Living for the Unseen
Over my sabbatical, one of the books I have been reading is Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices by Thomas Brooks. Though written in 1652, Precious Remedies reads like it was written in 2022, accurately assessing the means that the enemy uses to try to keep us from being faithful and offering “remedies” against his tools so that we can follow God faithfully.
Reading Precious Remedies has had me thinking along similar lines recently. What keeps us from wholeheartedly following Jesus? What is it that sidelines us or causes us to veer off the course? What are the things that tend to trip us up?
There are many devices that Satan uses, but I’m convinced that one of the primary reasons we don’t follow through with wholehearted discipleship—that is, wholeheartedly following Jesus—is that we’re too often severely shortsighted. We’re prone to prioritize the immediate over what is lasting, the temporal over the eternal, what is seen over what is unseen.
We pursue instant gratification, and that pursuit compromises our walk. It keeps us from faithfully following Jesus. We’re meant to live with eternity in mind, but too often we live only for today.
We tend to think of teenagers or twentysomethings as those who struggle with pursuing instant gratification. They long to indulge desires and seem to have little wherewithal to wait until the proper time, leading to many unintended consequences. Sexual promiscuity in all its shapes and forms is only one of many areas where this struggle is common (and has been common for quite some time) among younger generations.
However, we shouldn’t expect our children to turn down the chance of instant gratification for the pursuit of lasting joy when they don’t see their parents doing the same thing. We can’t expect them to hold off on indulging their desires today and instead wait patiently for the right time, to put in the work and the commitment and sacrifice for something instead of going for what is quick and cheap, when they see the generations ahead of them pursuing the quick pleasures, albeit in differing forms. That’s not the only effect that this tendency of ours has, but it is a significant one.
The most damaging effect, though, is on our walk with Christ. We can’t live wholeheartedly committed to Jesus when we value immediate pleasure over lasting joy. We won’t be unswerving in our walk when we’re caught up in the temporal over the eternal. We’ll never be fully steadfast in following Jesus when we’re so shortsighted that we see only today.
How do we fight this tendency?
There’s a line in David’s prayer that he prays near the end of his life that helps us here. It’s actually a fairly common theme that runs throughout Scripture, but the particular instance that I am thinking of is recorded in 1 Chronicles 29:15. There, David prays this,
This is the perspective that we need.
The truth is, God’s people—believers in Christ—are strangers in this life. At best, we are sojourners in this world. The world as it is today is not our home. One day it will be remade, one day it will be new, one day the holy city will come down from heaven and God’s dwelling place will be with man (Rev. 21:2–3), but that is not today. This world as we know it is not our lasting home.
Instead, we need to realize that our time here is short. “Our days on earth are like a shadow, and there is no abiding.” But instead of that truth sending us to “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die,” we are those who know that tomorrow we live! Our time here may be “like a shadow,” but our time with God is everlasting. And we’re to live now in light of that reality.
So why do we want to be at home in a culture that is not our home? Because it’s easier. This world and its pleasures are visible and real, we can easily grasp them, attain them, enjoy them. They are visible and real pleasures, but we must remember that they are fleeting. Far too often, we willfully ignore the fleeting nature of them, going for the tangible pleasures of today instead of living for the lasting joys of eternity.
Instead, the fight of faith is keeping our eyes on the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God (see Colossians 3:1–4). We’re to be those who recognize that our citizenship is in heaven and who are therefore living like citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20). We’re to be those who are therefore longing for that better country (see Hebrews 11:13–16), recognizing that “here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14). That will not happen if we are filling our lives with what this world has to offer and satisfying our desires with the fleeting pleasures of this life.
We are strangers and sojourners. We should feel disjointed here. Our lives are like a shadow. This life is quickly passing. So we can’t set our affections on things here, but instead we must set them on things above, “as we look not to the things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18).
Bert Watts has served since December 2016 as the Senior Pastor at Mountain Creek Baptist Church, where he has been on staff since 2012.