Wednesday, August 17, 2011

In Fear of our Hope


We all have a wonderful hope in Jesus Christ.  We know that one day He will return to take home as His own.  We know that death has no sting for us because it is merely our entrance into eternal life in paradise in the presence of God.  So why are we not always as excited about it as we should be?  I am pretty sure that all of us have those times.  We plan to get married and have children and almost hope (or actually hope) that Jesus does not return so that we can watch our children be born and grow up.  We often fear death and do all we can to make our lives last as long as they can.  I am no different.  I do not even have children yet I pray that God allow me to see my grandchildren and enjoy them. I do have the disclaimer that should the Lord return first, that would be perfectly fine!  My problem is not with my hope of the Lord's return coming at any time.  But I do have to say that I do not feel ready to die.  I am not saying that I feel the Lord calling me home and I do believe that should the Lord tarry and that time should eventually come that the Lord will not prepare me for it, but I am not ready now.  I think the problem we have is that we let our hopes grow a little faster than our faith. 

There is a verse that the Lord has been speaking to me about this issue.  I believe that this is one reason why it becomes difficult for us to truly look forward to our reward. 
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.  Hebrews 11:1 NKJV
Faith is the substance of our hope.  Hope without faith is only fantasy.  For example, I can say that I hope to win the lottery and be an instant gazillionaire.  Being that I do not play the lottery, I can be pretty certain that winning the lottery will never happen.  My hope has no substance as I can have no faith in actually winning.  This means that it is merely a fantasy and while it may be nice to think about, I certainly do not look forward to it nor do I plan my life around it.  On the other hand, I hope to be able to move north in the near future.  We feel that God has called us in that direction, our condo is on the market, and I have a preapproval for a mortgage.  I have faith that we will move north in the future and so my wife and I are making actually plans and choices as though that will be a reality. 

What this means for our spiritual life is that when we have hesitance or fear of the end (whether the end times or end of life) that there is a problem with our faith.  I am not necessarily speaking of this as a negative thing. Faith is something that grows as we walk with God.  Sometimes our faith has not progressed to where our hopes are and sometimes it represents some weakness in our faith.  The problem is not so much our struggles with our faith, but the fact that we are not honest about them.  When we are not looking as forward to our hope as we should be, we really need to examine our faith.  If there is something lacking, admit it to God and ask Him to help you.  God is graceful if we are honest with Him.  There is a great illustration in the Bible of what I am speaking about.
Then they brought him to Him. And when he saw Him, immediately the spirit convulsed him, and he fell on the ground and wallowed, foaming at the mouth. So He asked his father, "How long has this been happening to him?" And he said, "From childhood. And often he has thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us." Jesus said to him, "If you can believe, all things [are] possible to him who believes." Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!" When Jesus saw that the people came running together, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it: "Deaf and dumb spirit, I command you, come out of him and enter him no more!"  Matthew 9:20-25 NKJV
We see a father who knew of Jesus who had hope that Jesus could help his son.  We also see that his faith did not match his hope.  When we are struggling in our faith, many times the best thing we can do is cry out like the father saying "Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!"  Just as in the case of this man, the Lord will hear us and in His grace He will help our faith. 

Another issue we have is that we can not imagine the unimaginable nor can the Bible describe the indescribable.  That is not to say that the Word is limited, I am saying that the human mind is limited.  Heaven can not be adequately described in any kind of terms that we would understand.  Here is what Paul says regarding and eye witness account of Heaven.
I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago--whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows--such a one was caught up to the third heaven. And I know such a man--whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows-- how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.  2 Corinthians 12:2-4 NKJV
In other words, Paradise is so far beyond description that it would be criminal to even try.  What we see in our spiritual lives is that our hope is in those glorious promises through Jesus Christ, but we can not see what those promises look like.  We know that death is merely our entrance into eternity and we know that when Jesus returns to take us home, we will be entering into a glorious kingdom as the bride of Christ.  We learn how wonderful it will be, but we can not imagine it well.  You see, pondering what eternal life in paradise will be like is impossible for us who have only been alive for a relatively few years.  Can you imagine living in heaven 1000 years from now?  How about one million years?  How about one billion years?  Of course we can not, that is entirely unimaginable to us.  Living in a place where there is no marriage and we love everyone and everyone loves us is also unimaginable to us who live in a world as fallen as this.  Personally, I can not imagine life without my wife and we have only known each other for a little more than two years.  In eternity, my love for her will be no stronger or different than my love for anyone else.  That is unimaginable to me.  The fact is that we only have highly metaphorical language to the majesty, beauty, and joy of our eternity in Heaven.  We have no pictures or postcards nor can we talk to anyone who has been there.  You can not go to Tripadvisor to see the best places to stay and eat in Heaven.  There is no website.  Our immortality is hard to imagine with our mortal minds.  Nothing we have or can experience on earth can compare with the joy of normal daily life in the eternal presence of our Lord. 

So what we need to do to help us better realize and look forward to our hope is to work on the substance of that hope.  In other words, we need to put our focus on God.  If our focus is on Him, the rest will work itself out.  It is the sacrifice of His Son that gave us eternal life.  It is His Spirit that dwells in our hearts as a down payment for our reward.  I am not saying to not look to our hope, but we need to look to Jesus first to give us a reason for that hope.  So when you have those days where you seem to not be looking as forward as you should to your reward, focus on Jesus and ask Him to help your faith.  When you have those days when the unimaginable seems less desirable than reality of our current lives, focus on the Lord and ask Him to put what you think is good now in the context of an eternity so great it is impossible to even begin to comprehend.  We will all go through trials of faith in this life, God allows them to exercise and strengthen our faith.  Press on through those times keeping your eyes on Jesus and when you come through the reality and joy of the reward to come will be just a little bit clearer.  It is that ever-increasing clarity of the Paradise to come that gets us through this life now. 
Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward [man] is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding [and] eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen [are] temporary, but the things which are not seen [are] eternal.  2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NKJV

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