The Distinction between IN and FOR (Part 1)

Unless the cold of winter has moved beyond our bones and into our hearts, unless we have allowed the bumps and bruises of life to numb us—the New Year holds hope. Despite all that has passed up till now, the New Year holds the promise of something better, the promise of a new tomorrow. It is true that winter has only just begun and that the spring of our youth is not ahead—but behind. Hope lives, but has been trampled and mishandled to the point that we dare not believe THIS year will be any different than the last. Last year’s hopes lies crumpled by the side of the curb. The voices whisper, “Perhaps it is better to give up hope than face yet another year of disappointment.”  Never!

In this time of longing and waiting, this unique place of suffering, our “perseverance” should produce “character” and character should produce hope; but it is not always so (Rom. 5:4). Paul wrote, “… hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (Rom. 5:5). This time of longing should be characterized by hope, but it is not always so.

As for me, I cannot and will not live without hope. I cannot and will not pretend that my refusal to ask and hope IN the Lord is faith. I do not perceive it as faith but stoicism: a noble idea that to suffer and endure lack without a word is more spiritual. It is the false idea that to ask of God is weakness. It is also the very human idea that to hope is to risk disappointment. To hope IS to risk disappointment. Hope anyway! Risk anyway!

Insecurity caused me to live by fear, and the fear would not allow me to risk. I had no boldness in relationships because I lived in fear, allowing the fear of disappointment to constricted my hope. Then Love whispered, “No matter how far you fall, I will catch you.” Ah! That is what I longed to hear. For then, no risk was fatal. In the midst of Love’s fair garden, hope grew. Its scent was sweet, its blossoms were beautiful, and I swoon at its touch. If you want permission to hope this year for a husband or wife—HOPE! HOPE that the Lord of heaven will GRACE you this year with marriage, and if He does not—trust His kindness to keep you.

I nurture hope because I am safe and secure in His hands. Once, when I was terrified of failure (now I am just afraid) I risked little and buried hope beneath pragmatic words such as “realistic.” “Be realistic!” “Be real!” Which was my subtle way of saying, “Don’t dream!” But tell me, who hopes for what IS? Who dreams of the way things ARE?! Why bother? What a miserable world to dream into existence—the world that is. No one would dream if all things were as they should be. All is NOT as it should be. Hope is an honest confession that all is not well and that we are not home yet. Hope for a relationship is the confession that, “It is not good…” HE IS GOOD! But all is not well with the world and we have a personal longing we wish fulfilled.

Some of us have at some point turned from hope to obsession, from hope to fixation, and passed on to stubbornness. This is not hope and has little relation to true hope. It is self-will at best, and desperation at worst. If the person is not in the Lord, if you are ill-matched, if you are in sin, get out! Leave off hope! Instead of hoping in this person, take a step back. Through purity and obedience, hope in God. There is a hope that is not hope but wishful thinking, a hope called foolishness and delusion. I do not mean this form of self-deception falsely called hope.

But neither can I encourage hopelessness. Our life in Christ is a hope for what we do not yet have; a hope to be what we are not—holy. So we hope always to be more like Christ this coming year than we were last year. We long to be more like Him tomorrow than we are today. In an hour we hope to be closer to Him than we are in this moment. If we are not married today, we can hope to be married this year. It is okay to nurture this hope within the safety of His grace.

Here is my caution. Here is how I see hope in service of the believer. It is a prepositional distinction—the distinction between IN and FOR.

Our faith in every way bleeds hope. Hope is evidenced even in the darkness of the cross. But if we hope, we hope not just FOR a husband or wife. We hope IN a God who LOVES US and desires to bless us. We hope IN God FOR the gift of a husband or wife. We can therefore hope FOR a husband or wife, but NEVER place our hope IN a husband or wife. This is true before we are married, and will be true if we get married.

The truth is, husbands or wives can disappoint. We make our requests open with hands hoping that we will have what we desire, because, “God is love,” and “love never fails” (1Cor 13:8). What we dare not do is place our hope IN a person or thing, husband or wife, for then we become as the foolish builder who built on sand. What will be our condition when the storms come—and the storms WILL come.

I meet people who have deep struggles in their walk with Christ due to failed human relationships. How can this be? It cannot be otherwise if hope is placed in the object and that object becomes the source of hope itself. Then the failure of the relationship means that hope itself has failed us. It means that God has failed to obey our dreams, failed to conform to our hope—though our hopes were misplaced.

But this is not hope, and it was never a good idea. No! Hope is placed IN God for WHATEVER He will bring to us. We confess this because we KNOW He loves us. The object of our hope is merely a function of our desire. It is proper, but must keep its place. God is our inheritance. He alone is promised to us. We hope for a relationship with the understanding that it is through His grace that we shall be blessed. I don’t deserve a wife but hope that grace will provide. We will speak another time of my part in the play. What I know is that short of grace, no relationship is truly a blessing.

The benefit of hope is the benefit of faith. It is the peace of knowing that while we are not always the people we are called to be, He is always a faithful Father who will not give a snake when we ask for bread. The benefit is a tempered approach that avoids desperation, and thus—poor choices. It is tragic when the “ideal of marriage” is shattered and the real “relationship,” the real “person,” becomes TOO real. Hope then, rests IN our God FOR His gracious blessings—whatever they may be. For it is He who calls us to “ask” and we ask according to our His will (Matt. 7:7).


This article first appeared on — Friday, January 30, 2009


Comments are closed.