On day one of our vacation – in the midst of our 21 hour cross-country drive- Gabe spoke up out of the blue and said, “Yep, I think I’m homesick now.” We laughed, but I’ve been thinking about that comment again today. You see, only a few days before that I was “feeling home-sick” for family. I had this overwhelming desire to be with my brothers. This was not possible, but a few phone calls later I was better – content once again to be serving in a community far removed from family but connected to them through the blessing of modern technology. As if that wasn’t enough to get me thinking about this concept of being home-sick, I’m considering all of this while driving back to Utah for a family vacation that would include ministering in our former church, having a family reunion and visiting places that still hold such a special place in our lives. As I drove, I was struck by the strangeness of simultaneously leaving home in Indiana and returning home to Utah.
While contemplating these thoughts and feelings – remember, there’s not much else to do while everyone else is asleep and you desperately need to stay awake – the Lord brought to mind another parallel thought. In fact, I now think this could be the real reason the Lord wanted me on board this particular train of thought. Ever the faithful conductor, He wanted me to realize that this sense of homesickness is exactly what every believer ought to possess. Each of us should experience this strange tension between contentment in this life where God has us and longing for our eternal dwelling place in His presence.
I believe this is a concept that the American church has all but lost, but it is a biblical one nonetheless. The apostle Paul said he was torn between the “desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far” and the necessity of ministry that he “remain in the body (Phi 1:23-24).” The writer of Hebrews also communicates the same sense of longing through the sharing of Abraham’s pursuit of a “city with foundations whose architect and builder is God” and his descendants who “were longing for a better country – a heavenly one.” Hebrews 13:14 says “we are looking for the city that is to come” and Paul says in 2 Cor 5:2 that we are “longing to put on our heavenly dwelling.”
The question I have, though, is this: are we really? Do most believers really long for heaven? Are we looking for that heavenly home or are we in fact consumed by this earthly one? We certainly have been given this life for a purpose and we should be content here while God leaves us in our earthly home, but I am afraid that far too many believers have lost sight of the fact that this world is not their home. This kingdom is not the one I should be building. The affairs of this world should not consume my time and attention. I should be longing daily and moment by moment for my eternal home and living in light of that longing.
As you consider the brevity of this life and the glory of your eternal home with your wonderful savior, I hope you will join me in quoting Gabe: “Yep – I think I’m homesick now.”
I recently read Chet Bush’s “Called to the Fire: A Witness for God in Mississippi”, a biography of Dr. Charles Johnson – a Nazarene minister in 1960’s Mississippi. It was a fascinating story of ministry that inspired awe at Johnson’s courage and faith as well as anger at the treatment he and his fellow African Americans received at the hands of typical “God-fearing” citizens of Meridian Mississippi. Though my reactions are varied and the lessons learned are many, the primary take away for me was his passion to minister to the whole man.
Early on in his ministry, Johnson determined that he would serve his community and his vision quickly spread to his congregation. Soon, their church was reaching a segment of the community that was largely neglected by other churches. This came about almost exclusively due to the fact that Johnson was committed to serving others rather than to growing “his church”. This commitment led to bold political activism in the form of boycotts and black voter registration as well as social involvement as he organized education projects and served the poorest of people in their homes. With all of this, he never neglected his spiritual responsibility and was a faithful evangelist.
Some might say my reading this book was mere chance as I had no real reason to read it. However, I know it was of the Lord because it fell right in line with a topic that the Lord has been dealing with me about for some time now: ministering out of a desire to simply serve others rather than to achieve an intended goal. In many solid, Bible-believing churches we say we believe in service and selflessness, but we seem to mostly spend our time, money and resources on people and activities that are likely to produce a result that we desire. We want to help people that are most likely to come to our church and start tithing, we want witness to people who are most likely to respond and we want to support missions in areas that are most likely to produce results. I’m not saying that it is wrong to assess risk/reward, but these decisions often reflect an attitude of service that is still largely self-centered.
Christ-followers, on the other hand, are called to lives of true service devoid of selfishness. Jesus instructed His disciples to be “servants of all (Mark 9:35)” and Paul instructs the church that we should “through love serve one another (Gal 5:13). This kind of service is totally focused on the needs of others. As Christ’s church, we must serve the community God has put us in simply because serving is what we do. We do not serve to see our church get larger and we do not serve only those that might be able to contribute to society in return. No, we must serve because we care about others more than we care about ourselves. We must serve even when it is inconvenient, costly, difficult and thankless. We must serve even when there is no fruit, appreciation or reciprocation. In short, we must serve simply to serve, even if there is no apparent benefit. As Dr. Johnson’s life and ministry prove, God honors this type of selfless service. I challenge you to embrace a life of selfless service to others.