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“If we could only think of our lives in light of eternity, we’d find ourselves much more inclined to obey God and find our joy in him.”
All humans know that eternity is coming. A lot of us do our best to forget it. It can be disorienting to think about the fact that we will die and the universe will keep on going. Eternity is a long time to be dead.
As Christians, we have a hope for eternity that changes all that. Paul tells us that when we are away from the body, we are at home with the Lord. Death for us is not the end; it’s an amazing kind of beginning.
But a lot of us do the same thing as our non-Christian friends and neighbors; we do our best not to think about it. We focus on the here and now, we make short term plans (even a twenty year plan is short in light of eternity!) and we spend as little time as possible thinking about what comes next.
The idea of dying is strange and uncomfortable, so it makes sense we aren’t eager to dwell on it. But when we avoid thinking about eternity, we cut ourselves off from a powerful reality that is coming—whether we think about it or not.
We have an amazing ability to focus on ourselves. Martin Luther had a way of describing the sin in our hearts as incurvates in se, “curved in on self.” A lot of the time this leads to a kind of prideful self-centeredness. We treat the world and people in it as there to serve us, and we evaluate others based on how much they please us. But there’s another side to our self-centeredness: insecurity. Being curved in on self often leads us to compare ourselves to others. We care far too much about what others think of us, we find ourselves far too concerned with how we rank against others in the various areas of our life (work, school, relationships, etc.). This is a recipe for deep insecurities that we carry around with us and that affect our lives in all kinds of ways.
Thinking about eternity short-circuits our insecurities. Take a moment and realize that, for thousands of years, you are going to be in the presence of God—the God who has adopted you as his child, knowing all of your weaknesses and failings. Dwell on the fact that there is nothing—no failure, no weakness, no problem—that can keep you from that future where you are loved entirely for eternity. And when you step into eternity, all of your sinful comparisons will fall away because you will be entirely glorified.
RC Sproul once asked a student who was insecure about the opinions of others, “Why care about the approval of the serfs when you have the approval of the King?” Eternity is a time when you and I will experience that approval in person for literally millions of years.
When we avoid thinking about eternity, we lose a key motivator for obedience. God calls us to be holy as he is holy, but earthly things clamor for our attention all the time. Whether it’s indulging in sexual immorality, giving in to pride, or letting a good thing become an idol in our hearts, when this life is all we think about sin becomes much more enticing. When we think in terms of seventy or eighty years, the idea of forgoing the promised pleasure of sin is hard to handle. Why deny yourself something if you only have a few decades to enjoy?
Take a moment and think of those seventy or eighty years in light of an eternity with the God of all goodness and light loving you completely and totally. Self-denial for that God, knowing that you will spend far more years with him than you will with any fleeting pleasure on earth, makes a lot more sense. If we could only think of our lives in light of eternity, we’d find ourselves much more inclined to obey God and find our joy in him.
If you live long enough, you will suffer. Even if you aren’t suffering now, you know how quickly that can change. When we suffer we grieve, and when we don’t suffer we worry about the different ways we might start suffering.
One of the devastating parts of suffering is that it always entails a removal of something you care about. Whether it’s your health, a relationship with a loved one, or an opportunity you’ll never have again, suffering takes things away from us that we value.
What makes suffering harder is the idea that we’ll never get those things back. When we focus only on this life, all suffering is taking away joy that we’ll never have the chance to experience again. But eternity is real. And in eternity we will experience a fullness of joy in the presence of God that will exceed anything we ever lost here on earth. That’s a big promise from a big God that gives us hope in the midst of big suffering and small. When we experience slight discomfort, general discouragement, or significant loss, thinking about eternity reminds us that there is hope for us beyond our grief here.
There are plenty of other reasons we have as Christians to be secure, to obey, and to hope. But why neglect such an awesome reality as the eternity awaiting us? I’d encourage you—go read Revelation 4 and 5, or Revelation 20 and 21, now. Take some time to think about eternity, and connect it to the ups and downs of your daily life. Then make it a habit. When we stop avoiding thoughts about eternity and start embracing them, we’ll find ourselves more in touch with the future God has for us—and the way it touches down in our life now.
Brian serves the church by overseeing preaching and Sunday morning services at Cornerstone.
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