What are we waiting for?

Trusting God’s promises isn’t always easy. It takes us into new territory. And we need to grow in faith. However, none of the difficulties involved need to tarnish our faith. 

God has opened his heart up to us. He’s calling us to discover his faithful love. And he wants us to live in this hope while we wait for his time of fulfilment. By promising us a future, God is enabling us to live in his eternal plan—now. But we need some perseverance.

Many of us have lived through very pleasant times. This has made us think God’s promises only relate to having more nice times. But God wants us to live in what the future will be—even while the present is proving to be difficult.

The letter of Hebrews has much to say about living by God’s promises—particularly towards its end (Hebrews 10:32—12:3). You may find it helpful to read this passage first. There’s five points that it makes clear. This makes my article longer than usual—but I hope, worthwhile.

First, our fathers in the faith faced the same difficulties that we do in living by God’s promises.

There are enemies opposing those who first get this letter (Hebrews 10:36-39). They have an option to live comfortably, but at the risk of giving up their faith in Christ. They need some help to live by what is unseen rather than what would be culturally safe. They, and we, are warned not to ‘shrink back’ from waiting for what God promises.

Israel’s founding father, Abraham, and his wife Sarah, wait for decades for the child God promises to them. Then, they live among enemies in the land God has promised (11:12-13). And there’s delay for everyone in the Old Testament, waiting for God’s promises to be fulfilled (11:39-40).

God is painting on a large canvas and he needs us to step back—with him—and appreciate that more is going on than we may understand while we wait. 

Second, hoping for things we can’t see (or control) is no problem to faith.

In fact, faith is being assured and persuaded that what we hope for and cannot see is substantial (11:1). God himself gives us this faith and when he does, we can ‘see’ what is invisible and experience what can’t be measured.

We need to think about the world we can see. Why is there something and not nothing? Why do we have consciousness and not just instincts? The world can’t answer these questions. But the answer is that everything we see and experience has come from something unseen—from God speaking (11:3, 27). 

It’s always God’s word that makes things happen. And faith is being assured and persuaded that this is why there is a world, and a universe, and us. 

If we insist that there’s no God to make everything, we exist without ever having started. We try to proceed without understanding who we are or what we are for. And we certainly have nothing to give us hope. We lack assurance and persuasion.

On the other hand, understanding that God creates everything by his word speaks to us deeply because we are made by God, and for him. 

This sets the pattern for all that the writer then tells us.

Noah builds an ark in the light of things not yet visible—a flood (11:7). Then, Abraham leaves his cosy life for one promised by God. He is looking for something God builds. Something solid (11:8-10).

Paul says that seen things pass away. It’s the unseen things that are durable (2 Cor. 4:18). This idea is strange to someone who doesn’t know God. But it’s natural to faith. Everything God does starts from what we can’t see.

Third, God is setting up a world where everything will be as he intends it to be. Hebrews calls it ‘a better country’, ‘a heavenly one’ (11:16). It’s a kingdom that can’t be shaken (12:26-28).

If we believe God can’t make anything better than what we see at the moment, he wouldn’t want to be known as our God—expecting so little of him. Do we think he is satisfied with injustice, suffering and death? Are we happy for everything—including ourselves—to be no better than they are at the moment? Is a shaky world good enough? 

God’s promises point to something amazing, complete, without danger or pollution.

We said earlier that all God’s promises find their ‘Yes’ in Christ. And this ‘Yes’ includes what he has done in his first coming and what he will complete in his second coming. 

That’s why people who please God with their faith are people who are looking for a city that has foundations (11:10)—not like the shaky things we tend to trust at the moment.

Scoffers think the promise of Christ’s return is a fiction. But Peter tells us the reason for his delay is not incompetence or carelessness but patience with our race (2 Pet. 3:2-4, 8-13). As we noted before, God paints on a large canvas. And he longs for us to be in the picture!

Fourth, all the people who are waiting are, in fact, busy.

The catalogue of accomplishments attributed to faith is impressive. Abraham didn’t sit and meditate. He leaves everything to take up what God is going to do with him and his family. Moses prefers trouble with God’s people to safety as a celebrity in Egypt. 

Sometimes, God’s people seem to succeed, and other times, seem to fail. But it’s God who knows what will last. Being assured there will be a good outcome gives us energy, and a readiness to endure hardship.

If God’s promises are ringing in our ears and warming our hearts, we’ll do things that fit God’s eternal plan. We’re headed for a new creation, but we are already a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17)—part of the future God is making. 

Everything we now do through faith and love is eternal.  Nothing is lost. Think of Jesus commending someone on judgement day for giving a cup of water to one of his servants (Matthew 10:42). Think of the clothes we’ll wear when the church is married to Christ. What we do now is what we’ll wear then (Revelation 19:8).

If you are a politician, you have to do things that fit the immediate situation. But if you are building what is eternal, you’ll make sure you’re doing something that Jesus will acknowledge. 

In fact, what is eternal is what is best for the world now. It’s just that the world doesn’t see it that way.

Fifth, we look to Jesus who is the author and finisher of our faith (12:2). 

Jesus believed God’s promise, that he would have many brothers and sisters to share with him in knowing his Father’s love. Because he believed this promise, he endured the sufferings of death—for us. That’s where we need to be looking if we are going to carry on, and then receive what God has promised.

It’s love—his love—that keeps hope alive. The Holy Spirit comes as an outpouring of God’s love to us, and in us. This is why we don’t get disappointed or ashamed (Romans 5:5). 

God takes pleasure in faith like this (11:2, 4, 5, 39)! And his pleasure is not about us being good but us discovering that he is good! We discover he can be trusted. And he says, ‘You’re mine!’

So, we have seen that when God makes promises, he takes the initiative in what goes on in his world. And he opens up his plans so we can share with him in building and enjoying what is eternal. More particularly, we discover him!

This takes us well out of our depth! We’ll need to swim. But then, sharing with God is what we are made for! Our thinking and affections need more to feed on than what we can see. 

We are to live by every word that God speaks. And a lot of what he has said has said hasn’t happened yet. So, we need to hear his promises, and persist. And then, when Christ returns, we will see that everything God promised has happened.

Saved from futility

‘What’s the use?’ We’ve probably heard that said, or said it ourselves. Nothing’s working and our time’s being wasted.

An old Greek myth tells the story of Sisyphus who is punished by being made to push a stone up a hill, only to have it roll down again when he nearly gets to the top. And he must do this forever! We now call a job that’s laborious and useless ‘sisyphean’.

That’s what life in this world is like—without God. Useless. And Christians have been saved from the futile ways we learn in this world (Ephesians 4:17-20).

In times past young believers were worshipping idols. And, of course, calling something a god when it can’t hear, think or act is futile. Nothing is going to happen by talking to it or offering it a bribe.

And the kind of life that grows from worshipping idols is also futile. There is nothing above us to lift us up. There is only a recycling of the mess we are already in.

Our own world dismisses giving reverence to God—any god. But we haven’t stopped worshipping something. We’ve been designed to look up and to be in awe of something. And people still say, ‘I just had to do that.’ It’s part of our being human to be compelled by something greater than ourselves.

If we don’t know the true God through his Son, Jesus Christ, we’ll install something in his place.

One writer (I’ve put a link to his article below) thinks self-worship is now the world’s fastest growing religion. This ‘religion’ or ideology teaches that each person’s own thinking, their emotions and choices, goals, values and creativity must determine everything else.

But then, he says, ‘When we try to be our own sources of truth, we slowly drive ourselves crazy. When we try to be our own sources of satisfaction, we become miserable wrecks. When we become our own standard of goodness and justice, we become obnoxiously self-righteous. When we seek self-glorification, we become more inglorious.’

Paul would say the same now as he did a long time ago. Without the true God, our understanding is darkened, not enlightened. It’s ignorant, not informed. It’s hard hearted, not sensitive.

It’s into this situation that God sends Jesus to live, and die, and rise again. He has come to lift us out of all this. That’s why Peter talks about being rescued from futility (1 Peter 1:8-19). Without him, we are slaves.

If you believe that the only things that are real are physical, it may seem strange to hear your way of life called futile. That’s why it’s important to look at the light God has sent into the world.

The story is told of a rebellious sailor who is lowered down into the empty hold of his ship as punishment. He has no light, no company. Only bread a water let down on a rope each day. Several days go by and the sailor defies the call to change his ways and return to the deck. So, the captain lowers a lamp down instead of the food.

Now, the sailor can see his surroundings—the filth and the vermin, and himself as part of it all. Quickly he asks to be pulled up out of his prison.

The way we are brought up, the way of life around us, seem normal. We can become accustomed to shallowness, to lies, and lust, and hollow laughter. Until, that is, we see Jesus Christ.

The only way to be freed from the futility of this world is for someone to pay for us—to be bought like a slave. And then be set free. That’s what ‘redeemed’ means in what Peter says.

God knows we are in the dark. He also knows we like being in the dark. We think it’s the only way to stay in control of our lives.

But then, God lets us see how bitter we have become—by letting us human beings kill his Son. He lets us see the meaning of love by his Son asking for us to be forgiven. He shows us there is a new way by raising his Son from death. We can begin to hope.

This is what it means to be ‘redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors…with the precious blood of Christ’.

All that the world has when it doesn’t want God is cravings.

Interestingly, one of the world’s religions—Buddhism—is focused on shutting down desire because it is the source of all our unhappiness. But desire is part of being alive! We want things. That’s what gets us up in the morning. It’s what makes us work hard and take risks.

What makes desire a problem is that we do not have God as our Father. Nothing we get is ever enough. It wasn’t meant to be enough. Only God can be ‘enough’. Under him, our desires are governed. Without him, they become insatiable.

We try to have a full life by letting rip with whatever we want. But without God, we generate endless unrest. We find ourselves yearning for what isn’t ours, or boasting about what we’ve done (1 John 2:15-17). But it’s all a temporary ‘fix’. If it doesn’t come from the Father, it won’t last. It’s futile.

But then, what if we come to know God as our Father? Our passions are under his care. We listen to what he says. We copy the way of life lived by his Son. We have something that will last forever. It begins to feel solid—even in this world. It’s not futile. We’ve be rescued.

It doesn’t take much experience, and honesty, to recognise that something isn’t solid just because we can see it. Why not, every time to find yourself getting fond of this world, taking another look at Jesus, and what he has done. Ask why he took so much trouble to show us what’s real. Ask if you can afford to give your life for what is passing away.

You can hear my talk on this topic at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6kb4sbuJsus

Article: Self Worship is the world’s fastest growing religion; Thaddeus Williams