“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love Him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9
The movie Titanic came out in 1997. My daughter at the time was nine years old and according to her was “the only person my age not allowed to see it!” Despite her indisputable accuracy, and due to the fact that we, her parents, were obviously social Neanderthals, I would not allow her to go see the movie due to a few racy scenes. Besides I ruined the story for her when I quite inadvertently let slip that the boat sank. Hence she did not need to go see it anyway.
All parents have been in this position multiple times. You withhold an opportunity from a son or daughter they feel is crucial to their socialization. If not allowed to go, they will have few or no friends, or worse the wrong group of friends. And finally the deadliest of labels applies, they will not be popular.
This article is not about parenting, but let me quickly add that parents should never fear the common “but everybody else is doing it argument” as coercion for giving in on an issue. I promise you, other parents are with you, and are looking for support in their position that they are not the only parents not allowing their child to go on an un-chaperoned kindergarten graduation cruise to St. Thomas.
The purpose of this GraceWaves has to do with what we are being prepared for. Neither my daughter nor my son understood my response to their complaints about being left out of the popular group of over-privileged children of chronically self-important parents. I said to them repeatedly: “I am not concerned about your social success in junior high. I am not designing you to peak in high school. I am preparing you for success in the real world.”
At every juncture when I gave that little speech my children stopped and looked at me with a mixture of wonder and gratitude. Their words were something like, “Thank you, father, for your wisdom in not allowing us to go further down this path of dissipation.” Then we hugged and went back to watching The Little Mermaid.
Of course it did not turn out quite like that, but I stand by the point. My greatest concern is that my children learn how to function well in the real world, a world that can be very rough, unfair, and uncaring. Going through tough and unpopular times was unpleasant but necessary for a much higher goal than temporal success or popularity. I could not sacrifice their future by giving into every present wish for ease or unhealthy peer-acceptance.
Paul was writing to chronically fractious Corinthians who loved to compare and rank themselves. Additionally, they looked down on Paul as shallow and unsophisticated, yet his defense was “I simply preach the cross, and that is the way to glory.”
God has never made it easy on His servants. Prophets were seldom popular and often imprisoned, apostles were stoned, shipwrecked, beheaded, and crucified. A very reasonable request to God might be for some incentive here that makes the Christian life more appealing here. While God does bless us immeasurably in this life His main response to us appears to be “I am not preparing you for temporal success, but for eternal glory.”
The delay of gratification is a cardinal Christian quality. The writers of the New Testament had their eyes on heaven and eternity. It was not an escapist view, for they engaged life by going from city to village, planting churches, writing letters and gospels, and generally arguing for the necessity and truth of a puzzling message: God loves you, offers eternal life to you, but requires you to have faith every step of the way.
Look at the disciple John, for example. Writing late in his life, he understood the necessity of faith quite clearly. His life had not been an easy one, though he had been the beloved disciple. He had been on the “inner circle” with Jesus, but he enjoyed no life of ease. How do you explain this apparent contradiction of having followed Christ so closely and writing about the Christian life so divinely and extensively (1 gospel, 3 letters, and an apocalypse) yet having so little in the earthly sense to show for it? Listen to his explanation: “this is the victory that overcomes the world: our faith” (1 John 5:4).
This yearning for faith and greater faith became all-consuming for New Testament writers, and it gave them a vision for eternity in which “the things of earth grew strangely dim.” Possessed of this same eternal vision, and faith as the means to it, Paul quoted Isaiah, “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love Him.”
With all of our great technology and rapid expansion of knowledge, we suffer today from a very limited vision. We worry about bills, arthritic hips, a banking crisis in Europe, and who will be the quarterback for LSU. We turn to God with all these gravely important worries (and some are genuine) and ask that He make life easier.
His typical response? “I am not preparing you for worldly success. I don’t want you to peak in 2015. I have plans for an eternity for you.”
We cannot possibly conceive of how glorious our future is in Christ. While we cannot imagine the unimaginable, just remember this is our future. Your present task, therefore, is quite simple: love God deeply and have faith in Him. Today, this week, or the coming years, may be full of toil, but part of your worry is simply due to your inability to grasp what God has in store for you. You are being shaped for eternity.
Dr. Terry Ellis
August 9, 2015