Saturday, 8 July 2017

Time to move your tent?

I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things. 2 Peter 1:13-15

A question: Have you ever thought of your body as a tent?

No, nor me neither. I suspect that it’s not a picture that springs naturally to most of our minds. In fact, it’s extremely rare in the Bible too: just here in 2 Peter 1 and in 2 Corinthians 5.

Why does Peter see his body as a tent that he is “living in”, a tent that he will soon be “putting aside”? Given that he was a fisherman who lived in a house, rather than, say, a nomadic shepherd who might live in a tent, it seems strange.

We can only guess. Two simple things come to my mind.
  1. Unlike houses, tents are not made to last.
All right, no doubt a really well-made tent would last a few good years, but obviously it’s not in the same league as stone or bricks and mortar.

And so Peter wants to remind us that these bodies of ours, wonderful things though they are, are in fact very short-lived. You might survive on this earth until you are ninety – but what’s that in comparison with the whole history of the human race? What’s that in comparison with eternity?

Our modern western world sometimes seems to have a fixation with keeping our bodies forever young – even, in the case of those really odd people who believe in deep-freezing their corpses for the future, forever alive.

Talk about wishful thinking! How absurd it all is. I think it was the veteran politician Shirley Williams – Lady Williams – who said that all the face-lifts and Botox in the world achieve nothing but to simply rob your face of its true character, indeed of much of its personality and charm.

Of course it’s right that we should look after our bodies: the Bible tells us that they are “temples of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), and should be “honoured” as such. We are to live healthily. But the wise person accepts the reality of how short our earthly lives are; they make it their business to fill the years God gives them with good things. There just isn’t time for all this cosmetic messing around!

It’s interesting, in fact, how matter-of-factly Peter speaks of his own approaching death: he describes it in verse 15 as his “departure”. True, departures can be painful (Peter didn’t expect an easy death – see John 21:18-19), and are usually very sad. But to accept the inevitable with faith and hope… isn’t that the way of Christ?

Would it do us all good to reflect occasionally on the reality of death? Not in order to be morbid and gloomy – no, we are assured of glory to come! – but to help us to get our earthly priorities into perspective.
  1. While houses don’t move, tents do.
Forgive me for stating the obvious, but there’s a vital message there.

In Old Testament days God’s people were a pilgrim people; until they arrived in the Promised Land they lived in tents and were often on the move. Indeed, their first ever “church building” was a tent (a “tabernacle”, to give it its traditional name). In other words, they had a portable shrine, not a permanent one, because God was always moving them on.

True, that came to an end when they got to Canaan and built the Jerusalem temple under King Solomon. But the essential truth of a people always on the move remains, and it’s true for us who are Christians as well as for the people of Israel.

Putting it simply: if you are a follower of Jesus you should always be looking for ways in which God is leading you on. Quite likely that won’t mean physically leaving your present home. But it certainly will mean discovering new things about God, and opening yourself to the possibility that he wants you to embark on some new adventure of faith.

The “tent” picture, then, reminds us that we must not allow ourselves to stagnate. We might talk about being “settled” in our physical home, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But never “settled” in spiritual terms! No, our walk with Christ is fresh and new every day.

Is it time you sat down, prayed, and thought about your life? Time you said to God, “Lord, here I am. What do you want me to do? Where do you want me to go? Where do you want me to pitch this tent of mine next?”

Yes, even if you’re ninety!

Father God, thank you for the wonderful gift of life – for every precious minute of every precious day. Help me to live it to the full in fellowship with you, and then to say, with the Lord Jesus himself: Father, into your hands I commit my spirit. Amen.

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