The life of God’s servant Paul was dramatically changed by Jesus Christ. His purpose for living became solely based on the mission that Jesus gave him. Paul said:
But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. (Acts 20:24)
Few Christians rise to that value system. Our lives are too precious to us and comfort is more important than sacrifice. If doing the will of God is going to be difficult, unpleasant, or cost too much, compromise prevents the completion of the course.
Jesus had a different perspective. The writer of Hebrews puts it like this:
. . . let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)
Jesus understood delayed gratification. Small children do not -- and unfortunately, many small children do not grow up to this understanding. Yesterday a man expressed his concerns over an 18-year-old girl who gets what she wants and never has to make major decisions. He said that when she has to face the real world, she will not survive because she has never been allowed to grow up.
Many people in North America are into instant gratification. Thousands who were employed in oil-related industry were making big money but spending it all. Their lives were all about ‘I want it and I want it now.’ Sadly, they must grow up. Many of them are selling their toys to buy groceries because they didn’t consider that one day their source of wealth could run dry.
Christians also need to beware of this desire for instant gratification. Sometimes the results of Christian ministry are not seen until eternity. The attitude of ‘I must have it right now’ has produced much discouragement and drop-outs in the kingdom of God. Unlike Jesus, it is far more prevalent to want our joy right now, rather than “set before” us, and if the joy isn’t there, to go elsewhere looking for it.
These thoughts were prompted by today’s devotional. It was based on a version of the Bible that contains two words that are not in the most reliable Greek manuscripts. In them, this verse says, “But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.”
At first, I objected, knowing that particular version used more recent manuscripts and those two words were likely inserted by copyists who thought they should be there. They seem to make ‘ultimate joy’ Paul’s motivation for doing what he did. However, Jesus also did what He did for the joy set before Him. Those verses in Hebrews could be the reason “with joy” was inserted in Acts 20:24!
Either way, the point is that I need to think about life with eternity in mind far more than what is going on right now. This is pointedly practical today. We are attending a funeral this afternoon. The person who died believed in Jesus and according to God’s promises, he is absent from the body and present with the Lord. For that we can rejoice. However, we see some devastation remaining in the life and people he has left behind. Much needs to be done to sort it out and some of it cannot be sorted or changed, only wept over.
In the middle of the night I woke in tears, asking God what to do, how to think. He gave me another look at Jesus and I heard these words, “for the joy set before Him, He endured.”
Endure. Being happy right now is not my goal. Do what God wants me to do, but be aware that gratification is usually delayed when it comes to kingdom living. Later when we are in eternity, those of us involved in what seems so tragic now will have forgotten all about it -- or we will recall it with joyous and grateful laughter.