Future Grace for Finishing the Task

Part 3

International Missions Week | Ridgecrest, North Carolina


The following is a lightly edited transcript.

We are on point number seven, continuing from the previous message. All of this is intended to unpack what I mean by living by faith in future grace, which is the life that I believe will accomplish three things:

  1. It will magnify the supremacy of God in your life.
  2. It will satisfy you with joy in God.
  3. And it will result in holiness so that people can see Christ in you.

And if that happens on the mission field and at home, and in the churches we’re building and planting, then it will be a glorious thing.

7. We cannot walk by faith with only gratitude for the past.

So the seventh observation is to ask about the role of gratitude in obedience. Now you need to know that as I have been, over the last ten or fifteen years, thinking about this whole issue of living by faith in future grace as opposed to a past-oriented living on past grace. The key thing that sparked my thoughts was being troubled by the way so many of us talk about gratitude as the motive for obedience.

Dangerous Talk

I have read in very competent treatises on sanctification that the fundamental motive and enabling power for a life of radical obedience is gratitude. I don’t think that’s biblical. So on this seventh point, I want to wrestle with you with that issue for just a moment. If you can get the relationship between gratitude and faith in future grace, I think you’ll have the whole picture.

Because so many people try to live their lives, it’s usually called, “out of gratitude” — obey “out of gratitude.” Seldom do they think about what they’re saying. What does that mean — “out of gratitude”? Some of our songs promote this: “He gave, he gave, his life for me. What hast thou given for him?” You probably can talk that way without being a heretic. But you come close.

Let me tell you why I think that’s dangerous talk: nowhere in the Bible that I am aware of — and I’ve waiting for people to correct me on this (and I know one text where it almost does this) — is gratitude connected explicitly with obedience. That’s a big claim, especially in view of the fact that in the Christian world today in America, that’s the main connection people draw for motive for obedience. Nowhere in the Bible that I know of is gratitude explicitly. So you’re all fumbling around in your Bibles now to find the exception to that. Just come up and tell me afterward, and I’ll be happy to never say that again if you show me an exception. That’s a provisional statement on my part, given the fact that I can’t find one.

For example, Christian obedience is called a work of faith, never called a work of gratitude. We find expressions like:

  • “Live by faith,” but never “live by gratitude.”
  • We find “walk by faith,” but never “walk by gratitude.”
  • We find “faith working through love,” but never “gratitude working through love.”
  • We find sanctification is by faith in the truth, but never do we find by gratitude for the truth.
  • We find “faith without works is dead, never do we find “gratitude without works is dead.”
  • We find “O men of little faith,” not “O men of little gratitude” when we’re talking about obedience.

Faith in future grace, I think is the fundamental human affectional means through which God performs love and obedience and triumphs over sin. And therefore, something profoundly is askew when your main orientation in the fight of obedience is out of gratitude. Something goes haywire in my judgment there in our churches, when we say, “Look how much he did for you!” And that is usually completed: “Get about the business of working for him,” without any thought of computing how reliance upon future grace is absolutely essential for that working not to be legalism.

We don’t help people at that point make the transition from the backward orientation on gratitude, which is absolutely essential. Romans 1:20 says that you’re not even close to God if you don’t have a heart of gratitude. They’re without excuse because they didn’t glorify him and give him thanks. But when you shift from the past to the future, and try to translate gratitude into obedience, if you’re not helped with something that I’m calling living by faith in future grace, you’re going to have one legalistic church, working their tails off for God trying to figure out why they’re so tired, why they feel beat up.

I went to a church where it was just a bad worship experience. And my wife said to me, “I’d never go back to that church.” That’s a sad thing when you go on vacation and go to church, you want food as a pastor, you’re hungry, you feel tired, and you feel like, “Oh, these poor people. Why did he batter them like that to come back tonight, come back Wednesday?” All Christianity seemed to be was: “Get back here Sunday night. Get back here Wednesday night. Be here on Tuesday night, or there’s not going to be any revival.”

That’s the fruit of revival, fella. You don’t make revival happen by getting people back here. You sound the glories of grace so much they want to come back here. It’s your job to spread the feast, and they’ll come. Don’t beat them up and tell them they got to show up here, or there’s not going to be any revival.

Three Problems with Living by Gratitude

Now here’s the danger with trying to live your life out of gratitude. I have three problems with that.

1. You can never pay God back.

You can’t pay God back for grace, by acts of obedience. Here’s the reason: every act of obedience puts you deeper in debt to grace. Do you remember that text from 1 Corinthians 15:10?

By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.

Which means that if you turn from the past in gratitude to the future, and say, “Now I’m going to work for God,” and you start working — if that is real, evangelical, gospel-inspired obedience — it is obedience in reliance upon more grace, which puts you deeper in debt. And you don’t get to pay anything back. Isn’t that wonderful? I view the future as an opportunity to go massively deeper and deeper and deeper and deeper and deeper into debt to grace — all my eternity, and not pay back one cent of it, because that will exalt grace.

That’s my first reason. You can’t pay grace back. Because every time you perform an evangelical, gospel-inspired, grace-dependent act of obedience — and that’s the only kind there is, folks. Every other kind is legalism. Any act of obedience that’s not reliant upon grace to perform it is legalism. Therefore, when you perform one, you go deeper into debt, and you don’t pay anything back. And God gets the glory for the grace, and you get the joy for the benefit, and that’s the way it ought to be. So don’t begrudge the fact you can’t ever pay grace back. Grace pays debts; it doesn’t create debts.

2. Paying God back turns grace into a business transaction.

Now here’s the second reason you can’t obey in a debtor’s way of paying God back. If you could pay grace back, it would no longer be grace, it would be a business transaction. If you could create an amortization schedule of payback on the grace that God gave you to buy the house of salvation, you’d no longer have grace. It wouldn’t be grace anymore; it would be a deal, a business transaction. “I’ll give you a million-dollar loan to get out of hell, and you spend eternity paying it back. We got a trade there.”

And a lot of people, I fear, think of relating to God that way: “He did so much for me, now I’ve got to spend the rest of eternity paying him back.” You can’t pay him back. If you could, it wouldn’t be grace, and he wouldn’t get the glory; you’d get the glory. You’d get the glory in the end because you’d have so much moral prowess you could produce for God, and he, in the end, would bow down to you. And that’s no glory to him.

3. We need to keep trusting God for more grace.

The third reason you can’t live this way, or you shouldn’t live this way, is that it would deflect your attention from the future to the past so that you would miss out on the waterfall of God’s grace that is flowing to you and blessing you as you walk into the future. We need to teach our people that as you walk into the future, and you meet the challenges of obedience, and you want to live a life of love, and you want to triumph over sin, and you want to be holy, and you want to be courageous, you don’t do it by trying to pay back debts of gratitude; you do it by trusting in more grace. James 4:6 says, “He gives more grace.”

I’m glad Spurgeon was a Baptist, because I love Spurgeon and I love his Reformed theology, and I love his commitment to soul winning, and I love his zeal for world missions that he had in his teamwork with Hudson Taylor and others. He preached a sermon one time called “Robinson Crusoe’s Text.” Robinson Crusoe, if you ever read the novel, had a text when he’s marooned on the island, and the text was Psalm 50:15. And it goes like this: “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” To hear Spurgeon unpack that is a glory. But think of what it is. Here you are facing a day of trouble, and we’re all facing them. Tomorrow’s going to be a day of trouble. And you face it. And what do you do? You say, “OK, I’ve got to pay back to God because you’ve done so much in the past.”

That’s not the way the psalmist did it. The psalmist said, “O God, tomorrow is the day of trouble. Help me. Deliver me. Be there for me. New grace, new help.” And God says, “OK, I’ll do that. I will deliver you.” And then the conclusion: “You will glorify me.” That’s life. Tomorrow’s grace for tomorrow’s troubles. And God gets glory tomorrow for all the fresh grace.

So that’s the end of my seventh point on gratitude. And that’s why I stumble over all this talk about obeying out of gratitude. I don’t want to leave it with you having a bad taste in your mouth as though gratitude is a bad thing. Gratitude is not a bad thing. In fact, here’s the way I think people, without being able to articulate it, really live if they’re born of God, when they use bad language and have bad theology. I’m so glad we live better than our theology sometimes. And that God is merciful and sees our heart even when our mouth is saying stupid things about him.

The way I see it work is that if your heart is really overflowing with gratitude, as you look back on your life, and all the goodness God’s been to you, and what he did at Calvary, what he did in the resurrection, what he did in sending the Holy Spirit, what he did in the history of the church. And he brings you to this point, and you start to shift now, and you’re going to face the future after you feel all this gratitude for the past. Though you may say, “I’m obeying out of gratitude,” what you really mean is that gratitude in the future tense becomes faith in more grace. That’s what you really mean. I’m just putting language on your experience, I hope. What you really mean is: he did that much, and if he did that much — he’s the same yesterday, today, and forever — he’s going to be there for me tomorrow, just like he was there for me yesterday. And I’m going to trust that grace tomorrow, just like I feel grateful for that grace yesterday.

So gratitude, as it were, as it moves from the past to the future, experiences a little transformation here called faith: gratitude for bygone grace, faith in future grace. And the gratitude feeds faith in future grace. It whispers, it says to the soul, “Now soul, you’re about to turn to the future and face a big new challenge. That’s not my job to handle. I’ve done my job by filling you with joy as you’ve looked back over all of the past grace. Now soul, kick in with faith in what’s coming because I have borne witness; I, gratitude, have borne witness of all the goodness of God in your life. Therefore, there is every reason to believe that he’s going to be good to you in the future. Trust him for it. Now you take over, faith; I’m done.” That’s what I think gratitude and faith talk to each other. They are very closely related.

8. Passion for joy in Jesus is a fight.

The last point is to say that this passion for holiness, passion to be satisfied in all that God is for us in Jesus, passion for joy, is a fight every day. I don’t want to communicate that this is easy. First Timothy 6:12: “Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called.” Fight the good fight of faith. I have to fight every morning when I get up. I usually wake up afraid in the morning. Some people are late-night people, some people early morning people in their sinking feelings. Some people sink at night and feel discouraged and fearful and guilty and distant from God late at night; I don’t. I feel ready to die and go to heaven every night. I wish I could skip mornings. When I wake up in the morning, my thoughts are anxious usually. My thoughts are guilty. I think of all my failures. I think about my kids that are not behaving the way I’d like. I think how I’d like to improve my being a good husband. I think about all the shortcomings of my pastoral ministry, just every morning. You can call that satanic; it probably has a big satanic component. It could be from the way I’m wired by my parents or whatever. I don’t know.

So before I get out of bed, I’ve got to start with slugging sin and slugging the devil, or I won’t even get out. Sunday mornings especially, I’ve got to knock him off my chest. “Get off me” because I’ve got to get to my Bible. I’ve got to preach here in a few hours. Get off me. So it is a fight, all day long, every day.

Depending on how you’re wired, some people have to fight more than others. William Cowper, bless his heart, wrote some great hymns for us, like “There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood” and “God Moves in a Mysterious Way.” He tried to kill himself about five times in his life, struggled with depression all his lifelong. That’s the extreme. And I believe he was born of God, fighting like crazy, fighting and fighting and fighting, and getting measures of victory, but falling again and again and again.

I had a man on the search committee that called me to Bethlehem twenty years ago. He just shook his head when people talked about depression. He said, “I have no clue what they’re talking about.” He never known one day of discouragement his life as far as I could tell. He died on a golf course when he was 75 years old; he just fell dead. He was never sick. He was never discouraged. He was my biggest supporter. I loved him. He was a statesman in our church. He could weep with those who weep. He wasn’t callous because of that. But he just was happy consistently. And some of us are “Eeyore” types. The reason I write books about joy is because I want it — not because I have it. And I see in the Bible that you ought to have it, and therefore, you fight for it.

Second Timothy 4:7, this is Paul, his last testimony: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” So faith in future grace is a fight. I have fought the good fight. Don’t give it up. There are a lot of people over fifty years old here like me, who have finished one career, and we’ve made all the money we want to make. It’s in the bank and we can do anything we want to do. We don’t have to keep working. Some of us need to keep working. But there are millions of people in America who don’t need their six-digit incomes anymore. They are free. And they can either waste it on the golf course, or they can do missions. And thousands of them, I’m sure, are doing exciting, revolutionary things with the last chapter of their lives.

Paul, at the end of his life, says, “I have fought the good fight.” We have so many Christians who are not doing that, and they’re not finishing well. I used to think that if you were a good solid Christian for about forty years, you’re home free. Not so. I have watched men struggle with sexual temptation in their seventies and eighties. I had one man say, “I’m an old man in a young man’s body,” because I had confronted him with sexual temptation in his seventies. I didn’t know that existed. I thought you grew out of that. You don’t, evidently. Which means that you’ve got to fight till you’re done, men and women. We all have our different kinds of temptations. So that’s point number eight: It’s a fight. And don’t ever stop fighting, but fight in the strength that God supplies, so that in everything God may get the glory.

How to Live by Faith in Future Grace

Now I want to just take some specific concrete illustrations of how this works in daily life, how you take particular struggles, particular kinds of sins, and overcome them or the specific challenge to love in certain hard situations. So let’s do as many of these we can. My goal here is to give you a paradigm of how to live the Christian life, not to answer every question for you. If you get it with two or three of these, you’ll be able to do it with the rest of them yourself.

How to Love Hard People

So let’s just talk about practically the challenge to love hard people, like your enemies. Or you may even have children or a spouse who’s an unbeliever or maybe a very troubled spouse that’s hard to love, and you’re committed to be faithful and love to the end. Matthew 5:43–44 says,

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

Now, how you going to do that? There it is: Love your enemy. It might be a close associate. It might be one of those hard people in the mission field you’re trying to get through to, and everything about them drives you away, and you’re called to love them there and not hate them. And it’s a real struggle. What do you do? How do you go about it? To answer that, let’s stay in the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 5:11–12 says,

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, . . .

Stop there, and let me ask you a question: Which is harder? To rejoice in the day of persecution, or to pray for those who persecute you.? Which is harder, emotionally? To rejoice when men persecute, rejoice in that day and be glad, or pray for those who persecute you? My answer to that question is: it’s harder to rejoice and easier to pray. Because I can, by an act of willpower, say, “God bless my enemy and turn them to my friends, please.” Or something like that: “Get them saved,” or “Change their attitude,” or “Help me.” I can pray those words and mean them. But joy on the day of persecution, that’s a miracle. That’s harder.

So what is the key to that? Because if we had the key to that, we would probably have the key to prayer for our enemies and loving our enemies. If we can rejoice in the day of persecution, we’d probably have the key that unlocks the door of love. And now we’ll finish the verse:

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

So what’s the key to joy in the day of persecution, according to the divine logic of the Lord Jesus. Do you know what is the most important theological word in the Bible? For — f-o-r. You just heard it: “Rejoice in the day of your persecution, for [because] great is your reward in heaven.” The key to joy in the day of persecution is faith in future grace, called, in this case, a great reward.

I mean, really, when the pastor this morning told those horrible stories of a pickaxe going through the chest of a husband before the eyes of her wife, how, in ten thousand years, could she feel in those hours or days anything remotely resembling joy? There’s only one possible answer: There is a great reward for him and me. There is no other answer. He’s gone. He has no life to be fulfilling ministry anymore. It is over. And if she is to taste any joy in this, it’s going to have to be in the logic of Jesus: For great is his reward in heaven.

Frankly, I have no empathy with people who say, “You’re so heavenly-minded, you’re of no earthly good.” Because to me, as I look around the world, the problem is exactly the opposite. We have people who haven’t even begun to discover what heavenly-mindedness is. You are of no earthly good until you are so radically heavenly-minded that you can rejoice in the day of persecution because your reward in heaven is great.

Where are we teaching our teenagers that? Where are we teaching young couples that? Where are we teaching mid-lifers that, and people in the nursing homes that? That the pathway to joy and the radical life of holiness and love and courage and self-sacrifice comes from contentment in the reward — not here mainly. Then there might be a recovery and discovery of joy.

So the pathway to love and obedience and radical self-sacrificing evangelism and mission comes from faith in future grace, called, in this text, your reward is great in heaven.

What God Gives

Another illustration from the teaching of Jesus. Let’s just stay in the Sermon on the Mount for another moment. Oh, Jesus is dynamite. I love you, Jesus. And I love your word. And I love just lingering over the terrain of the teachings of Jesus and the Gospels.

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

I said this morning that it took me twenty-two years to learn that the Bible argues, instead of stringing pearls along. I used to I used to think of Matthew 7:7–11 as a text on prayer. And then I thought of Matthew 7:12 as a text on prayer. It took me years to learn that there’s a connection. And it’s made with the word therefore, and it’s everything. We have a Father in heaven who is so prone to do good things for us. He’s more prone to do good things for those who ask him than we are prone than I am prone to give my little four-year-old a good thing when she asks me. And I’m really wired to give her good things because I like her to be happy.

Therefore, since you have a God, who in the future will hear your cry, and give when you ask, show up when you seek, open the door when you knock, therefore, as you would that men would do to you, do also unto them. The golden rule is built upon faith in the future grace that comes by answers to prayer. The energy, the motive, the confidence, the wherewithal to love others, the way you want to be loved comes from the confidence that we have a Father in heaven who hears our prayers and meets our needs. That’s the therefore between verse 11 and verse 12 of Matthew 7. So Jesus is teaching us not just that we should love the way we want to be loved, but how to have the emotional, spiritual, powerful resources to do it. And the answer is: Trust him. He’ll come. He’ll show up when you ask him.

So here you are facing some radical difficult situation in your future, whether five minutes from now or five years from now. And in that future, you’re called upon to treat somebody with love and grace and humility and kindness and forgiveness, and they’re so hard to love. How are you going to possibly do that? And Jesus says, “Well, look at the therefore. My Father and your Father owns everything. He’s full of love. And when you call upon him and ask him for the resources to do what you need to live that path of obedience, he’s going to be there. Therefore, love them the way you’d want to be loved. Trust the arrival of grace from your Father. He doesn’t always answer with what you think your need is.

I have a 24-year-old son named Benjamin. And once upon a time he was three. And he asked for a cracker. It’s snack time, so I’ll give him a cracker. So I reach into the cupboard, and it’s moist. I open the box and it’s full of mold. He’s waiting, and I pull one out. It’s got his mold on it. I say, “Benjamin, you can’t have this cracker.” He starts to cry, “I want a cracker, Daddy.” I said, “Benjamin, if you eat this fuzz, it’ll make you sick.” He said, “I’ll eat the fuzz.” I can remember that line simply: “I’ll eat the fuzz.” And I wouldn’t give it to him. I forget what I gave him instead, but it didn’t satisfy as much. God is wise. He doesn’t give us the moldy crackers that we often ask for. But he always gives us something better for us. It might be paregoric, or something like that, which doesn’t taste as good at the time, but is really good for us.

How to Battle Anxiety

Let me jump to anxiety. What about battles with anxiety? I suppose this is the biggest one of all, especially for missionaries. For me anyway, I battle with anxiety every day. I battled with anxiety last night and this morning about whether you would like me. That’s a stupid thing to care about, right? Paul said, “If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10). So, who cares whether you like me? So that’s a battle. That’s a battle.

And do you know what the Lord did for me? This is an illustration of how I live the Christian life. I got up early enough this morning to do some warfare with the sword and fight for contentment before you. And I read of all places, three chapters in 2 Chronicles. And you know what I found? I’m on my way through the Bible with the Discipleship Journal reading plan. And the Lord does this over and over again. Here’s Jehoshaphat. And he’s about to be overrun by who knows how many hundreds of thousands of Syrians. And God raises up a prophet named Jahaziel. Who’s ever heard of Jahaziel? And Jehoshaphat is terrified, and he cries to the Lord and the Lord speaks to Jahaziel and sends him to Jehoshaphat. And here’s the word that came right through Jahaziel via Jehoshaphat to John Piper for my arrival here this morning. And here’s what it said.

Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. Tomorrow go out against them, and the Lord will be with you. (2 Chronicles 20:17)

Has God ever done that for you? He does it over and over again. So now here’s my task at that point: Do I believe it? Do I believe that’s the kind of God he is? That he’ll come, he’ll help me, he’ll bring to mind what I need to say. And he’ll give me the energy, he’ll keep the voice from going out, and just whatever. That’s the way you fight anxiety. Let me give you some other illustrations:

  • Suppose you have anxiety about lacking provision for your needs. Then you trust Philippians 4:19: “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

  • Suppose you have anxieties about feeling useless. Then you go to a promise like 1 Corinthians 15:58, where nothing that you do in the name of the Lord will be done in vain; none of your labor is in vain.

  • Suppose you have anxieties about being weak because you struggle with some disease or timidity or something. Then you go to 2 Corinthians 12:9: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness,” and you believe him for that future grace.

  • Suppose you’re facing some decision and you don’t know how to choose the right or the left and you feel anxious about which way to choose and then you go to a promise in Psalm 32:8: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.” Or Psalm 25:8–9: “Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.” Isn’t that encouraging? Do you want to qualify for God’s guidance? Be a sinner. “I instruct sinners in the way.” In other words, you’re not disqualified from God’s guidance if you’ve committed some sins recently.

  • Suppose that you feel anxious about opponents. There are really are people who don’t like you. They hate you. They defame you. They say all kinds of evil against you falsely, and you feel anxious about these people, either physically or emotionally or affectionately or relationally. They’re going to make your life real hard. Then you go to Romans 8:31 and it says, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” and you believe that and you trust that.

  • Or if you’re anxious about coming affliction, you go to Psalm 34:19: “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.” And you trust him.

Maybe you feel anxious about aging. I remember hearing R.C. Sproul one time say, “I’m not afraid of death; I’m just afraid to die.”. Friday morning, I squeaked in a funeral just before I got on the plane at two o’clock for Ken Black. He was 75 years old. He played tennis every day and was a model of health, as far as we could see. Three weeks ago, he got a liver cancer diagnosis. He dropped dead Monday. Just like James Montgomery Boice, who lasted eight weeks after his diagnosis. I went out to visit Ken Wednesday a week ago. He felt good. He was into some treatment. He didn’t know if it would work or not. And we bowed in prayer. And you know what he was anxious about? What’s it going to be like to die? Not heaven. Not hell. He had that settled. He trusted Jesus. But will I choke? Will I suffocate? Will it hurt so bad I can’t stand it and can’t think and can’t bring any promises to mind. Will I get paralyzed? Will I throw up and choke?

I mean, if you’re young, you may not think about those things. I’ve watched so many people move into death and die. I think about them. Some of the greatest saints I have ever known have died the hardest. I remember one dear old lady, Ruth Fast. She’d stand up in every prayer meeting and pray her heart out to God. Oh, nobody prayed like Ruth Fast. And then she got sick and went to the hospital. And for eight weeks she was dying, crying out “O God, let me die. O God, let me die. Take me. Take me.” I watched her tongue dry up so that it looked like a black cinder, and she couldn’t die. There was nobody more godly than Ruth Fast. So if you have anxieties about dying. What do you do? You go to a text like Isaiah 46:4: “even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save” — through the black tongues, through the horrible.

Let me sum anxiety up in this. This seems to be from my church one of the most helpful things I’ve ever said about anxiety. I want to put two texts together: Matthew 6:34 and, of all places Lamentations 3:21–22. Matthew 6:34 says, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” In other words, each day has its appointed amount of trouble from God. Under God’s providence, he doesn’t pile all the evil in one day, though sometimes we feel he does. He spreads it out. So don’t be anxious about tomorrow. He’ll give you enough grace for today’s trouble.

Then go back to Lamentations 3. Now you know the book of Lamentations is the most painful, horrible book in the Old Testament because it’s the book describing the decimation of Jerusalem, the apple of God’s eye. And in 4:10, the women are eating their own children. It doesn’t get any more horrible than that. And in the middle of that book, which by the way, is an acrostic. The book is built out of acrostics. The writer (Jeremiah probably) of Lamentations channeled his pain into poetry for some reason, and in the middle of it comes,

But this I call to mind,
     and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
     his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
     great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:21–22)

That’s in the middle of Jerusalem, where people are killing, boiling, and eating their own children. His mercies are new every morning. Now put that text together with Matthew 6:34: “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” “His mercies are new every morning.” And what I’ve said to my people as many times as I could think to say it is: the grace that you’ll need for tomorrow’s wrestling with this cancer, or tomorrow’s dealing with your wayward son, or tomorrow’s wrestling with the seeming inevitability of divorce, that grace is not present today.

Do not sink in your imagination of how you will survive tomorrow. So many sink today saying, “I can’t handle this for another week. I can’t handle this for another year. I can’t handle this for an unforeseen period of time,” and the answer is: no, you can’t — not with today’s grace. But his mercies are new every morning. Tomorrow morning, there will be a new mercy for the new trouble of tomorrow. And part of today’s faith is not to believe that that grace is present today, but that it will be there tomorrow. And that’s hard to believe sometimes. So if you want to triumph over anxiety, then trust him for the future grace that he promises in Lamentations 3:21–22 for tomorrow, not today.

How to Battle Impatience

Let me just say a final word about impatience. I’ve not been on the mission field for any extended period of time. I visit missionaries. And of course, whenever you get in the third world, you’re challenged, aren’t you, with the issue of patience? Because in America, we are used to everything working. And if it doesn’t work, fix it — and fix it fast because I mean to get to the thirtieth floor in two minutes, not ten minutes. So, fix it. And that’s the way we Americans are wired. You get this thing done. If this air conditioner isn’t working, you fix it. If this sound system isn’t working, you fix it. We make things work. We are make-it-happen people. And then nothing works overseas.

That’s an overstatement. And probably ethnocentric on my part. Somebody was telling me that while we build skyscrapers, because of our efficiency of arriving at 6:00 in the morning and getting off at 3:30 in the afternoon. And the crane arrives to pick up the steel, swings around to drop it right when the cement is in the proper readiness to receive it. And if it doesn’t drop it, nothing works, and this building isn’t going up. We make buildings happen. And we are lousy at relationships. We have heart attacks and they don’t, and hardening of the arteries and they don’t. And so on.

However, we are challenged with our issue of patience, the need for patience. Patience is the fruit of the Holy Spirit, something we ought to have. Impatience is the temptation to get angry and upset when you are forced to go at an unplanned pace in a unplanned place. You meant to get through the line in thirty minutes, and you’re still in it five hours later. And how do you fight anger, frustration, seething — everything that makes your body go wrong, your marriage go wrong, your parenting go wrong, your witness be destroyed because you’re so seething in traffic, you’re so seething in line? You’re so upset and uptight because things are not working. What do you do? You preach to yourself faith in future grace.

For example, you take texts like the story of Joseph, Genesis 37–50. That’s one colossal story about patience. Here’s Joseph, who had his life planned no doubt and knew his dreams. And he gets thrown into a pit, gets sold into slavery, and for seventeen years, nothing goes right. There were little teeny short periods when things seem to be going right, and then boom, they don’t go right again. He gets a good job in Potiphar’s house, and then he gets lied about and he has to be thrown in jail. And things start to go well in jail, and he’s got a responsible position, and then the butler and the baker forget about him for two more years, and nothing seems to ever go quite right, though he’s being faithful. So seventeen years of down, down, down, down. Where are you? I used to graph this for my people, and ask them where they are on the graph. Where are you on seventeen years of wondering why you are in this mission field? Are you in the fifth year, tenth year, seventeenth year, before the word comes to get out of the prison and become vice president of Egypt, and hear the reason for it all? The two texts are Genesis 45:7 and 50:20.

God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.

God sent me? This is not what I signed up for. Or Genesis 50:20:

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.

Every place in line, every traffic jam, every broken refrigerator, every delay and detour, God is in charge and has his sovereign purposes. Look for them, look for them, look for them. And exploit them.

B.B. Warfield was a great Princeton theologian. He wrote a great book on the authority and inspiration of the Bible. He married Annie Kincade in 1876. They took a honeymoon to Switzerland, and on the ski slopes Annie was struck by lightning and crippled and bedridden all her life. Thirty-nine years, from honeymoon to death in 1915. Alright husband, what you’re going to do? This was not the plan. This was not the plan. Benjamin Warfield, I read in his biography, never went more than two hours from his home. Never took any denominational roles in the Presbyterian Church because he knew that would be a travel responsibility. He taught for fifty-plus years at Princeton Seminary within walking distance of his home, so that every day he could care for his wife. And then she died, and he died.

When I learned that I wanted to go back and read what Warfield wrote about Romans 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” I want to see what a man would write, what a man would say, who had been dealt that kind of hand in life. Here’s what he wrote; it’s just a sentence: “God will so govern all things that we shall reap only good from what befalls us.” That’s the solution to the battle with impatience, being in an unplanned place, going at an unplanned pace. Do you trust him, that he’s sovereign over all the details of your life, that he’s working only good for you in it? If you can trust him for that — living by faith in future grace — it will bring joy into your life. It will yield holiness and love and radical, risk-taking obedience. And it will magnify the supremacy of the glory of God before all those who are watching you and wondering what makes you tick. And they will see God in your life.