"All these people were still living by faith when they died.
They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them
and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that
they were aliens and strangers on earth…they were longing
for a better country--a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not
ashamed to be called their God".
Hebrews 11:13, 16
Have you ever thought you understood what faith is only to face something difficult or read something that leaves you trying to redefine it? Having grown up without solid discipleship, I realized I have had some misconceptions about Christianity and the role faith plays in it. For a while I thought faith was a feeling I had to muster up to get God to act in the way I thought He should act. However, He has shown me I cannot force Him into a mold or manipulate Him with prayer. Today I would define faith as a choice of taking God at His word and choosing to cling to Him no matter what happens from my perspective. When life is confusing, faith is choosing to believe He is still forever sovereign. When I am weak, it is choosing to believe He is my strength. When I feel forgotten, it is choosing to believe that He has His ears turned toward me. When I feel unloved, it is choosing to believe He passionately and radically loves me.
My main misconception of the Christian life was that once I trusted Christ that everything would always be easy. However, Hebrews 11 really makes it clear that is not true. The above verses say even though the people were still living by faith when they died, they did not receive the things promised. However, the reason for their joy is in the next phrases. They saw the promises of God and they welcomed them from a distance and embraced the fact that they were longing for a better country, a heavenly home. What does it mean that they "welcomed them from afar?" It meant they were anticipating Christ's return and preparing to welcome Him in the same way a pregnant mom and dad prepares to welcome a new baby into their hearts before she arrives. During my first pregnancy I was consumed with thoughts of seeing my baby for the first time. I dreamed of what seeing him for the first time would be like. I dreamed about nursing him and holding him close to my heart. The whole nine months my heart was focused on him. Even when I read the Bible, I was searching for how to be a good mom and how to raise Godly children. We are to live with that same kind of expectation for Jesus--deriving joy because we know His promises are true and He is truly coming back. We are to live with such a deep longing for intimacy with Him that we focus on His return. We can relate to Him now through Bible study and prayer. However, in the future we will see Him face to face and be able to touch His love-scarred hands. We will look into His eyes and see the tenderhearted compassion He has towards us. We will see the complete forgiveness and acceptance that He has told us about in His word.
Secondly, the people in Hebrews 11 longed for a better home. They knew a place where they would be no sin, no fear, and no tears was coming! And, in their maturity they recognized some promises would not be fulfilled until they had passed into the next phase of their lives. They knew they had to live with the painful longings of face-to-face fellowship with Christ as He gives us glimpses of Himself satisfying momentarily our thirst for intimacy in this life so that we long for the true richness of that eternally when we will get to heaven. Sometimes our longing to have deep intimacy with God will leave us lonelier than before we were saved. The difference now is that we know without a doubt we will someday be filled once and for all.
The more our minds are focused on God, the clearer it becomes that this world is not our home. We will never again feel like we "fit in" like we did before we became believers. We have a different Father and speak a different language. We have a different purpose for living. Our desires and our dreams have changed. God has created in us a deep longing for heaven--an unquenchable homesickness that won't be relieved in this life. I have had a few bouts of homesickness that literally made me sick. First when I went away to college, then when my fiancé was working in another state the summer we were planning our wedding and then the third time was when we moved from Mississippi. I have not experienced anything that was as painful as those three periods of time…my heart literally ached deep inside and nothing eased the hurt. What I am trying to convey is that faith is a wonderful and yet often uncomfortable experience. While we now have peace with God we also have a new set of emotions to experience. Feelings of alienation that sometimes accompany a sense of being accepted by God and not belonging to this world. Feelings of homesickness for Jesus face-to-face. We may experience the joy of knowing He is present in our lives, while at the same time painfully long to be with Him. With the new sense of purpose we also have a deeper emptiness that will only be filled when we are face to face with Christ.
Do you long to be face to face with Christ? Do you find yourself at times empty and sad because you long for a relationship with Him that is not marred by sin, separated by time, and His invisibility? Do you feel like an alien in this world and long for place to truly call home?
Prayer: Lord, please help each of us to trust you in the tough times as well as the good. Help us to set aside misconceptions about you and get to know you through your word. Help us to realize you truly are a person not a puppet we control by our "faith." Help us reflect you so much that we truly look like aliens living in a foreign land to the world. Please fill us so that we live boldly for you while we long for nothing but You. Thank you for your promises because they are true and sure. Amen.