“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us . . . 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,” (Romans 8:18, 24-25).

A gunman at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, tragically killed 20 children and six adults before taking his own life. Hurricane Sandy was the second costliest hurricane in United States history, inflicting more than 71 billion dollars of damage upon the East Coast. During a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises,” 12 people were killed in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. These are just a few of the events that scarred the United States in the last year.

During moments like these, it is easy to question God’s motives, sovereignty, and role in the world. Hope can sometimes seem lost, and it is easy to become pessimistic or even cynical about our future. How do we live in the world, with all of its pain, heartache, and suffering and still maintain hope? How do we exercise patience, placing our hope in a God we cannot see and a plan we might not understand? Here are four things to remember in holding on to hope in difficult times.

First, remember who is in control. We often lose hope when we buy in to the delusion that we are in control. When bad things happen around us, we become unsettled as we realize that in fact, we are not in control. The fact remains that we were never in control to begin with. Proverbs 19:21 reveals, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.” Our hope is bolstered when we correctly understand that God is in control and never ceases to be.

Second, remember that God’s purpose always prevails. Everything that happens is not pleasing to God. Evil, sin, suffering, and pain are not things that God enjoys. But, they are things that exist within the framework of allowing humanity to have free will. Man’s free choice often results in hurting others. Thankfully, God never forgets his purposes, thus he utilizes even the painful consequences of sin to accomplish His purpose in the world. Romans 8:28 assures us, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” Our hope is sure when we realize that even when pain occurs in our life from our own bad decisions, God’s plan is still secure.

Third, remember God’s faithfulness. Throughout our lifetime, we will have numerous occasions to question God’s will, faithfulness, and plan in the world. Following each of these occasions, we often look back and clearly see the hand of God at work in our lives and the lives of those around us. We see His goodness and graciousness in our lives and even comfort others with the testimony of God’s deliverance through those times. 2 Corinthians 1:4 says that our God is one “who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” Our hope is made strong and sure when we reflect back upon God’s prior work in our lives, and when we take the time to share his faithfulness with others.

Fourth, remember that this world is temporal. It is easy to forget that we live in a broken and fallen world that will one day pass away. Sometimes our hope is shaken because we have placed too much emphasis on this world and too little emphasis on the world to come. Psalm 39:4 reminds us, “O Lord, make me know my end
and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!” Our days on this earth are numbered, and we are instructed by God to focus more on our eternity than on the temporal temptations of this world. Matthew 6:19-20 instructs us, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” Our hope is always strengthened when we are more focused on eternity than on the here and now.

We have a certain hope in sovereign God who loves us and has a wonderful plan for our lives and for the world. We often cannot see God’s purposes, but this is what makes us hopeful. It is not what we can see, but what we cannot see that makes us strong. The exercise of our faith generates hope for today and for tomorrow.

Dr. Tate Cockrell is the Family Pastor and Director of The Center for Hope and Healing at Broadmoor Baptist Church in Madison, MS. He and his wife, Wendy, have one daughter, Tatum, and twin sons, Preston and Spencer. He is a guest professor at Reformed Theological Seminary and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, as well as a featured speaker at marriage and family conferences.