It is very easy to look for our blessings here on earth, even more so in the affluent West. At times reformed and evangelical preachers can almost sound as if they are advocating some of the health wealth and prosperity gospel. All too easily it can be said (and I have heard it said) ‘if you give generously to the Lord now he will prosper you’. The Lord often prospers generous believers and through church history this can be seen in men like George Müller.
However, would that teaching work for Christians in Iran or other countries where martyrdom is a real possibility? Truth and true theology works in all situations and not only in some countries – for the truth will be seen to be true wherever the gospel is preached. To give to the church under the principle of earthly blessing can lead people to fix their eyes on the wrong blessings. We must not confuse the Lord giving many believers prosperity upon earth with a quid pro quo type of Christianity.
We should be looking upwards and not downwards – to our reward in heaven and not on earth. The Lord is a gracious Lord and often does give great blessings upon earth. However, consider Abraham – he did see blessings upon earth but his life was far from one of ease. The Lord took him away from his home country and family (Gen. 12:1). When he got to the Promised Land he was driven away by famine (Gen. 12:10). Abraham virtually prostitutes his wife in trying to save his life (Gen. 12:11ff) – here his faith wavered and he sinned. He then wanders around for years and has to separate from his nephew (Gen. 13:5-9ff). He has to rescue his nephew (Gen. 14:14-16). He is childless in old age (Gen. 15:2) – a difficult time of waiting for him. He begets trouble for himself in Ishmael (Gen. 16:2). He has domestic strife (Gen. 16:5). In continuing his travels he again is deceptive regarding his wife (Gen. 20:1ff). After Isaac is born he is compelled to drive out his firstborn (Gen. 21:9ff). He has to strive over a well (Gen. 21:25-31). He is told to sacrifice Isaac (Gen. 22:1) – although this is a test and Isaac is spared. And he does not poses the Promised Land but his descendants did. Some of Abraham difficulties were caused by his own sin, some by the sins of others and some by the providence of God.
It is all too common to smooth over the difficulties of Abrahams life and romanticise it. The simple truth is that he had a very demanding and hard life on earth. It is encouraging to think on the end product but we must be careful not to gloss over the hard path that many a believer has to tread. Hard, but not impossible, because the Lord will keep his people (Heb. 13:5). If you would like to see how low a believer can feel then read Psalm 88. When the next time you feel low and a fellow believer tells you that as a Christian you are not allowed to feel that way, then show them Psalm 88. Of course we are not to stay in that state, there are plenty of Psalms to lift us up but believers are not to pretend that there are no hard times (Job 1:21-22). At such times look up – remember heaven.
Why was Abraham not overwhelmed? Because he looked up – beyond the troubles on earth to heavenly riches. ‘For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God’ (Heb. 11:10). Abraham had something greater in mind than an earthly promised land which is a picture of the real Promised Land! A real picture as the land and its capture etc. was real. I am not arguing that Abraham was not blessed upon earth but that through all the strife and difficulties his eyes were fixed on something even higher. Abraham did not stagger back from the promise of God as impossible (Rom. 4:21-21) but he had faith in the Lord – that the Lord will complete what he started. Abraham did not see the fulfilment of the earthly promise as that was left to his descendants. By faith he looked to not only the earthly fulfilment but beyond that to the heavenly fulfilment.
Therefore, let us follow Abraham’s example. Look up to that which is greater. We may strive and have a very hard life on earth as believers, many do, but we can look up and remember our reward. If your life is blessed with a measure of ease then thank the Lord and use that ease for his glory and keep in mind that your earthly reward is but a small taste of the wonders of glory. Believer, every which way, look up!