Things Eternal

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So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18, NIV).

The trouble with fixing our eyes on things unseen is that they are, well, unseen. If we’re honest, it’s a rare believer who’s never wondered if all our hopes of Heaven are self-delusion. And even if we know how to appreciate our present moments in joy and gratitude, it can be hard to look long at the temporal nature of earthly things without becoming melancholy, if not seriously depressed.

If our solution is to avoid looking at all, though, we risk turning into “practical atheists” who live only for instant gratification. There was the teenager whose response to every work request was to whine, “Why should I have to clean it? It’ll just get dirty again,” until his mother was fed up. One morning, he arrived at the breakfast table to find his place devoid of plate and food, and asked her what the idea was.

She replied, “Why bother to eat? You’ll just get hungry again.”

Struggle or pleasure, all we accomplish in this life is temporary–all except our own spiritual growth and the positive spiritual energy we generate through love and nurturing of Creation and human souls, an energy that glorifies God and stores up eternal treasure in ways we can never understand this side of Heaven. Therein lies the true cause of our distaste for things unseen: we feel entitled to understand. Like Eve in the Garden of Eden, we want to “be like God, knowing good and evil“–and our attempts to grab that gold-plated brass ring lead only to trouble.

The alternative? Both simple and seriously difficult. Cultivate the “just trust Godfaith of a little child. Let go of all demands for instant gratification, for absolute assurance that things will work out, for premature realization of the rewards God has reserved for eternity. Be grateful for what we have now without presuming any right to hold it permanently, and trust God’s promise that the good things of this life are to be enjoyed and yet are as nothing compared with what is still to come.

Even diehard atheists (and proponents of virtually every other worldview) will admit two things about the sum of ultimate reality: a single life is smaller compared to that reality than one grain of sand compared to the whole earth; and yet, in some way we could never explain logically but still realize instinctively, living with integrity and purpose has significant value. As Christians, we can know the unique joy of living in those truths by the power of a God Who is both infinite–and individually concerned with every detail of His Creation.

Including every frustrating, wonderful, mysterious, building-for-eternity detail of the earthly lives that temporarily contain our immortal souls.

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Finding Your Purpose

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Since Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life was first published in 2002, “purpose” has become an everyday word in the Christian community. So far as it keeps us motivated to seek God’s will, that’s a good thing. But it has its dangers, especially for Christians who tend toward perfectionism and legalism.

Who’s in the Driver’s Seat, Anyway?

I admit I don’t care for the phrase “purpose driven.” Drivenness in general is responsible for much frustration in my life: too much hurry, too little rest, too much fear of failure, too many “urgent” short-term activities at the expense of forward-thinking action that fits real purpose better. While it’s good to have a larger sense of purpose guiding daily activities, the only One with the right to drive our lives is the Lord of the easy yoke and light burden.

It’s not really a purposeful life if you’re wearing yourself out trying to steer it personally.

Rest Stops

One classic time-management tip, called “Lakein’s Question” after author Alan Lakein, is to ask oneself regularly: What is the best use of my time right now? Anyone intending to make frequent use of that question, though, had better first run a check on tendencies to equate “useful” with “obviously productive.” There are always a few more things that need someone to do them, but just because no one else is doing them right now doesn’t mean you have to–especially if you’re already frustrated, burnt out, and sleep-deprived.

Just about everyone needs one full day off each week; seven or more hours of sleep every night; regular breaks in the course of a day’s work; and a few week-or-more vacations each year. If you’re getting less than that (or if you’re going through the motions but still thinking about “what else I could be getting done”), chances are you’re sabotaging your own ability to discern and fulfill your life’s purpose.

As anyone who’s ever memorized the Ten Commandments knows, “time off” is an entirely Biblical concept. God may be more displeased with nonstop motion (often used in attempts to usurp His authority) than with outright laziness.

Enjoy Life, It’s Good for You

Perhaps unfairly, the “Protestant” or “Puritan” “work ethic” is frequently construed as containing an Eleventh Commandment: “Thou shalt not enjoy thyself.” This world has its share of sinful pleasures, but choosing a career or volunteer activity that appeals to your personal passions isn’t among them.

More often than not, your natural skills and passions are clues to God’s purpose for your life–and while not everyone can turn a love of painting into a full-time career, we all can find opportunities to glorify God, bless others, and cultivate our favorite talents through volunteer projects or leisure activities. Nothing is idolatrous or self-indulgent if it enhances your ability to love God and neighbor.

The Greatest Purpose

We individualism-minded Westerners tend to forget that the Bible was created in societies where the average person had little direct say in what career he would pursue or whom she would marry. While that worldview is hardly without disadvantages, its forming the backdrop for Scripture is evidence we needn’t fret too hard about the one exact career/spouse/education/hometown that coincides with God’s will for us. Stay in touch with God, cultivate your natural passions, consider big decisions against the question, “Will this help me seek God and serve my neighbor?”–and then act in confidence that our Lord will work all things out for good.

Centuries before The Purpose Driven Life, the Westminster Shorter Catechism summed up purpose in the simple statement: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” That’s applicable to any believer in any life situation.

  • A blog for naturally melancholy Christians tired of being told to "snap out of it"; for Christians who struggle with mental-health issues and long for assurance God delights in them nonetheless; and for naturally optimistic Christians who want to understand their "gloomy" loved ones.

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    I am the go-to writer for people with tough stress issues and special emotional needs—and for those who love them, organizations that serve them, and anyone who just wants to better understand the world of mental/emotional struggles. Or who just wants to pick up some good stress-management tips! Visit my main website at www.PositiveContentFactory.com.

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    Bible quotes used in this blog are from the New Living Translation or the New International Version (1984). See http://www.biblegateway.com/ for copyright details.
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