I like to watch birds at play, so years ago I built a small sanctuary in our backyard to attract them. For several months I enjoyed the sight of my feathered friends feeding and flitting about—until a Cooper’s Hawk made my bird refuge his private hunting reserve.
Such is life: Just about the time we settle down to take our ease, something or someone comes along to unsettle our nests. Why, we ask, must so much of life be a vale of tears?
I’ve heard many answers to that old question, but lately I’m satisfied with just one: “All the discipline of the world is to make [us] children, that God may be revealed to [us]” (George MacDonald, Life Essential). When we become like children, we begin trusting, resting solely in the love of our Father in heaven, seeking to know Him and to be like Him.
Cares and sorrow may follow us all the days of our lives, but “we do not lose heart. . . . For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 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 Cor. 4:16-18).
Can we not rejoice, then, with such an end in view?
People post obituary notices on billboards and concrete block walls in Ghana regularly. Headlines such as Gone Too Soon, Celebration of Life, and What a Shock! announce the passing away of loved ones and the approaching funerals. One I read—In Transition—points to life beyond the grave.
When a close relative or friend dies, we sorrow as Mary and Martha did for their brother Lazarus (John 11:17-27). We miss the departed so much that our hearts break and we weep, as Jesus wept at the passing of His friend (v. 35).
Yet, it was at this sorrowful moment Jesus made a delightful statement on life after death: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die” (v. 25).
On the basis of this we give departed believers only a temporary farewell. For they “will be with the Lord forever,” Paul emphasizes (1 Thess. 4:17). Of course, farewells are painful, but we can rest assured that they are in the Lord’s safe hands.
In Transition suggests that we are only changing from one situation to another. Though life on earth ends for us, we will continue to live forever and better in the next life where Jesus is. “Therefore encourage one another with these words” (v. 18).
One of the most recognizable images in the US is the “HOLLYWOOD” sign in Southern California. People from all over the globe come to “Tinseltown” to gaze at cement footprints of stars and perhaps catch a glimpse of celebrities who might pass by. It’s hard for these visitors to miss the sign anchored in the foothills nearby.
Less well known in the Hollywood hills is another easily recognized symbol—one with eternal significance. Known as the Hollywood Pilgrimage Memorial Monument, this 32-foot cross looks out over the city. The cross was placed there in memory of Christine Wetherill Stevenson, a wealthy heiress who in the 1920s established the Pilgrimage Theatre (now the John Anson Ford Theatre). The site served as the venue for The Pilgrimage Play, a drama about Christ.
The two icons showcase an interesting contrast. Movies good and bad will come and go. Their entertainment value, artistic contributions, and relevance are temporary at best.
The cross, however, reminds us of a drama eternal in scope. The work of Christ is a story of the loving God who pursues us and invites us to accept His offer of complete forgiveness. The high drama of Jesus’ death is rooted in history. His resurrection conquered death and has an eternal impact for all of us. The cross will never lose its meaning and power.
At the Kenya Airways check-in counter, I presented my passport for verification. When the agents searched for my name on their manifest—the document that lists names of passengers—my name was missing. The problem? Overbooking and lack of confirmation. My hope of reaching home that day was shattered.
The episode reminded me of another kind of manifest—the Book of Life. In Luke 10, Jesus sent His disciples on an evangelistic mission. On their return, they happily reported their success. But Jesus told them: “Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (v. 20). The focus of our joy is not merely that we are successful but that our names are inscribed in God’s book.
But how can we be sure of that? God’s Word tells us, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9).
In Revelation 21, John makes a breathtaking description of the Holy City that awaits those who trust Christ. Then he writes, “Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (v. 27).
The Book of Life is God’s heavenly manifest. Is your name written in it?
In every field of endeavor, one award is considered the epitome of recognition and success. An Olympic gold medal, a Grammy, an Academy Award, or a Nobel Prize are among “the big ones.” But there is a greater prize that anyone can obtain.
The apostle Paul was familiar with first-century athletic games in which competitors gave their full effort to win the prize. With that in mind, he wrote to a group of followers of Christ in Philippi: “Whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ” (Phil. 3:7). Why? Because his heart had embraced a new goal: “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings” (v. 10). And so, Paul said, “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” (v. 12). His trophy for completing the race would be the “crown of righteousness” (2 Tim. 4:8).
Each of us can aim for that same prize, knowing that we honor the Lord in pursuing it. Every day, in our ordinary duties, we are moving toward “the big one”—“the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us” (Phil. 3:14 nlt).
Early in September 2011, a raging wildfire destroyed 600 homes in and around the city of Bastrop in central Texas. A few weeks later an article in the Austin American-Statesman newspaper carried this headline: “People who lost the most, focus on what wasn’t lost.” The article described the community’s outpouring of generosity and the realization of those who received help that neighbors, friends, and community were worth far more than anything they lost.
The writer of Hebrews reminded first-century followers of Jesus to recall how they had bravely endured persecution early in their life of faith. They stood their ground in the face of insults and oppression, standing side by side with other believers (Heb. 10:32-33). “You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions” (v. 34). Their focus was not on what they had lost but on eternal things that could not be taken from them.
Jesus told His followers, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21). As we focus on the Lord and all that we have in Him, even our most precious possessions can be held lightly.
At the age of 59 my friend Bob Boardman wrote, “If the 70 years of a normal life span were squeezed into a single 24-hour day, it would now be 8:30 in the evening in my life. . . . Time is slipping by so rapidly.”
The difficulty in admitting that our time on earth is limited inspired the creation of “Tikker”—a wristwatch that tells you what time it is, calculates your estimated normal life span, and displays a running countdown of your remaining time. It is advertised as the watch “that counts down your life, just so you can make every second count.”
In Psalm 39, David grappled with the brevity of his life, saying, “Show me, Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is” (v. 4). He described his life span as no longer than the width of his hand, as only a moment to God, and merely a breath (v. 5). David concluded, “But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you” (v. 7).
The clock is ticking. Now is the time to seek God’s power to help us become the people He wants us to be. Finding hope in our eternal God gives meaning for our lives today.
A friend struggling with loneliness posted these words on her Facebook page: “It’s not that I feel alone because I have no friends. I have lots of friends. I know that I have people who can hold me and reassure me and talk to me and care for me and think of me. But they can’t be with me all the time—for all time.”
Jesus understands that kind of loneliness. I imagine that during His earthly ministry He saw loneliness in the eyes of lepers and heard it in the voices of the blind. But above all, He must have experienced it when His close friends deserted Him (Mark 14:50).
However, as He foretold the disciples’ desertion, He also confessed His unshaken confidence in His Father’s presence. He said to His disciples: “[You] will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me” (John 16:32). Shortly after Jesus said these words, He took up the cross for us. He made it possible for you and me to have a restored relationship with God and to be a member of His family.
Being humans, we will all experience times of loneliness. But Jesus helps us understand that we always have the presence of the Father with us. God is omnipresent and eternal. Only He can be with us all the time, for all time.
I asked several friends what their most difficult, painful experience in life had been. Their answers included war, divorce, surgery, and the loss of a loved one. My wife’s reply was, “The birth of our first child.” It was a long and difficult labor in a lonely army hospital. But looking back, she said she considers it joyful “because the pain had a big purpose.”