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Just Passing Through

Christian, tell me why doesn’t life get you down as much as it does other people? How do you face problems without being crushed by them?
Because…I know that this life is temporary, only a small part of the journey that is REAL life.

For about 10 years, my husband had a side job as a travel agent specializing in cruises. During that time, we went on a couple of cruises per year. (We had to check them out so he could describe them to clients, right? 😉) We learned to avoid arguments when we first boarded the ship by going our separate ways for the first hour or two. He was eager to explore the ship. However, I couldn’t relax until I had unpacked: I needed to build my “nest” before I could do anything else, so I focussed on turning the tiny stateroom into a temporary home while he did his exploring.

Of course, knowing it was temporary, I didn’t bother settling in very deeply. We put up with fewer possessions, stored in much more cramped quarters, than the house we live in when not on vacation. We knew that we were just passing through, that the ship stateroom wasn’t really “home”.

Abraham’s Nest

The Bible tells of Abraham’s temporary residence in Canaan, what was to become the Promised Land of the Israelites. Even though he lived in Canaan for many years, it was never really “home”, either. He didn’t even own any of the land where he lived. When Abraham’s wife Sarah passed away, he had to go to his neighbors to buy a piece of land as her burial place. His explanation to them was:

I am a stranger and a sojourner among you; give me a burial site among you that I may bury my dead out of my sight…I will give the price of the field, accept it from me that I may bury my dead there…Abraham weighed out for Ephron the silver which he had named in the hearing of the sons of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver…So the field and the cave that is in it, were deeded over to Abraham for a burial site by the sons of Heth.

Genesis 23

Over 1500 years after Abraham, the writer of Hebrews looked back at him as an example for all Christians:

By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

Hebrews 11:8-10

This life is our temporary nest.

Even though we may live on earth for many years, God reminds us that this is not our true home. We are “nesting” here until time for us to go to the permanent — actually, eternal — home that God is preparing for us.

Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.

John 14:1-3

For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.

Hebrews 13:14

For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ

Philippians 3:20

What does this mean for us in practical terms? How does it affect the way we live our everyday lives?

It changes our priorities.

Stocking up wealth or power or fame doesn’t seem so important when we know that 1) none of it will last and 2) something much better is waiting for us. It becomes more important instead to spend our efforts on things that will last, like relationships — especially our relationship with God. Also, it becomes a top priority to tell others about Jesus so that they can share in that future home.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matthew 6:19-21

It changes our perspectives.

Things that seem to be bad — or good — in the context of a few years don’t seem the same when compared to eternity. Even without eternal perspective, many people find balance in the old saying “This, too, shall pass”. For instance, look back five or ten years in your own life:

  • Can you remember something that seemed too horrible to be true? Without downplaying what I know can be very painful trials, is that same thing still having the same impact on you today? Time heals many griefs, even desperately difficult ones.
  • Can you remember something wonderful, like reaching a goal that you had been working toward? What happened afterward? In my experience, there is often an “after-Christmas letdown” followed by some new goal to take my attention.

What will those things, good or bad, look like after a million years in Heaven? Will we remember them at all? At most, will we say “Oh, that? Yeah, at the time I thought it would never end. (Or, ‘I thought that was the best day of my life.’) Guess I was wrong!”

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain

Revelation 21:4

It gives us hope.

Many in our world are in deep despair. They feel like giving up, not just on trying to succeed but on life itself. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, suicide is a leading cause of death in the U.S. and has increased dramatically in the past two decades. Which of the many things contributing to this horror would still matter to them after a million years in Heaven? But they don’t know! They think that this life is all they have, and that it isn’t worth having.

In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.

John 16:33b

It gives us patience.

When we look at our poor, broken world, with all its problems, we can wonder why God doesn’t fix things. He knows the problems; He loves the hurting people; and He has the power to do anything He chooses. Why does He choose to let evil and pain continue?

The answer is that He will not let them continue forever. He is keeping track, and will bring about complete justice…in His own time, when He has accomplished everything that He has planned. Those plans include turning evil inside out, using it as a tool to end up with something good. How infuriating it must be to Satan to know that all his schemes will eventually end up working in favor of the God (and people) that he hates!

But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

2 Peter 3:8-9

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

Romans 8:28

If it’s temporary, then why does it matter at all?

It could be tempting to wonder why we’re even here. Why did God drop us into this temporary nest instead of just creating us in our real home in the first place? I can think of a couple of reasons:

It’s where God has given us a task.

God created each unique individual for a reason. He put each of us into our particular place — in history, in geography, in culture — for a purpose. He has something for us to do for Him while we are in this nest. When we wonder why someone has been taken from us far sooner than we wish, it’s because their task is complete. When someone is still here, even if elderly or incapacitated, it’s because their task is not yet done. God is still using them for His purpose.

Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them.

Psalm 139:16

…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…

Hebrews 12:1-2

It’s where we make our choice.

The eternal home that Jesus is preparing belongs to those who belong to Him. Everyone is welcome, but not everyone chooses to accept His invitation. For those who refuse, there is still an eternity of existence beyond this life…but it is not one that anybody would want. It’s not what God wants, either, but He respects our free will and leaves the choice up to us. Will we leave the nest to fly, or to fall?

Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.

Revelation 3:20

As a extra treat, here is a story that captures this idea of nest vs. home. Enjoy!

You’re Not Home Yet

An old missionary couple had been working in Africa for years, and they were returning to New York City to retire. They had no pension; their health was broken; they were defeated, discouraged, and afraid. They discovered they were booked on the same ship as President Teddy Roosevelt, who was returning from one of his big-game hunting expeditions.

No one paid much attention to them. They watched the fanfare that accompanied the President’s entourage, with passengers trying to catch a glimpse of the great man.

As the ship moved across the ocean, the old missionary said to his wife, “Something is wrong. Why should we have given our lives in faithful service for God in Africa all these many years and have no one care a thing about us? Here this man comes back from a hunting trip and everybody makes much over him, but nobody gives two hoots about us.”

“Dear, you shouldn’t feel that way,” his wife said.

“I can’t help it; it doesn’t seem right.”

When the ship docked in New York, a band was waiting to greet the President. The mayor and other dignitaries were there. The papers were full of the President’s arrival, but no one noticed this missionary couple. They slipped off the ship and found a cheap flat on the East side, hoping the next day to see what they could do to make a living in the city.

That night, the man’s spirit broke. He said to his wife, “I can’t take this; God is not treating us fairly.”

His wife replied, “Why don’t you go into the bedroom and tell that to the Lord?”

A short time later he came out from the bedroom, but now his face was completely different. His wife asked, “Dear, what happened?”

“The Lord settled it with me,” he said. “I told him how bitter I was that the President should receive this tremendous homecoming, when no one met us as we returned home. And when I finished, it seemed as though the Lord put his hand on my shoulder and simply said, ‘But you’re not home yet!’”

From Talking To My Father, by Ray Stedman. Barbour & Co. 1997.

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