When I was in college, I loved taking online classes. The upfront availability of the lectures and assignments allowed me to race through the material in the first few weeks of each semester, leaving me with one less class to worry about for the majority of the semester. Admittedly, this may not have been the best strategy for getting a good education, but it speaks to my personality type.
I absolutely love the sense of accomplishment that accompanies checking an item off my to-do list. Whether the task is important or menial is of little consequence; I just love getting things done. I’m not much of a procrastinator as the stress of a lingering chore is typically more overwhelming than the task itself.
Just last week, though, I read an article that pinpointed an area where I’ve put off something of incomparable significance. The author cited a familiar verse: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12). As my eyes scanned the well-known words, I realized I’d misunderstood them for quite some time. In that moment, the truth was inescapable: I’ve put off hope.
Until a few days ago, I’d always understood Proverbs 13:12 to refer exclusively to our desires and wishes. In other words, we feel sick on the inside when we don’t get what we long for. While there may be a degree of truth to that interpretation, it’s certainly incomplete. Biblically speaking, hope is “the constant expectation that God will be who He claims to be and do what He promises to do” (Dr. Anita Cooper). With that definition in mind, unfulfilled longings aren’t the primary source of our heart sickness; our refusal to expect God to be true to His character and Word is the main problem.
There is a correlation between our longings and biblical hope. In fact, many of our longings actually point to our need for God. But the verse in Proverbs addresses our focus. Are we viewing life through the lens of what we do or don’t have, or are we obsessing over the faithfulness of our God? King Solomon’s point is that we can live with unfulfilled longings, but the difficulties are compounded when we lose sight of who God is.
The temptation to defer hope is alluring for many reasons. For some of us, we put off hope in God because we value a sense of autonomy. Others of us like to hedge our bets – we don’t want to trust God completely just in case He doesn’t come through. Still many of us refuse to bank everything on God because we’re afraid of the vulnerability and we dread being let down.
It’s no easy thing when our dreams are delayed, but we are mistaken when we defer hope right along with those dreams. What we need more than anything when we’re in a season of waiting is legitimate hope – the unshakeable confidence that God will come through on His promises regardless of our circumstances.
The Bible is full of examples of longing. Abraham and Sarah longed for a child. The people of Israel yearned for their freedom. The prophets told of a coming King, and the storyline of the Bible revolves around God’s fulfillment of that promise. The whole of Scripture, then, is an argument against deferred hope. In His sovereignty, God sent Jesus at the perfect time, and no one who trusted God to keep His Word did so in vain (Galatians 4:4).
Jesus came once and He’s coming again, and therein lies the ultimate, permanent satisfaction of our longings. As you and I live between the first and second comings of Jesus, we can do so with tremendous hope. Our God still watches over His Word to perform it (Jeremiah 1:12). Although some of our longings will go unfulfilled until Jesus returns, we don’t have to live with the heartsickness of deferred hope. The healthiest way to live is with our eyes on Jesus, our minds fixed on His promises, and our hearts full of confidence in Him. And at the end of it all, those who hope in Him “will not be disappointed” (Isaiah 49:23).