Great Expectations and Freedom from Fear
The prosperity gospel has impacted most of us more than we think, even us who recognize that it’s false. Too often, I find myself thinking that I “deserve” something from God. It is pride on my part to believe that God has to work my life out the way that I think He needs to. God’s plans for my life are higher and greater, with more lasting value than mine are, though He often uses painful means to accomplish His will and make us more like Christ. He is worthy of our trust, our thanks, and our daily praise. I don’t want to diminish the distress we face in this life. I want us to see that God offers us a foundation strong enough to sustain our hope and even our joy- though it may only be a flickering flame- even if the “worst case” happens to us. There are so many truths in scripture that would apply and help us here, but I will only consider a few that have been helping me lately.
1. Recognize we already have infinitely more good than we deserve through the gospel.
In our natural unredeemed state we are worthy of God’s rejection, hatred, and eternal retribution. Every one of us has hated God and rejected His authority over our lives. We have rebelled against Him with our sin and have set ourselves up as Lord of our own lives. Romans 6:23 says “The wages of sin is death.” In other words what we have earned, and all that we have laboured after in our sin will deliver us our dues owe- death.
“But” the verse continues- “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” If we are saved we have received the farthest possible thing from what we deserved. The King of Heaven endured mocking and spitting, shame and humiliation, the penalty of our sin and paid our death, so that He may offer us the free and undeserved gift of eternal life in Him. This is unfathomable.
I think that so often we know all this theologically. We confess that we deserved death for our sin and that Christ freely saved us when we did not deserve it. We confess that Christ is our all in all, and that He is enough for us. Yet, in times when we find ourselves despairing about life’s difficult situations we need to meditate on this and ask God to impact our heart and once again change our lives through the beauty of the gospel upon the backdrop of our sin. We need to confess Psalm 16:2 “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” Focusing on God’s infinite goodness, our sin, and our undeserved salvation, humbles us and helps us to surrender every aspect of our lives to God’s will. Then we can truly say “You are all I have, and all I need is You. All of me is in Your hands Lord, and I will trust You. My life is Yours and I will not love my own life so much as not to willingly surrender it. I love You Lord, and I will live for you whatever it takes, because of who You are and what You’ve done for me.” That is a rare attitude and a bold prayer- May it be ours.
2. Fix our eyes on Him.
Hebrews 12:1-3 “…Let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured from sinners such hostility against Himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”
We need to constantly fix our eyes on Jesus and remember that He is our Lord. He is the One who initiated our faith in Him and the One who promises that He will see us through to a glorious end- really a beginning, in Heaven. He is in control of every aspect of our lives as the “only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords” who alone has “eternal dominion (1Timothy 6:15, 16).”
Jesus defeated death and sin on the cross, and sits victorious at the right hand of God the Father. We need to remember that the One who loves us and died for us will surely not abandon us in what we are going through. He will make us “more than conquerors” even if we come to a final and even shameful end (See Romans 8:31-39).
We must “consider Him” in all that He endured and overcame for us so that our trials will be brought into their proper light. Not only that, but we remember that the same Spirit which raised Christ from the dead is alive in us (Romans 8:11) and that through Him we have the power to endure and experience “the power of his resurrection” as we “share his sufferings, becoming like Him in His death (Philippians 3:10).”
We need to see Jesus and experience Him as our greatest treasure- worth selling everything for. If Jesus is our greatest treasure in this life, then the fear of loss in this life begins to lose its grip on us. Hebrews 12:27 says of Moses “By faith he left Egypt. Not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible.”
Self entitlement and the prosperity gospel will not bring us to a place like this- but the bible will. If we can truly fix our eyes on Jesus as our Lord, example, perfecter, redeemer, and highest good- then we can have a hope that truly endures when all else fails.
3. Gain an eternal perspective.
We need to experience a radical shift in how we view this life. Do you remember James’ potent question? We are wise if we give this great consideration. “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes (James 4:14).” The amount of time we will spend on earth (before it is renewed) is a blink of the eye compared to the eternity that follows it. I would wager that 95% of our focus, even as Christians, is on what we can attain in this life. We are living for the momentary now instead of the permanent forever.
This is such a sad verse but is true of so many: “One person who has no other, either son or brother, yet there is no end to all his toil, and his eyes are never satisfied with riches, so that he never asks, ‘For whom am I toiling and depriving myself of pleasure (Ecclesiastes 4:8)?’”
If our ultimate hopes and treasures are in things like relationships, houses, cars, jobs, hobbies, and health, we find ourselves in endless toiling to attain things that will not ultimately last or satisfy, and will ever experience the fear of earthly losses. When one of our treasures is lost or our hopes fail we will find ourselves despairing. But God offers us an eternal vision, hope, and purpose. He says “Do not lay up for yourselves treasure on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal (Matthew 6:19-20).”
Colossians 3:1-2 says that we are to “seeks the things that are above where Christ is” and to “set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” Verse 4 says that Christ is our life and our greatest expectation is to be with Him in glory. If we stopped setting our minds and hearts on this life we would experience such freedom from depression and fear. We would truly be renewed with hope. Our lives would experience a radical change.
Do you believe that God has a heavenly purpose for your life? I guarantee you it will include pain and loss. Is gaining Christ and being made like Him worth it to you? Is reaching a lost and dying world with the gospel worth suffering to you? It will be if you and I can gain an eternal perspective.
Once again Hebrews 11 says of Moses that he was “choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward (verse 25-26).”
Do you believe God’s promises? Could you joyfully accept loss here, even preferring mistreatment, if it meant eternal reward? Can you wait to have your “best life”… later?
Finally 2Corinthians 4:16-18 says “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
4. Consider world suffering.
First, let me say that there is one thing that really bothers me. Maybe you have experienced it too. You are going through a trial- the loss of a job, an illness, an abusive employer etc, and when you go to share your struggle with someone else they feel the need to “one-up” you instead of simply empathizing. Or, they may quickly point out how much worse others have it than you, making you feel like your pain is illegitimate.
That’s not what I want to do. World suffering does not make your personal trials any less significant or painful. The suffering of others does not make it a selfish thing for you to struggle with your own trials.
However, I do find that looking at the immense amount of suffering in this world helps me to gain perspective.
I recently read “Passport Through Darkness” by Kimberly Smith, a woman who helps protect orphans in Sudan and other nations from the sex trade industry. I was blown away to read about a place where rape, genocide, disease, homelessness, and starvation are common place. These people literally had no hope in the world, no expectation of receiving “good” on this planet. They are as accustomed to suffering as we are to prosperity.
We can’t imagine living that way, knowing so little good in life. There are people in this world that would be brought great joy by such small pleasures as a smile, a pair of shoes, a glass of water, or a bed to sleep on. They don’t expect to come by financial security, comfort, or health in this life- the idea is completely foreign to them.
Am I better than them? Should I expect that God should grant me all I have plus ease in life, while they go hungry and abused? When we think about world suffering we are brought back to the first point in humility, and must confess that we already have far more than we deserve. This doesn’t diminish our suffering, but it does help our perspective on it. It causes us to remember all the good that we have experienced in this life and to thank the God who has mercifully granted all things to us.
Reflecting on the mass amounts of evils done on this fallen planet may not seem to offer us much hope. However, the alternative is self-absorption and naivety. God can use your awareness of world suffering to lead you to my next point:
5. Seek His will for us to advance His Kingdom (live for something other than ourselves).
I want to ask you some of the questions I’ve been asking myself. How much time do you spend thinking about yourself? How do you view serving others? Is it a burden? Do you view your own needs and problems as more significant than others?
Philippians 3:3-4 says “…In humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
No matter what is happening in our lives we have the hope of the gospel. We have Almighty God as our friend, and eternal joy as our anticipation. Meanwhile we live in a world that is dark beyond our boldest imagination. Ours is a world of terrorism, demonic religion, abusive parents, gross sexual degradation, rampant abortion, and horror upon horrors. All around us every day are spiritually blind people headed for an eternity in Hell. Who else has answers and hope for this fallen world?
All of my other points- joy in the gospel, eyes on Christ, an eternal perspective, and remembering the hurting- need to move us to action. We are so consumed and wrapped up in self. Even much of our Christian activity revolves around our own needs. Maybe I’m the only one who feels like this- but likely not.
Sanctification happens inwardly and produces outward actions. Our sanctification will actually happen at a greater pace if we invest ourselves in serving others and advancing Christ’s Kingdom, rather than only reading the bible and praying. Being made holy isn’t just a clean, tidy life, with our feet up and a bible in our laps. Jesus calls every believer to “deny himself and take up his cross and follow me (Matthew 16:26).”
How does this help us to find freedom from fear?
Matthew 6:31-33 says “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
When we are consumed with ourselves and our own worries we are not likely to be seeking the kingdom of God. We view ourselves as in charge of meeting every need, and expend all our energy chasing things that are secondary in life.
We forget that His kingdom and righteousness are what we should really be living for. If we actively seek to advance God’s purposes on earth, His heart will begin to consume ours. His vision becomes our vision. We will naturally worry less about life’s burdens because our eyes and hearts are on eternal purposes. Not only that, but we have God’s promise that if we are living for Him, He will provide our daily needs. He is worthy of our trust, and in trusting Him we find perfect peace. Isaiah 26:3 says “You keep Him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”
In relation to hope, I think that living for God’s kingdom is the outworking of our hope. Learning about world suffering has the potential to cause faith-crises and despair. Maybe that’s why so many of us avoid hard topics. Our theology is yet too shallow to uphold us as we consider horrid realities on earth. But we can’t remain ignorant, and being informed, we can’t harden our hearts.
We do not want God to say this about us: “They do not bring justice to the fatherless, and the widow’s cause does not come to them (Isaiah 1:23).” But rather, as Proverbs 31:20 says of the excellent wife, we should seek to be likes this: “She opens her hand to the poor, and reaches out her hands to the needy.”
Our hope is in Jesus Christ. We know that He loves the world (John 3:16), that He hears the cries of all who are oppressed (Psalm 22:24), and that Jesus came to this earth to “bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives…(and) to comfort all who mourn (Isaiah 61:1-2).” We also know that a day is coming in which “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God (Romans 8:21).”
Yes, a day is coming in which “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away (Revelation 21:4).”
I don’t know about you but that fills my eyes with tears of longing for that day. Despite all the pain in this world, Jesus has entrusted us with the eternal hope of the gospel to share with a dying world. His gospel is “the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16).” We know and have confidence that He is a God who is mighty to save, perfect in justice, and coming to restore earth. Let us not lie down in apathy nor resign, but let us rise, seek His will and His kingdom, and labour to see it advance on this earth.
While we live in the flesh we will always struggle with the flesh. I don’t think that finding freedom for fear is a onetime event. We’re going to battle, we’re going to fall, and Christ is going to pick us up again and again. I find that I have to learn similar lessons regarding fear and anxiety over, and over again.
But I hope this article will help you to see that Christian hope isn’t based on this life. It shouldn’t stand or fall based on what happens while we’re here, crumbling if prayers go unanswered or news events shock us. Our hope is in Jesus Christ (1Thessalonians 1:3), His death and resurrection (Acts 24:15), His triumphant return (Titus 2:13), eternal life (Titus 1:2), the salvation of our souls (1Thessalonians 5:8), and in His faithfulness to keep every promise made in His word.
2Corinthians 1:20 “For all the promises of God find their Yes in Him (Jesus). That is why it is through Him that we utter our Amen to God for His glory.”
Romans 15:4 “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
I hope that reading this will help you to experience great hope and release from fear, trusting in His loving kindness towards you regardless of your circumstances. May we look to Him daily and live for eternal purposes in this world, taking our eyes off of ourselves and living a great life of faith for God, knowing that one day we will hear Him say “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”