I was one of those who was brought up to believe that life’s fullest purpose was to serve mankind, to do good works, that the most joyful life was the most productive life of service. Two fellows who were often quoted to me were Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Rabindranath Tagore, for self-evident reasons, but here’s a sample of why:
Let us, then, be up and doing, With a heart for any fate; Still achieving, still pursuing, Learn to labor and to wait. (Longfellow, last stanza, “A Psalm of Life,” 1838)
I slept and dreamt that life was joy, I awoke and saw that life was service, I acted and behold, service was joy. (Tagore, 1861-1941)
Yet I had seen enough folk as I was growing up with a stoic sense of responsibility who were as joyless as the day is long, but who were happy enough to criticize those who lived for the joy of the coming life in eternity with their Lord as if their constant desire for heaven was somehow a serious flaw in their character. Escapists and weaklings, they were said to be, with no true love of humanity, living for the joy of what is yet to come when Christ returned instead of the practical demands of the day.
Still it became obvious to me that those who love their Savior and God the most and live life anticipating the one to follow, indeed yearning for the new heavens and new earth, are the ones who love and serve their neighbor most selflessly, who spread not a sense of responsibility but all the fruits of the Spirit.
A Christian living in the joy of anticipating “the day of Christ” is steeped in the knowledge that all work that is not in vain is God’s work alone since
… it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Phil. 2:13)
Such Christians are mindful that God’s work is not only good but redemptive, and thus has eternal value, which is why Paul writing from prison adds to the above statement,
Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. (Phil. 2:14-16)
C. S. Lewis saw the preeminent benefit of dwelling in studied consideration of the world to come. “If you read history,” he wrote,
you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next …. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’; aim at earth and you will get neither.” (Selected Essays)