Early this morning I gathered with the usual cast of suspects: my Wednesday morning Bible study. For many years, I have led two Wednesday Bible studies that I call the “No Excuses, No Embarrassment Bible Study.” There are no excuses, because it’s offered at 6:45 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. Nobody is embarrassed, because I promise that I’ll never put anyone on the spot, forcing to reveal what they don’t know about the Bible.

In my bleary-eyed early group, bolstered by our fresh, piping-hot Starbucks blends, we have been studying Zechariah, one of the “minor prophets” of the Old Testament. Old Zechariah lived in tough times. For 70 years the people of the Promised Land had been taken off into exile under the Babylonians, and their beloved Jerusalem had been left in shambles. Now they had returned to try to make sense of life, to rebuild the Temple and the nation, and to attempt a new normalcy.

It is in that context that Zechariah uses a phrase that caught our imagination: “Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.” The prophets were often quick to predict doom and gloom, but this is such a memorable message of hope.

“Prisoners of hope.” This may have referred to those who had not yet returned from their scattered existence — that they still may come back to their homeland — but I found myself thinking that perhaps this phrase describes many of us. I have known quite a few “prisoners of hope,” people who just can’t escape being hopeful. It’s not that they are Pollyannas, holding on to a futile hope in something that will never come; they are just brave souls who feel, deep down somewhere in their core, that they have not yet arrived at the destination, that they are still on the journey, and that God has something better for them beyond today’s horizon. They just can’t not be hopeful. They are prisoners of hope.

I visited one of those folks yesterday. My friend is dying, and she knows it, because hospice workers surround her constantly. In spite of this, she looked up at me and said, “You know, Blair … it’s a wonderful life.” Then she went on to speak of her impending death as “the next great adventure.” There’s no doubt about it — she’s a prisoner of hope.

I think of a line from the musical, “South Pacific”: “I’m stuck like a dope with a thing called hope, and I can’t get it out of my mind.” That’s what it’s like to be a prisoner of hope.

Another passage that came out of my early morning group came from another prophet, Habakkuk. Living in an even worse time, he complained to God that his prayers hadn’t been answered. In response, God tells him, “… a work is being done in your days that you would not believe if you were told.” If I told you what I have in mind, you wouldn’t believe it anyway. You would be too astonished.

Friends, I don’t know what your life is like right now. If all’s right in your world, I am truly happy for you. But if things are a little dark right now, and you’re hoping that the light you see at the end of the tunnel isn’t another freight train, may hope get hold of you and never let you go. May you be a prisoner of hope, and may you never give up on the unseen possibilities that lie just over the horizon.

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