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There is no such thing as hypothetical grace. Many of us like to plan our lives down to the nth degree and spend much time fretting about ‘what if?’ scenarios that may never happen. There’s nothing wrong with planning, and certainly I would say there’s nothing wrong with seriously considering many important questions and thinking about our answers ahead of time; it alarms me how people try to make life-changing decisions in the middle of crises without ever having considered these things beforehand. (That seems to me to be a recipe for disaster, for emotion often sweeps away common sense and logic.) Nonetheless, God gives us daily bread; His provision for us is not one based on what we may or may not need in the future.
When we read stories such as Stephen’s martyrdom (Acts 7:54-8:3), that often prompts us to consider how we would react in similar circumstances: would we have the courage and faith that he showed?
The problem we have when pondering that question is that the situation is, in all probability, outside our experience. It’s good for us to ponder the worth of Christ to us and how important He is to us. It’s good for us to dwell on His word which teaches us about opposition and persecution and about the importance of eternal life compared to the momentary sufferings we experience now (see 2 Cor 4:17-18, Rom 8:18). It’s good for us to consider these things and work out what really matters to us as well as to learn from the example of those who have gone before us and died well as martyrs. But we cannot ever know how we would feel in a situation we have never experienced before, and we certainly cannot hope to receive sustaining grace in advance. As Corrie ten Boom’s father reminded her, he did not give her train tickets weeks in advance of her journeys, but on the day of travel. ‘And so it is with God’s strength. Our wise Father in heaven knows when you are going to need things too. Today you do not need the strength to be a martyr. But as soon as you are called upon for the honour of facing death for Jesus, He will supply the strength you need—just in time.’
This doesn’t just apply to martyrdom. Paul learned that God’s grace was sufficient for him in all circumstances (2 Cor 12:9), but grace is given to us when we need it. It’s not given in advance for us to store in a jar on a shelf. We can claim God’s grace when we are in those situations beyond our ability to endure. It will always be there for us and God never runs out of it, no matter how much grace we need (James 4:6)! But we cannot hoard God’s blessings. The Israelites tried to do that with the manna they received, only to find it rotten and full of maggots. (Ex 16:19-20) We must learn to live in the present and receive God’s grace in the present. There’s no peace, no grace and no provision for the hypothetical future. There is, however, all we could ever need in the now.