Our Most Unrealistic Expectation

20 Aug

The more I read the Bible, the more convinced I become that our most unrealistic expectation as Christians is that if we walk in God’s ways, all will go well with us in this life.  There is indeed blessing for those who trust in the Lord and follow His commands, but the idea that really godly people always prosper, popularly promoted by televangelists and accepted by many Christians, simply does not stand up to biblical scrutiny.

Abraham is told to leave his homeland and follow God’s plan.  He is given great promises and then he goes to the land God promises where he immediately faces a famine.  He goes to Egypt, where he almost loses his wife.  He goes through 25 years of trials and tribulation before God’s promise is fulfilled to him.  God proves faithful time after time, but He was faithful not by delivering Abraham  from all trouble, but by bringing him through trouble.

Joseph experiences the pit and the prison before he experiences the palace.  Moses wanders in the wilderness as a fugitive shepherd before he goes to lead the people of God out of slavery in Egypt.  One example after another of delayed fulfillment, deferred hopes and great hardship cover the pages of Scripture.

So why do we think it will be different with us?  I suggest that there are two answers.  First, everything in our culture tells us we should not think of hardship as a normal part of God’s plan for us.  Advertising tells us a product will fix anything that’s ailing us and it always promises that if we will use this product or that product, everything will work out for us.  Our problems are nothing a new mattress can’t fix.  Popular culture tells us that there are winners and losers in life.  Winners make all the right choices and end up on top.  Losers get off track through their bad choices and never quite measure up.  Christian culture reinforces these admittedly broad-brushed stereotypes by teaching that faithfulness to God will lead to health, wealth and prosperity.  Pray your Jabez prayer, live the Purpose-Driven Life and you won’t get Left Behind.  Church culture  certainly affirms the prosperity message as well.  Good churches are the ones where business is booming, where the seats are full and the money is coming in.  A bad church is an unsuccessful church, measured by bodies and bucks.  The efforts of many denominational leaders seem aimed at church prosperity rather than biblical faithfulness.  Church growth books abound, all promising greatness if we follow the right steps.  Church problems are nothing a new program can’t fix.  Church growth books routinely ignore that the greatest church growth in the past has come when the Church has gone through great seasons of suffering.

The second reason we don’t accept the Bible’s portrayal of life is because we don’t trust the promises of God enough.  So we are too quick to believe the world and too quick to disbelieve God.  Now why would failure to trust in God’s promises lead us to accept a view of life which equates prosperity in this life with the blessing of God?  The simple answer is this:  since so many of God’s promises are future-oriented, ignoring these promises will cause us to fix our hopes on this life and what happens today.  But if I know that God has prepared an eternity for me of great joy and blessing, I can endure trials in this life with faith, knowing that this is not the end of the story.  So if I fix my mind on God’s promises, I have comfort in my current hardships.  But if I don’t focus on God’s cross-bought, empty tomb-guaranteed promises, I will see every temporary trial as an epic concern.  Since my hope is here and now, my hopes are dashed when the here and now is not great.

I know all of this is probably really simple.  But sometimes simple things are easily overlooked.

I want my life and ministry to sing like Paul’s in 2 Corinthians 6 . . .

3 We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4 but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5 beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 6 by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; 7 by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8 through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9 as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.

The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (2 Co 6:3–10). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

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