Does God use futility in our lives to bring about freedom? Read this section of Scripture and decide for yourself.
“[But what of that?] For I consider that the sufferings of this present time (this present life) are not worth being compared with the glory that is about to be revealed to us and in us and for us and conferred on us! 19For [even the whole] creation (all nature) waits expectantly and longs earnestly for God’s sons to be made known [waits for the revealing, the disclosing of their sonship]. 20For the creation (nature) was subjected to frailty (to futility, condemned to frustration), not because of some intentional fault on its part, but by the will of Him Who so subjected it–[yet] with the hope 21That nature (creation) itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and corruption [and gain an entrance] into the glorious freedom of God’s children” (Rom. 8:19-21 – Amp).
“THE WORDS of the Preacher, the son of David and king in Jerusalem.2Vapor of vapors and futility of futilities, says the Preacher. Vapor of vapors and futility of futilities! All is vanity (emptiness, falsity, and vainglory)” (Eccl 1:1-2).
“In him we were also chosen having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory” (Eph. 1:11-12)
Waiting on the manifestation of the sons of God
No matter how hard we try, some things in life won’t work – until that which was “subjected to futility” by the Lord is revealed and dealt with. You can set your will against it or for it, shout “I’m an overcomer!” fast and pray until your teeth fall out, do Jericho marches, claim verses, bind and loose, etc., but until God gets through with the particular work He’s doing in you, your efforts will be futile. Consider the verse above in Romans. Some revelation, such as of the manifestation of God’s sons, will only come with the redemption of our bodies! Other frustrations because of God’s sovereignly designed futility in our lives will have to be walked out, according to God’s will.
I understand in our “can do,” self-help society in which you just “believe in yourself and you can do anything” bunk, this message of God’s sovereignty isn’t popular. But face it; most people – including many Christians – are not ultimately interested in what Christ is doing in their innermost being for eternity. The message that’s swallowed by the masses is essentially about temporal things like – money, success and self-gratification. Against this backdrop of superficiality, when compared to eternity, a reporter once asked Mother Teresa how she felt about her success in the poverty-stricken streets of India. She replied, “God didn’t call me to be a success – he called me to be faithful.” She understood the Ultimate Measurement was not about what appeared as successful to people but only what Christ calls faithful and enduring for eternity (John 15:16).
Throughout the centuries people have tried to understand the suffering of Job. God called Job blameless, but he was also lacking — Job was self-righteous. In God’s own sovereignty, he lured Satan to temp and try Job to the max. Job told the Lord he knew he was innocent and wanted a hearing. In chapters 40-42 God lets Job know who’s in charge of the universe. Nobody in this scenario knew what was going on in Job’s life – not Job, not his cranky and contemptuous wife, not his “counselors,” and, no, not even the devil, but only God who knew the end from the beginning. As one of my favorite teachers says when you face trials, “Don’t ask why, ask what?” In other words, what is God after in your life at any given moment? Scripture says, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God…” (Deut. 29:29). The Psalmist understood this, too, but knew also that sometimes the fear of the Lord provides insights when nothing else works (Psa. 25:14 – Amp).
“The secret [of the sweet, satisfying companionship] of the Lord have they who fear (revere and worship) Him, and He will show them His covenant and reveal to them its [deep, inner] meaning.”
Only God’s plan makes good sense
Apart from our life in Christ and its eternal significance, life often doesn’t make sense. Your best friend – a wonderful Christian – dies from a strange disease, leaving his wife to raise two little children. Why? A couple’s only chance at having a child results in the baby being born dead. Why? A 15-year-old with so much to live for kills herself. Why?
The philosophers scratch theirs heads over the meaning of life and often utter intellectual nonsense, the Middle Eastern mystic believes you may come as a mouse and are reincarnated as a rat. This is progress? An Asian may worship his ancestors. Paul on Mars Hill took a look around at the many gods being placated to by the debaters of his age and exclaimed, “I see you are very reverent to demons!” (Acts 17:22 – Amp).
Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived besides the Lord Jesus, went after “gals, gold and glory” and found life nothing but “vanity of vanities and striving after wind.” In other words, to him, life was totally meaningless. Later Solomon wised up and said: “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil” (Eccl 12:13-14).
Because of what God may be doing in someone’s life, He admonishes us to “judge nothing before the time” when He will actually reveal everything – even our secret motives stashed away in our hearts from the inspection of people (I Cor. 4:5). We may think we know what’s going on in someone’s life, but we really have no clue. We may stupidly judge someone for personal failure and have no earthly idea why this took place or what God may have been doing in the process. As one writer succinctly expressed: “You may get knocked over by one demon, and you’re down on Brother Bob over there, and you didn’t know it took a legion to bring him to his knees for the same sin you committed!”
In the eternal plan of God, we believers are predestinated to be conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). This is not to be taken lightly or flippantly. To the degree we partner with God in the process, He will be faithful to ensure this work of making us like His Son will be carried out to degree He planned. Sometimes pain and failure are part of this. He uses all things to work together for our good — to those who love (agape) Him (Rom. 8:28).
Eternal rewards and responsibility
To me, one of the great failures of most churches is to fail to teach that we are laying a foundation on Christ’s work that will be revealed by fire (1 Cor. 3:13). To the surprise of many, people will NOT be the same in heaven. Jesus spent a slew of time in the NT on parables (earthly stories with a heavenly meaning) that taught that things done in life have an eternal reward and consequence (Matt. 25:14-30). We are indeed “in training for reigning.” Do you really think that Christians who have been careless and negligent about the kingdom of God and have spent their time on earth living for themselves will find themselves in the afterlife in the same responsible positions of authority as those who have given themselves wholly to Christ? Jesus was clear that he who tries to save his life in this life would lose it in the next (Luke 9:24). Yes, this speaks of The Lost but also of self-centered Christians who will lose much of their kingdom inheritance, not their salvation, at the judgment seat of Christ.
Our lives are a puff of smoke
In our busy and distracted lives, we easily lose sight that we are but a vapor or a puff of smoke, to use the vernacular. In light of eternity our time here is a brief and fleeting moment. It’s hard to conceive that one day this will all end, and the kingdom of God will undergo a loving submissive exchange as Christ, our perfect king, presents His work and rightful dominion over all that is to His Father (1 Cor. 15: 24-29). Until then, while in this skin, we will face life with its endless trials, some of which will be quite baffling and sometimes inexplicable, but God has provided hope for us, knowing that in all these things we are more than conquerors (Rom 8:37)!
Speaking of hope, it is in short supply in our society and in the church. If our hope is ultimately placed in anything or anyone other the Father God, we will be disappointed. Our day can be likened to the time when Jesus met the woman at the well in John 4. It was the 6th hour, and she had six husbands (six is the number of man). The well was deep, and she couldn’t draw the water she needed so badly. In effect, she was hopeless. People are bankrupt without the Living Water! Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life” (NLT). If our hope is deferred, our hearts will be sick. But, get this … joy, a dream, a vision, or desire realized is a Tree of Life! There were two trees in the garden — the Tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil, and the Tree of Life. Adam and Eve ate from the wrong tree! Jesus IS the Tree of Life! Our Hope is in Him.
Knowing Jesus deeply vs. “Dung”
Paul called the rest of this life total crapola compared to the real knowledge of intimacy with Jesus (Phil 3:8):
“Yes, furthermore, I count everything as loss compared to the possession of the priceless privilege (the overwhelming preciousness, the surpassing worth, and supreme advantage) of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord and of progressively becoming more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him [of perceiving and recognizing and understanding Him more fully and clearly]. For His sake I have lost everything and consider it all to be mere rubbish (refuse, dregs), in order that I may win (gain) Christ (the Anointed One)” (Amp).
The translators of this verse in many cases were too kind – they used the word “rubbish,” as the Amplified did above, when Paul compared deeply knowing Christ to others things. The actual Greek word, used in The Aramaic Version in Plain English, is skubalon or “dung.” To Paul, nothing compared to this, not sex, booze, religious education, NASCAR, smoking weed, golf, Hollywood or football (I live in the South where football is considered comparable to salvation if your team wins on Saturday in the fall – just kidding). We get a glimpse of this sweetness and power when the Holy Spirit touches us or moves on us in special ways. When people are overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit, they can be knocked off their feet!
The end of the matter
As I wrote earlier, Solomon had a radical change of heart, as he looked back over his “toys” at the end of his life. When all was said and done, his response to all this “vanity,” was, “Fear God and keep the commandments.” It’s imperative that all of us learn to live life in light of eternity.
Joseph Beckham is the author of Deeper Water for Thirsty Souls. http://amzn.com/1493781286