My younger daughter is going back to university in a few short weeks. I’m already dreading the day she leaves, even though she is still home right now. We have made plans to spend a few days together, shopping and hiking and eating good food.
But once she has returned to university, I won’t see her again until winter except by video chat. When I allow myself to get sucked in by sadness, I feel as if she has already left.
It’s an effort to remain focused on the present, but I don’t want to waste these precious days: we can still make memories; I still have time to get to know the young woman she is becoming.
Sometimes I forget that Christ is with me now, too. I spend too much time thinking, “I can’t wait until I see you!” We are invited to look ahead to his return yet exhorted to live in his presence today. How do we strike a balance between those two positions, and how does that affect the way we live as Christians?
What Has God Said?
1. Looking forward. Scripture tells us that it’s natural to yearn for the Second Coming of Christ. “Creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. [...] We wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.[...] We hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:19, 23, 25).
In Revelation 6:7 and 12, we read, “Behold, I am coming soon.” The verb tense invites us to look ahead to that wonderful, miraculous day.
“Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:28). There it is again — looking forward.
1 Thessalonians 4:16 says, “The Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God.”
We know he is coming back, but waiting seems to take forever, like anticipating Christmas, the start of the summer holidays, or a visit from beloved family members.
We count down: “ten more sleeps…nine more sleeps!” etc. How could Paul write, “We wait with patience”? I don’t feel very patient a lot of the time; it’s a part of spiritual fruit I’m still working on.
2. Right now. The spaces in between our longings can be really rich if we ask God to give us eyes to see and ears to hear.
When I sought the Lord’s Word about our future hope, I found a lot of Scripture about how to live right now. “I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).
David’s encouragement was written in the present tense. Paul wrote, “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what the will of God is, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).
Again, present tense teaching for life. He said, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” The writer of Hebrews taught, “Keep your life free from love of money and be content with what you have” (13:5).
Paul encouraged the church at Philippi: “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me — practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9). All very here-and-now.
The loving obedience of a disciple is embedded in Paul’s teaching. These verses tell us how to live and what God is doing to us as we wait for him [in]patiently.
As we ask for discernment, he gives us more of it, transforming our minds, so they are more like the mind of Jesus even while we stumble through our day-to-day lives.
Vertical and Horizontal
Christ exemplified the life he wanted his disciples and followers to live, so the disciples taught directly from Christ’s example.
The Lord had commanded his people to “do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8), so that is what Jesus did. He lived humbly as a man, healed the sick, addressed injustice loudly, and he loved people.
Sure, he did miraculous things, which pointed to who he was in the eternal sense. But he also fed the hungry and gave sight to the blind and touched people and confronted the Pharisees. He was real; he was present; he was active; he was now.
Meeting the needs of people next to us requires that we notice what is happening around us. Longing for Christ’s return is natural, but if you’re like me, when life is hard, you might tend to think so much about your own struggles and your longing for Christ’s return that you aren’t paying attention.
You’re done with the stress of life and how it’s affecting you. When that happens to me, I realize I’m thinking about myself, not about Christ. I’m not worshiping, just whining. I want my frustrations or my suffering to end.
I’m overlooking or minimizing the sadness and need among my neighbors. Living for Christ involves living in him and letting him work through me in real-time engagement with others. If I really love Jesus, I love other people now, and I also get to see where he is at work today.
The words of Hebrews give me some insight into how I can live with eternity in front of me yet with a present-tense objective. “Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13).
Hope for the Future Informs the Present
These words command me to live in the present, aware that the time draws near for Christ’s return. This verse in Hebrews reminds me of my responsibility and infers that time is short and pain is to be expected.
Our testimony rises out of the Christian’s response to suffering. We’re pinging back and forth, between fear and confidence, just like everyone else, except the Christian rests his or her faith on the solid rock: Almighty God.
When we wonder, “why do I bother getting out of bed when I feel like nothing’s going right?” God answers, “because of the hope you have in me.”
We keep slipping back into old ways of thinking, old sinful methods of coping, followed by the conviction of sin, repentance, and sanctification, turning to a merciful and loving God who never gives up on us. The process isn’t always pretty, but Jesus answers the “why” of living.
A watching world takes notice when we honestly grapple with our in-between state before arriving at a peaceful spot (for a while) where we realize God is in control and he loves us.
We have something they don’t have: hope. Not wishful thinking, but a promise from the God we trust; the God who never grows tired of refining us; the God who never leaves us.
Our future hope is also our current comfort, something I have to work hard to remember. Christ is currently with me, and he is available to give that same comfort to anyone who will believe in him today.
When I get too focused on his return and what heaven will be like, I forget that Christ wants to comfort me right now. This “light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
Shattering the Myth
I think the average person needs to see that the hope of Christ’s forgiveness and his return and the unimaginable beauty and peace and joy of eternity is both realistic and available.
Unbelievers need to see how much we Christians need him; how our faith rests on who he is, not on who we are; that salvation is also based on who he is, not on who we will be. God didn’t offer to save the prettiest, smartest, or richest but the lost, the hurting, and the weak.
We all need him right now in the messiness of life before we get sober, give up our obsession with social media, or our tempers settle down.
When non-Christians acknowledge that Christ’s peace is supernatural yet available, that no one earns it, and that they can have it too, perhaps they will grow curious about this Savior of ours who is with us and also preparing to return.
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Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/marekuliasz
Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.