6. Life Is a Temporary Assignment
Life on earth is a temporary assignment. The Bible is full of metaphors that teach the brief, temporary, transient nature of life on earth. Life is described as a mist, a fast runner, a breath, and a wisp of smoke. The Bible says, “For we were born but yesterday. . . . Our days on earth are as transient as a shadow.” 59 To make the best use of your life, you must never forget two truths: First, compared with eternity, life is extremely brief. Second, earth is only a temporary residence. You won’t be here long, so don’t get too attached. Ask God to help you see life on earth as he sees it. David prayed, “Lord, help me to realize how brief my time on earth will be. Help me to know that I am here for but a moment more.” 60 Repeatedly God’s Word compares life on earth to temporarily living in a foreign country. This is not your permanent home or final destination. You’re just passing through, just visiting earth. The Bible uses terms like alien, pilgrim, foreigner, stranger, visitor, and traveler to describe our brief stay on earth. David said, “I am but a foreigner here on earth,” 61 and St. Peter explained, “If you call God your Father, live your time as temporary residents on earth.” 62 In California, where I live, many people have moved from other parts of the world to work here, but they keep their citizenship with their home country. They are required to carry a visitor registration card (called a “green card”), which allows them to work here even though they aren’t citizens. Actually, we all should carry spiritual green cards to remind us that our citizenship is in heaven. God says that his children are to think differently about life from the way unbelievers do. “All they think about is this life here on earth. But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives.” 63 Real believers realize that there will be far more to life than just the few years we live on this planet.
Your identity is in eternity, and your homeland is heaven. Once you fully grasp this truth, you will stop worrying about “having it all” on earth. God is very blunt about the danger of living for here and now and adopting the values, priorities, and lifestyles of the world around us. When we flirt with the temptations of our culture, God calls it spiritual adultery. The Bible says, “You’re cheating on God. If all you want is your own way, flirting with the world every chance you get, you end up enemies of God and his way.” 64 Imagine if you were asked by your country to be an ambassador to an enemy nation. You would probably have to learn a new language and adapt to some customs and cultural differences in order to be polite and accomplish your mission. As an ambassador you would not be able to isolate yourself from the enemy. To fulfill your mission, you would have to have contact and relate to them. But suppose you became so comfortable with this foreign country that you fell in love with it, preferring it to your homeland. Your loyalty and commitment would change. Your role as an ambassador would be compromised. Instead of representing your home country, you would start acting like the enemy. You’d be a traitor. The Bible says, “We are Christ’s ambassadors.” 65 Sadly, even many people who think of themselves as followers of Jesus Christ often forget this spiritual truth. They have foolishly concluded that because they live on earth right now, it’s their permanent home. It is not. St. Peter said, “Friends, this world is not your home, so don’t make yourselves cozy in it. Don’t indulge your ego at the expense of your soul.” 66
God warns us to not get too attached to what’s around us, because it is all temporary. We’re told, “Those in frequent contact with the things of the world should make good use of them without becoming attached to them, for this world and all it contains will pass away.” 67 Compared with other centuries, life has never been easier for much of the world. We are constantly entertained, amused, and catered to. With all the fascinating attractions, mesmerizing media, and enjoyable experiences available today, it’s easy to forget that the pursuit of happiness is not what life is about! Only as we realize that life is a test, a trust, and a temporary assignment in preparation for eternity will the appeal of these good, but secondary things lose their grip on our lives. We are preparing for something even better! “The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.” 68 The fact that earth is not our ultimate home explains why we experience difficulty, sorrow, and rejection in this world.69 It also explains why some of God’s promises seem unfulfilled, some prayers seem unanswered, and some circumstances seem unfair. This is not the end of the story.
In order to keep us from becoming too attached to earth, God allows us to feel a significant amount of discontent and dissatisfaction in life—longings that will never be fulfilled on this side of eternity. We’re not completely happy here because we’re not supposed to be! It’s not our final home; we were created for something much more wonderful. A fish would never be happy living on land because it was made for water. An eagle could never feel satisfied if it wasn’t allowed to fly. You will never feel completely satisfied on earth because you were made for more than just here and now. You will have many happy moments on earth, but it’s nothing compared with what God has planned for you. Realizing that life on earth is just a temporary assignment should radically alter your values. Eternal values, not temporal ones, should become the deciding factors for your decisions. As C. S. Lewis observed, “All that is not eternal is eternally useless.” The Bible says, “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.” 70 It is a fatal mistake to assume that God’s goal for your life is material prosperity or popular success, as the world defines it. The abundant life has nothing to do with material abundance, and faithfulness to God does not guarantee success. God is far more interested in your character than your comfort. He’s more interested in what you are becoming than in making this life easy for you. Remember, life is a test.71 St. Paul was faithful to God, yet he ended up in prison. John the Baptist was faithful to God, and he was beheaded for it! Millions of faithful people have been martyred, have lost everything, or have come to the end of life with nothing to show for it in the world’s eyes. But the end of life is not the end! In God’s eyes, the greatest heroes are not those who achieve prosperity, success, and power in this life, but those who treat this life as a temporary assignment and serve faithfully, expecting their promised reward in eternity. The Bible says this about God’s Hall of Fame: “All these great people died in faith. They did not get the things that God promised his people, but they saw them coming far in the future and were glad. They said they were like visitors and strangers on earth. . . . they were looking forward to a better home in heaven. That’s why God wasn’t ashamed for them to call him their God. He even built a city for them.” 72 Your time on earth is not the complete story of your life. You must wait until heaven for the rest of the chapters. An old story is told of a retiring missionary coming home to America on the same boat as the president of the United States. Cheering crowds, a military band, a red carpet, banners, and the media welcomed the president home, but the missionary slipped off the ship unnoticed. Feeling self-pity and resentment, he began complaining to God. Then God gently reminded him, “But my child, you’re not home yet.” You will not be in heaven two seconds before you cry out, “Why did I place so much importance on things that were so temporary? What was I thinking? Why did I waste so much time, energy, and concern on that which wasn’t going to last?” When life gets tough, when you’re overwhelmed with doubt, or when you wonder if living God’s way is worth the effort, remember that you are not home yet! At death you won’t leave home—you’ll go home.
Point to Ponder:
Life is a temporary assignment.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER
If the only thing that is going to last for eternity is your relationship to God, what are the implications for your values, your priorities, your possessions, and your schedule?
Since God is more interested in your character than your comfort, how does that truth change the way you should view and respond to your problems?
Do you know anyone who has already gone on to heaven?
Based on what you have just read, what do you imagine they would like to say to you if they could?