"I still want to get married but I am trying to be realistic about it. I am 28 and it seems like prospects just get slimmer and slimmer.....How do you all stay positive and keep hope that you will marry one day? I get so discouraged looking at our culture of immature and ill-prepared men and I have a hard time keeping hope about it. My Dad prays for each of us everyday that God will provide and be preparing godly spouses for each of us. All of the unmarried young men in our church either seem uninterested in marriage or quite a bit younger than me (5-9 years)."
We received this question recently and it's not an uncommon one. Really, there are a lot of questions within this question, but rather than say what's already been said, and said well, let's talk about this portion of the question- "How do you all stay positive and keep hope that you will marry one day?" The answer lies in the fact that hope is a much broader concept than just our hope of marriage. Marriage is a wonderful thing, but if we're looking to it as the basis for our hopes, we're setting ourselves up for disappointment. If we're going to be a hopeful people, we first need to understand where hope comes from, what hope is(and isn't), how it's maintained and grown, and how it is lost.
Ultimately, hope springs from the grace of God in our lives and the promise of eternal life from a sovereign and unchanging God. Without God, we have no hope. He is the author of our hope.i,ii Only when we realize that our hopes are founded on Christ's sacrifice on our behalf, will we have a firm foundation from which we can look with hope to the future. Through Christ, the victory has already been won.iii If we're trying to build our hopes on our own strength, let's face it, the future looks dismal. We're going to disappoint ourselves and others time and time again; our sinful selves don't give us much to hope in.iv But, by grace, the believer always has a solid reason to hope and rejoice, even in tremendous difficulty. Even the babe in Christ has reason to hope in that, because of Christ's sacrifice, he has received the unfathomable and undeserved gift of eternal life.v How much more, then, should we who have time and again experienced His provision look with hope to the future?
"Hope for the Christian means all the promises of God concerning life in this world and in the world to come."vi Our hope must be based on the solid foundation of God's Word, not on wishful thinking, delusion, or simply what makes us feel good. If must be grounded in reality. For the believer, the promises of God in His Word are reality.vii Though an unbeliever may have a form of hope, it is a deceptive hope. In the end, his hopes will prove vain because, ultimately, his future is death.viii The unregenerate look for hope in everything but God and, if we're not walking before God in humility and repentance, we can get trapped in a life of seeking out things that make us feel good in order to avoid repentance. It's easy to chase those things that we call "hope" but which are, in reality, false "hopes" and deceitful diversions that we, as sinners, use to avoid the reality of guilt and repentance. Many of these things may be good in and of themselves, but if we're using them to avoid duty, we're only seeking indulgence to cover our guilt and calling it hope.ix But, though we may try a million ways to avoid God, we cannot escape his face.x
So, once we've learned to base our hope on the Word of God, how do we preserve it and how does it grow? If we're going to understand why hope wanes, we first have to understand how hope is maintained.
First of all, we must continually look to the Word and remind ourselves of that sure foundation we hope in. It's part of our nature as sinners that we so easily forget the mercies of God. But, the Word is full, from cover to cover, of examples of God's mercy to us, His people. Over and over the Scripture commands us to remember the works of God- to call them to mind, to praise Him for them, and tell them to those coming after us. And it warns us, also, of the consequences of forgetting His works.xi Psalm 78 makes it clear that gratitude for the works of God causes us to hope, but ingratitude leads to stubbornness and rebellion. Remembering God's mercies to us in times past leads to trust and confidence; forgetting His works leads to hopelessness. When we're ungrateful, it's very easy to fall into the habit of self pity and self pity is dangerous. To pity oneself is to coddle the sin of extreme, inordinate affection for oneself. It causes a person to narrow their focus to only those things that occur in their own myopic world and ignore the needs and joys of those around them. It leads to impatience, it robs you of joy, and saps your strength for the tasks at hand.xii So, when our flesh would rather give in to sinful emotions, we must obey the Scriptures that tell us what to think on, diligently disciplining our minds and hearts, preparing them for the task at hand.xiii
Secondly, as Romans 5 explains, "...tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope..." The Lord works through trials in our lives to strengthen us, to prove us, to show us His faithfulness and thereby encourage us to hope further. Patience is a discipline; hope is a gift, a gift from God that grows through diligence. Those who diligently persevere in the work God has laid before them are those who have full confidence in God.xiv When we are actively engaged, for the glory of God, in the work that He has given us today, our eyes will be opened to His faithfulness each and every day. He doesn't bless slothfulness. There is no hope in sin.xv In order to live with a hopeful outlook, we need to live in such a way that we're facing the difficulties of life with humility and repentance and looking to the Word as our sure guide. Otherwise, we'll be looking at life through the lens of despair, waiting for someone to rescue us. But, God requires personal responsibility, the self-governance, by grace, to continually repent, grow, and overcome.xvi The good news is that there is plenty of sanctifying work to do, we just have to decide if we're going to be givers or takers. We live in what many would call a hopeless time; we're surrounded by those who are searching for something to hope in. And who, if not we, can reach out to others with the only true hope there is?
Reformation begins, by grace, with the individual and it's up to each of us to decide if we're going to be that individual that begins reformation in the world around us. We must remember to thank God for his good gifts and we'll find something wonderful in doing so- gratitude gets our eyes off ourselves and onto the giver of good gifts; it enables us to serve others. And, as we work diligently on the tasks He has given, progress in sanctification, and serve others, the Lord will bless us with a greater confidence in His promises. We must set our hope in God and think long term, and as we think about what's good for the Kingdom of God, and not only what we think is good for us, we'll abound in hope. Because in reality, if we're part of the Kingdom, what's good for the Kingdom is good for us.xvii
i "God is the God of hope. He is the foundation on which our hope is built, and he is the builder that doth himself raise it; he is both the object of our hope, and the author of it. That hope is but fancy, and will deceive us, which is not fastened upon God (as the goodness hoped for, and the truth hoped in), and which is not of his working in us." Matthew Henry's commentary on Rom. 15:3
ii Lam. 3:21-24; Rom. 15:13; 1 Tim. 1:1
iii Rom. 8; 1 Pet. 1:3-5
iv Rom. 7; Ps. 130, 147:10-11; Titus 3:4-7; Rom. 3:23
v Rom. 5:6-11
vi R.J. Rushdoony, 'Revolt Against Maturity' pg. 247
vii 2 Sam. 22:31; Rom. 15:4; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Cor. 1:20
viii Prov. 10:28, 11:7
ix Jer. 17:5-11; 1 Jn. 2:15-17; Mal. 1:6-14; Rom. 16:17-18; 1 Jn. 1:8
x Ps. 139
xi Ex. 13:3; 1 Ch. 16:8-15; Ps. 105, 106; Isa. 46:9-10; Jdg. 2:7-11
xii Ex. 15-16; Rom. 1:21-22
xiii Ps. 42:5, 77:10-12; Phl. 4:8-9; Rom. 15:4; 2 Cor. 10:3-5; 1 Pet. 1:13-16
xiv "The man who is tested by God develops a progressively stronger hope, a greater confidence in moving into the future under God." R.J. Rushdoony, 'Revolt Against Maturity' pg. 259-260
xv Heb. 6:11-12; Prov. 12:24; 2 Pet. 1:5-11
xvi 1 Thess. 5:5-10; 2 Pet. 1:5-11; Titus 2:11-15
xvii Rom. 12