The only time most people think about eternity is at funerals, and then its often shallow, sentimental thinking, based on ignorance. Most people feel its morbid to think about death, but actually its unhealthy to live in denial of death and not consider what is inevitable. The Bible says, It's better to go to a funeral than to attend a feast; funerals remind us that we all must die. (Eccl. 7:2 CEV) Only a fool would go through life unprepared for what we all know will eventually happen. As pastors, we need to force people to think more about eternity, not less.
Emphasize the transient nature of life on earth
The Bible is full of metaphors that teach the brief, temporary, transient nature of life on earth. Life is described as a mist, a fast runner, a breath, and a wisp of smoke. The Bible says, For we were born but yesterday. Our days on earth are as transient as a shadow." (Job 8:9 NLT)
Challenge your church to make the best use of their lives by reminding them of two truths: First, compared with eternity, life is extremely brief. Second, earth is only a temporary residence. You wont be here long, so dont get too attached to what you see here. The Bible is clear: Those in frequent contact with the things of the world should make good use of them without becoming attached to them, for this world and all it contains will pass away." (1 Cor. 7:31 NLT)
In order to keep us from becoming too attached to earth, God allows us to feel a significant amount of discontent and dissatisfaction in life longings that will never be fulfilled on this side of eternity. Were not completely happy here because were not supposed to be! Its not our final home; we were created for something much better.
Challenge people to live in light of eternity
Life on earth is just the dress rehearsal before the real production. All of us will spend far more time on the other side of death in eternity than we will here. Earth is the staging area, the preschool, the tryout for life in eternity. It is the practice workout before the actual game; the warm-up lap before the race begins. This life is preparation for the next.
Help your people comprehend that there is more to life than just here and now. Show them that life is just preparation for eternity. Once they grasp this truth, they will begin to live differently. They will start living in light of eternity, and that will color how they handle every relationship, task, and circumstance. Suddenly many activities, goals, and even problems that seemed so important will appear trivial, petty, and unworthy of their attention. The closer they live to God, the smaller everything else appears.
When Gods people live in light of eternity, values change. They use their time and money more wisely. They place a higher premium on relationships and character instead of fame or wealth or achievements or even fun. Their priorities are reordered. Keeping up with trends, fashions, and popular values just don't matter as much anymore. Paul said, I once thought all these things were so very important, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done." (Phil. 3:7 NLT)
The most damaging aspect of contemporary living is short-term thinking. God calls us to keep the vision of eternity continually in front of our people. We must remind them that there is far more to life than just here and now! Today is the visible tip of the iceberg. Eternity is all the rest you dont see underneath the surface.
Measured against eternity, our time on earth is just a blink of an eye, but the consequences of it will last forever. The deeds of this life are the destiny of the next. C.S. Lewis observed, All that is not eternal is eternally useless. Years ago, a popular slogan encouraged people to live each day as the first day of the rest of your life. Actually, it would be wiser to live each day as if it were the last day of your life. Matthew Henry said, It ought to be the business of every day to prepare for our final day.
This article also appeared in the most recent issue of Rev! magazine.
Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America's largest and best-known churches. In addition, Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose-Driven Life and The Purpose-Driven Church, which was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th Century. He is also founder of Pastors.com, a global Internet community for ministers. Copyright 2005 Pastors.com, Inc. Used with permission. All rights reserved.