I’m well aware that no single question is the definitive litmus test for a person’s love for God. However, there is one particular area that I’ve been contemplating lately, and I’ve been noticing its absence or presence in the lives and speech of other believers. It’s something that should be a huge part of our longings and our language. Yet it sometimes seems to occupy a tiny corner space, at least here in America. I can’t speak to other nations, though I’d love to hear the thoughts of readers in other countries.
Allow me to set up the question with a scenario: imagine that you are engaged to the person you say is the love of your life. You’ve finally found him or her, dated, and are preparing for marriage. There’s one catch, though. You are living in the U.S., and your intended is living in Europe. Now, imagine that both of you are completely content with this long-distance relationship. You’ve both got jobs you enjoy, a good church, friends, and a decent place to live. You say the other person is the love of your life, but both of you are completely fine living on different continents, content to maintain your relationship via text, email, phone, and Skype. Maybe someday you’ll live in the same place, but there’s no urgency, no longing, to be face-to-face in real space and time. Truth be told, there are some things you’d like to accomplish where you are before you have to move. You’re not quite ready to leave the job, the church, the friends, or the apartment. But maybe when the excitement and activity of your current life wears off, then sure, of course you’d like to eventually live with your spouse. You’re just not in any hurry. And it really doesn’t emotionally affect you too much.
Anyone with half a brain knows that there is something seriously wrong with this relationship. Any concerned friend, parent, pastor, or counselor would tell you so. I would hope they would ask you to seriously consider whether marriage to this person is a good idea, given your relative indifference about the long-distance situation, and your lack of longing and anticipation to be with that person.
Here is the purpose of the analogy: how many Christians treat their relationship with God in basically the same manner? And now we get to the diagnostic question of this post: how eagerly do you long for, and how frequently do you pray for, the return of Jesus?
If we don’t, I might suggest that we have some things in common with the dysfunctional couple of our illustrative scenario. It doesn’t necessarily mean that we don’t love God at all. But it may suggest that there is more worldliness at play than we realize. Oftentimes we equate “worldliness” simply with blatantly ungodly devotion to the things of the world. But really, worldliness is more subtle than that. It’s simply preferring the world and temporal things on any given day more than God and the eternal state. That’s it. It’s preferring to have the temporal gifts of God for 70 or so years before Jesus’ return. It’s wanting to get a nice earthly life first, and then being ok with Jesus’ return. Would you long for Jesus’ immediate return the night before your long-awaited wedding? The night before your big job promotion? The night before your prestigious ministry opportunity? The night before your kid’s graduation? The night before your first grandchild is born?
The Christmas season can be an interesting sociological study on a number of fronts. But one of the things that puzzles me is when people get really excited to celebrate His first coming, but have very little interest in His second coming on a day-to-day basis. They don’t long for it. They don’t feel homesick. They don’t pray every day for Jesus to return quickly to bring comfort to the afflicted, justice to the oppressed, to destroy Satan, and to set up His everlasting kingdom. So it always stands out to me when I find people who do. Like one of my former pastors, who prays every night with his family at the dinner table that Jesus would return soon. Like Joni Eareckson Tada, who lives in hope of her bodily resurrection someday, freed from her wheelchair and a crippled body. Like my current pastor, who chooses songs for us to sing about being bound for the Promised Land, and prays in our corporate gathering for Jesus to return.
Perhaps, just perhaps, the best thing we could seek to cultivate this Christmas as believers in Christ is that heart of deep and continual longing for His return. That we not be content with a long-distance relationship. That we pray to be face-to-face with Him, as we were created to be in the Garden, lost in the Fall, was reintroduced by Jesus’ first coming, and will be consummated in His second coming. Because at the end of the day, Christmas Day is Part I of the story, but we’re still waiting for Part II to arrive. Even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly!
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