One of my favorite illustrations about eternity comes from Rick Warren. Say you were going to travel from Charlotte to Tokyo, and you decide that you're going to stretch out a tape measure behind you as you go. You roll down the window of the car and head out on I-40 toward California. The whole time the tape measure is hanging out the window stretching out behind you at 65mph. Once you end up around LA, you hop on a very large boat and sail across the sea. (According to this Google Map you would actually have to kayak, see step 14) And all the while your tape measure is flying out behind you as you motor into the setting sun. And as you arrive in Tokyo and think back on the tape measure you've left behind you realize, "my life on this earth is just the first little tick-mark on that tape measure."
Your perspective about when you are living influences how you live every bit as much as your perspective concerning where or why you are living. This is why the biblical writers are often at pains to share with their readers their location within the story that God is unfolding. When Paul faces immorality within the congregations he has founded his advice is not simply "Stop It!" it is a reminder that we live within God's History. You have already been redeemed and are a "new creation" and are therefore an inbreaking of God's New Creation into a corrupting world. That only makes sense in an overall scheme of Creation, Fall, Redemption, New Creation.
But to bring this down, down, down into the muck of our daily lives...
I do not believe that God is simply "preparing us for heaven" as though he really doesn't care what happens here on earth. God made this all of us-and this good world-and he intends to put it all to rights. But the tools he has chosen to work with appear to be a bit dull. So God is sharpening us. He is preparing us to do "good works which he has prepared in advance for us to do." But he is forming us into the kind of tool that is useful and sharp to do kingdom work. That doesn't necessarily mean that he is filling us with skills and information. It might be that God is shaping us into the kind of person who is utterly dependent upon him. It might be that God is honing our ability to hear, listen, and discern his voice. It could be that God is forging an ironclad character, built upon integrity, which will withstand the temptations of power and influence. And it could be that while we are busy trying to change the world, God is busy changing us.
When you find your desire to serve God frustrated, slowed to a crawl, or stopped altogether, remember eternity. We often say in evangelical circles that Jesus would have died on the cross for just one person. But in practice we don't believe that God would spend an entire lifetime preparing us for just 3 years of ministry. For that matter we have a difficult time believing that if something is not happening RIGHT NOW that God is still at work. It takes a lifetime of attentive obedience to be shaped into a multifaceted tool that God may use effortlessly for his purposes. But with patience, time, and faith we just might be shaped into one of the most powerful tools of all: the tape measure, the ever present reminder that another world is coming, and is now at hand.