John Mark Reynolds recently drew this conclusion:
Cling to what is permanent, but let go of what is not lasting
There is a corollary from Jim Elliott that I use as my email signature:
He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose
It takes little effort to realize that our perceptions are often not a part of the greater reality. No Platonal analysis is necessary. It really is not very complicated. We simply do not always see things as they really are. It is the experience of challenge, what James calls trials (1:2) that frequently provide us with the perspective which we lack in our youth and in our ease. This is our eternal perspective, our eternal view that contributes to our world view, our teleology and eschatology. It is where doctrine becomes real and where doctrine is inseparable from life. But we do not see eternity very well.
I’ve noticed (having been directed to two of them by others) three situations, three trials, that provide a better eternal perspective. The first is to have a friend who has come to Christ as an adult. I am interacting with one young brother in Christ regularly these days. These people have that “fire in the belly” that drives them to lengths that we too often forget. But why does it drive them? Because they know what sin means and then how significant their salvation is. They just finished living in sin and have turned to something other than an easy life. Then, why does this same motivation not drive most of us? This was one reason that Jim Elliott went to the mission field — because he saw the church as compromising and lifeless.
The second situation is relationship. This, of course, is much the same in the general world as it is with Christians. But the nature of relationships, or the lack of deep relationships, is a hallmark for failure in the Church. Right now I’m living in the D.C. area where I’ll be working for about two months. My wife and sons are at home. Though I’ve only been apart from my wife for about 24 hours now, I miss her deeply. Same with my sons. Relationship binds all other matters together. That’s what the body of Christ is much about.
The third is pain. C S Lewis, and easily hundreds of others, have dealt with the topic and the apologetic value is significant. Likewise the ministry motivations and opportunities should not be overlooked. It is pain that may provide an improved perspective for ministry as we realize our mortality. It has been said that, if you have not experienced a severe pain in your life, you will. That is axiomatic and almost so pedantic that saying it seems useless. Of course, we all do. But in life’s comforts it is easy to think that we might be immune longer than others, or that this lack of pain is somehow a sign of God’s blessings. But after having been hospitalized for a week (a few years ago) I began to understand how easy it is for the body to fail. When your sense of mortality draws you to service for eternal purposes, then you understand. And you also begin to understand how others might be chased from God, another point for ministry.
Like all systematics, these matters are all intertwined. Those things which drive us spiritually are inseparable as they express how the Lord works in hearts and lives. Things like politics and elections sometimes seem to fade into the background as quite trivial compared to souls and eternity. Close relationships that build up the body, that encourage new believers, that are made less complacent by new believers, that minister to those in pain, and that minister through pain — all these are eternal.
It may be possible for each of us to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbour. The load, or weight, or burden, of my neighbour’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you may talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and corruption such as you now meet if at all only in a nightmare.
All day long we are in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in light of these overwhelming possibilities it is with awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never met a mere mortal, Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations, these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit — immortal horrors or ever lasting splendours.
C. S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory”