On the wall of an old house in Europe, there was a poem transcribed with beautiful letters. It had a lovely rhyme. The English words do not rhyme, but the translation is as follows: “This is my home, and yet it is not mine, someone else moves in after me, and it is not his either.” So, to whom does the house actually belong? In the olden days, some people would reside in the same house as long as they lived, and home ownership would only change when someone died. This poem on the wall was to keep the homeowners humble and remind them that we are only guests here on earth.
Today, people buy and sell homes much more readily. Who would ever think of putting a verse like that over the door of their house today to remind them that they are only temporary guests in it? If the idea that we are only guests in our homes for a time is outdated, then paradoxically it may be because we do not live in one house long enough to ponder the idea. It used to be that houses that were owned for many generations would have older folks die in the same houses in which they were born. Whereas those who passed away were carried out, new life entered when babies were born. It was not that people changed houses but that houses had a change of people.
Today it often seems the other way around: we imagine that in the midst of the rapid change around us we will remain who we always have been. Yet that is an illusion, and sooner or later, we also come to realize that we are only guests here on earth.
Going on vacation also makes us aware that we are guests. When we go on vacation, not only is it a change from our daily routine, but it is often the highlight of the year. Being guests somewhere is highly enjoyable.
So why should it make us sad to think that we are only guests on earth? It should be quite the opposite!
As guests, we know our time is precious
We will not always remain here. Guests on vacation generally do not waste time, yet they do not rush either. On vacation, we use our time wisely because we know it is limited. We do not let unimportant and trivial things take the place of the activities we want to do. We live more intentionally and plan our days better. We are suddenly interested in things that we usually do not take time for.
We are (hopefully!) more pleasant in dealing with people, away from the stresses of our usual routine. As vacation guests, we are also much more mindful of things that are only available to us for a time. They are not ours, just there for our use. We know that soon we must leave again. However, that does not make us nervous or uneasy, but rather it gives the time we have special meaning. In a similar way, we tend to value real flowers more than artificial ones because we need to enjoy them before they fade away.
How can our ‘vacation mindset’ apply to our life here on earth?
We are God’s guests here on earth
We have no time to lose. Life is worth living now. We are not lost in a dream of some future better time. We are not to be nervous or anxious but live rationally, going about our activities more deliberately, responsibly, and thankfully. We must keep in mind that we are here only for a time. We do not know the date of departure, but it is relatively soon.
The Psalms show us that as God’s guests on earth, the time we are given here is to be a joyous time. Psalm 36:7-9 says: “How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Your wings. They are abundantly satisfied with the fullness of Your house, and You give them drink from the river of Your pleasures. For with You is the fountain of life; in Your light we see light.”
Our life, however, is not just one long, lovely vacation.
Being guests in a country means we are not at home
Migrant workers are not in their home country. They have come to work. We did not invite them except perhaps to have the benefit of their labor power. They have left their home country in order to provide a better life for their families back home. Migrant workers live among us, but their hearts are back home in their own country. They know what it means to be homesick, and they look forward to going back home again. Each day they are here, they know they are in a foreign land. Even if they are well taken care of, they do not feel at home.
Today, many people are away from home. Many are without a homeland. They may have left their villages to move into the big city. Some move to other countries and continents. Being in strange surroundings makes people aware of the homelessness inside them. Even those who stay at home can feel homeless because they know that despite making life as comfortable as possible, they are not here to stay.
Followers of Jesus need not hide the fact that they are guests here on earth. The world treats them as outsiders anyway. When treated as strangers, Christians can share their plight with the Lord. For their homelessness, they have gained a heavenly home.
Although the earth is the Lord’s, He suffered and was cast out. Jesus, “that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach” (Hebrews 13:12-13). Those who follow Jesus are not promised an earthly home here since “foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Matthew 8:20). Yet, He declares: “In My Father’s house are many mansions. . . I go to prepare a place for you. . . I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:2-3). And Paul declares in Philippians 3:20, “Our citizenship is in heaven.”
An embassy for guests
Guests in foreign lands are not without protection. There is usually a consulate or an embassy that is stationed in the country where the guests are. Here, in the midst of the foreign country, there is home territory and protection. The laws of the native land also provide justice here.
In a similar way, the Church belonging to the Lord Jesus is like an embassy in a foreign land. It is Kingdom of God territory here on earth. Here we find Christians, fellow-citizens of our homeland. The laws and customs of our Kingdom are acknowledged here. Like an embassy protecting its citizens in a foreign regime, so the Church protects its members in this world from harm. The church is a place of refuge where the Spirit of God is at work.
Christians without a church may falter sooner or later. Of the church, Paul writes to the Ephesians: “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:19-20).
When we meet our brothers and sisters, we should be as happy as fellow citizens who meet in a foreign land. We will always be in the minority in this world, but we have found an everlasting home that will not pass away.