The Difference Between Real and Abstract Belief

“So I had a dream,” my mom told me on the phone yesterday.  “And I need to tell you about it.  Just in case.”  She paused.  “Remember that angel statue that holds open the bedroom door?  The ceramic one?”

I did indeed remember.

She continued.  “I dreamed that it kind of came to life, and it came to me, this morning, and it said – I don’t remember everything it said, there was a Bible verse too – but it said, ‘Jesus is coming back today’.”

“Seriously?” I asked.

“Seriously,” she said.  “And so–I mean, no man knows the day or the hour, and so it’s not like I really think Jesus is coming back today but–well, you know, it was quite a dream, so I told your Dad, and I’m telling you just in case, and it just made me think…I really should mention it, just in case”

It made me think, too.  Because what if?

I was surprised by my response to the prospect.  Calm, yes.  Joy, yes.  Hopefulness, yes.  Because I know Jesus, and I trust Jesus.  A sort of prickling unease, too, at the thought of seeing Him, not because I worry about my salvation but because–well, to paraphrase Isaiah 6:5, I am a woman of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and thinking that my eyes might see the King, the Lord Almighty, sort of hammers home how unworthy I am to share in the experience.

And then, immediately thereafter, I experienced a sort of consuming embarrassment as I contemplated my daily life and priorities.

If Jesus was coming back  – if my mom’s dream was a message and I had somehow blessedly been warned in advance – then exactly how relevant was it that the painters were on their way to paint my house?  How relevant was my house generally, or any of the things in it, and how relevant was the fact that I’d planned to go on a walk that afternoon?  What opportunities have I had and missed?  What opportunities could I make right now?  What have I done that I can show Christ, when I meet Him, that He would care about?  What have I left undone?  Where have I invested my time?

I suspect that for believers it’s easier and more comforting to face Christ’s return or our return to Him in a sort of happy abstract rather than as a realistic possibility: those events are coming, they’re out there, and they matter, but we don’t always regard them with a profound sense of urgency.  And so we go about our day-to-day lives thinking of those things very little, and live accordingly.  As a result, our lives tend to prioritize the now, or at least the near future that seems in some way more accessible to us.  We fret over finances and material goods; we make plans; we generally go on living as if tomorrow is always coming.  And that’s a problem, isn’t it?

Of course, I’m not advocating a sort of waiting-on-doomsday life where you camp out in your backyard, play I Wish We’d All Been Ready, and shout at all your neighbors that the end is near.  What I am advocating is a shift in perspective that is genuinely built on the reality of what God tells us is coming and what Jesus says matters most.  A step away from “tomorrow I’m gonna” to “tomorrow with God’s grace I might…”

At the end of the conversation with my mom, we got ready to say our usual I-love-you and-goodbye.  “I’ll talk to you later,” Mom said, and then we both laughed when she added, “God willing.”   The farewell put me in mind of James 4:13-15:

Now listen, you who say ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.  Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  Instead you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’

In reality, most of us live our lives like the people in the first part of the verse: making plans and decisions, setting priorities, and partitioning things like Christ’s return or our eventual return to Him in death away in a corner where it doesn’t impact our daily lives.  But if we recognize that we are, indeed, mist – that we go on existing and living at the continued good pleasure of God alone – then surely it would change our perspective, and instill in us a sense of gratitude that we are here for as long as we are permitted to be.  Surely it would force us to rearrange our priorities, to live differently and with gratitude, to sort out what really matters from what doesn’t matter much at all.

Don’t banish the eternal to the realm of the abstract.  We ought to be living and breathing it, daily.

See you soon.  If God wills it.

 

 

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