Fear of the Future
Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it?(Isaiah 44:8)
We may have the wrong motives for seeking to hear from God. We all in some measure share in the general human anxiety about the future. By nature we live in the future, constantly hurled into it whether we like it or not. Knowing what we will meet there is a condition of our being prepared to deal with it- or so it would seem from the human point of view. Frances Bacon’s saying that knowledge is power is never more vividly realized than our concern about our own future.
Within the Christian community, teaching on the will of God and how to know it continues to be one of the most popular subjects. But is not a self-defeating motive at work here- one that keeps people from coming to peace about their place in the will of God?
I fear that many people seek to hear God solely as a device for securing their own safety, comfort, and righteousness. For those who busy themselves to know the will of Gd, however, it is still true that “whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”(Matthew 16:25) My extreme occupation with knowing God will for me may indicate only that I am over concerned with myself, and not that I have a Christlike interest in the wellbeing of others or in the glory of God.
Frederick B. Meyer writes, “So long as there is some thought of personal advantage, some idea of acquiring the raise and commendation of men, some aim of self-aggrandizement, it will be simply impossible to find out God’s purpose concerning us.” Nothing will go right in our effort to hear God if this false motivation is it’s foundation. God will not cooperate. We must discover a different motivation for knowing God will and listening to His voice.
The disciples who followed Jesus are wonderful examples to us, both in their success and in their failure. We read that they were carefully selected by Christ to be with him. We find in each of them something of ourselves. This brings us to the question of why do we follow Christ. We would hope that we do so out of purity of heart with no other motive other than we have met the Lord. But I think most of us recognize that there is a self-centered factor that lives in us. We read of how we can be with Jesus and receive great revelations such as in the case of Peter who was given the revelation that Jesus was the Son of God.
“Now when Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they answered, “Some say John the Baptist; others, Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah, or [just] one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed), the Son of the living God.” Then Jesus answered him, “Blessed [happy, spiritually secure, favored by God] are you, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood (mortal man) did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”
We read almost in the next breath that Peter speaks words indicating his desire that the future be what is best for himself (keeping Christ with himself), and Jesus tells him that even though he has heard from God, now he is listening to the voice of the devil who is always in contradiction to the purposes of God.
“From that time on Jesus began to show His disciples [clearly] that He must go to Jerusalem, and endure many things at the hands of the elders and the chief priests and scribes (Sanhedrin, Jewish High Court), and be killed, and be raised [from death to life] on the third day. Peter took Him aside [to speak to Him privately] and began to reprimand Him, saying, “May God forbid it! This will never happen to You.” But Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on things of God, but on things of man.”
As we read the words of Jesus in response to Peter we hear Him say “you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on things of man.” I find it so easy to ask myself how will the future plans of God affect me personally rather than how they will enhance the kingdom. I find myself being occupied with Gods will for me personally rather than His plans for His kingdom. I confess that most Christians I know usually ask me to pray with them about God’s will for them personally. For example, we want to know if this job, this house, this car, this person and so on is “right for me”. Please don’t misunderstand me, it’s good to seek God’s will for these decisions. But there is a deeper thing of seeking God’s will for the kingdom. Often congregations will seek the will of God, but again many times that seeking is motivated by what’s best for them rather than what impacts the mission of the kingdom. I’ll say this as kindly as I know how. I think most of the church right now is focused on how we can move forward through the virus so we can go back to what we know and enjoy rather than seeking God for ways we might fulfill His purpose for us. We want to know, for example, when we can once again gather as we have in the past, participate in church activities as we have in the past, and recapture our comfort zones of our normal routines. Seeking God’s will might mean seeking grace to change and grace to be flexible for the purpose of the work of God rather than what brings us comfort. This was Peter’s challenge. He was following Jesus, benefiting from being with Him, happy to be with Him, and he didn’t want any of that to change so when Jesus begins to talk about His death, Peter responds with “May God forbid it.” Is this us? When God reveals to us His way of carrying out His mission in a way we haven’t considered and that changes our environment, will we respond like Peter? Will the Lord have to rebuke us?
Reading further we find that James and John struggled with the same challenge of seeking the will of God and desiring the will of God for selfish ends.
“James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, came to Him, saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You.” And He replied to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?” They said to Him, “Grant that we may sit [with You], one on Your right and one on Your left, in Your glory [Your majesty and splendor in Your kingdom].”
The Bible is going to tell us that John was loved by Jesus and at the Last Supper, John has his head on the chest of Jesus. Yet we see how the self-centered desire for the will of God in the future touched even these. I do believe that the disciples loved Jesus. I do believe they were true followers and their hearts were sincere. I also believe that most Christians are sincere in their walk with God. But I also believe that the sin nature in all of us often causes us to be preoccupied with God’s will and how it affects us and our future personally.
We read that apparently the other disciples had those same desires that James and John expressed.
“Hearing this, the [other] ten became indignant with James and John.”
Sometimes I think this invades the church and creates the discord for we find ourselves filtering every decision through our desire to have things our way. At least I’ve come to recognize this thing in me.
Without a doubt, most of us see these things in Judas. We know that Judas was a Zealot. Zealots had one desire and that was to overthrow the oppression of Rome and for Israel to be restored to a world empire. They were literally an underground resistance movement. Like all, when Judas was called by Jesus to follow Him, he didn’t all of a sudden become someone else. He didn’t lay down his passions or desires. There can be no doubt that Judas thought Jesus was going to be the one who was going to lead a successful revolt and that he was going to see his dream come to pass. I truly believe that the motive of Judas in the betrayal was to force Jesus to display His power and to impress the Jewish leaders and people to rally and overthrow Rome. In his defense was the common perception that when the Messiah came, He would do exactly that. As we know, sadly for Judas, the will of God for the future and for Christ was the redemption of all of mankind through the cross. When Judas’ plans failed and Christ did not respond as he wished, Judas lost hope and Judas lost his way and ended up lost forever.
As we face the future, and it will always be unknown even in “normal times”, let us focus our seeking the will of God toward His kingdom. Let us not cease to seek His will for our personal things but let us give priority to finding His will for the kingdom and where we fit into His plans. The only safe future is being found doing the work of God while we live in this world. We may face impossible odds;we may not fully comprehend all that takes place around us; we may feel uncomfortable and life may seem to be out of control. But those who pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done” will surely find a future that is God-governed, God-led, and God-protected.
When we yield our will, our desires, our future to the One who knows the end from the beginning, we find that peace and assurance that everything is gong to turn out right.
“Remember [carefully] the former things [which I did] from ages past; For I am God, and there is no one else; I am God, and there is no one like Me, Declaring the end and the result from the beginning, And from ancient times the things which have not [yet] been done, Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will do all that pleases Me and fulfills My purpose,’
So we respond:
“And we know [with great confidence] that God [who is deeply concerned about us] causes all things to work together [as a plan] for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to His plan and purpose. What then shall we say to all these things? If God is for us, who can be [successful] against us? He who did not spare [even] His own Son, but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things? Who shall ever separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors and gain an overwhelming victory through Him who loved us [so much that He died for us]. For I am convinced [and continue to be convinced—beyond any doubt] that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present and threatening, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the [unlimited] love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Dr. John Thompson