During the past four months my family and I have been contemplating a ministry move which has entailed relocating around 60 miles from where we have lived for the past (almost) eleven years. New ministry, new schools and community, a new church family, and a new neighbourhood are the fresh fields and novel mountains we have been looking ahead to enjoying and climbing, and during the past week that preparation became a reality. The process of fully relocating in this way prompts all kinds of practical issues and emotional responses, but over the months one simile has dominated my thinking – how moving home is a little foretaste of the believer’s final homeward journey. In this post I want to meditate on some lessons leaving one’s home can teach about leaving this life.
Where I have been
Preparing to exit a locality in which you’ve lived for some time is a discombobulating experience. Roots go deep and grow strong when church and community are a large part of one’s life, and the impact of a place only truly begins to be felt when leaving becomes a reality. Aside from the place a town and its people have in the heart, I have come to think through what kind of mark I might have left during my sojourn in one place for 11 years. The measure of this is hard to get right, and there can be a certain morbidity in thinking through how light your impression is on those around you, but it is a good discipline to think about the effect of one’s life, the shape or the gap that you leave behind after your departure. It has been challenging and humbling to consider how quickly time passes, how intentions for deeper engagement and involvement with people can be consumed by the irresolute busyness of life, and how relationships and interactions often turn out much differently than anticipated.
If this experience is deeply felt by mere relocation, how much more when the time comes to go to my eternal home. Even a long lifetime is a vanishingly short period, with the cruel trick of our biology and psychology being that the older we get the quicker time seems to pass. When the moment comes for me to relocate to glory, what impression will my life have left on those around me? I am not thinking here of eulogy-fodder, or sentimental assessments of my place in the hearts and experience of others, but the measurable and meaningful impact of my life on people whom I come in contact with. The Apostle Paul seemed to feel this keenly, describing the lasting or vanishing foundation upon which we build our lives, constantly measuring his work in line with Christ’s cross and in tune with His resurrection. Paul audited his energies and seemed to quantify his spend of life and liberty in light of his departure, on a regular basis.
When I am no longer here, when my only real estate is the same plot of earth shared by the rich and the poor, when my moment on the stage of life and ministry is ended and the curtain closes, how much of a mark will I have left for Christ? That could be a depressing question, but it is also deeply energising, urging me to make everything that I have, and every day that I live, count for Christ. The time will come when there is no more time, when the day has ended, when the weight of my life will have left its last impression. How I need to review where I have been, and resolve to be here more truly and fully for the glory of Christ Jesus.
Where I am going
Over the past months we have been contemplating a new home, seeking to project our thinking into the almost unimaginable experience of living elsewhere to where we have lived for so long. Our purchase of a home has been slow, demanding patience and forbearance with a process and a deadline beyond our control. Whoever coined the famous proverb that it is more blessed to travel than to arrive clearly did not have house purchasing in mind. The movement of the market, the unavoidable delays and stalls, all steel the heart for holding on and holding out until home is reached.
The resources at our disposal during that waiting period have been formidable. We have been able to view our prospective home online, touring the rooms that would one day be ours, seeking to place our selves in our new location before the day came to move. On a very few occasions we were able to drive near to where our home would be, unable to enter, but excited to see the territory around it and to get the lie of the land. The anticipation that this created was quite incredible.
Our destination as believers is wonderful, and deserves the deepest longing of our hearts. Jesus’ portrayal of heaven in John 14 is of a home prepared for us, but delayed in its delivery. The Saviour inspired the hearts of his followers to contemplate their new home, in the tantalising experience of wanting to get there, but knowing that the timing is not ours to dictate. That prospect of relocation has challenged me in my work as a pastor time and again, as God has privileged me in helping others to take a journey home which is not yet my own.
Over the years I have observed that Christians in their senior years or in the grip of terminal illness often develop a longing for heaven which is almost overpowering. They scan the dimensions of where they are going, rehearsing what the Scriptures say of glory, taking the 360° tour of what the Saviour has prepared. Some have travelled close to the threshold of their new home before being restored to better health or a longer waiting period. What I have witnessed is that often those who are thinking of the end of their journey find a sweetness in heaven that we struggle to cultivate when in our prime. It is as though the weight and wonder of their coming home begins to scale back their attachment to their present dwelling, and to sweeten their sense of anticipation at what Christ has in store for them. For some the process of passing away is not a raging against the dying of the light, as endorsed by the poet Dylan Thomas, but a quickening embrace of new light streaming from the windows of a home which will be forever theirs in Christ.
The process of relocating has challenged me about how much I truly long for my eternal home, how much I rest in Christ here and now, but feel restless for being with Christ hereafter. Does my heart quicken as much at the Scriptural descriptions and promises of my eternal home as it does of finishing the process of relocating, and ending the waiting period before the transition is made? The occasional pallor of my longing for heaven is often due to the fact that I have placed weight on the wrong side of things, clinging to what is mine temporally while failing to value fully what will be mine eternally.
Moving home has driven my thoughts to heaven, causing me to take stock of what lasting impression I will leave on this world when I depart it, and how strong my hungering and thirsting for glory is. The time will come when those who know Christ as Saviour will relocate to his glorious presence. How the beauty of Jesus’ person, and the bounty of the place He has prepared, should fire and inspire our hearts with an insatiable longing to go to where He is, and enjoy what He has purchased for us at such cost.