Laughing at the Future
- 2007 21 Feb
Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. — Proverbs 31:25
I’ve always liked the sentiment of a popular wedding song, “Grow Old with Me.” The opening lines are, “Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be.” Though I was generally aware that the opening lyrics were from a poem, I had not read the full poem until recently. Now I understand why the song’s lyrics stop short of Robert Browning’s complete thought in the first stanza:
Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in his hand
Who saith, “A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!”
Without the acknowledgement of God’s loving providence for our lives, we just have the sweet, vaguely hopeful sentiment of the first two lines. But in the third line, the poet throws open the doors and ushers truth into the midst of the frilly emotion – God has planned a whole life, of which youth is only a part. Our times are in His hands and He is fully worthy of our trust. There’s nothing random about our futures.
Jim Elliot once said, “Wherever you are, be all there.” Be all there. That can seem like bumper-sticker wisdom – intriguing, but ultimately without much depth. However, when you consider Jim’s brief 28 years and his demise as a martyred missionary to the Auca Indians of Ecuador, this sentence resonates with godly truth. Wherever you find yourself in God’s sovereign plan for your life, be all there. We never know how much time we have, but we can be fully engaged in each day we have – living life with an eye toward the eternal.
No doubt we all know women who live like grayed-out software functions – visible, but not completely accessible. We are probably like that at different times, too. Despondency drains us of vibrant colors and energy, leaving a dotted-line impression behind. During those times, we are a far cry from the loud boldness of the woman clothed in strength and dignity who can laugh at the days to come.
Why don’t we smile at our futures? I think it’s because we view that time with the vague dread of a blind date – we’re unsure of whom we’ve committed this time to, where we’re going, and whether we’re going to like this time together. But I think we’d have a big smile on our faces if we viewed our futures with the happy idea of a honeymoon – anticipating uninterrupted time with the one we love in a beautiful setting. Surely this is what we will experience in eternity, and we will have foretastes of this joy throughout all of our years on earth.
Have you ever noticed how many times the Bible records the faithless reactions of God’s people to their uncertain futures, and how many times God tells them to recount His faithfulness in the past to them? As John Piper says, this is because “past grace is God’s down payment on the fullness of future grace.” He continues:
Actually that image of a one-time down payment doesn’t quite work. Past grace is continually accumulating every day. The infinite reservoir of future grace is flowing back through the present into the ever-growing pool of past grace. The inexhaustible reservoir is invisible except through the promises. But the ever-enlarging pool of past grace is visible; and God means for the certainty and beauty and depth to strengthen our faith in future grace.
As we face our futures, let’s examine two common temptations to fear these coming days: being alone, and death.
Going on Alone
I think that when mankind was banished from the Garden of Eden, it bred in us a legitimate fear of being alone, of being separated from God’s presence. But thanks to Jesus, we are fully reconciled to God and will never be alone again. We have full assurances of God’s constant care for us. I like how Jerry Bridges presents this truth:
One such promise we will do well to store up in our hearts is Hebrews 13: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” The Puritan preacher Thomas Lye remarked that in this passage the Greek has five negatives and may thus be rendered, “I will not, not leave thee; neither will I not, not forsake thee.” Five times God emphasized to us that He will not forsake us. He wants us to firmly grasp the truth that whatever circumstances may indicate, we must believe, on the basis of His promise, that He has not forsaken us nor left us to the mercy of those circumstances.”
God will never leave us, neither will He forsake us. We have to hold onto this portion of God’s Word as firmly as we do the promises of forgiveness of sin, our salvation, and eternal life. Either all of the Bible is true or none of it is – so for professing Christians, this means we are assured we will never be alone. Christ was forsaken so that we would be forever accepted.
Not only do we have God’s eternal companionship, we also have the companionship of the rest of the Body – specifically the members of our local churches. We have been added and joined to others, which ensures we will not be alone. Have you ever noticed how often the Book of Acts describes the process of conversion as being added? Acts 2 gives the account of the first days of the church as “the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” Acts 5 says: “And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women.” Acts 11 records: “And a great many people were added to the Lord.” We have been added to the “church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1).
We may be unmarried, but as Christians we are not solitary. Admittedly, it can sometimes feel like that, but may I gently suggest that this feeling of isolation can be overcome by reaching out to other church members instead of waiting for them to reach out to us? After all, these are the people with whom we will spend eternity, so why not get to know, invest in, and love some of them now?
Now consider the “ever-growing pool of past grace” in your life. Even in your greatest trials, hasn’t God provided companionship? In my experience, every time a close friend marries or I move or someone leaves, He shortly ushers a new friendship into my life. No, it’s not always the same, nor is it always at the same depth as before – but I’ve never been left completely on my own. I’m teaching myself that whenever I feel alone in a crowd, I should look around for someone else who may be feeling the same way so that I may be used by God to extend grace and kindness, instead of being consumed by my own feelings.
In saying this, I’m not trying to sugarcoat the realities of growing older or of being part of a church full of imperfect people – there will be challenging circumstances in our futures, but we will not walk through them utterly alone. We are part of the Lord’s body now, and both the Head and the other members will be with us for all time.
Death should sober us because it is the payment for sin (Romans 6). Yet, as John Piper writes, “it is astonishing how disinterested people are in the reality of dying.” He continues:
Few things are more certain and universal. The possibilities for joy and misery after you die are trillions of times greater than in the few years on this earth before you die. Yet people give almost all their energies to making this life secure, and almost none to the next. The Bible compares this life to a vapor that appears on a cold winter morning and then vanishes (James 4). That’s about two seconds. But it describes the time after death as “ages of ages” (Revelation 14, literal translation) – not just one or two ages that last a thousand years, but ages of ages – thousands and thousands of ages. It matters infinitely what happens to you after you die.”
The good news is that as a Christian, death is only a doorway into the resurrection life of Christ. We no longer have to be slaves to the fear of death. Hebrews 2 says that through death Christ destroyed “the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver[ed] all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”
While we shouldn’t fear death, we should fear dying with regrets. We should fear living small, self-centered lives that will earn few eternal rewards. As Randy Alcorn writes:
Evangelicals reject the doctrine of a second chance for unbelievers. We recognize there’s no opportunity to come to Christ after death. But it’s equally true that after death there’s no second chance for believers. There’s no more opportunity for us to walk by faith and serve our Lord in this fallen world.
We can’t do life here over again. … When the trumpet heralds Christ’s return, our eternal future begins and our present opportunity ends. If we have failed by then to use our money, possessions, time, and energy for eternity, then we have failed – period.
“But we’ll be in heaven and that’s all that matters.” On the contrary, Paul spoke of the loss of reward as a great and terrible loss. The fact that we’re still saved is a clarification, not a consolation – “If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames” (1 Corinthians 3). Receiving reward from Christ is an unspeakable gain with eternal implications. Forfeiting reward is a terrible loss with equally eternal implications. …
Isn’t it amazing that the God who spared us His righteous wrath by sacrificing His Son would also then reward us for the deeds we do that He planned and empowered us to do through His grace? The promise of reward in heaven is the future grace that is flowing back into the present through the opportunities we have here to do good to one another. John Piper says this is why he thinks about what comes after death. I have highlighted one section of his book, "Future Grace," that spoke to me specifically about how considering life after death affects my singleness now: “We don’t dream our most exciting dreams about accomplishments and relationships that perish. We don’t fret over what this life fails to give us (marriage, wealth, health, fame). Instead, we savor the wonder that the Owner and Ruler of this universe loves us, and has destined us for the enjoyment of his glory, and is working infallibly to bring us to his eternal kingdom. So we live to meet the needs of others, because God is living to meet our needs (Isaiah 64; Isaiah 41; 2 Chronicles 16; Psalms 23).”
We don’t fret over what this life fails to give us because God loves us. This is why the Proverbs 31 woman laughs at the time to come – being so loved, she understands the best is yet to come.
Adapted from "Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye? Trusting God with a Hope Deferred" by Carolyn McCulley. © 2004 by Carolyn McCulley. Published by Crossway Books, Wheaton, Illinois. Used by permission.
Carolyn McCulley works for Sovereign Grace Ministries in church and ministry relations. She is also an author ( "Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye? Trusting God with a Hope Deferred") and blogger (solofemininity.blogs.com). Carolyn is also a member of Covenant Life Church where one of her favorite ministries is the single women's discipleship program. She highly recommends the resources for singles from the New Attitude conference and blog.