The Christian life always involves a “backward look,” an “inward look,” and a “future look.” We recall past experiences to see where we have come from, how God has led us through the years, how God has revealed Himself to us, provided for us, guided us, guarded us, and worked in all things for our good. However, the past is past, and one of the great lessons Jesus has taught us is the importance of learning to live in the present, without a lot of regrets for past failures and without a lot of anxieties for our tomorrows. Furthermore, the Christian life is also an adventure into the unknown, and the Christian life is an adventure we are called upon to face without fear and without troubled hearts, for we walk by faith and are people of hope. Jesus has told us to be not anxious about our tomorrows, and to not let our hearts be troubled because of the unknown, especially because of the threats and dangers we face in our kind of world. The here-and-now is also the place in time where the “inward look” applies, for we must always examine our minds and hearts right where we are now, for this is our “growing edge.” Now is always “the acceptable time” (II Corinthians 6:2). Here-and-now is the only place where we can grow spiritually, for we do not know what the unknown future will bring.
We have no assurance that we will even be here tomorrow. Jesus said, “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow” (Matthew 6:28). How do they grow? They grow right where they are planted, and so must we, day by day, one day at a time! In times like these, when there are so many peddlers of gloom and doom, when there is so much anxiety about the future, when despair and a sense of hopelessness prevails, as believers we need to learn the lessons of biblical history. Last Sunday I was teaching the adult class at the church we are now attending. The lesson for the morning was from the Old Testament book of Nehemiah, written about those dark days of the Jewish exile in Babylon, then Persia after the Persians conquered the Babylonians. Those exiles struggled day by day with the problem of maintaining their identity as a peculiar people, a people who had only one God, in a land where there was a plurality of gods (little “g”). How could they preserve their faith, their dignity, their self-respect, as an enslaved people in a pagan land? How could they “sing the Lord’s songs” then and there? Their gloomy present made it difficult for them to imagine a better and brighter future.
That was a time of deep darkness for the people of God (i.e. God’s “covenant people”) but the words of God’s prophet, Isaiah, gave them hope: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in a land of deep darkness a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:2). It was one of many messianic prophecies, foretelling a brighter future. Another of God’s prophets, Jeremiah, who had foretold the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile, had also prophesied the return of the exiled Jews to their own land (Jeremiah 24:6-7), speaking as “Thus saith the Lord” (vs. 4): “I will set my eyes upon them for good, and I will bring them back to this land….I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people, and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.” It is never easy in times of “deep darkness” to remain focused on such promises, to continue “hoping against hope,” the unusual phrase used by the Apostle Paul in another time of deep darkness, a time of intense suffering, when he was writing to encourage the persecuted believers in Rome, rejoicing in the sure and certain hope of “glory” (i.e. when the people of God will be restored to their true destiny): “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we have not yet seen, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:24-25).
We are also living in dark and difficult times, and it is difficult to remain positive and hopeful. However, as the people of God, we are on an adventure of faith, as people of hope, facing the unknown in the company of One we do know as “our hope” (Colossians 1:27). In such times as these we need to face an unknown future with hope, recalling these additional words of the greatest of the apostles: “We boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, we also boast in our suffering, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us” (Romans 5:2-5). As believers, we should never give in to despair in dark times, for no darkness is a match for Him who is “the Light of the World” –– it wasn’t then, it isn’t now, and never will be!