“Our citizenship is in heaven.” Philippians 3:20
“I have learned to be content wherever I am.” Philippians 4:11
Coming back from a trip to Colorado one time, I overheard two men on the plane discussing their own return to home and work. They spoke with long sighs. Neither wanted to return home and to the routine of daily life.
I am sure these men had good families and looked forward to seeing them. I would imagine they both had jobs that provided some measure of security, and careers they had both worked for. So why the sad tone? Was the place they could go to for only a week so much better than the place they lived for fifty weeks a year? This attitude is not unusual.
When I moved to Murray, Kentucky I went to a local grocery one evening. At the checkout line I greeted the young woman behind the cash register and asked if she was a student at the university (Murray State). She said she was, and asked me what I did. I told her I was a minister and new to town. I added that I was so glad to be here and that Murray was truly such a nice place. With a great deal of disdain she replied, “Here? I can’t wait to get out of this place!” Sensing that she was probably not with the local Chamber of Commerce or Welcome Wagon, I asked “Where do you want to go?” “Any place has got to be better than here. Maybe Houston.” She had obviously never driven in Houston.
Now she is probably typical of someone born and raised in a town, and dreamily thinking of far-off adventures in gleaming alabaster cities like Houston (!). She was also typical of the kind of person who likely will never find satisfaction where she is. And if she ever gets to Houston, it will not matter.
Is this you? As you read this week’s GraceWaves you might be in the same office or cubicle that you normally inhabit 8-10 hours a day. What are you feeling? Irritation at the humming fluorescent light fixture maintenance was supposed to fix three months ago? Does your inbox look like an episode of hoarders? Is that coworker still blowing her nose like a Canadian Goose?
At one time you were pleased to have your job, or whatever routine you presently find yourself in. But over time the irritations overtook the benedictions. Now you join the mournful chorus of people who find happiness only in the places where they are not. They romanticize the past, glorify the future, and completely ignore any potential blessing of the present. Thoreau said, “The man who is often thinking that it is better to be somewhere else than where he is excommunicates himself.”
Christians could be most vulnerable to this self-excommunication. After all, we are strangers in a strange land, and feel the friction of being in a place that does not quite fit. Who could blame us for gazing heavenward, wanting to shuffle off this mortal coil, and ascend on high? Yet the Christians in the New Testament never betrayed such a longing for heaven that they excommunicated themselves from their earthly home.
Paul held these two ideas in a creative tension. He kept one eye on heaven as our ultimate, long-sought destination, but he also had a real fondness for his present circumstances, writing “I have learned to be content in whatever state I am in.”
Now you may have a tough time at work or home. Your boss may be a Donald Trump wanna-be. At home your roof may be leaking and your ac smells like it has bad breath. But I don’t care how rotten your circumstances might be, you still have it much better than Paul, who was in a Roman prison when he wrote about being content.
You will always find what you are looking for in life. If you want reassurance that the world is a mess then watch all the political ads and trust in the Mayan calendar. But if you want to find some peace and blessing then you need to start looking close to home. God never leaves you without assurance that though you are citizens of heaven, you are also expected to build houses, plant gardens, and make a good home here. God created you for joy, the second fruit of the Spirit. You can find it wherever you are.
I believe God has given me the ability to have the best of both worlds. I know where my spiritual center is. I know also that each place to which He has called me is special in its people and geography. I learned early on that if you are always wishing to be somewhere else then you certainly will miss the joy God has for you where you are.
Lincoln said that people are going to be about as happy as they make up their minds to be. Part of that happiness certainly involves making the decision to be happy here. So have a good week at work, at home, or wherever you are.
Dr. Terry Ellis
February 13, 2012