Yesterday I read section 51 in John Piper's book, Taste and See. A year ago I was teaching Hebrews in my Sunday School class at our church in Thornton, Colorado. Hebrews 11 is a famous chapter, full of ordinary people who failed in so many ways, yet who are remembered as examples of faith and faithfulness to God. In that chapter, verse 16 gives us an important clue as to why these people are in that chapter.
I find it comforting to read about all these people. They are commended for their faith, and yet their lives are marked by significant sin and doubts. Where is the faith when Abraham lied about who Sarah was? Or about whether he would have a child by her, and instead brought Hagar into the picture? Or Gideon who doubted God? What about Samson's continuous womanizing? How can they be examples that we are to follow?
Again - verse 16 contains the clue. They desired a better country, a heavenly one. They desired a city that God built and prepared for them. So in spite of the difficulties of their lives, and their failings and sins, they persisted in believing God and in wanting him more than the life of this world that was around them.
Piper points out the foundation of God's pleasure in the people of Hebrews 11 is that he has prepared a city for them. These people desired what God prepared for them - even though as the author states later they did not actually see it.
The reward for these people's desire (and for us as well) is that God "was not ashamed." This appears to be an understatement meaning that in fact God was proud of these people. Imagine. God actually being proud of these people with their weaknesses and failings.
I won't belabor the obvious applications. First, do we desire the city of this world (to use St. Augustine's image) or the city of God? Do we want the world's approval, or God's pride in us in spite of our own sins and weaknesses? Second, are you encouraged to desire God in spite of your knowledge of your failures? If you do, then you too can expect his pride in you. What greater motivation is there?