A caterpillar will only receive the glory nature has guaranteed it.
If it emerged from its cocoon as anything other than a butterfly—say, a hamster, a frog, or a lima bean—that would be strange.
We could learn something from this observation, because we Christians routinely expect outcomes God has not promised us.
Like the Christian writer who expects his book to fly off the shelves. Or the pastor who expects his church to double every year. And then there are expectations about employment, and weight loss, and marriage, and children, and health, and popularity. There are many things we really want, but they haven’t materialized. In fact, the modicum you once possessed of them is evaporating.
It becomes harder to sing in Sunday morning worship. Resentment grows in you against the God who is generous with others, and stingy with you. It feels as though He’s reneged on an agreement, but is that anywhere in writing? Maybe you’ve been bitten by the bug of assumption. A lot of us have.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting certain blessings. I remember the first time when, as a broke ministry intern, I prayed for the money to buy a computer and cool software like PageMaker and Photoshop. I really wanted it. A year later, I had all of it and more. I’ve prayed for a lot of things since then. A good number of requests met with silence. A few got a definite “no.”
The harm doesn’t lie in the wanting, but in an unreasonable sense of expectation and entitlement. We’re easily led astray by misplaced hopes, private dreams that transform into idols of the heart. It begins innocently enough as a desire for a good thing, but with the aid of obsessive fantasy, grows into the Hope Diamond. The elusiveness of the object only enhances its perceived value. We keep envisioning ourselves with it firmly in hand, at last capturing the satisfaction we’ve been denied.
Positive-think gurus rally us to actualize our hopes by giving us soundbites and weekend seminars. Preachers get in on the act with entire sermons built around the ideas of hope and faith and endurance without bothering to define the thing hoped for. And so biblical hope becomes confused with whatever our hearts have enclosed and desired—”Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart,” says the sermon, completely unhooked from the rest of the Bible. If God is good, He will come through.
Sometimes that thing materializes. When it does, we give a testimony about it in church. When the hope doesn’t materialize (which it often doesn’t), we bear it in disappointed silence, wondering why God doesn’t like us.
The goodness of God thus remains a concept shrouded in confusion, and this is why the Bible tells us about the importance of having a sober mind (1 Pet. 1:13). When I think about my hopes and dreams, a bewildering rummage sale appears, full of odd mismatched items of dubious worth.
When the Bible speaks of hope, it says to “set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:13). If our greatest hopes are anchored in the uncertain things of everyday life, then God will appear random and disordered, almost wishy-washy. He cannot decide whether He wants to bless us or curse us or simply ignore us. One day we lose a job, the next day we find another. Today we get a clean bill of health from the doctor, but tomorrow have car trouble. Under these circumstances, hope seems to be a moving target.
The apostle tells us to set our hope on the grace coming to us at the end, when Jesus appears. 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 in the future. The coming revelation of Jesus is a grace you have yet to experience. It is both the end product of all prior grace in your life, and a grace that eclipses all others for sheer magnitude.
No matter what situation you are currently in the midst of, head toward that future grace. Make decisions good for that. Think about that. When you catch yourself doing so, you’ve developed 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. 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. I eat a loaf and a half. Then she returns and asks if we want an appetizer, to which I want to respond, “No, I’m done.” 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 cellphone.
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. Actually, even the things that tend to disappoint you are themselves a setup for the next serving of grace.
The process continues until finally, there is the unveiling, the full revelation of Jesus, as promised. This is the cumulative grace of all the Christian experience, when we end up in glory. As John says, “We know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2).
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.
Your promise is on the way.
Enjoy it as it plays out.