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Disciples of Jesus Choose Hope – Q&A with Michael Patterson

*Editor’s Note: In an anxious and angry season, how can disciples of Jesus practically show the world the hope of Jesus? At the juncture of 2020 and 2021, I was able to speak with Michael Patterson, church leader and history professor, to get his perspective on how to cultivate hope in difficult times such as so many people experienced in 2020. 

Q: How would you define hope for a person who sees hope as nothing more than empty optimism?

Before explaining hope to an individual, we would need to establish whether the Bible is their standard. If the Bible is the standard, then we can discuss how a person can reorient their mind to embrace the Word of God. However, if the individual does not look to the Word as their standard, they are simply left with the ability to wish.

According to the Word of God, hope is the confident expectation of what God has promised, and its strength is in His faithfulness. When a person exercises hope, they are saying, I trust God will work it all out.

Q: As a history professor, what are a couple of the most memorable snapshots of hope for you throughout history?

There are numerous examples of people holding on to hope in “hopeless” situations. It is not logical that a small group of scattered American colonists defeated Great Britain, a superpower at the time. However, the colonists’ desire for freedom and liberty motivated them to fight, and eventually, in 1776, America became a sovereign nation.

During the Civil War, men who had been enslaved for generations fought on the Union side in Massachusetts’s 54th Regiment. Although they only had the promise of freedom, they willingly risked their lives to make it a reality.

Q: As a disciple of Jesus, what are two or three Bible verses that give you hope?

I have consistently read my Bible since the mid-80s, and it can still be a struggle for me to remain hopeful when life seems gloomy and bleak. I frequently have to reflect on Scriptures like this verse from Paul’s letter to the Romans:

Even when there was no reason for hope, Abraham kept hoping—believing that he would become the father of many nations. For God had said to him, “That’s how many descendants you will have!” (Romans 4:18, NLT)

This Scripture reminds me that God made a promise to Abraham and that He faithfully fulfilled the promise.

I remember attending a Bible discussion as a young disciple, and we studied Romans 8. I felt extraordinarily encouraged and hopeful as we read the following verse:

“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Romans 8:28, NLT).

During that time in my life, I had a simple faith that was not tarnished by life’s disappointments. Recently, a brother in Christ in his 70s who has been a disciple for about 50 years told me, “It all works out.”

I asked, “What about children, finances, challenges in the church?”

And his response was, “I have lived long enough to see that it all works out.” He echoes what the Scripture teaches: God is going to work it all out.

Q: You have used “Watch Night” as a metaphor for hope. What is Watch Night?

Watch Night has become a tradition in the African American community. A lot of churches would ring in the new year by having a worship service, and when you look at the history of it, it started when the slaves gathered in homes and churches to hear about the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation the next day. They knew at midnight they would be free.

Unfortunately, a lot of young adults don’t know what Watch Night is. I think there’s renewed interest in learning about it since people have become more aware of a similar holiday called Juneteenth, which celebrates the official emancipation of the slaves.

Q: How is Watch Night a picture of hope for you?

I think about what it must have been like to sit there and realize that in a matter of minutes, you would be free. It would be a moment of excitement, fear, and apprehension. This reminds me of so much of what we experience in a new year, especially after a year like 2020. We find ourselves thinking this year has got to be better than the previous year. I think God has hardwired us to have a sense of hope, believing that tomorrow can be better.

The black experience is largely one of believing in a better tomorrow. Our grandparents and parents endured a lot of pain and suffering with the belief that future generations could have a better tomorrow. As Christians, we can learn a lot from that hope. We can be willing to go through challenges on behalf of future believers. The goal is to persevere through a tough time by considering how will this benefit future generations.

Q: What’s an example of persevering through a tough time for the benefit of future generations?

For example, so much of what we had to do in order to make virtual church happen. We were hopeful that God would use it to reach new people. We believed there was somebody out there that needed a lifeline. There was somebody that needed to know there’s hope. In the midst of difficulties, if we’re not hopeful, we can’t be light of the world.

As disciples of Jesus, we don’t want to imitate the way the world does things. Rather than being discouraged the way the world is discouraged, we want to influence the world with the hope of Jesus.

The goal is to persevere through a tough time by considering how will this benefit future generations.

Q: What’s a step someone can take toward hope when they are naturally a pessimistic or angry person?

Ask yourself, Do I really trust God? Do I trust His Word? Because if we aren’t letting our Bibles guide us, we’re just going to be wishful or optimistic at best. Christian hope is based in truth: God’s worked it out before; I’m sure He’s going to do it again.

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