Have you ever fell into a rut, a sort of emotional low-point where it was so easy to be miserable, and so hard to enjoy the blessings of life? Perhaps you even know there is good in your life. You can see the sunshine but the hardest thing in the world is for you to simply enjoy it. Yet no matter what you do, there are these incessant reminders that your life isn’t a waste and everything isn’t hopeless. It can be aggravating. My wife is excellent at spreading cheer and joy and ruining my perfectly bad days. She will beam a smile in my direction and sometimes I will say something like, “Stop it! I’m miserable and perfectly happy that way!”
Recently I came across an Old Testament passage that I had never noticed before:
“Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you.”
– Zechariah 9:12
Prisoners of hope. I was a bit perplexed and taken aback by such a phrase. As I looked up the passage in a number of Bible commentaries, and I came to realize that it referred to those who knew and believed the promises of God, so that no matter what trials they went through their hope kept them from giving up. It kept them from giving up. They didn’t just miraculously stay strong. Their hope kept them from doing so.
If someone is a prisoner of someone else, it means that they are unable to be free from the force that has overpowered and imprisoned them. Typically we think of this as a negative thing. Yet here it is used to refer to something positive. It completely reframed my understanding of hope. Usually we think that hope is something we choose. It is something we can make a choice to have or not. While there is some truth in that, it seems that hope in God is more than something that we simply choose. Of course we choose to follow God or not. Yet as we begin to know and understand the ways of God and as we build a relationship with Him we also come to trust him and believe His promises. Those promises hold us captive, so to speak, so that no matter what happens to us, we cannot shake free from the clutches of hope in the Lord.
Whenever our brothers and sisters in Christ have been martyred around the world, it was not because they simply chose to have hope. Any ignorant fool can choose to believe something. It was not that they believed just anything, but that they believed the truth. They had a living relationship with Jesus, the living Truth. No matter what anyone could do to them, knowing the Truth held them captive to hope. Their persecutors could take their lives, but not even that could emancipate them from the clutches of their hope in God.
In talking about the difference between a vow and a promise, Layton Friesen writes, “A vow is not broken like a promise. The vision embodied in a vow goes far beyond my abilities and maybe even my desires. I will fall short of the vow two minutes after taking it, but a vow is not broken by that. The vow keeps turning me in the right direction; it draws me onward to a destiny I cannot reach on my own steam. A vow is broken not by falling short of it, but by abandoning the covenant all together.” While this is in reference to the covenant relationship of marriage, it also relates to our relationship with God.
All true Christ-followers live in a covenant relationship with God. We cannot, in our own power fulfill our part of the covenant, so God sent Jesus to fulfill that on our behalf. Thus in entering into this covenant with God, we are recognizing that we have not, do not, and will not meet those requirements on our own, but that we are fully reliant on Jesus to do so on our behalf. Thus our own doubts, fears, feelings or failures are not enough to leave us destitute and hopeless. We are prisoners of hope. Our heart and flesh may fail. Our feeling may mislead us. But at the end of the day the truth of Christ’s sufficiency is inescapable and having hope is inevitable. While I may sometimes enjoy my forays into self-pity and misery, the hope of Christ is there, reminding me of the truth. Like my wife’s smile piercing the facade of my gloominess, so is God’s hope piercing through the deceptive nature of feelings and doubts. I am a prisoner of hope, and I am learning to love this prison.