Understanding – Prov 3:18
- The Fruit of Righteousness – Prov 11:30
- Fulfilled Desires – Prov 13:12
- A Wholesome Tongue – Prov 15:4
So the question then comes, how do we feed our souls with fulfilled hopes and dreams and avoid poisoning ourselves with unmet or false hopes?
The answer is that we should put our hope in things that are true. Because truth by its very nature will come to pass.
Fortunately for us believers Jesus is called Faithful and True (Rev 19:11). When we place our hope in him it will bring us life and not poison us or make us sick.
Did you know that God himself thinks about you and I? It’s true. And his thoughts about us are very optimistic and hope filled.
For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.— Jeremiah 29:11
Look at some of the other translations I linked to in that citation there. These aren’t just idle thoughts that the Father is thinking about you.
No, the truth is that God in heaven, the very Creator of the Universe himself has actually put the effort into planning for your future. And those plans involve goodness and blessing in your life.
The Message says it this way, “I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.”
The Father wants to you to feed at the tree of life and fulfill your hopes and dreams. The question is, are you willing to follow him and believe he loves you enough to do that?