By Johann Christoph Arnold
Pastor and author of eleven books, most recently Rich in Years: Finding Peace and Purpose in a Long Life, a Patheos Book Club selection.
Since my childhood, the six days “between the years” – between Christmas and New Year – have been, for me, the crowning of the year. My parents taught my sisters and me how vital it is for our spiritual life to use this season as a chance to step back from our daily work and immediate worries – to gather as family, slow down, and reflect on what is most important.
What better time to right old wrongs and heal old wounds? To leave regrets behind? To make peace with one another and enter the New Year with a clear conscience and a free heart?
Looking back over the year now coming to an end, my wife Verena and I see how much God has given us. Can we thank him for everything, the good and the bad? This year has been especially challenging, as she battles cancer and I too face an uncertain future with heart disease. But because of these trials, life has grown deeper or more poignant than ever.
This is also a time to look forward. I don’t mean New Year’s resolutions, which we all know are easily made and seldom kept. But what are our hopes and prayers for the New Year – for ourselves and our families, and for our world? What will 2014 bring for Syrian refugees, for those devastated by wars, hurricanes and earthquakes? Faced with overwhelming suffering, so much of it man-made, we ask God to intervene in history. The age-old plea, “Thy kingdom come,” burns more urgently than ever in our hearts.
With each passing year, this time between the years grows more meaningful to me. As I near the end of my life, the view backward is broader and more richly textured. And stretching before me, I look forward not just to another year or decade, but to eternity.
All of us, whatever our age, should learn to live in the light of eternity. As Scripture hints, eternity is not about unending life as we know it; what we know here will soon be over. Eternity is a new life, free of death’s destructive powers, a fullness of life where love rules. The promise of everlasting life has less to do with duration of time and more to do with a certain kind of life – one of peace, fellowship and abundance. Such a life can begin now.
God wants to welcome all of us into his kingdom, but we need to begin working toward that here in our earthly lives. Such an attitude, or way of life, could be called “living before eternity,” where our hearts and minds prepare for the next world, even as we physically exist in this world.
Living before eternity means not storing up treasures on earth, but storing up treasures in heaven (Matt. 6:19–20). Living before eternity means knowing that we do not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4), and it means knowing that Jesus gives us the living water: “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life”
As we enter the twilight of our lives, my wife and I have often asked ourselves what is really important. Again and again, we have come to feel that it is to prepare, as best we can, for the moment when God calls us, and to help others when they face death; to stand at their side and help them to cross the bridge from this place to the next.
We would all do well to consider this, and it does not matter how old we are. Youth is one of the most wonderful times of life, yet its joys will only be truly complete when young people begin to concern themselves with eternity. The same goes for old age: it can be marked by pain, loneliness, and depression if we don’t realize that rather than facing mortality, we are nearing immortality.
Our lives would be very small indeed if they consisted only of what we experience, touch, and see; but eternity is immeasurable. If we live before eternity, we will see that it is much more real than anything in this visible world. As Paul writes, “Now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12).
God created each one of us for this world, but he also created us for eternity, and he has something in mind for each one of us. Living before eternity gives us an opportunity to conquer death now, even before we physically die. It can help us grasp how God is working in each of our lives, and give us the strength to follow his way in service, love, and forgiveness, so that we can prepare ourselves first for our death and ultimately for eternal life.
Find out more at www.richinyears.com.