How do we make a home but not be too at home? Or put another way, how do we live as settled and unsettled at the same time? That’s the tension to which the Bible calls us, which we explored last time. Abraham “made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country” (Heb 11:9). He, and we, are called to look forward to a better country (i.e., the new heaven and new earth), yet still settle here in the interim. It’s definitely a tension that we’re called to live in.
So how do we do that? Here are some suggestions for how we live at home and yet not at home. They’re not exhaustive, and if you have more, I’d love to hear them.
-- Keep that better country, our future, permanent home in mind. It’s easy to live in the day to day as if this world is all there is. Everything about our wider, daily lives pushes us that way—it’s culturally and socially normal to live as if God is irrelevant, even for believers (the subject of this excellent book and a blog post for another time). Without conscious effort, our eyes become fixed, almost inevitably, on life just in front of us, and a future world feels flimsy, something close to make-believe. I, for one, suspect that I talk far too little of the new creation than is good for me.
Accordingly, we need to push ourselves to look forward to our real home, when God will make all things new, and we’ll live as resurrected people in his presence, without sin, and in perfect joy and delight. Let’s sing about it, talk to each other about it, do Bible studies about it, dream about it, the way that immigrants do of their homeland (although we are looking forward not backwards).
One great way to keep that better country in mind is by singing. Music helps these truths burrow down into our souls. This is one good one among many, Keith and Kristyn Getty’s Higher Throne: “And there we’ll find our home, our life before the throne . . .” Learn songs like this so you can come back to them anytime and mull them over and make them your soundtrack for life now in the interim.
-- Be careful how we make our home, to make sure that we don’t settle too comfortably. This may sound slightly weird, but I suspect there’s value in not doing everything we can to have the perfect home here and now. That can be ‘home’ figuratively, but also literally. By all means create a home, a safe haven, but let’s be careful how we do it, how much we spend, how far we go.
Having just bought our first home, I’m loving the HGTV channel. But their dreams may not be the right ones for a community of pilgrims that is still on its way to its final emigration. Perhaps we live with things not exactly perfect; or we fix things right, but we’re careful how much time and money we use. Let’s not unwittingly so make our dream home, that our dreams are distracted from our real home.
-- Expect and recognize the value of suffering. Nobody should like suffering or hardship in itself. But Christians should see its value. It makes sure that we don't become too comfortable here, that everything can’t and shouldn’t be as we want it here. Suffering encourages us to remember a better country and look forward to it. In that sense, suffering is part of what God uses to help us not be at home here, which is actually a gift to us.
All of these suggestions are the call to live by faith, and that’s hard. Living by faith means we orient ourselves to unseen rather than seen realities (which is not the same as irrational vs. rational). We live in a ‘have to see it to believe it’ age. But faith is having your mind set on a different world, one that is real but not yet visible, while at the same time it infuses the visible world with greater significance.
The examples of Hebrews 11 remind us that faith is a hard slog. A lot of it is about being faithful, pressing on day after day, keeping going through the mud and the storms. Biblical faith is rarely about the mountaintop experience. It’s much more often about the small steps each day that inch us closer to our real home. So in this new year, to live by faith as pilgrims, those who make a temporary home, will be about keeping our real home in mind and, cliché aside, taking it one step at a time.