Somebody once said that there’s nothing worse than advancing up a ladder and reaching the top only to discover that it was leaning against the wrong wall. Of course this anecdote describes the tragedy of misplaced hope.
Discomforts and inconveniences can get severe enough to make us lose hope and focus all at the same time. This is exactly where we Christians get into a tangle. Let things get bad enough and we’ll want to do something else with our lives. I suppose from that standpoint the Christian life is like dieting. Your vision of a skinnier you disappears when the first hunger pain strikes and—wouldn’t you know it—there’s a bag of powdered donuts in the pantry. The diet plan dies a quiet death and you decide rather than losing weight maybe you’ll learn to play the harmonica. All it took was hunger and temptation to change things. Don’t let this happen to your Christian life.
The Bible tells us that the first thing we need in times of suffering is to have a sober mind (1 Pet. 1:13). That is, to think straight. When life’s temperature is set to broil, I’m not focused. I’m a mess. I’m looking for a fire escape. That is exactly when we start making foolish decisions. Peter reminds us to set our hope (lean our ladder) toward the grace that will be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1:13). This is not the grace that was brought to you, as when you first met Jesus. This is grace that will be brought to you as in grace future, not yet experienced. The coming and revelation of Jesus is a grace you have not yet received. It will eclipse all prior grace for sheer magnitude. No matter what happens around you now, head toward that. Make decisions good for that. Think about that. Alright, now you’ve got a sober mind.
This whole thing is like a twenty-one course dinner. When I first heard about meals of that magnitude, I thought, no way. I’d be full after the first two courses. Naturally, I had the American interpretation in mind. That’s where the server comes out and takes the drink order. Of course I get a reservoir-sized Mountain Dew and kill half of it on the spot. I’m already a little full. Then she brings the bread—free bread with butter. Being a real man, I eat a loaf and a half. Then she returns and asks if we want an appetizer, to which I respond, “No, I want my check…so I can pay for my drink and free bread.” That’s the American version of the multi-course meal. Each course causes you to want the next one a little less.
But true professional dining does it differently. Each course conditions your palate, causing you to anticipate the next one. It doesn’t function to fill you up and stop you somewhere in the middle. There’s a little sweet, then a bit of salty, then some hot, some cold, some crunchy. Finally the main course arrives, glazed and under glass. It’s so exquisite that you take a picture of it with your smartphone.
Grace works in much the same fashion. It comes in successive waves, conditioning you to want and anticipate the next thing that God will do in your life. Every thing He does is a setup for the next thing. It progressively develops until finally, there is the unveiling, the full revelation of Jesus. This is cumulative grace, big giant grace. And what it really means is that no matter how old you are, the best is still in front of you. You might have already gotten a thousand courses of grace, but until Christ returns, you haven’t seen the best yet.
This was the way the apostle helped suffering believers refocus their hope…and not turn away to donuts.