My friend Mike recently made this observation: Many Christians lose the excitement they initially had about the Word of God and the initial joy they had about their walk with Jesus because they had approached Christianity with expectations of gaining things in this life rather than realizing that our hope is not for this life but for the next life. In other words, our joy and excitement as Christians come from having our hope focused on the promise of eternal life in a glorified body with Jesus in heaven. If our hope gets shifted to the things of this life, we lose our joy and our excitement diminishes because the hope that this life offers will always fall short and cause discouragement.
I believe this mistaken placement of our hope can manifest itself in many ways: We expect immediate success in our Christian endeavors or ministries, or we expect to make an impact on our surroundings, or expect to change other people’s lives dramatically, or we expect to always have God’s blessings, or we expect to always prosper, and so on. If this doesn’t occur according to our plan or in our timing, or in a way that we can see the results immediately, then we question God or think we are amiss either as an individual Christian or as a body of Christians. Christianity is not a self-help or self-improvement methodology. The Bible is not intended to be a motivational book. I’m not saying that you won’t find new motivation as a Christian, nor am I saying that your life won’t be improved or helped, but if you make this the focus of your relationship with God, you will miss the main point: Our hope should not be on the things of this life, but rather on heaven and the spiritual things. You will only be truly changed, and real improvements will only happen when you realize that the things of this life don’t really matter anymore. They are temporary. All things gained in this life are vanity because you can’t take them with you when you die. If you love your life you will lose it, but if you lose your life for Jesus’ sake you will gain eternal life.
Of course, the real improvements are not external. As we live our lives as Christians, God is more concerned about the changes that are happening on our inside than the outside changes. He is more interested in our hearts than our surroundings or circumstances. In fact, it is likely that our surroundings and circumstances will get worse in many ways. He promises to test our faith, because he knows that our faith is more precious than gold or silver. He promises to discipline us, because he loves us and knows that we need this unpleasant disciple for a season so that we can produce the fruit of righteousness. He doesn’t take us around the valley of the shadow of death, but he takes us through it. We get through because we know he is with us. We learn how to recognize and understand that his rod and staff are there with us and we find comfort in that even while in the valley. When we come out the other side, we are stronger; our character has been improved, our faith has deepened and we are ready for the next valley that may be deeper and darker, but it doesn’t matter because our hope is in heaven. We know how the story ends.
The world recognizes the power of hope and the importance of hope. Unfortunately, the people of this world system have their hope set on things that will disappoint them. They believe lies that lead them to believe that their hope is real and attainable. But for many the hope is either never reached or it’s a mirage. How many retired people find that the retirement life that they have worked so hard for and dreamed of is not what they expected? How many hopes and dreams are shattered by divorce or death of a spouse, or bankruptcy, or a failed business, or sickness, or the many unpleasant and unexpected things that come up in our lives?
For the Christian, our hope is immutable. There is absolutely impossible for our hope to fail. Our hope is based on God’s promise and He has actually sworn an oath to keep this promise. That’s what makes it immutable or irreversible. In the 6th chapter of Hebrews we are exhorted to fully grasp this hope, in verse 11: “and we desire each of you to show the same earnestness in realizing the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” And then later in verse 17 he mentions the unchangeable nature of God’s promise that we have placed our hope upon: “So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose he interposed with an oath, so that through two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible that God should prove false, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to seize the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner shrine behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf……..”
For some reason though, Christians don’t want to emphasize this hope in heaven when evangelizing new believers. They rather want to set the new convert’s focus on benefits that will come in this life. Perhaps there is a fear that they won’t be able to fully “sell” a message of future hope that is only fulfilled after death. Our modern western culture of impatience, where we have fast food and quick fixes for everything, just doesn’t fit with the patient endurance needed for true faith and assurance in a future hope of glory after we die. Throughout the scriptures the message of placing our hope in heaven is very clear. Our hope was established by the resurrection of Jesus. We too who remain faithful to the end will likewise be given a glorified body. The pains and stress and disappointments and heartaches and tears of this life will be no more. We must rejoice in this hope. We must find our happiness from this hope. We must patiently wait for the fulfillment of this hope and endure what life brings to us. God is faithful as our loving father. He will take us through and strengthen us for the fight. Surely, goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives, but in His way, and in His time, and for His purpose, and for our long term good.