Facing the Future - Part 1
Malcolm C. Davis, Leeds, England
This article considers from scripture the various mind frames in which we often view the future, varying from complete hopelessness, through deep interest, to joyful expectancy. Whatever our current spiritual condition and circumstances may be, its aim is to prepare us all to face that future with a more positive frame of mind than perhaps we often do at present. Contemporary world events around us do not naturally encourage anyone to do this with great confidence. There is, in the world generally, a prevailing uncertainty and apprehension concerning the future. Through simple faith in Himself and implicit obedience to His word, only the God of the Bible can give us calm confidence in the face of future events.
1. Without Hope
Sadly, but inevitably, this must be the bleak outlook of all unbelievers. It is certainly the outlook explained by Paul in Ephesians chapter 2 verse 12, where he elaborates on the absolutely hopeless condition and position of unconverted Gentiles before their new birth by God’s resurrection power. And, today, in view of the turmoil and prevalent fear surrounding us all in an unstable world, true believers in Christ can be very thankful that their hope for the future does not depend upon their own resources or wisdom, but only upon a sovereign and loving God and Father. He, in spite of all outward appearances, does really care for us, His own people, and also extends His offer of salvation to all who repent and believe the gospel of His grace. Be thankful that it is still the day of opportunity to be saved, forgiven, and regenerated to a new life given to us by His dear Son. It is only because He loved us, each personally, and gave Himself for us at Calvary. Yes, God is still on the throne, and He will look after His own! And the wonderful fact is that all who read these lines could be part of that happy company who form ‘His own’, by simple faith and trust in Christ. He is our only hope for eternity, and for the rest of our lives here on earth. The gospel invitation is still open to all.
2. After Failure
This is the sorrowful outlook of a backslidden, true believer. How can such an unhappy saint ever face the world and his or her own fellow-saints again? The painful memory of past sin continually haunts them. Is there a way back to a normal relationship with the Lord and their brethren and sisters in the assembly? Thankfully, there is. Consider the examples of two believers in scripture who sinned grievously, namely, David in the Old Testament, and Peter in the New Testament. David has recorded his experience of heartfelt repentance and confession to God in his penitential psalms, such as Psalms 32, 51, and 130. He was broken-hearted that he had so dishonoured his Lord. Peter, also, ‘went out and wept bitterly’, after the Lord Jesus had turned round and looked intently and meaningfully at him following his denial of Him three times. The Lord had said to Peter in warning, ‘The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak’, and the event had proved this true. But when both David and Peter had come to the end of themselves and simply cast their future on the mercy and grace of God, then, and not before then, they received complete forgiveness of their sins. We shall probably never know what transpired during the private meeting which the risen Lord Jesus had with Peter, nor are we meant to know. The Lord does not needlessly expose His failing children before their fellow-believers. Those who have, by God’s grace, remained faithful to Him should not think that they could never sin in the same way, for ‘the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked’, Jer. 17. 9. Only God Himself fully knows the potential for evil latent in all of us. ‘Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall’, 1 Cor. 10. 12. But both David and Peter came to know that ‘there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared’, Ps. 130. 4, and both were restored ‘out of the depths’ of despair about themselves.
The way back is actually the very same way which we took when we first came to Jesus as unconverted sinners for salvation. We must learn all over again the joy of forgiveness through repentance and faith in Christ and His precious blood shed for us on Calvary to pay the price of our sins. This is very humbling to our natural pride, but absolutely necessary for restoration after failure. So we shall be able once again to feel at home in our Lord’s presence and to look our fellow-saints in the eye. And they, for their part, should be prepared to extend the right hand of fellowship to all who have truly repented and shown genuine evidence of a changed life. It is hypocritical to do otherwise. The seeds of failure are still within our own hearts. How we all need to keep short accounts with God!
3. With God
This is a believer’s normal outlook when he or she is in a right relationship with the Lord. For it was to this happy condition of soul that Peter was restored by the risen Lord Jesus following his tragic lapse of faith. Now, the Lord could use him, and will be able to use us, in ways that previously were impossible. In John chapter 21, He commissioned the restored Peter to shepherd His sheep and feed His tender lambs. Not long afterwards, in Acts chapter 2, Peter became the spokesman for all the apostles on the Day of Pentecost, explaining that event to the bewildered crowd of Jews who had witnessed it, and then in preaching the gospel to them all. The once fearful Peter became the foremost apostle to the Jews, and, eventually, willingly laid down his life for his Lord, crucified as a martyr. Truly, ‘with God all things are possible’. Who would have thought that God could have used such unpromising material! But ‘with God’ even failure need not be final. In fact, the Lord is usually pleased to reveal His own almighty power through very frail human vessels rather than through those who seem much stronger, because this magnifies His own grace, wisdom, and glory all the more. So we may take heart. If the Lord could use someone like Peter, with all his failings, in His purpose to build His church, then surely He can use us also in His service today. He is the God of the impossible! Nothing is too hard for Him; no one who repents is beyond His redemption!
4. ‘In Peace’
This is the contented outlook of the praying Christian. In Philippians chapter 4, the apostle Paul tells us that this is the true and effective antidote to our natural anxiety about many difficulties in our lives. And Paul certainly knew this, since at the time he was writing this letter to the Philippians he was suffering many privations in a Roman prison. In chapter 4, he tells us to rejoice in the Lord, rather than in our circumstances, and to do so at all times. He recommends that we make our supplications known to God with thankfulness for all His mercies towards us. This should remove anxiety from our souls. Then, instead we shall know the blessing of God’s very own peace flooding our hearts and minds, and thus protecting us like a military garrison from distracting and disturbing thoughts. Unconverted people around us, who know our troubles, will probably not understand how we can be so calm in the midst of them, but Paul says that God’s peace does surpass all natural human understanding. If our minds are focused on all that is true, honest, right, pure, lovely, and in every other way good about every circumstance and person we meet, and if we practise only such things ourselves, then we shall know the comforting presence with us of the God of peace Himself, His blessed fellowship. A pure and clean mind that is concentrated primarily on the person of Christ Himself, who is the supreme embodiment of all these virtues, is the key to true peace of heart and mind. Then, we shall be able to be content with our lot, whatever our circumstances may be. For Christ will be able to pour His own strength into our lives continually, and so enable us to face all the challenges that we meet. Certainly, in Luke chapter 2, Simeon was able to face his own death with complete calmness after he had seen the Lord’s Christ as a baby, for He embodied God’s great salvation. Hence, Simeon was able to say in verse 29, ‘Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word’. Yes, the praying Christian becomes a powerful Christian, as well as a peaceful Christian.