These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. (Hebrews 11:13-16 ESV)
We measure success by accomplishments, by wins and losses, by money in the bank. God doesn’t. He measures success by faithfulness. Failing does not disqualify you from the race–quitting does. Finishing matters more than achieving. In a world dominated by World Series and Super Bowls we struggle to embrace God’s definition of success.
Hebrews 11 opens with a list of people who lived their entire lives never fully receiving what they believed. They believed promises that were never realized, preached messages that were never fulfilled, wrote prophecies that never came to fruition. They lived and died believing what many thought was a lie. How did they do it? The writer answers that question: they acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. They never expected life on this earth to be ultimately fulfilling. They lived here with another place in mind.
Think about it. If this is the only place you will ever enjoy life, then you will be compelled to do everything you can do, go everywhere you can go, and experience everything you can experience. Make all the money you can. Capture every memory. Exploit every adventure. Win every game. Take advantage of the latest technology. Why? Because when you die, there will be no joy, no pleasant memories, no money to advance your cause, no adventures. For those who do not believe in eternity, a sure eternity awaits. It is void of the presence of God and filled with the memory of every missed opportunity to know him. When the rich man died he looked into heaven. He saw Lazarus and begged him for a drop of water. He saw his brothers headed to Hell and begged God to warn them. Imagine an eternity where you wouldn’t want your closest family to join you. Some people are experiencing the only “heaven” they will ever experience now.
Not those mentioned in Hebrews. They desired a heavenly country. In other words, they lived on earth with heaven in mind.
Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. God, the architect of the universe, is also the architect of Heaven. For those who desire Him, he has prepared a city. He’s not ashamed of you. He’s proud to call you his, proud enough to build a city–for you.
Plant your feet on the earth. Fix your eyes on the sky.