Second, the pastor must constantly remind his flock that they are aliens and strangers in this world, and that better things lie ahead. They are a peculiar people, and one of their most striking and distinguishing features is an unqualified optimism because God has promised that right, love, and grace finally will triumph when the earth is filled with the knowledge of the glory of God as the waters cover the sea (Hab. 2:14).
This has all kinds of practical implications, as Raymond Ortlund Jr. points out. “We have the Spirit as others do not. That is why we have longings that others hardly feel. We ask questions they do not trouble themselves with. We are bothered by a state of things they have come to accept. They are living for the weekend; we are living for the End!” As much as we enjoy life, we are aware that the things that are seen are temporary, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
It is this yearning and longing for something yet unseen that is encapsulated in the word hope. When Paul reminded Titus of the “blessed hope,” he urged him to make sure that his congregation did not use it as an excuse to drop out and wait. It was to be for them a call to dig in and work. Holy living marks those who are really watching and waiting. They have taken seriously the advice of Jonathan Edwards: “Never do anything which you would be afraid to do were it the last hour of your life.”
At the same time, the hope-filled Christian longs that others may come to discover that Christ is the hope of glory. The Christian recognizes that history is not cyclical. It is linear, moving toward a grand finale. He or she is going somewhere, living with a goal in sight. This hope means that all our days and all our deeds may prove to be good for something or someone. Such a life will prove attractive in a world that is marked increasingly by futility and despair. Human beings cannot live without hope. Mere survival is not enough if we are going to save ourselves from becoming irremediably hopeless.
Dante, in The Divine Comedy, makes the inscription over the gate of hell to read, “All hope abandon, you who enter here!” What hope do we have that our unbelieving friends and relatives will be converted? Well, we remind ourselves that we were once like them. If God has changed our lives by His sovereign grace, then there’s hope for anyone!
So while the pessimist looks down and the fearful look around, pastors must help their flocks to lift their eyes and look up. The Lord God omnipotent reigns!