God's Love Story Positive Psychology Theological Musings

Building Hope: Christ-Sufficiency and Prayer

Charles Snyder, an American Psychologist, conducted research on how to conceptualize hope and developed what is known as Hope Theory. The basic premise is that there are three main components that increase hope levels: Goal-orientated thinking, agency, and pathways. Let’s define each one.

Goal-orientated thinking: Exactly as it sounds, the first component includes identifying a specific goal that you want to achieve. For example, when I was in college I came to realize that I didn’t trust God with my to-do list. I would stay up late to ease my anxiety about falling behind on work. So I decided to set a specific goal for myself to go to bed by 11pm every night.

Agency: My faith in myself to achieve the identified goal. Returning to my example, physically going to bed by 11pm was a goal I knew I could achieve. The obstacle was setting aside the anxiety that would tell me to stay up to get one more task completed. (more on that to come)

Pathways: The plan for how to achieve the goal. In order to get to bed by 11pm every night I set a bedtime reminder on my phone. When the alarm went off that was my cue to finish up my current task and start getting ready for bed.

So that’s the basic break-down of hope theory, but there’s a catch. What happens when you have limited resources to achieve the identified goal or find yourself faced with an obstacle? As I mentioned, physically going to bed was not the obstacles, rather it was combatting the worry. Overcoming the obstacle of anxiety was not something I could do on my own.

To answer that question I want to turn our attention to two passages of scripture: Philippians 4:10-20 and Luke 11:1-13.

Philippians 4:10-20 and Christ-Sufficiency

Paul wrote the book of Philippian while he was in prison. When the church at Philippi heard news about Paul’s imprisonment, they sent a member of the church to deliver gifts to Paul. Epaphroditus, the bearer of gifts, returned to the church with the letter we know today as Philippians.

In this specific passage of scripture Paul is thanking the Philippians for supporting him in his ministry, however he goes about it in an odd way. Instead of thanking the Philippians directly, he informs them that he was not in need of the gift. (Remember Paul is writing this while in prison) In fact he doesn’t even acknowledge the gift until the very end of the letter. In some ways Paul wrote a thankless thank you.

Upon closer examination of the passage, it become clear that Paul is turning his thank you into an example of Christ-sufficiency. The reason Paul is not in need of the gifts sent by the church is because he has learned how to rely on the strength of the Lord. Through Christ’s strength Paul has learned how to be content in every circumstance.

Even more striking is that Paul wrote in the language commonly seen among Stoics. The Greek word for contentment that Paul is using in this passage equates to self-sufficiency, however Paul has not discovered contentment from himself. What is beyond Paul’s ability to do on his own is within God’s power.

In the words of Paul himself “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation…[because] I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.” (v.12-13).

Luke 11:1-13 and Prayer

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

Luke 11:9

Throughout my life I’m surprised to discover that asking for help is sometimes avoided. Here are some reasons I’ve heard or given myself:

“It won’t make a difference”

“I’ll look weak”

“I don’t want to be a burden”

“I’ll get in trouble for not knowing how to do it myself”

“It’s embarrassing”

I’m sure you can think of your own excuses to add to this list, and yet here Jesus is encouraging us to ask for help. Prayer is our opportunity to present our requests to God. We are encouraged to be the nuisance who wakes up our friend in the middle of the night to ask for bread.

Think of a child who wakes up in the middle of the night scared from a nightmare or is sick and throwing up. Parents are expected to comfort and care for their children. It’s a simple truth I often forget. God want us to ask for help, and yet so often I find myself struggling on my own.

Synthesis for Building Hope

Remember when I talked about my bed time goal? Going to bed physically was not the obstacle, rather it was combatting the anxiety and worry. So when I was unable to ease the worry and fear on my own, what was the solution?

According to Hope Theory the solution would be to ask someone for help, which aligns surprisingly well with what Scripture says. Similar to how children ask adults for help when struggling with a task, hope is still present when we know there is someone who can lend a helping hand. In other words, when we are unable to be self-sufficient, there is no need to fear because Christ will “meet all [our] needs.” (Phil. 4:19). All we need do is ask.

My solution for combatting the worry was to choose Christ-sufficiency. When I found myself getting stressed, I would engage in a short conversation with God. He would remind me that his power is greater than my own and no matter the obstacles or setback He would be the one to overcome it. I did not need to exhaust myself to get through my to-do list because it would be through God’s power not my own that every single task would be completed on time.

I knew I could rest in confidence of this because of God’s love for me. As a father cares for his children, so God would care for me. Do you find yourself in need or unable to overcome an insurmountable obstacle? Go to your Father in prayer and He will meet all your needs.

References and External Resources

Snyder, Charles R. Handbook of Hope: Theories, Measures, and Applications (2000) Academic Press, San Diego, CA

Holloway, P. A. (2017). Philippians (Hermeneia – A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible) A. Y. Collins, (Ed.). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.

Fee, G. D. (1999). Philippians, (The IVP New Testament Commentary Series). (Vol. 11). G. R. Osborne, (Ed.), D. S. Briscoe, (Ed.), H. Robinson, (Ed.), Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.

Why Christ is Sufficient in Every Way from Living Free Indeed

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