LOOKING AHEAD WITH HOPE
This is the time of the year for looking back at the year gone by, and making resolutions for the new. It is also a time when preachers hold out various promises for a blessed and prosperous year ahead, when problems are going to disappear, financial prospects are going to bloom, relationships are going to become better, sickness will be healed, dreams are going to be fulfilled, etc. People like to hear such prophecies for a bright and happy future, and after the New Year programme they go forward with much expectancy. However, the harsh realities of everyday life slowly engulf them, and many forget to think much about these promises till next year. Unfortunately, many others are so used to hearing such promises at this time of the year that they do not even bother to take them seriously, but consider them rather like fortune cookies which give them a momentary amusement but which they do not really take to heart.
We all have to admit that life on earth is tough in many ways, and any promise from God that things are going to become better will be more than welcome. But has God really made such promises to us, the disciples of Jesus Christ who are living in the days very near to the second coming of Christ? It is unfair to quote promises to us which are given to some other people and make us hope for what is really not going to happen! That is what many preachers do, taking verses from the Old Testament which were given to Israel under the old covenant and tease us with them, not realising that we are not under that covenant but under a new covenant of grace brought to us through Jesus Christ.
The old covenant and the new covenant both have their terms and conditions. The old covenant made promises for financial prosperity, protection from sicknesses, victory over enemies, blessing of children, etc., provided people took care to obey all the commandments of God (Deut.28). But the new covenant does not make such promises. “Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt.6:31-33). This promise from God is for meeting all our needs and does not give out hope for prosperity or a sickness-free life. Philippians 4:19 confirms the same promise, “And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
There is another type of prosperity that the new covenant offers. “That He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us...” (Eph.3:16-21). This promise of spiritual prosperity was being given to disciples when Paul himself was going through tribulations, as far as his earthly life was concerned (v.13). Is it right for us to take the part, “Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us,” out of its context and convert it into a promise for expecting whatever we want?
Jesus not only told us that in this world we would have trouble (Jn.16:33), but He has also warned us through the apostles that in the last days difficult times would come (2Tim.3:1). The Amplified Bible describes this as “perilous times of great stress and trouble [hard to deal with and hard to bear].” We can all notice that this is what is happening now. Rising prices of essential commodities, decreasing value of the rupee, emergence of new diseases that doctors do not know how to deal with, increase of violence, rapes, accidents, riots and terrorist attacks, corruption affecting practically all levels of life including bureaucracy, political systems, judiciary, hospitals, college admissions, real estate transactions, electricity and water connections, etc., affect our lives. There are wars and threats of wars in different parts of the world. Everyone is subject to the almost unpredictable and abnormal weather systems, and many lives and much property get affected or destroyed by natural calamities. Is it realistic to promise peace, quiet and prosperity?
We need to look at the promises of God that apply to us in these times. “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt.28:20). “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you” (Heb.13:5). That is our hope and strength in times of trouble. “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren” (Rom.8:28,29). God promises us through this passage that everything that comes to our life will be turned around to make us more like Jesus. We have already seen that God promises to provide us with all that we need for our earthly lives.
Instead of holding out false hopes that can only temporarily comfort the people, is it not the need of the hour to encourage them to stay close to God and find His strength, protection and provision in all our circumstances? Our clear relationship with God through Jesus Christ and our close walk with Him are the things that can take us through safely when the natural hopes and expectations of people fail.