Monday, June 6, 2016

Pursuing Eternity Through Imitation

           When I wrote this post, I was sitting at home in my comfy chair in my study, my legs wrapped in a faux animal blanket (yes, we do sometimes need those in Southern Arizona), and had just completed my 50 Days of Heaven devotional study written by Randy Alcorn. For some reason only my Creator knows, my eyelids had snapped open at 3:00 AM, and after a half hour battle between my brain and body, I resigned myself to rising three hours ahead of schedule to get my day started.
            Today, though, I’m not at home in my chair. I’m not at “home” at all. I’m actually traveling. For four days I have soaked up the sights, smells and sounds of one of my favorite places in the world. (Fortunately, I’m pretty portable and have many “favorite” places.) My husband and I are preparing to reunite with a yet-to-be-determined number of friends and peripheral acquaintances for four days of laughter, feasting, picnicking and frolicking, public service activities, and maybe even a little dancing, if my arthritic toes cooperate. And we’ll gather for a memorial service to remember friends who we’ve had to bid a final aloha to, on this side of Heaven, at least.
            The places I’m visiting on my yearly rest, rejuvenation and no technology holiday (which is also a my-life-depends-upon-it escape from our searing Southern Arizona June heat) is a fitting place for me to be so soon after I close my study on Heaven and the fifty reflections that brought eternity to light. Because in being here—in the midst of all of this lush beauty, surrounded by water, salt air, and some errant cacti and pine trees—my mind, and my body, don’t have to “come down” from Heaven yet. It seems a perfect environment in which to ponder the peace, fellowship, youthful vigor and abundant, joyful activity I’ll delight in in my future home. And it is a fitting place in which to ponder just how I pursue my future, eternal home, right now, on this groaning earth.
            To aid me in that pursuit, I have picked up an “old” book written in contemporary language. It’s The Imitation of Christ: Classic Devotions in Today’s Language. Author James N. Watkins has taken Thomas A Kempis’s classic and re-written it for modern eyes and hearts. Although many of us don’t spend much time pursuing eternity, there is no better way to prepare for Heaven (and no better way to live here) than to spend your energies—and life—learning how to imitate Jesus.
            Emulating that truth may be more difficult than it seems when you learn that the primary message of this book is: “Be content to be unknown and not respected” as Watkins points out in his introduction. As Watkins professes, through his reading of The Imitation of Christ, he realized that although he knew Christ, he really didn’t know Him.
            And is that not what we as believers and followers of Christ should aspire to—really knowing our Savior? Like you know your best friend, your love? After all, He is our bridegroom, and we are his bride. Randy Alcorn says it beautifully and poignantly in his 50 Days of Heaven.

            “Any bride in love with her husband wants to be with him more than anything.
            But if he goes away for a time to build a beautiful place for her, won’t she
            get excited about it? Won’t she think about it and talk about it? Of course she
            will. Moreover, her husband wants her to! If he tells her, ‘I’m going to prepare 
            a place for you,’ he’s implying, ‘I want you to look forward to it.’ Her love and
            longing for the place he’s preparing—where she will live with her husband—
            is inseparable from her love and longing for him.”

            In a nutshell: loving and longing for Christ means loving and longing for (and pursuing) Heaven.

Evaluating Our Thoughts

            So why has our longing for Heaven—our eternal home—grown so cold, so lackluster?
            Perhaps it’s because we’re spending so little time thinking about our Husband. Our eyes and hearts are drawn and fastened elsewhere. As Alcorn also points out, when we meditate on Jesus and our future in Heaven, sin (and, I might add, so much of what we do and think is important in life) is unappealing. He drives the point home when he says, “Our high tolerance of sin testifies to our failure to prepare for Heaven.” Ouch.
            So that will make up a lot of what I’ll be doing on this year’s vacation—thinking about my Husband, fastening my eyes on Him, asking Him to reveal to me where I’ve tolerated what He finds intolerable, and delighting in the natural hors d’oeuvres that are a foretaste of Heaven.
            The world tells us to be prepared for everything major in life: education, career, marriage, children, buying a home, retirement. Why not prepare for the most important place you’ll ever live?
            As Alcorn says, we don’t prepare because we don’t spend too much time thinking about it. Or thinking about it seriously. And that’s what I’m being convicted to do on this year’s vacation: Thinking about how I’m preparing (or not preparing) for Heaven. I’m thinking about my pursuit of imitation. Sounds like a pretty good investment of time to me. With the ninety devotionals in Watkins’s book, this pursuing should keep me busy for a while. Actually, it should keep me busy long after I’ve closed the book. It should keep me busy for a lifetime.

            So, do you mind if I ask, “How are you preparing for Heaven?” Are you ready to take the challenge and pursue eternity? If you are, James Watkins’s new book, The Imitation of Christ, might be a good place to start.

Reaching Farther
            The Imitation of Christ had a significant impact on The Jesuits founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola. The lessons inspired him to compile his own spiritual disciplines. We’ll look at those next week and see how incorporating them into our daily lives will help us in our pursuit.
            Until next Monday, may your week be full of blessings that you receive and give, your heart be full of joy and thankfulness, and your days be filled with laughter! Build a little heaven in your life right now, and watch your heavenly garden grow!



When the eyes of the soul looking out meet the eyes of God looking in, heaven has begun right here on earth. ~ A. W. Tozer

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