Looking forward instead of staring downward

One of the biggest mistakes we can make during the course of our earthly lives is to allow ourselves to become convinced that our lives are meant to be free from adversity or trials. When we mistakenly allow ourselves to believe that, we can become bitter and disillusioned. That perspective influences us to forget about the joy we're invited to enjoy in Christ, regardless of our circumstances. It also has the effect of making us critical, unhappy, and generally unpleasant to be around.

Years ago I attempted to befriend a man who had experienced some major trials in his life. We would grab lunch once a month, or so, and inevitably we would chat. Unfortunately, it became clear to me that the only thing he ever seemed to think about or talk about was an unexpected trial he had endured. Sadly, he was also unwilling to move beyond it. He was mad at God, mad at people, and couldn't see any potential benefit that could ever possibly come from his trial.

What about us? What is the dominant perspective that governs our lives? Do we trust in Christ and believe that He is ultimately in control? In the midst of our adversity are we able to look forward or are our eyes stuck looking downward? What counsel does God's word give us as we seek to navigate these things?


I. You won't be disappointed

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
— 1 Peter 1:3-5, ESV

Peter was an interesting man. He was an outspoken leader that the Lord refined and made quite useful in the early days of the church being established. During the era in which he served, the Christian faith was spreading, but in many respects, Christians were experiencing regular seasons of persecution at the hands of governments and others because of their sincere faith in Jesus Christ. Under the Holy Spirit's inspiration, Peter addresses this letter to them.

It's nice to receive some good news, particularly when things don't seem to be going so well. Peter brought these believers a timely word of encouragement. After reminding them that they had been brought into the family of God, and were being made holy by the Holy Spirit for the purpose of obeying Jesus, he also pointed out future blessings all believers can look forward to.

With regularity, I try to picture in my mind some of blessings that the Lord has in store for us. I wonder what it's going to be like to live in a context where we can see Him, hear Him, and never again experience the grief or pain we've become accustomed to. There's quite a few aspects about that experience that are still mysterious to us, but I'm confident we won't be disappointed with it.

As we look forward, there are three words Peter uses here that stand out to me right away. Those words are hope, inheritance, and guarded. What's significant about these words? What's Peter trying to convey as the Holy Spirit guides his pen?

Peter reminds us here that through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we were born again to a living hope. When Jesus rose from the grave, He did so to defeat the very things that were keeping us from experiencing resurrection to new life as well. Sin, Satan, and death were all defeated that day. Now, through Jesus, we are blessed with a living hope, or it could be said, a hope that never dies. A confident assurance that Jesus will raise us up too.

Likewise, in Christ, we have been guaranteed an inheritance in Heaven. This is the kind of language that gets used in the context of family life. As His family, Christ has assured us that we have a place in His kingdom. We have future blessings in His eternal kingdom that cannot be ruined. That's such a foreign thought to our minds because we're accustomed to cars, technology, clothing, and even our own bodies wearing out. But the inheritance Christ keeps for us in His kingdom isn't like the things we've learned to treasure on earth.

And in between today and the day when we're going to experience that inheritance, we're being guarded and protected by the power of God. His hand is on us. He isn't going to lose us. Our trials may be painful, but they don't have the capacity to separate us from Him. We won't be disappointed with how He's going to work all of these details out, nor will we be disappointed with what He's got in store.


II. Don't fear your faith being tested

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 
— 1 Peter 1:6-7, ESV

The process of growing up can be a painful experience, and for most of us it is. As you're tested and you experience certain difficulties for the first time, it can be difficult to cope with them. It's also sometimes difficult to see beyond them. It's easy to feel like they may never end. I can still remember some of the trials I experienced during the early years of my adult life and the fear I had that once those trials passed, there might be new trials right on the heels of the old ones. I was afraid of my faith being tested because I didn't know how much more I could withstand emotionally without crumbling.

Thankfully, the joy we have in Jesus is not dependent on circumstances. As Peter was speaking to these believers, he reminded them that even though for a little while they were experiencing pain, they could still rejoice in Christ. And even still, the Lord would bring great things out of the trials they were experiencing so that even their most painful experiences in life could become occasions through which they could praise God.

I appreciate the perspective we're invited to adopt in this passage. To begin looking at the trials of life as things that only last for a "little while." A wise friend of mine used to remind me that the unpleasant things we experience in life are only for a season, then they're done. I appreciated those reminders.

But while we wait for our trials to pass, we can be confident that the Lord is using them to have a great effect on our lives and our faith. The adversity we experience in life tests our faith and makes it stronger. Our seasons of difficulty help prove and demonstrate whether our faith in Christ is genuine or not. There's value in our faith being tested.

Ten years ago, I bought a used car with a good reputation for reliability. I have driven it almost every day since and it hasn't required a repair yet. It's been tested and I believe the reliability reports I read about it. Likewise, our faith is shown to be genuine when it's tested.

Polycarp (A.D. 70-155) was bishop of Smyrna and a godly man. He had known the apostle John personally. When he was urged by the Roman proconsul to renounce Christ, Polycarp said: “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury. How then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?” He was burned at the stake and gave joyful testimony of his faith in Jesus Christ.
— Wycliffe Handbook of Preaching & Preachers, W. Wiersbe, p. 214

Don't fear your faith being tested, fear it being weak and ineffective. A tested faith is a genuine faith. A tested faith is a strong faith. A tested faith is a joyful faith that brings honor and glory to Jesus.


III. Your eyes will see the One your heart believes

Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
— 1 Peter 1:8-9, ESV

My wife and I started dating when we were still teenagers. We dated for several years in college, and during that time, we introduced each other to our families, friends, churches, and other social circles. As I was finishing college, I started to get various job offers. Something that amazed me about two of those offers was that they were offered by people who barely knew me at all and probably couldn't have picked me out of a police lineup if they tried. They didn't know me well and they had barely ever seen me. They knew my soon to be wife, however, and as best as I could figure, they offered me those jobs because they thought so much of her that they must have assumed her willingness to marry me was a sufficient job interview.

For several years, Peter saw Jesus with his own eyes, and during that time he came to trust Him and love Him. We haven't seen Jesus with our eyes yet, but we also love Him. We also have learned to believe in Him instead of going through this life with stubborn reliance on our sight. He has granted us the gift of faith, and now we trust Him for the things we have not yet seen, just as we can trust Him in areas where He has allowed us to visibly see the effects of His work.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.
— Hebrews 11:1-3, ESV

And what does this Scripture remind us is the outcome of our faith? What is the end result of living a life that's marked by trusting in Jesus? What are we blessed with the privilege to look forward to beyond our trials and seasons of adversity? This Scripture reminds us that the day will come when we will obtain the outcome of our faith, which is the salvation of our souls.

I don't know what you're going through during the course of this season of your life, but I hope something from this opening chapter of Peter's letter finds a way to stick in your mind and your heart. It's far too easy for us to spend our days looking downward, but the Lord reminds us of a different direction to be looking. He invites us to look forward. He encourages us to be looking toward Him. He has promised to be with us presently, and secures a glorious future for us in His presence that will be far better than we can imagine, and more beautiful than anything we've been blessed to see with our eyes up to this point.

You will have trials in this life. That's essentially a guarantee. You might as well accept that reality. The question is what are you going to be doing with those experiences? Will you waste those faith stretching moments or will you embrace them as opportunities to become fully convinced that Jesus really is sufficient? What will it take for our hearts to become convinced that He is all we truly need?

Our pilgrimage on this earth is too short to spend it staring at the ground all the time in discouragement and defeat. In Christ, we've been blessed with so much more to be looking forward to. Let's embrace His presence and His blessings as our hearts learn to dwell on the kind of future we've already been promised He has secured for us.

© John Stange, 2017