now before next

August 21, 2005

We humans commonly get in a trap of thinking: “Things will be better when _______________.” When we are in high school, we think everything will be okay when we move out and go to college. When we are single, we think things will be better when we have someone special in our life. When we are engaged, we think they will be better when we are married…and so on.

Perhaps there is some truth to this, but I think it is a dangerous way to live. I’ve seen too many people have a serious let-down after that next thing happened. The transition didn’t bring with it all that they hoped, and in a sense, they were let down even more. The problem is this: when we go through a transition, there is one thing we take with us — ourselves! Rather than hope for a situation change to make things better, we are better off working on ourselves in the situation we are in.

The process of moving presented me with hope of some things I might use this life transition to change about how I do some things. One of these was that I wanted to be a little more organized in my work spaces. My desk at both work and home have always been messy and cluttered. I wanted to change that. Now, my home office is also my work office. The potential for chaos as these forces clash could be unbelieveable, but I have worked hard. When we moved in, I spent a few days really trying to get my office nicely organized and to have a place for everything. This was a good start, but I’m noticing that things are slowly starting to stack here and there. It isn’t bad, but I see the buildup happening, and I need to keep on top of it. The point is…it is still my office, and I am still prone to stacks. Changing offices doesn’t change me.

I think followers of Jesus are often guilty of the same thing in how we view eternity. Generally, we think that this life is one where we are stuck and trapped in this harder life that Jesus has called us to live, but that he will pay us all back in the resurrection. We think being a Chrstian is just about suffering for a great reward later. We have to escape this thinking.

As far as now goes, I believe fully that following Jesus now is the best way to live. Yes, it means I give more of myself than I often want to. Yes, it means I sacrifice. Yes, it means I suffer at times. But I wouldn’t trade it. I don’t try to live this life with an undercurrent thought of: “God, you owe me for this.” I think some of our “suffer now, reward later” thinking reveals that kind of thinking.

The other side of it is this. Do we truly think that the resurrection will be a time where we have all we want, all the time. Does that sound like a satisfying way to live forever? Or is that just our consumer mentality projected on to eternity? Think of what broke when Adam and Eve ate that fruit in the garden…for the first time, they “wanted”. The serpent convinced them that they needed something they didn’t have. Prior to that, the shalom of the garden was that they didn’t “want”, but just enjoyed the company of God and each other. Perhaps we should think of the resurrection not as a time where we will be able to get without limit, but where we will be able to give without limit. It will be full relationships between us and God, where everyone will be able to give without fear of what they will miss out on.

This is why how we view following Jesus now is so important. It is a preview and a preparation for what eternity will bring. If we view this time as a sacrifice for the rewards to come, it corrupts us. Instead, the way we live in this life is a glimpse for all to see of what it will look like when God fully restores all things. My most fulfilling times in this life are when I use gifts that God has given me for the benefit of others. Shouldn’t I think that the resurrection holds an even greater fulfillment of this same thing?

(Mike DeVries post on “Rabbi Zalman Marcus on Heaven and Hell [part 1]” helped me formulate some of these thoughts, and I encourage you to read it as well.)

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