Old men think about eternity. It’s a long, infinite time and it’s nothing new for old men to think about it or the afterlife. The ancient Preacher declared. “[God] has also set eternity in their hearts.”(Ecclesiastes 3:11, NIV)

The Rev. Samuel Zwemer told a story about an old Arab man he saw beside the Persian Gulf letting sand slip through his fingers. Zwemer asked him what he was doing. The old man replied, “Thinking about eternity. I was just saying to myself that if a bird came once every year and carried away one grain of sand, by the time all the sand on all those shores of the seven seas had been carried away it would be just the morning of eternity.”[1] This story reminds me that our earthly existence is less than a grain of sand in comparison to eternity.

Ernest Hemingway wrote about the afterlife in a letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald. He imagined heaven consisting of a big bull ring with a trout stream outside the ring that no one else was allowed to fish in, and two houses—one for his wife and children and the other for his nine mistresses. [2]This imaginative view of heaven certainly replicated his earthly mindset and lifestyle.

The vision of the new Jerusalem replicates the earthly Jerusalem, but in a more exalted, glorious and perfect state. It’s different from the earthly Jerusalem in one essential way. The Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. (Revelation 21:22) I conclude that the essence of heaven and the afterlife is unmarred companionship, fellowship, communion with our Creator and Savior Jesus Christ. If this is true, then, it is understandable why the apostle Paul urged his younger working partner Timothy to “train yourself for godliness….for godliness is beneficial for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”(1 Timothy 4:7-8) This calls to mind Stephen Covey’s second habit of highly effective people: Begin with the end in mind. I’d like to adapt this habit:  Begin with eternity in mind.  Seek, develop or ask for a God-consciousness for this life and the life to come. Godliness is a life in alignment with God; a life lived in alignment with God, and the periodic re-alignments that are necessitated by the disruptive potholes of sin and disobedience in one’s journey with God.

Training one’s self for godliness includes many elements just as physical training involves many components. Some of these elements are trusting God, loving God and people, obeying God, serving others, and worshipping God in solitude and with others. These are some of the disciplines used to nurture our alignment with the Spirit of God. As any person who is in physical training knows, the routines can become heartless, a going-through-the-motions kind of experience. The joy, passion and zeal are flagging during the doing. Re-alignment is necessary, and so it is in training oneself  for godliness.

Training for godliness includes mentoring. My very first mentor taught me to pray and to dig into the Bible as if it were a love letter from God. He was teaching me to establish disciplines to nurture my relationship with Jesus Christ.  Mentoring is very important, but mentors expect their mentees to demonstrate self-motivation in training for godliness.  This is what Paul was asking of Timothy. Another mentor took me under his wing as a Sunday Bible teacher. When he went on an academic sabbatical, he tapped me to fill in for him in the Bible class. It was certainly a great honor, but it required the greater responsibility of self-motivation to practice what he had shown and taught me about being a teacher for godliness.

Much more can be said about training for godliness. It is beneficial for this life and the life to come. Begin each day with eternity in mind. It helps a person to prioritize tasks, responsibilities and relationships. Live with eternity in your veins. This helps preserve hope in difficult times and is an energy booster. Beginning with eternity in mind will help us prepare for the physical end of life too. In the moments of Jesus’s deepest agony of dying on the cross he told the other dying man, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43) I don’t know what the end of your life or mine will be like, but I do believe that through faith in Jesus Christ, eternity and the afterlife will be some kind of paradise that will far exceed the creativity of Hemingway’s or my imagination. Old men, and people of all ages, can and do think about eternity and the afterlife. Whether one is on of the sandy shores of the seven seas or somewhere else, begin with eternity in mind.


 

[1] J. Christy Wilson, Apostle to Islam: A Biography of Samuel M. Zwemer (Pioneer Library Kindle edition, 2016), pp. 309-310.

[2] Louis Auchincloss, Love Without Wings (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1991), p. 184.

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