As Christians, we are citizens of a Kingdom on the ethereal edge between this world and the next -- in a thin place. Our true home is not here but in a far different place, for we are born of God and will return to him. We may live our lives looking forward to heaven, but we also look backward from it: seeing ourselves through God’s eyes, not our own; living by faith, not by sight.
I’ll never forget the movie E.T. In a classic scene, E.T. tries to make a device to signal the spaceship that left without him, all the while mumbling, "E.T. phone home." When I pray, I sometimes think, "BJ [my nickname] phone home." Yet unlike E.T., we need not signal our home base. God knows where we are. He only hopes that, as Kingdom dwellers, we remember where we are.
As citizens of the Kingdom, we are to model ourselves after Jesus -- a King who was a servant -- for he asks no less of us. As Jesus said, "If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all" (Mark 9:35). Just as Jesus spent his life in service, we are called to adopt service as a lifestyle, submitting not only to God but also to each other. In the process, we free ourselves from the tyranny of our own needs to value the hopes and dreams of others.
As I came to know Dave better, I was struck by his steadfast commitment to service. He reached out not only to me in my solitude but also to many others who were alone in the world. For years he had kept in touch with a prisoner who, because of Dave’s faithful visits, had become a Christian in prison. Often Dave would read Steve’s poignant letters from prison to the congregation. It was clear that while Steve’s body may have been imprisoned, his soul had been freed. Dave had also kept in touch with a fireman who tragically had contracted Lou Gehrig’s disease in his forties. John had not been much of a believer, but Dave was undaunted. When no one else would visit, Dave was there, literally to the end. Dave was also there for an old congregant who could no longer attend church. An avid Red Sox fan, Mary had always told Dave that she wouldn’t die until the Red Sox were victorious. After the Red Sox won the World Series, Dave visited Mary in the nursing home. There she sat, at the age of ninety-three, restrained to a chair, barely able to communicate, receiving with joy Dave’s gift of a Red Sox World Series championship cup.
Serving others may not always be an easy task, but fortunately we need not bear these burdens alone. We can lay them at the feet of Jesus, who beckons to the burdened and weary to find rest in him.
It would be wonderful if all we needed to do is rest in Jesus. Yet as members of a divine Kingdom, straddling the ethereal border between this world and the next, we are called to do far more than rest. As Philip Yancey observes, "Jesus offers a peace that involves new turmoil, a rest that involves new tasks. The ‘peace of God, which transcends all understanding’ promised in the New Testament is a peace in the midst of warfare, a calmness in the midst of fear, a confidence in the midst of doubt. Living as resident aliens in a strange land, citizens of a secret kingdom, what other kind of peace should we expect? In this world restlessness, and not contentment, is a sign of health."
The war rages on between good and evil, and we are foot soldiers on the front lines in a cosmic battle. How can we, as mere fallen mortals, begin to fight the overwhelming evil in this fallen world? We can if we begin with ourselves, actively turning toward God to repent of our sins, while turning away from our own petty concerns to help others. In committing ourselves to doing God’s will, we can serve as God’s instruments, helping to make his Kingdom on earth a living, breathing reality in our lives and the lives of others.
It is our choice to make. We may choose to follow the crowd or a higher power. We may make ourselves the center of our universe or make God our center. We may become enamored solely with the things of this world or choose what endures in eternity. We may strive for success, money, and fame for our own glory, or we may use them for the glory of God. We may love like mere humans or learn to love like God loves, not with self-interest, but with the selfless love of Jesus Christ.
I experienced that love again several years ago, when shortly before Christmas, I received a letter in the mail from my church regarding the Christmas offering. As I read it, I was surprised to find that it was about my need for a computer. A month later, Dave called, telling me that the congregation had raised almost six thousand dollars to buy me "the best computer money could buy." My heart was so full of gratitude that I could hardly speak. If I could have spoken, however, I know I would not have asked why the congregation had given me such a generous gift. I already knew.
By grace, Jesus will return to establish the undisputed reign of God forever. For now, we live between this world and the next. How much easier it would be to proceed directly to heaven rather than toil in his Kingdom on earth, where we are called to be light in the midst of darkness. How hard it is to stand up for what is right in a fallen world, when the moral fabric of society seems to be unraveling all around us. We strive to confidently fight the good fight, in Jesus. We struggle to strike a balance in our hectic lives as we endeavor to make a good home in this far-from-perfect world -- far from our true home. It’s far from easy. Some of us may be tempted to ask, "What’s the point of remaining here when it’s so much better there?" Peter Kreeft may offer the best answer: "The point of our lives in this world is not comfort, security, or even happiness, but training; not fulfillment but preparation. It’s a lousy home, but it’s a fine gymnasium... For we misunderstand where we are if we believe in earthly utopias. The universe is a soul-making machine, a womb, an egg. Jesus didn’t make it into a rose garden when he came, though he could have. Rather, he wore the thorns from this world’s gardens."
In this world we may have trouble, but we can take heart, for God is with us in our struggle for peace and justice, and he will prevail. Jesus overcame the world, and so will we -- in him.
We do not have to wait for that final victory in order for us to be victorious, however. We can win every day by becoming "thin places" for each other, allowing the loving light of God to shine through us. The veil between heaven and earth thins every time we love each other as ourselves; reach out to the lonely, sick, poor, and forgotten; place the needs of others above our own; and answer evil with good. And what is most amazing is that we who give are the ones who are most blessed.
For when we reach out to all in love, we affirm that, as citizens of God’s Kingdom, each one of us matters -- no matter what.
Excerpted from So Close I Can Feel God's Breath, by Dr. Beverly Rose, (Tyndale, 2006). Dr. Beverly Rose earned a doctorate in clinical psychology and held an academic appointment at Harvard Medical School. Author of Mothers Never Die and So Close I Can Feel God's Breath, Dr. Rose has appeared nationally on radio and television. Raised in the Jewish faith, she is now a faithful follower of Jesus. Despite the daily trials of living with a neuromuscular disease, Dr. Rose experiences great joy and hope in her walk with the Lord. She currently resides in Tucson, Arizona.