Years ago, I agreed to help my wife watch 4- and 5-year-old kids on Sunday mornings. I appreciate that some people love children, and are wired for this, but I am not. It was stressful and draining, and really challenging for me to try and work with other people’s children. I couldn’t send them to their room or take away their Internet access (i.e., disciplinary options for my own children), but I had to see to their safety, entertainment, and general well-being.
However, surviving a single morning (an hour and a half, or so) was one thing. I’d like to think that I could do just about anything, once. But, we had made a multi-month commitment. No matter how difficult this was, I had to go back, time and again, and put forth the work (and the self-control) required to take care of these children! I made it through, but it was a challenge, and I did not sign up for the next year.
While preparing a lesson on the raising of Tabitha (Dorcas) from the dead, it occurred to me: Did people raised back to life want to return to this world?
But Peter asked them all to leave the room; then he knelt and prayed. Turning to the body he said, “Get up, Tabitha.” And she opened her eyes! When she saw Peter, she sat up!
Acts of the Apostles 9:40 NLT
Do you suppose that Tabitha was enjoying the peace of living with Jesus (whether in Heaven, or in a temporary place where souls may reside before then), when she was called back? I suspect that she loved the people who she made clothes for, and enjoyed their company. But, let’s be honest, this fallen world has issues, and it isn’t the eternal home that followers of Jesus look forward to.
In each case, even if remaining in comfort was more enjoyable, each of these people still had a purpose to complete. In each case, their restored life testified to God’s power, and attested to the message of those through whom God worked to resurrect the dead. These people who were raised from death probably also had new opportunities to serve others (like taking care of sisters or mother, or in providing clothing to those who needed it).
This is a tension that any Christian can face. Even Paul explained this two-fold desire:
For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better.
Philippians 1:21 NLT
Notice that the goal isn’t just eternal life. Heaven – as great as it will be – is not the sole target of a Christian. Choosing to follow Jesus isn’t like “retiring” from life. When God chooses to leave us in the world – for a time – after we make a decision to accept Jesus, we may have died to ourselves, but we still have a life to lead. Our life as a new creation is not meant to be without purpose.
Either way, Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them.
2 Corinthians 5:14-15 NLT
(See also Romans 7:4-6.)
Becoming a Christian doesn’t mean some hypothetical world where one just travels, golfs, and goes out with buddies for breakfast. (And yes, I know that this hypothetical image of retirement doesn’t fit a lot of people who have moved on from a conventional weekday job!) Instead, Jesus calls us to a life of action, making good use of the time we have here on earth (see Ephesians 5:16).
In the same way, we may enjoy living in a world of peace, love, and faith. Worshiping with others is great. We might even go to a conference, concert, or camp-out, where we have a “mountaintop” experience for a weekend. However, we need to come back eventually, serving others in Jesus’ name, even when it’s grueling or difficult. Whether our work is teaching, serving, caring for others, imparting wisdom, or any of the other gifts that we have been equipped with, there is work to do.
So, while we may look forward to eternal peace, let’s make sure we don’t walk away from it too early! It may be difficult, and we might feel like we were pulled back from something better, in order to labor in a grungy, fallen world. We might even be called to watch little kids when we’re just not cut out for it (and need to rely on God’s help to get through). Remember, though, if He still has a job for us, God can bring us back from anything to finish it.