But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. 2 Peter 3:13 ESV
We are currently on a medical trip, back in the US for a few months. One big difference since we went overseas? Nearly all our peers have purchased houses. There was a time, about a decade ago, where I had no desire whatsoever to buy a house. In fact, if caught in an unguarded moment, I may have even said that those who purchased homes (especially in the suburbs) and settled down were in some way compromising, or least not living the kind of radical missional lifestyle that is really needed in this age. But things change after marriage and multiple children. Things change after a dozen more moves and a thousand more goodbyes. The valuing of things that last grows stronger. Alongside of this also grows a deepened sense of true, biblical spirituality and the desperate need for not only those who will live like nomads for Jesus, but also those who will put down deep roots for Jesus. The sent ones simply can’t do what they do without being vastly outnumbered by the senders, those who have invested deeply enough in one place and one church so that they are able to send people like us to the nations. My family has been clearly called to go. Nevertheless, I feel a deep longing in this season of life to go and buy some farmland with a little patch of woods and to build a house there. Yet as far as I know, this desire is not compatible with our calling and dream to plant healthy churches among our Central Asian people group. So what is to be done?
Picture a battalion of Allied soldiers in WWI. Before the war, one was preparing to be an artist, one an athlete, another a musician. Then the war started. Now they spend their days in muddy trenches, hunkering down under artillery barrages or making yet another brazen charge to try to claim a few more meters of muddy earth. They do not doubt their duty to their country and are proud to be fighting for the defense of their homeland. Yet the dreams and the desires – to paint, to play, to make music – are still there. They even get chances to dip their toes in these pursuits occasionally during lulls in the fighting, when fellow soldiers make tea in the trenches and there’s opportunity to pull out that precious sketchpad, the cricket bat, or the fiddle. These men are called to fight as long as duty and honor requires, so what becomes of their dreams? They are deferred to the glorious future – after the war is won.
I find this to be a helpful analogy not just for missionaries, but for all believers. Which of us can say that we do not have unrealized dreams and desires? Is there any believer in the whole world who feels that this life is long enough to fit in every single good longing of their heart? It is not long enough. The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet there span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away (Psalm 90:10). This is why we so desperately need eternity. God has filled our hearts and our imaginations with many more desires than can be fit into one lifetime. We must die to most of them. The secret of the believer is that we only die to them temporarily. The end of the war is coming, and we are on the winning side.
I have been accused of being a dreamer, so this truth may be unusually sweet mainly for those like me who live with a head full of tantalizing ideas (which we compulsively share with our long-suffering spouses). But I find the idea of deferring dreams to the New Heavens and the New Earth ever so practical as I seek to be faithful in the ministry calling that God has given me, faithful in the dream of seeing an unreached people group saturated with true worshippers. What am I to do with the desire to buy some farmland and build a house? What about all those amazing languages I will never get to learn and all those books I will never have time to read? Will I ever have time to master an instrument, or to plant orchards and eat their fruit, or to learn how to sail? Perhaps. Yet if any of these things are given in this life, I will count them as an unexpected bonus, a gracious preview of what is coming. Not unlike a fiddle playing in the trenches.
If we believe what the scriptures say about a New Heavens and a New Earth, then that future will be just as real to us as the inevitable end of any earthly war. It’s coming, sooner or later. And in that world there will be all the time we desire, and then some, with which to worship God through the enjoyment of his new creation and the fulfillment of all his given desires. Until then, my wife and I will continue to express our many dreams and then when necessary, say to one another, “Let’s punt it to the new heavens and the new earth.” See, this hope is not a pipe-dream for us, not merely a coping mechanism, but something real. Something which is actually approaching the biblical understanding of hope – that which you can’t yet see, and yet you hear the sound of its sure and steady approach.