All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country--a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
The little icon on my phone alerted me that the security camera on our new home had detected movement in the back yard. I clicked on the icon to reveal a real time picture of our deck, with green grass stretching down to the creek that runs through our property. A light fog hangs in the air. I can hear the sound of running water and birds singing. I long to be there.
Our original plan was to wrap up our interim ministry in North Dakota in mid-April and make the move to Michigan on April 19. Due to travel restrictions related to the current pandemic, those plans have been moved back a month. I understand the need for these precautions, and I am grateful that the spread of the coronavirus has been slowed, but it leaves me with an intense longing for my new home.
The longing that I am experiencing is only a taste of a far greater and more profound longing for my heavenly home. The book of Hebrews zeros in on this far more significant longing. Hebrews 11 is a Cliff Notes account of many of those who have traveled this journey of faith before us. In the midst of recounting their faith journey, the writer reminds us that their longing was not fulfilled on this earth.
God implanted in their hearts a longing for something that went beyond the tangible world in which they lived. Throughout their lives they continued to look forward to the fulfillment of God’s promises. Recognizing the spiritual nature of these promises, they lived as travelers through the world instead of residents of the world. They chose not to “settle down’ but continued to follow God wherever He led them. By faith, they kept their eyes on their heavenly home.
At the end of chapter 11, the writer summarizes the journey of those he has chronicled. He transitioned from those in the past to those of us in the present. He intentionally included us in his story. The promise that these saints longed for could only be fulfilled through the next chapter of the story.
These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
Longing is a part of life. We all experience it. It is what drives us forward, pulling us toward an unknown future. Often our longing gets sidetracked by the enticements of the world. We begin to believe that the tangible things of this world will satisfy our longing, only to discover that they disappoint instead. For a moment it feels like they really do quench our longing, but that experience is short lived. Soon the thrill of the moment evaporates and the longing returns. It becomes an insatiable thirst.
Satan tries to convince us that we can quench our thirst through what he has to offer. He makes grand promises that pleasure, power, and possessions will satisfy us. But in the end, they only increase our longing. Like drinking salt water, we become more and more thirsty, and more and more spiritually dehydrated.
On the other hand, God also taps into that longing; a longing that He placed there. But instead of offering us trinkets that cannot satisfy, He offers us Himself. Our true longing in to be connected with God. We long to be welcomed into our heavenly home; the home God designed for us before the creation of the world. As C.S. Lewis tells us, we were not created to live in time, but in eternity. We are always surprised by time, because time is not our natural environment. As long as we live within the confines of time, we will long for something more, something better, something that will last. That longing can only be fulfilled through Christ.
God wants to use the longing within our heart to move us forward toward the ultimate goal, being united with Him in His presence. When we focus our longing on that eternal goal, we can embrace the joys of this life, not as an end in themselves, but as a means of moving us closer to our real goal. Even the challenges of this life can serve to sharpen our focus and increase our longing for our eventual home. It is those who have their hearts set on heaven that can fully appreciate this journey through life. This journey is not pointless or meaningless. It is preparation for something far better.
One day fairly soon, I will be settled into my new home. When that day comes, my longing will be satisfied, for a time. That is the way it is with our longings in life. Once they are fulfilled their intensity is extinguished, and they are soon replaced by a new longing. But one day we will enter our eternal home and the intensity and delight in achieving the goal of our longing will never diminish.
2 Corinthians 4:18
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.