From my view, a great short-coming with a large portion of the teaching/preaching in the much of the western church is – an over-emphasis on the temporal.
What I mean is that many believers are so focused on perceived rewards and/or benefits of following God is this life that they have unintentionally misplaced their hope. Many have placed their hope and their faith in the “Cosmic-vending Machine” version of God. They say their prayers, they ask with intensity, and they try to stir up faith over temporary issues. And then they get disappointed or disillusioned with God and the church if things don’t pan out the way they had hoped. Many have even walked away from their faith and their relationship with God because when they put their quarter (their prayers) in the vending machine (God) they did not receive the item they had selected. And as a result they conclude that God doesn’t care about them or that maybe He doesn’t even exist.
Whereas what motivated the New Testament writers, what kept the early church on mission regardless of their circumstances or consequences, was a focus on eternity rather than a focus on things that are temporary. As the Hebrew writer said concerning the saints, “All these died in faith, without receiving the promises … But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them” (Heb 11:13,16).
Read the Book of Acts and you will find that what kept Paul motivated throughout beatings, stonings, prison, shipwrecks, snake bites, persecutions, rejections, and false accusations was not a misplaced belief in rescue from his temporary circumstances. Rather, his hope, his faith, and his ministry; the times he was miraculously delivered – and the times that he was not, were all a result of the hope of an eternal reward.
That is not to saythat what is happening right now, right in front of us is not important to God. Nor is that to say that God never intervenes or that He has an agenda to leave us hanging without any hope for things in this life. Indeed He has intervened when we ask, and He continues to do so.
It is merely to say that our judgement of the goodness of God should not be based on these things.
Shifting our eyes and our focus to the eternal changes our priorities. It realigns our purpose. It gives us peace.
Listen: God loved you and I so much that He gave His only son, to stand in our place, to take upon Himself the punishment that was due us, to repair the breach so that we could be reconciled with God Himself – for eternity. There is nothing more He could do that tops this tremendous gift. Nothing. Everything else pales in comparison.
Think about this: Imagine that I built a mansion constructed completely with you in mind and then I simply gave you, free and clear. But, sometime later you asked me for a framed photo to use as decor. If, for some reason, I did not give that photo to you when you asked for it, would you deem me as unkind, unloving, or not giving? Would you conclude that I must not care about you? And yet – this is what many so often do with God.
What more does God have to do to be deserving of our faith, our love, our devotion and our allegiance? God has a completely different view, a different perspective, than we do. He sees things, He knows things, that we simply do not. He is infinite, we are finite. Our brains and our cognitive ability is limited. His is not. And, He is not obligated to explain Himself all the time.
This is not because He is uncaring. Actually, quite the opposite. My feeling is that God trying to explain to us why He did or did not do certain things would be much like a parent trying to explain to a 2 year old why they can’t have every piece of candy in the check-out line. Even if they understand it – they aren’t gonna accept it. And the tantrum and fit are soon to follow.
Look, I don’t know why God didn’t give you the photo that you asked for. I am not sure why you weren’t allowed the extra toy or the piece of candy. I wish I did. I really do. I wish I understood it and I wish that I could explain it to you. But honestly, I don’t understand it and I can’t explain it. In fact, I will keep asking along with you because I know how much my Father loves to give to His children.
This is where trust comes in. It’s not that because He has already given me the mansion that He now refuses to give me anything else. Rather, the mansion is PROOF that He loves me and therefore, I can trust He will give what He deems best and He will withhold what He deems best.
What He has given, and what He has withheld, are all because He is madly in love with you; because He cares so much for you that He is willing to allow you to be a little angry with Him when you do not understand. He is always looking out for your best interests, and mine; and He is good, at all times, and in all circumstances.
(Postscript: I promise I am not minimizing. I am only illustrating. I know some of you have real and desperate needs. I know you are in a lot of pain. And … I am standing with you. Peace.)