Thursday, September 09, 2021

Deferred Hope

I chose to become a follower of Jesus in 1974. Soon afterwards, I began to hear/read prophecies that God was going to send revival to New Zealand. Similar prophecies were common right up to the present day. Many visiting international speakers would say that God is going to do something big in New Zealand. For all of my life as a follower of Jesus, we have had this promise in front of us that revival is coming soon.

Humans need hope, so when we get a message that gives hope, we naturally cling to it. The hope that we have in Jesus gives us purpose for life. A hope that is true, strengthens our faith.

On the other hand, trust in a false hope can sustain us for a time, but because it does not deliver, a false hope eventually leads to disappointment. The well-known proverb says,

Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life (Prov 13:12).
A hope that never comes weakens the faith of those who trust in it. In contrast, a hope that is fulfilled strengthens their lives. A hope of imminent revival has been around for most of my adult life without being fulfilled. I have been wondering about the effect of a hope that is promised continuously throughout a lifetime, but is also constantly deferred. I presume that many Christians would say that it has inspired them to keep going in serving Jesus.

However, there is another side to this issue. The message to the church has been that revival is coming soon. The hope that has been declared is that a visitation of God is near. A hope that better times are coming soon can cause us to put off doing activities that are demanding until our situation improves. We can unconsciously slip into the habit of deferring tough changes that are urgently needed until the time when the visitation of God comes, because they will be easier then.

I cannot help wondering if the prophecies that revival is coming soon prevented Christians from doing some of the things that God was calling them to do, because they assumed that it would be easier to do them when the revival had come.

We can’t know the answer, but what would have happened instead, if we had had prophecies for the past forty years declaring that we are going into a tough season when hostility to the gospel would massively increase, our society would be increasingly secularised and that many of the common activities of the church would cease to be effective. Would some Christians have given up? I doubt it. Maybe it would have inspired those who were serious about the gospel to work harder at sharing it? Maybe it would have inspired those who were interested in becoming a real community to strive harder to love one another as Jesus loved us.

The prophecies that a visitation of God would bring a massive revival very soon were not really totally true. Maybe they lulled the people of God into a false sense of security that everything would be fine, although they were not. We still assume they were good because they were encouraging, even though the expected fulfilment did not come; but maybe they did more harm than good.

In 1974, a prophecy that revival was not coming soon but was a long way off would have been truer than what we got. That might have spurred people on to greater zeal for Jesus than a hope that seems to have been repeatedly deferred. If I had known in the 1980s that the promises of revival would not be fulfilled during the next thirty years, I might have done some things differently.

This is also a challenge to prophetic people making declarations about what God is going to do. Timing is important. If their promises are for a distant future, they should be careful not to give the impression that the fulfilment is close, because they could be creating a hope that will soon be deferred. Repeating the promise again is not the solution to a deferred hope.

The modern church needs a more realistic diagnosis of the current situation. It needs a prophetic voice that will stop talking about what God is going to do soon and focus instead on what God wants his people to do now.

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