I once heard a pastor describe the difference between heaven and this life as a road trip. Imagine you and I decided to take a road trip from Toronto, Canada to Miami, Florida. We take this road trip in the middle of winter and after driving for a few hours we stop at a gas station in Erie, Pennsylvania. We eat a snack at the gas station and then it’s time to head back to the car and continue the trip. The pastor explained that the gas station represents this life and our final destination Miami represents Heaven.
As we are walking to the car I get really cold and decide I don’t want to continue the trip to Miami. You tell me: “it’s fine, you will warm up in a while, once the heat comes on in the car.” All I can think about at this point is that it was really warm and nice inside the gas station and that I want to head back inside. I tell you that I’ve changed my mind, I don’t want to go on this trip any longer because it’s cold outside and the roads are slippery. I want to stay here in Erie,PA. You look at me and tell me: “Are you kidding me? We are heading to MIAMI! You want to rather stay here than head for Miami?” I tell you that I’ve never been to Miami before and although many people tell me it’s a nice place I doubt it’s really that nice, besides I like the gas station in Erie so I’m going to stay here. They have donuts at the gas station so I want to go back inside and buy myself another hot chocolate and a donut, there’s no way I’m getting in that cold car with you.
After you have tried convincing me to come for the trip for a while you finally give up, you get in the car and head for Miami without me. I wave goodbye to you, then I head back inside the gas station and buy another donut. I’m happy that I don’t have to be out in the cold any longer, I’m happy right here, who needs Miami anyways?
This story is a parable but it explains how we often view heaven versus this life. Why think about going somewhere else when this life is awesome? I once took a walk around the marina by the lake and I saw a yacht with the name “Heaven can wait”. I understand this yacht owner’s way of thinking, he thinks like me in the parable of the road trip. Why in the world would I like to think about heaven when I can get donuts and hot chocolate right here in this place?
I have met a lot of people who are doing incredible things with their lives. One thing I have noticed they all have in common; they don’t live like this life is all there is. The same is true for historical heroes like William Wilberforce, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela. They love sacrificially, they live like this life is just temporary and like there is a big reward at the end of all the hard work that comes with this life. It seems like the courage, the passion and the drive they have comes from a deep knowing that this is what they are put on Earth to do, and that there is good things coming for them when this life is over. They have joy and peace in their lives and they have a drive and fearlessness that I envy sometimes.
No matter what we believe about life and God none of us can escape the fact that the clock is ticking in our lives. No matter how healthy we eat or how much we exercise this life will still be short. We know that we can’t keep this life, it is temporary. What separates us the most is that some of us believe that this life is all we get, so we better enjoy it while we can, while others believe that this life is just the beginning.
I’ve been that person who loves hanging out at the gas station in Erie, PA for many years, but a few years ago I started wondering if there is more out there after all. I started thinking that maybe while I’m busy trying to enjoy all the different flavors of donuts at the gas station I might be missing out of experiencing Miami.
When it comes down to it, what I believe about life and afterlife will strongly influence how I live my life, no matter what I believe. I have come to the conclusion that I will continue to enjoy a hot chocolate and a donut at the gas station every now and then but I’m ready to head out into the unknown now. I’m not afraid of the cold and the icy roads any longer. I’m ready to head for Miami! I know I will love Miami the day when I arrive, but until then I will commit to make the best of this road trip, although it will include many icy roads and potentially getting lost along the way.
There is a scripture in the Bible that says: “Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity.” (John 12:25 NLT) As long as I love this life a little too much, this life that I can’t keep, it will always hold me back from doing bigger things for God. If I love this life too much I will spend most of my efforts building myself the perfect life in the here and now, and I will do very little to build a better world for the coming generations.
When I love this life and live only for this life I will give to charity mostly because it calms my bad conscience. When I give to others it makes me feel better, which makes my life better. There’s nothing wrong with giving to others so we ourselves can feel joy, but what I have noticed for me is that it tends to end there.
If I think that this life is all I get I will spend all of my efforts on making me the most happy. I will spend most of my efforts on building my perfect life. I want to have the happy marriage, the beautiful and nicely decorated home and I want to take trips to beautiful places every year. I want to wear beautiful clothes and eat the best foods. Making my life better will always be goal number one.
I will only give to others when there’s something in it for me, when giving can add more joy and happiness to my own life. I will not give in ways that require real sacrifice. If I keep my eyes focused on this life, and live as if this life is all I get, I will remain stuck in my self-centered approach to life. The only way I can make a bigger impact during this life is if I lift my eyes and focus on the things to come, the things I can’t see yet.
Whether I get 60 more years on this planet or 6 more years, the end result remains the same, this life will soon be over. I want to be sure that I spent my years on this earth well. I will definitely continue to take trips to beautiful places every now and then and eat tasty foods, but I want to make sure that I don’t make my pleasure the number one goal in this short life. My clock is ticking and there is a world around me that is aching for help. It’s time to continue the road trip.
If there is one thing I want to accomplish during this short life it is making sure that the things I took part in during life on Earth made the world a little better than it was before I entered it. The day I arrive in Miami (heaven) I want to leave a better world behind for the next generations. I will probably never meet my great grandchildren, but their lives will be strongly impacted by how I choose to live today.