1 Peter 1:10-12
“Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that would come to you searched and carefully investigated. They inquired into what time or what circumstances the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating when He testified in advance to the messianic sufferings and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you concerning the things that have now been announced to you through through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Angels desire to look into these things.”
That is a dense piece of scripture, but what I want to discuss is this:
“It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you…”
This stirs me to consider long-term thinking. How many problems in life are caused, or made worse, by yielding to short-term impulses, at the expense of long term rewards? Consider angry words that hurt people and relationships, excessive spending on things that you could do without, unhealthy eating that leads to obesity or other problems; these are all examples. If you are going to overcome the short term pressure, you need a compelling narrative to live by. Therefore, the thought, “I should (fill in the blank)” is not enough when the heat is on. “Should” is not enough.
Think about finances, for example. Frugality itself is not enough. Instead, it’s about establishing priorities and then structuring your financial life to align with them. Where could I spend less or make more in order to have an emergency fund, money for housing, investments, charitable giving? How do I structure things so that I am able to provide for a family in a way that is financially and emotionally sustainable?
You need a framework for establishing priorities. I have heard a successful entrepreneur say, “If you don’t have time, you don’t have priorities.” That’s true. Everything is equally urgent if you don’t have an adequate framework for saying yes to things that line up, and no to things that do not. This has been an in issue in my young adult life, and I have recently started to reckon with that issue in my finances. How have I done this? Largely, I have been actively evaluating where my money is going across a variety of categories on a monthly basis. But that is simply a tactic, and one that most people would consider a no-brainer. More important than the tactic is the motivation to follow through. If you ask them, most people can intellectually tell you what they should do. Fewer succeed at actually doing it.
What is the missing factor? For me, real change has been affected by a few different factors. One is the people I’m around. I hang around people who are ahead of me, and who know more than me about faith, family, business, their occupation, and so forth. This allows me to gain wisdom. It also raises my standards regarding what kind of personal, spiritual, physical, occupational, familial, and financial condition I am willing to live in. Furthermore, getting married has challenged me to seriously think about how to become a leader and provider. The pain of the thought of failing in that arena is way more painful than work it takes to become a leader. Those are good prompts; 1.) seeing positive alternatives to what you have always known, and 2.) seeing the pain of not changing.
There is another factor needed for structuring your life in a fruitful way. It’s the most important factor, and I can’t quite articulate it: in my heart there is a growing love, a peace, an assurance, a sense of value; value for myself and others. This is what affects true change in my life, from my relationships to my finances; giving me the sense that these things are worth doing, as well as giving me the energy to do them. This is the factor that was once missing or ineffectually weak in my life. I can’t quite explain it, or tell you how to do it, but it has developed through my personal and imperfect walk with God.
Maybe this factor is faith.
As it is written in the scripture we are discussing;
“It was revealed to them…”
Furthermore, it is written in Hebrews 11:1 (NASB);
“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
I have emphasized these words which I believe to be critically important. These are not a list of things you should do to improve yourself, these are conditions of the heart; out of which flow things that are worth saying and worth doing.
One other thought: in a man’s relatively short life, he might not see all of the fruit from the seed he watered. Again, as it was written in 1 Peter 1:12;
“…they were not serving themselves but you…”
Also, Hebrews 11:13;
“These all died in faith without receiving the promises, but they saw them from a distance, greeted them, and confessed that they were foreigners and temporary residents on the earth.”
That’s tough, but they had vision, they got an assurance, they walked a conviction. And here we are today, living out what they had faith for.