Sunday, November 23, 2014

Eternal Bent

Only one life, a few brief years, 
Each with its burdens, hopes, and fears; 
Each with its clays I must fulfill, 
living for self or in His will; 
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, 
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
- C.T. STudd

Sometimes the deepest conversations happen on the way to doughnut shops. You know?

"So what are you looking for in the girl you marry?"

I was just thinking about what I was wanting in a cream-filled doughnut, and suddenly you're asking me to switch gears in my head to talk about this?  Now in all honesty, I do love having friends who ask me deep questions and will challenge me to think through life issues.  But, also in all honesty, if you spring a question like that on me at the spur of the moment you may not get a satisfactory, succinct answer.

I stammered out cliches and verbal pauses and caveats and qualifiers for about ten minutes as my friend patiently waited for my stream-of-consciousness to stop.  Finally, I halted my verbal pausing, and said, "You know, one of the main things that I want is a girl with an eternal bent."

He had been staring out the window (probably to hide his bored expression from me and most likely wishing he had never asked the question), but now he turned his head quizzically and looked at me.  "What do you mean?"

"Well, sometimes people aren't living for anything greater than the here and now.  I want the person I spend the rest of my life with to be motivated by something beyond herself.  You can usually tell when the focus is more on temporal things and things that have to do with living in the here and now...but there's a subtle difference when a person lives his or her life in reference to eternity.  Some people just have a different...I don't know...bent."

He smiled and said, "You know, that's the first intelligent thing you've said in the last ten minutes.  Turn here.  If you get a hot drink with your doughnut it's only $1.39."

For some reason that little phrase echoed in my head for the rest of the evening.  And kept popping up over the next couple weeks.  "An eternal bent."  What's different about people who live their lives with an eternal perspective?  You see different people in history who made a great impact on the world spiritually that I really look up to and respect... C.T. Studd, David Livingstone, Amy Carmichael, Mother Theresa, the Apostle Paul, Hudson Taylor, Brother Andrew, Corrie ten Boom, David Wilkerson...what motivated these men and women of God to do the things they did?  To accomplish what they accomplished?  They had a different perspective than the average college student who wants to go party abroad just to have a good time.  Their motivation was deeper.  More significant.

You ever wonder how the Apostle Paul endured all the things he went through?  And endured with PASSION?  He didn't simply keep a good attitude through all the persecutions and backstabbings and fasting and care for the churches...he kept his purpose and his passion alive!  How did he do that?  He says he was content in all situations, but in the same letter said that he kept pressing forward for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus!  How did he do that?  What did he know that most people don't realize in their fight to survive and have significance?  What was his motivation?   He was content when he was in prison in Rome because he knew he was on the track that God wanted him on.  He was always looking ahead to the next thing like Lystra, Derbe, Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, Corinth, Ephesus, Rome, Spain!  What was his goal?  What was he working for?  What made his life worth living?  Read the book of Philippians and then explain to me: What motivated such confident passion?

He had a glimpse of something that went far beyond himself.  He had purpose and meaning that OUTLASTED his life here on earth!  Think about that!  He wasn't afraid to die.  In fact, he would have embraced death except for the fact that he thought he could be of more service and benefit to people here on earth. (See Philippians 1:20-26 if you don't believe me.) He gives us his perspective in 2 Corinthians 4.  This is why he didn't give up, didn't lose passion...

2 Corinthians 4:16  For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. 
2 Corinthians 4:17  For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; 
2 Corinthians 4:18  While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. 

His outward man was perishing!  This is NOT an empty statement.  Want a sample of some of the things he went through?  In his own words:

  • thrice was I beaten with rods, 
  • once was I stoned, 
  • thrice I suffered shipwreck, 
  • a night and a day I have been in the deep; 
  • in journeyings often, 
  • in perils of waters, 
  • in perils of robbers, 
  • in perils by mine own countrymen, 
  • in perils by the heathen, 
  • in perils in the city, 
  • in perils in the wilderness, 
  • in perils in the sea, 
  • in perils among false brethren; 
  • in weariness 
  • and painfulness, 
  • in watchings often, 
  • in hunger 
  • and thirst, 
  • in fastings often, 
  • in cold 
  • and nakedness..."

What motivated him to endure all that?  Certainly not temporal enjoyment!  His focus couldn't have been on his own pleasure!  He saw these "light afflictions" as he calls them as working towards a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory!  Not only did he not begrudge them... I think he saw them as necessary.  As something that was working towards a greater goal.  Something that tipped the scales so much that these things seemed light in comparison.  You have to have knowledge of something greater in order to see things in this have to have special knowledge, a deeper insight, a secret understanding of something that is to come, otherwise you'll bail at the first sign of any of the things on this list!

What did he understand?  What did he see?  He saw something beyond the temporal.  He didn't look at things that were seen.  He looked towards eternity.  There was something in eternity that motivated him beyond the pressures and troubles and sufferings of this present life!

"For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life." (2 Cor. 5:1-4)

Paul didn't want to be found naked.  Full of the shame of a life that didn't result in any weight of eternal glory.  He desired to be clothed upon because eternity is the only thing that can make sense of this life that we're living and give it any purpose and meaning! The focus towards eternity isn't morbid.  It's looking towards something greater and more lasting.  The focus is so that mortality (the ability to die--living this life the way we're living it) will be swallowed up in REAL life!

What does this look like in our practical, daily lives?  Am I saying that every statement we make should include a reference to eternity?  No, but I am saying that overall, our lives should be lived in the shadow of eternity, not lived as if this is all there is.  Like Moses says in Psalm 90, "teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom."

The list of things that Paul went through was trivial to him. Most of us wouldn't call what he was going through "light affliction".  It's convicting because I've complained louder about my first world problems!

  • "I got this keyboard for my tablet and it won't even work! I have to use the touch screen, for crying out loud!"
  • "Sheesh, I have to wait a long time for the free Wi-Fi to load in this air-conditioned, comfortable coffee shop as I sip my $4's been...what? Half a minute?!"
  • "Man!  First I had too many chips for my dip and now I have too much dip for my chips!"
Anybody feelin' me?

Now don't get me wrong--I'm not saying that every statement we make or everything we think about should be qualified by some statement about eternity.  (e.g. "Well, how is clipping my toenails right now going to affect eternity??")  I'm just saying the general direction of our lives should be colored by an understanding of eternity and with what's really lasting.

After all, we ALL have aspects of both sides of the issue.  We are human and we live here on this earth, so there is a part of everyone that is material, fleshly, and temporal.  And that's necessary.  We don't want to be "so heavenly-minded that we're no earthly good."  But if this life is the only thing we're focusing on, there's a problem.

Deep down, we all have that tug towards eternity.  We all long for purpose and meaning and a successful life, and that's the spiritual/soulish part of us.  The eternal part that knows there something more.  The difference is what our bent is.

Which side determines your decision making?  When you make a decision about whether or not you should laugh at a friend's joke, or treat someone to lunch, or accept an invitation to a party, or give money to the homeless guy on the street who could probably get a job, or decide how you should spend your vacation time, or where you should go to church, or which classes you should take this semester, or which college you should go to, or who you should marry...which side of you is making that decision?  What is your bent?  Is it the spiritual/eternal side?  Or the human/temporal side?  How do you have a successful spiritual life like Paul?  Will your human side enter into some of these decisions?  Absolutely, and rightfully so!  But what is your focus?  What is your bent?

I believe it may very well be a a very subtle difference in our day-to day temporal lives.  A person with a temporal focus and a person with an eternal focus might go to the same church, the same school, work at the same job, interact with the same people, but the overall perspective of living in the light of eternity will make a huge difference in the way we perceive the events of our lives.  Are we marrying someone just because she's physically attractive or because we can make a greater impact towards the kingdom of God together?  Are we studying abroad because we believe we can make a greater impact towards the kingdom of God or because we think it'll benefit as a person as we have a good time?  Are we working at that particular summer camp rather than going on a missions trip because we think it will benefit eternity or because there are cute counselors there and we want to go rock-climbing for free?  What is our bent?  

That's part of the reason Paul gives this admonishment to the redeemed in Colossians 3:

Colossians 3:1  If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. 
Colossians 3:2  Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. 

What are your affections set on right now?  What do you feel love and excitement and passion about?  There's nothing wrong with being excited about simple things in life!  In fact, that can be a great thing!  But will it last throughout eternity?  Why are you excited about that?  What does God feel about what you're affectionate about?
What is your overall purpose?  When your life is over will you have done something that impacted eternity?
God is the only one who can give you a lasting passion.  But you have to seek Him for that.  Ask and it shall be given you, seek and ye shall find, knock and the door shall be opened unto you!

"Delight yourself also in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.  Commit your way to Him.  Trust in Him and He will direct your paths."

You may not know what your purpose is.  You may not know what God is calling you to do to have an eternal impact!  If that's you, I understand!  And I'm willing to submit to you that's alright!  All I can tell you is that if you have been born after the Spirit, please continue to walk in the Spirit!  God's timetable is not our own!  He is more concerned in our character than our calendar, and in our holiness than our happiness!  He's got a plan for you!  He knows right where you're at and right where He wants you to be!  So the answer is: if you are risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sits on the right hand of God.  What does that mean?  Knowing the triumph of Christ on the cross...the triumph over sin...the triumph over death...the triumph over depression, over suffering, over disease, and sickness and meaninglessness and purposelessness and Hell, seek those things which are above!  Seek those things which are above where Christ sits on the right hand of God in the ultimate position of triumph.  Seek and ye shall find!  Set your affection on those things.  On the things HE values.  Then you will find meaning.  Then you will find purpose.  Then you will find value.  You are dead.  Your life is hid with Christ in God.  That, then, is where you need to seek.

I find this prayer of C.T. Studd becoming my prayer.  It has never been so poignant in my life.  And maybe this will become your prayer too because of the truth it contains.

Give me Father, a purpose deep, 
In joy or sorrow Thy word to keep; 
Faithful and true what e’er the strife, 
Pleasing Thee in my daily life; 
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, 
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
- C. T. Studd

1 comment:

  1. There are a lot of good thoughts that you included in this post. I wonder if you have found your purpose in life -- that one task that God uniquely set you here on earth to do? And if you have found it, are you doing it? C.T. Studd definitely lived out his calling, and we are the better for it.