LAKE FOREST, Calif. (BP)–As I stood in the midst of one of the busiest sections of Delhi, India, I looked around desperately trying to find a place to eat and get out of the heat and humidity. I had been in India — nearly half a world away from my southern Indiana home — for almost two weeks. As a lifelong meat eater in a vegetarian society, I felt homesick.
That’s when I spotted those famed golden arches — a gentle reminder of home for many of us 20-somethings who grew up on a regular diet of grease. But on my first bite into that burger, I realized this wasn’t home. It was a lamb burger not a hamburger. The beautiful golden arches and smell of greasy fries had been a carefully constructed ploy.
It wasn’t as much the physical distance between me and the house where I grew up or even being far away from my family. I was nearly a year into a two-year stint as journeyman missionary with the International Mission Board and was getting used to those obvious, physical symptoms of homesickness. But that day in Delhi, it was the values and societal rules I was having trouble understanding.
That’s not the first time I felt that way. Whether it was listening to raw conversations in the workplace or watching friends fight and claw their way toward the almighty dollar, the feeling is the same as that day in Delhi. For Christians, that feeling of homesickness is part of our spiritual journey.
The author of Hebrews calls us “strangers and exiles” on our way to a heavenly home. Ever since we accepted Christ as our personal Savior, we’ve felt it. We knew that we don’t seem to understand the rules of this world.
Unfortunately, many of us spend much of our lives trying to make ourselves at home in this world. We work long hours, we build dizzying social calendars and buy the biggest earthly home we can afford. We try to dull our homesickness.
C.S. Lewis called this building “inns” along the way. There’s nothing wrong with inns — as long as we don’t make them home. No job, friendship or family can equal the joy of heaven. Paul tells us in Philippians 3:20 that we are citizens of heaven — that’s where we belong.
But as believers we aren’t the only ones with heaven’s call. Non-believers — all made in the image of God and spiritual creatures as well — long for a place where they can be with him. But no one has told them what they are longing for.
That’s why as Christians our lives need to point others to their heavenly home. If we live as strangers and exiles, our neighbors and friends as well as the billions who live in darkness around the world just might want us to show them where we are going.
But how do we live as pilgrims in this world? In short: Call home, read your map and don’t unpack.
1. Call home
The ultimate example of someone who lived as a sojourner was Jesus. He knew heaven’s glory yet he gave up his home to live as a pilgrim on earth. No one has ever experienced so much estrangement as Jesus.
But for Jesus, the key was talking to his Father. Look at Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. If ever the ways of earth aren’t the ways of heaven, it’s at Gethsemane. When earth’s values say to split when things get tough, heaven’s values say go on. That’s when Jesus prays. In those moments instead of facing execution, he’s facing his Father.
Like a college student calling home before a big exam, we don’t call home for answers to the next day’s questions; we call home to hear someone say “keep going.” For just like that college student, it’s not the grade we make on the test that matters, it’s the prize waiting for us at the end.
2. Read your map
A good map is the product of several travelers’ journeys into unknown lands. They show the obstacles and boundaries that earlier travelers ran into and how to avoid making the same mistakes they did.
That’s exactly what the Bible is. It’s a record of what other pilgrims found along the way in their journey home. Look at the lives of Abraham, King David, Paul and the apostles. Their lives weren’t smooth sailing, but their mistakes on the journey can help us know what to avoid.
We also get an accurate picture of where we are and where we are going. A journey without a beginning and end is just walking in circles. Even though parts of it were written more than 3,000 years ago, it’s still the best source available on the human condition. And as we read about the Bible’s description of heaven, we are reminded the destination is worth the wait.
3. Don’t unpack
If you’ve ever spent a significant time away from the place you call home, you know that the minute you put up pictures and hang up clothes, homesickness begins. Suddenly you realize nothing is going to make the new place quite like home.
In order to truly live like a pilgrim in this world, we can’t set up residence. None of the “inns” along the way are worth making you forget about where you’re going. A good job, good family and friends and money in the bank are nice stops along the way, but they aren’t home.
By not making homes out of inns, we give ourselves the freedom to follow God to the next part of the journey. God’s purpose for this trip is that we might bring as many people home with us as we can. That might mean moving to a different part of the world, where people might have never heard about Jesus. If we don’t set up residence in the “inns” of money, lust and power, then the journey across the street or across continents to share the love of Christ won’t be near as difficult.
That ache in your heart for something more to the Christian life is normal. It’s God’s gentle call of heaven.
Perry is the staff writer at Saddleback Valley Community Church in Lake Forest, Calif.